Archive:

April 2005, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Journalists Mostly Love The Los Angeles Times:  The newspaper consistently wins awards from other journalists, including many Pulitzer prizes.  Its stories are picked up by many other papers, including, in this area, the Seattle Times.  But the Los Angeles Times does have one small problem:  Readers, more and more, despise the newspaper.
Circulation at Tribune Co. papers will show declines in the next Fas-Fax report, with the most troubling plunge at the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing President Scott Smith confirmed during a conference call with analysts this morning.

Though executives declined to break out individual paper's Fas-Fax numbers, which are due out in May, Smith acknowledged the Times will drop slightly more than 5.5%.

Smith said that for the entire group, home-delivered copies are down about 4% while the drop in single-copy sales is even greater.

Q1 circulation revenue for the company was down 9% due to "volume discounts."  The largest revenue drops occurred at the Los Angeles Times and Newsday.  Excluding the two papers, circulation revenue for the company would have been down 4%.
And it is worth remembering that the paper is losing circulation even though it is located in an area with a rapidly growing population, and in spite of those "volume discounts", whatever they may be.  I have seen a number of reports on line that the newspaper sometimes simply gives away subscriptions in order to keep its numbers up.

Now, here's my question for journalists:  Is it possible that the same things that make journalists love the Los Angeles Times are what make readers, more and more, despise the newspaper?  (Journalists who want to think about that question may want to read "Patterico" and Mickey Kaus regularly.)
- 6:23 AM, 16 April 2005   [link]


The Leader Of A Small Canadian Party may have a solution to our social security problems.
The leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party has some hard opinions of Langley residents, and some radical ideas for pot, education, and healthcare reform.

And he's not scared to share them.

Langley is filled with "old people who are intolerant and bigoted and hate young people," and those old people support marijuana prohibition, said Marc Emery.

As well, the outspoken pot advocate said the public education system needs to be abolished and tax money should not be spent on seniors' healthcare.
. . .
Emery does't [sic] like seniors' healthcare, either.  He is advocating a system in which no tax money is spent on hospitalization of anyone over the age of 70.

"Old people are the biggest welfare recipients of our medical system," he said.  "We spend far too much of our taxpayers' money on a rapidly growing population of old people.  We're spending lots of money keeping many many millions of old people alive when it would be much more honourable to let them die in a dignified way."
You have to admit that you could save money that way.  And Americans who find this ghastly should know that age limits on medical treatments are quite common in countries with socialized health care.  They have even been advocated by some American politicians, notably Dick Lamm, the former Democratic governor of Colorado.

It is, if you are wondering, solutions like Emery's that have pushed me toward a moderately pro-life position.
- 10:38 AM, 15 April 2005
More:  Here are two stories from Britain with examples of those limits in practice.  According to this one, a hero from World War II was denied almost all treatment after a stroke.  According to this one, a hospital was unwilling to find pillow for 70-year-old woman, who needed to be propped up so she could breathe.  Whether Mr. Emery would consider their treatment "dignified" is a question I will leave to him to answer.
- 5:29 AM, 18 April 2005   [link]


Income Tax Day In The United States:  And quite a few people have noticed that tax preparation programs have undermined support for simpler tax systems.  (For some examples, see here and here.)   If, for instance, TurboTax automatically calculates the Alternate Minimum Tax for you, then you are less likely to be annoyed by it.  And, of course, commercial tax preparers, used by more and more people, have done the same thing.  Once you get accustomed to taking a pile of papers to your accountant or to H&R Block, then you may begin to feel that you have a personal solution to the problem of increasingly complex taxes.  You may still support tax simplification in principle, but you no longer feel quite so strongly about it.

Now, is this bad?  Joseph Thorndike, writing in the New York Times, thinks so:
Certainly the tax code is incredibly complicated, but in fact filing taxes is too easy, not too hard.  With paid preparers and sophisticated software, most Americans are protected from grappling with the worst features of the modern tax system.  This may seem like a good thing, but it comes at a steep price.
. . .
So why is this bad?  When it comes to taxes, pain can be a good thing.  It keeps people vigilant, encouraging them to keep a wary eye on government.  That, in turn, exposes problems and encourages reform.  Making taxes easy removes an impetus for Americans to force the government to do something about the tax code.
Is there another side to this argument?  Yes, there is.  Former senator Eugene McCarthy once argued that a complex nation like the United States needs a complex code, that many of the provisions that add complexity had legitimate purposes.  (Senator McCarthy was on the senate tax committee for many years, which may help explain why he had this view.)  If you take this position, then you will be pleased that tax software and commercial tax preparers have reduced the pain and cost of the complexity.

And there is a broader reason to be pleased that the pain of tax paying has been reduced, a reason held, but not stated, by many on the left.  If you think that our taxes are too low, as most on the left do, then you may favor, for practical reasons, anything that makes paying them less obviously painful.   You won't see many Democratic politicians make this argument — unless they come from very safe districts — but there is no doubt that many of them hold it.

My own view?  I think that on the whole the complexity favors a few well-connected wealthy taxpayers.   For example, we subsidize, in various ways, car purchases for wealthy people.  The tax subsidy for hybrids such as the Toyota Prius do not benefit many poor people, or even many working class people.  But, if Prius buyers pay less income taxes, then someone else must pay more.   And one can find hundreds of similar examples in the tax code of this redistribution from the many to the well-off few.

And the complexity is inefficient, making us a little poorer, net, than we would be otherwise.   Not only do individuals and businesses waste vast amounts of time in preparing their taxes, but they do economically inefficient things for tax reasons.  For instance, the tax code encourages many well-off people to build larger houses than they would if mortgage interest were not deductible.

And what about the broader question, the level of taxation?  On the whole, I prefer less spending on domestic programs and lower taxes to the alternative.  The great lesson that I drew from welfare reform is that government benefits are often bad for those who receive them, not always, but often.  It is a very old lesson, but one that we must re-learn constantly.

(Not all government benefits are bad, net.  In general, I favor cutting back benefits that go to the wealthy and those able to support themselves.  Much of the money spent on farm subsidies would fall into this category.  Benefits that go to the poor and those unable to support themselves sometimes make sense, and in a few cases, might even be increased.  For instance, from what little I know, it would make sense to increase our spending on dental care for poor children.)
- 10:08 AM, 15 April 2005   [link]


If You Travel To Great Britain (or live there), don't carry a butter knife.
A butter knife can be an offensive weapon, the High Court ruled yesterday.
Even though the knife in the case had no handle, sharp edges, or point.

The problem seems to be a poorly written law, rather than a silly court.  Anything with a "blade" is rather broad, and includes many objects not ordinarily thought of as weapons.
- 4:37 PM, 14 April 2005   [link]


Which Picture Of Soros And MoveOn Is Most Accurate?  In the past few days, I saw two radically different pictures of the leftist political organization MoveOn.   First, a benign picture from Paul Andrews, who usually writes on technology.
Formed in 1998 as a liberal online-advocacy effort to get the country to "move on" from the Monica Lewinsky episode, MoveOn first helped demonstrate the political and fund-raising strengths of the Internet.

Drawing on a vast e-mail list, MoveOn connected Americans for bake sales, house parties and neighborhood canvassing.  It invited members to vote on presidential-campaign TV ads and hosted a night boosting Michael Moore's release of "Fahrenheit 9/11."  Overall, MoveOn raised $60 million from half a million donors for the presidential election.
. . .
MoveOn has found that making personal contact with a fellow American, even a total stranger, is far more effective than mass-media campaigns, [MoveOn field director Adam] Ruben said: "Face-to-face is still the most effective way to influence someone."
Just a nice, traditional, grass-roots organization, bringing back personal contact to politics.   (Some might quarrel with Andrews' "Monica Lewinsky episode" and think it not the best possible phrase to describe the impeachment of a president for perjury — perjury that no serious person denies that Clinton committed.)

Second, a less appealing portrait of George Soros and the leftist groups he has been subsidizing — very definitely including MoveOn from Richard Poe of FrontPage.
In the 2004 election cycle, Soros donated about $27 million of his personal funds to anti-Bush forces — the largest political contribution from a single individual in U.S. history.  More importantly, the Shadow Party Soros created raised more than $300 million for the cause.

John Kerry may have lost the election, but the Shadow Party emerged triumphant.  The Democrats can no longer function without Shadow Party cash.

Regarding the Democratic Party, MoveOn PAC director and Soros operative Eli Pariser boasted, "Now it's our party. We bought it, we own it."
So which is the more accurate description of MoveOn?  Is it a grass roots organization, or a tool of a shadowy billionaire who made much of his fortune attacking other nations' currencies?   (And has just been convicted of insider trading in France.)

I am going to come down in the middle on this one.  MoveOn is, even now, a genuine grass roots organization.  Nonetheless the questions about the influence of Soros on the organization — and other groups on the left — can not be evaded, as Andrews does.  When Pariser says that "we" bought the Democratic party, it is fair for anyone concerned about our democracy to ask just what he means by "we" and "bought".  Soros may not have supplied the bulk of the money that MoveOn raised, but he did supply much of the early seed money, which can be critical.

And it is also fair to ask who lost out in this struggle for control of the Democratic party.  It is no secret that MoveOn has almost no members from the Democratic party's traditional base, the working class.  The issues that are important to the kind of people who own, to take an example not entirely at random, a Bichon Frise, are different from the issues that are important to people who own mongrels (generally a much more sensible choice, in my opinion).   And if you look through Andrews' piece, you will see that the MoveOn members have little interest in that second group of issues.  Many in the Republican party are working hard to reach out to the poor and the working class.  It is well that they are doing so because the Democratic party is, thanks in part to the kind of people who join MoveOn, more and more indifferent to those without high incomes and graduate degrees.

Finally, it is fair to ask what Soros is trying to achieve by subsidizing leftist groups like MoveOn.   I learned from Michael Lewis's wonderful Liar's Poker that traders such as Soros always have a plan (or a scheme, if you prefer).  You need not agree with everything that Richard Poe says to wonder just what Soros is now trying to achieve, and whether he has not, in fact, bought, if not the whole Democratic party, at least a significant piece of it.

(For more on what Soros did during the campaign, see this three part series on the "Shadow Party", here, here, here, and this two part series on Soros himself here and here.

As I said, I am not entirely convinced by the Shadow Party theory that Horowitz and Poe use to explain what Soros is trying to do, but from what I know, their descriptions of what he did during the campaign and is doing now are reasonably accurate.  I am not saying that Poe and Horowitz are wrong, but that I would need more evidence before I accepted their entire argument.

There is a small ethical question about Andrews' piece.  It is no secret that Andrews sympathizes with MoveOn, but it is not clear whether he has contributed to their causes, or is a member of the organization.  If he has that kind of connection, he should mention it in the piece.)
- 1:44 PM, 14 April 2005   [link]


Those 1970s Cars may not have gotten very good mileage, but they inspired some great rock and roll songs.  Tim Blair shows what we have lost by rewriting some Bruce Springsteen songs to make them environmentally friendly.  Here's a sample:
Old:
She's a hot-stepping Hemi with a four on the floor
She's a Roadrunner engine in a '32 Ford

New:
She's a slow-moving hatchback with continuously-variable transmission
She's a gas-electric hybrid producing zero emissions!
The title of the post is, naturally, "Born to Walk".
- 8:47 AM, 14 April 2005   [link]


Gasoline Prices Are Lower than they were in 1980 — allowing for inflation.  Nationally, a gallon of gasoline costs close to $2.50; in 1980, the equivalent price would have been more than $3.00.

But that isn't all.  Because the cars now in use get much better mileage, an average driver can go the same distance with a little more than half the gas needed in 1980.   In 1975, new cars sold in the United States had an average mileage of 16 miles per gallon; now they have an average mileage of 28 miles per gallon.

I don't know about in your area, but the television stations here don't usually mention those points in their almost daily stories on record gas prices.
- 6:10 AM, 14 April 2005   [link]


Reuters Has "Terrible Quality Problems":  Who says so?  Well, lots of people, but the latest person to say so may have more evidence on that question than most of us.
Reuters' journalists called the group global managing editor's position "untenable" after he said the firm had "terrible quality problems".
(The managing editor, David Schlesinger, said it in a memo to other executives that leaked out.)
- 5:15 PM, 13 April 2005
More:  World Net Daily has a much longer account of the controversy.  Note that Schlesinger says that the "terrible quality problems" are in Reuters' data.  He makes a different criticism of their news, saying it lacks "insight".  I would make harsher criticisms of their news, beginning with their pervasive anti-American and anti-Israel bias.
- 10:35 AM, 14 April 2005   [link]


Ageism, Actually:  Basketball player Jermaine O'Neal makes an interesting mistake.
Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal said he thinks racism might have something to do with the NBA's desire to put an age limit in the next collective bargaining agreement.
(The NBA Commissioner, David Stern, want to raise the minimum age for the NBA draft to 20.)

Or perhaps reverse ageism, if like some you think that discrimination can only go in one direction.

It is not hard to see why O'Neal made this mistake; as he says:
As a black guy, you kind of think [race is] the reason why it's coming up.
But others, with less excuse, often charge racism when another charge (or none at all) would be more appropriate.  Yesterday, for instance, I saw that some British Muslims were charging that the discrimination against them constituted racism.  Religious bigotry would be a better description of what they were complaining about.

It is not hard to see why racism is now so over used.  It is such a potent charge that many drag it out when it is dubious or even, as in the case of the age limit for the NBA draft, laughable.
- 9:10 AM, 13 April 2005   [link]


The Predictable Consequences Of Leftist Colleges and Universities:  That our colleges and universities are far to left of most Americans is no longer in dispute; even Princeton professor Paul Krugman conceded that in a column that was both funny and sad.
It's a fact, documented by two recent studies, that registered Republicans and self-proclaimed conservatives make up only a small minority of professors at elite universities.
What is still in dispute is why that is so, and whether it is a bad thing.  Though I have my own ideas on both questions, I will skip them in this post to turn to something I haven't seen discussed, the predictable consequences of colleges and universities that are far to the left of the nation.

The consequences will be somewhat different for private and public schools.  Let me take the private colleges and universities first.  As moderate and conservative parents (and their children) learn that many schools have views far from their own, they will tend to avoid the more leftist schools and turn to others where they think their ideas will get more respect.  There are already some small colleges and universities, most of them religious, that are benefitting from those choices.

For some, this argument may be hard to believe; let me refer the skeptics to this Washington Post op-ed by Steven Goodman, a "Washington-based educational consultant who advises college-bound students and their families".  Here's how Goodman summarizes the current situation:
Colleges have long been hotbeds of political agitation, of course.  But where it was once students who did the acting out, as they spread their intellectual and philosophical wings, now the professors and administrators are more likely to be playing politics -- and more and more Americans with college-age kids are getting fed up with it.  In 18 years of in-the-trenches experience counseling kids on their college choices, I've never seen the unhappiness as widespread as it is today.  If colleges don't tone down the politics, and figure out how to control ballooning costs, they run the risk of turning off enough American consumers that many campuses could marginalize themselves right out of existence.
The "Washington-based" is an important qualifier; some of the suburbs of Washington, D. C., especially some of those in Maryland, are quite far to the left of the nation as a whole.  So what Goodman says about the unhappiness with the politics may be even more so in the nation as a whole.  And, interestingly, he says that even parents who agree with the leftist politics on the campuses, don't care for it.  And so they choose different schools to avoid it.

Or they think of ways to cope with the politics, even as they apply.  Goodman confesses that he advised an Eagle Scout to balance that accomplishment with time spent helping people with AIDS, recognizing that bigotry against the Boy Scouts is common at our colleges and universities.

Private colleges and universities will lose students if they continue to play leftist political games.  The same thing will happen to a lesser extent at public colleges and universities.   And those institutions will also be restrained by state legislatures.

To see how that is likely to happen, let's imagine a Republican state legislator I'll call Representative Smith.  Let's suppose that she has served in the state legislature for several terms and that the Republicans have just taken control of the legislature and made her the chairman of the committee that controls the budget for the state's universities and colleges.

As always, funds are limited and the two largest state universities both want substantial increases.  Let's suppose further that the larger of the two, which I will call State U, has a politically active faculty that attacked the Republicans all through the last campaign, that Republican speakers are sometimes assaulted with pies and worse there, that her nephew complains about the political bias in his classes, that a friend failed to get a position there for, the friend believes, political reasons, and that nearly all the political donations from faculty and staff go to the Democrats.  If those things are not true of State U's smaller competitor, then Representative Smith will find it easier to give the competitor an increase and stiff State U.

And if both universities have those faults — as Representative Smith sees it?  Then she might direct money to community colleges or try to target the money to the less politicized parts of the two universities.  Or even to new moderate or conservative enclaves in the universities, as Stanley Kurtz says is happening at Princeton.  I would expect, for example, that many Middle East studies departments, where the political bias is especially severe, will find themselves competing with new departments or institutes.

There's nothing complex in this argument; I am simply saying that students will tend to choose schools where they feel welcome, and that state legislators will reward their friends.  But I have seen no signs that leftist professors and administrators are aware of the inevitable consequences if they continue to play political games.  Need an example of this ignorance?   As so often happens when I need a bad example, Paul Krugman supplies one:
Conservatives should be worried by the alienation of the universities; they should at least wonder if some of the fault lies not in the professors, but in themselves.  Instead, they're seeking a Lysenkoist solution that would have politics determine courses' content.

And it wouldn't just be a matter of demanding that historians play down the role of slavery in early America, or that economists give the macroeconomic theories of Friedrich Hayek as much respect as those of John Maynard Keynes.  Soon, biology professors who don't give creationism equal time with evolution and geology professors who dismiss the view that the Earth is only 6,000 years old might face lawsuits.

If it got that far, universities would probably find ways to cope - by, say, requiring that all entering students sign waivers.  But political pressure will nonetheless have a chilling effect on scholarship.  And that, of course, is its purpose.
Setting aside the cartoonish insults, what Krugman is advocating is that those who provide the money for colleges and universities from taxes, or from their own pockets, should have nothing to say about how the universities are run.  Would he think that other public employees should be able to ignore their legislatures, or expect that businesses could ignore their customers or that nonprofit organizations could ignore their donors?  I hope not.

Regardless of what he and other leftists may want, it isn't going to happen.  The consequences for the leftists running our colleges and universities are, as I said in the title, predictable.   Not every institution will face declines in enrollment, internal competition, and reduced funding from legislatures, but many will — as long as they continue to put political games ahead of education.

(Why funny and sad?  Because Krugman has such a cartoonish picture of American conservatives.   His picture is funny, but it is sad that a Princeton professor and New York Times columnist should be so misinformed — and so determined to stay that way.

Evan Coyne has an example of these games from Bucknell, a small university that, at least in the past, had a moderately conservative student body.)
- 8:29 AM, 13 April 2005   [link]


Three Blogiversaries:  And, coincidentally, each of the three bloggers has been blogging for three years, a long time in this business.  Congratulations to Dean Esmay, H. D. Miller, and the "Watchmaker".  I have learned from all three.
- 2:45 PM, 12 April 2005   [link]


Howard Dean didn't take my advice.   He will be visiting Arkansas and he's trying to talk like the natives.
Howard Dean called the other day and started talking about Jesus.  Yes, that Howard Dean.  Yes, that Jesus.

Dean is the doctor and former Vermont governor who now is chairman of the Democratic National Committee, having pretty much screamed himself out of the Democratic presidential nomination last year.

Along the campaign path he remarked that his favorite New Testament book was Job, which, actually, is in the Old Testament.

It was insinuated that Dean, like the Alan Alda character on "West Wing," wasn't all that much for church-going.  The way to insinuate such a thing is to call a man "perhaps the most secular candidate for the presidency in modern times."
It just may have been his leaving one church after a quarel over a bike path, that led some to make that insinuation.

I may be wrong, but that Arkansas reporter sounds both amused and annoyed at Dean's efforts, which is just the reaction I predicted Dean would get.
- 2:37 PM, 12 April 2005   [link]


Parties Will Alternate:  Last year I argued that Canada's Liberal party might lose office to the newly formed Conservative party.  There were, I argued, common patterns in democracies that insured that parties alternate in office, just as there are common patterns that insure that markets fluctuate.
The reasons for markets fluctuating are well known; the reasons for parties alternating are almost equally well known.  A party too long in power makes mistakes, attracts corrupt individuals, and even begins to bore the electorate.  When it continues to hold power in spite of these factors, it is usually because the opposition is not credible to a majority of the voters.  Tony Blair's Labour party won control of the government only after Blair had promised a moderate path, and the party had discarded much of its ideological baggage.
The Liberals did lose their majority in parliament last year and were barely able to form a government with the support of the (socialist) NDP.

The growing AdScam scandal shows how accurate last year's diagnosis was.  (I won't call it a prediction until the Liberal party loses office.)  Every day, Canadians learn more about corruption within the Liberal party, and the party has begun to suffer badly in the polls.
The flames of political discontent from the sponsorship scandal are scorching the Liberals, and now a new poll shows the party's national support falling to 27 per cent.

That represents a 10 percentage-point drop in the past two months, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for CTV and The Globe and Mail.

The Conservatives are up to 30 per cent, a four-point rise. The NDP are at 19 per cent.

In Quebec, where Liberal gains would be crucial to any hope of forming a future majority government, the Grits trail the sovereigntist Bloc Quebecois by 30 points -- 48 to 18.
(Another poll actually gave the Conservatives a double digit lead, though Canadian blogger Paul Tuns warns Conservatives not to get too excited about it.)

Even worse for the party, several Liberal MPs are openly threatening to switch.
London-Fanshawe MP Pat O'Brien said yesterday he's close to defecting from the governing Liberals and may join the Conservatives who have been courting him and other backbenchers.
. . .
He's not alone -- Edmonton MP David Kilgour will not attend caucus meetings until he decides to stay or bolt from the governing party.

Kilgour has also said he may cross the floor to the Conservatives -- the party he represented in the Commons before he switched to the Liberals more than 10 years ago.
A single defection would end the Liberal-NDP majority.

Canadian commentators are beginning to speculate that there will be a June election, so in just a couple of months I may be able to change last year's diagnosis to a prediction.
- 7:49 AM, 12 April 2005   [link]


Was A Pulitzer Prize Winning Photograph Staged?  One of the photographs in a set that just won a Pulitzer for the Associated Press showed Iraqi election workers being murdered by terrorists.  (The murders happened on Haifa Street in Baghdad, so you will often hear it referred to as the "Haifa Street" photo.)  When the picture was first published, many conservatives wondered whether terrorists had staged the picture for the photographer as propaganda.

This discussion at the Power Line by former New York Times photographer D. Gorton gives strong support to those who believe that the photograph was staged.  Here's Gorton's summary:
I believe that the various stories that have been told, thus far, by the AP are confusing and at times contradictory.  The details in the AP editor's note are at variance with other quotes ascribed to the AP of "300 meters" from the action, "100" Meters and most recently "50" meters.  Further, the original AP caption appears to say that the election workers were the specific target of the terrorists, lending credibility to the view that this was a highly planned operation in which large numbers of people, including photo stringers, might have advance knowledge.

Moreover, there is nothing in the information put forward that would definitively answer critics who believe that the photographer may have been complicit in the event on Haifa St. Even assuming that the Editor at the AP is repeating the story exactly as he heard it (and I have no reason whatever to doubt that), the stated objective of the image -- "The images spoke volumes about the situation in Iraq just six weeks before the 2005 national elections -- the murder of people key to the election process, on a main street in Baghdad, with the gunmen not even bothering to conceal their identity with masks" -- raises more questions than it answers as to the MOTIVATION of the AP editors in moving the photo as well as placing it forward for Pulitzer consideration.

What is clear is that the photograph, in the editor's own words, fitted into an editorial view that portrayed Iraq as ungovernable and chaotic.  Thus, it tended to confirm that notion, to the AP's readers, just months before the highly successful election.
I am an amateur photographer — very amateur — but even I can follow Gorton's argument that the original claim that the photograph was taken at a distance "300 meters" (more than three football fields) is implausible.  At that distance, a photographer would generally need a very powerful (and very heavy) telephoto lens and a tripod to get the shot.

Curiously, the Pulitzer jurors who awarded the prize to the picture were unaware of the controversy.   (Perhaps they need to spend some time reading blogs.)

Finally, "Wretchard" of Belmont Club notes that a much more famous photograph, the one showing the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima, was questioned immediately, many thinking that it was too good not to have been staged.  Were journalists more suspicious then?  Was the Haifa Street photo just too good to check by either the editors at the Associated Press or the Pulitzer jurors?

(For more, read this long analysis by Wretchard of what the photographer said happened that day.  There do seem to be one or two puzzling details in the stringer's story.)
- 6:14 AM, 12 April 2005   [link]


How Accurate Is Foreign Coverage Of The United States?  Not very.   Consider, for example, this Telegraph article on the proposal to end filibusters on judicial nominations in the US Senate.  (For readers who are not familiar with British newspapers, I should add that the Telegraph is moderately conservative by American standards, and generally friendly to the United States.)  Here's a misleading paragraph:
The showdown over the filibuster - a two-centuries-old Senate rule that in effect allows just 41 of the 100 members to obstruct legislation and nominations by talking for as long as they can - is developing into the biggest political clash of President George W. Bush's second term.
Let's start with the definition: The filibuster is not a Senate rule, but a practice.  The Senate rule, first passed in 1917, allows a super majority of the Senate to close debate, or impose "cloture".  Originally, the required majority was 2/3 of the Senate, which was large enough so that fillbusters could block almost all civil rights bills for decades.  In 1975, after the great fights over the civil rights bills, the majority was lowered to the current 3/5.

Second, the filibuster can not be used to block all legislation and nominations, as the paragraph implies.  There have been a series of limits imposed on debate over the years, some, interestingly enough, by Senator Robert Byrd, when he was majority leader.   (Strange how different these questions can seem, depending on whether your party controls the Senate.)  And, in practice, the filibuster has rarely been used to block judicial nominations, at least until George W. Bush became president.  Before then, I know of only one time that a filibuster was used to block a judicial nomination, that of Abe Fortas to move from Supreme Court Justice to Chief Justice.   (And I have seen the claim that those who opposed Fortas actually were in the majority.)  But, during Bush's time in office, the Democrats have used the filibuster to block ten appeals court judges, all of whom, according to press reports, had the support of a majority in the Senate.

You can find other mistakes throughout the article; for instance, a Senator conducting a filibuster, is a filibusterer, not a filibuster.  (I would usually avoid using filibusterer since it sounds so awkward and is so easily confused with filibuster.)

Are these kinds of mistakes common in foreign newspapers?  In my limited experience, yes.   As inaccurate as American journalists sometimes are, foreign journalists seem to be even worse when they cover our politics.

(For more on the filibuster, see this from the US Senate or this from FactCheck.  Interestingly, the disagree on the early history of the Senate rules.  For an explanation of the constitutionality of what is usually, but misleadingly, called the "nuclear option", see this piece from the Cato Institute.  Briefly, a majority of the Senate can change the Senate rules, because otherwise a previous Senate could impose limits on a current Senate.)
- 2:11 PM, 11 April 2005   [link]


What Is Taboo At The New York Times?  A pair of New York Times articles yesterday presented an interesting contrast.  In this article, Jennifer Lee goes on and on about the "man date".
Anyone who finds a date with a potential romantic partner to be a minefield of unspoken rules should consider the man date, a rendezvous between two straight men that is even more socially perilous.

Simply defined a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports.  It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman.
Socially perilous because many heterosexual men fear that their friends might take them for homosexuals.  (How did the Seinfield line go?  Wasn't it, "Not that there's anything wrong with that!")

For Jennifer Lee, that taboo — which seems silly to me &mdash is understandable, though not admirable.  But she makes it clear that she thinks that men would be better off if they tried harder to behave like women, in this and other ways.

And what isn't taboo at the New York Times?  Another, much older taboo, was completely ignored in this article, titled "Looking for Love at the Sperm Bank".  In the article, Linda Dackman describes her feelings as she searches for an anonymous donor at a sperm bank.  Here's a typical paragraph:
"What about him?" I asked Shellie. He said he had freckly skin - not my favorite - but I saw gorgeous handwriting, broad interests in the sciences and arts and, best of all, a high sperm count.
But Dackman says nothing about the problems that her baby, if she has one, may have without a father in his or her life.  There are reasons, powerful reasons, why almost every society disapproves of children born out of wedlock.  Does Dackman not know that?  Does the editor at the New York Times who accepted this piece not know that?

Despite the odd contrast between the two articles, they do share something.  In both, a person's feelings, not a person's rational thoughts, are primary.  That those feelings may lead to bad consequences seems not to occur to Dackman.  (And that most men may want different emotional lives than most women seems not occur to Jennifer Lee.)
- 9:53 AM, 11 April 2005   [link]


Much To My Surprise, I saw myself and this site on TV yesterday afternoon, with a bit part in Robert Mak's Upfront program.  I was watching the program because I wanted to see the Stefan Sharkansky interview, which was the best part, just as I expected.  Stefan has more here, along with links to a (partial) transcript and streaming video.  The video in which I appear was taken at a meeting organized by John Hamer of the Washington News Council.   Later this week, if I have time, I may do a brief post on the meeting.

Unless I missed it, the program omitted one interesting point: Their expert, political science professor Henry Farrell, is also a lefty blogger, whom you can find at the group academic blog, Crooked Timber.

(I'm not sure just how much sense my brief segment makes on its own.  I was explaining the modest start of this site almost three years ago.)
- 7:02 AM, 11 April 2005   [link]


Nuclear Power Is Green  declares New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.   He appears to have discovered this recently, but is catching up to what the best informed people have known for decades: Nuclear power does less damage to the environment than other energy sources.

What brings this change of views?  The fear of global warming, as Kristof more or less admits.
One of the most eloquent advocates of nuclear energy is James Lovelock, the British scientist who created the Gaia hypothesis, which holds that Earth is, in effect, a self-regulating organism.

"I am a Green, and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy," Mr. Lovelock wrote last year, adding: "Every year that we continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendents. ... Only one immediately available source does not cause global warming, and that is nuclear energy."
I have been arguing that those who believed that man-caused global warming was a serious threat should support nuclear power, so I am pleased to see Kristof join Lovelock, though I must say he is very late in coming to this conclusion.

(One reason Kristof may have been late is the poor quality of the Times' reporting on nuclear power.  For many years, their main reporter on nuclear power has been Matthew Wald, and, until recently, it was hard to distinguish his views from those of anti-nuclear activists.)

Still, better late (and for a disputable reason), than never.

(Kristof makes two mistakes in the column, and omits something important.  First, he seems to believe that environmentalists have always opposed nuclear power.  In fact, early in the 1960s, the Sierra Club supported nuclear power, because they understood that it was better for the environment than coal.

Second, he thinks that nuclear wastes pose a "challenge".  That's true politically, but not at all technically.  If someone says that nuclear wastes pose a serious safety problem, they are either misinformed or lying.  I won't go through the arguments on the subject again here but just note the bottom line: We have been storing commercial nuclear wastes for decades.  To my knowledge, there has not been a single death caused by those wastes, unless, possibly, some truck driver died in an accident moving them around.

Third, Kristof says, correctly, that costs stopped nuclear power stations from being built in the United States.  That's true, but he omits the fact that many of those costs were a result of attacks on nuclear power by environmentalists.)
- 9:16 AM, 10 April 2005   [link]


Keegans's Illustrated History Of WWI:  Christmas shopping is hazardous for me, as I suspect it is for many other booklovers.  I often buy books as presents, and even when I am not searching for one as a present, I find it hard to pass by a bookstore without at least glancing over the bargain tables.  I may not find a present for someone on my list, but I nearly always find a book that I want.  Last December, I ran across John Keegan's An Illustrated History of the First World War in a Half Price bookstore for just 20 dollars and couldn't resist it.  I have a number of books on World War I, but no satisfactory general history, and certainly not one so beautifully illustrated.  Here, for example, is a famous British recruiting poster that you may have heard of or even seen before.



(Hard to resist that appeal, isn't it?)

But you probably haven't seen this picture, unless you have way more knowledge of Belgian military history than most of us.



Here's how Keegan describes the soldiers in the picture:
Belgian carabiners, with their dog-drawn machine guns, retreating to Antwerp, August 20, 1914.  The carabiners, who wore distinctive leather top hats, formed part of the country's Garde Civique, a part-time militia.  In the opening days, the Germans refused to recognise the militia as a legitimate force and threatened reprisals against its members unless they lodged their weapons at town halls.  Some local militias obeyed the invaders's instructions.
Those two pictures will give you some sense of the range of illustrations in the book.  The illustrations are not just decorations for the text, but add to the history by helping you feel some of the emotions of the men and women in the warring countries, and letting you see the weapons and equipment they used.

The history seems solid and balanced to me, with more on the Eastern Front than is common, at least in books sold in the United States.  I would say that it is aimed at the middle of the audience; you may find it a bit confusing in some places if you have read little military history, and you may want more in-depth treatments (and more detailed maps) if you are an expert.

For years I have thought that World War I was the great disaster that wrecked much of the 20th century.   Without it, it seem highly unlikely that either the Nazis or the communists would have come to power in any major nation.  If you want to understand that disaster, how it came about, why it lasted as long as it did, and how the allies finally won, I don't know a better place to begin than this book.
- 2:47 PM, 9 April 2005
Correction:  The Belgian soldiers in that picture are carabiners, but are not part of the Garde Civic.  For more, see this correction.
- 1:14 PM, 31 March 2009   [link]


What Kind Of Person Works For CBS?  In at least one case, a cameraman with uncertain loyalties.
US forces have detained an Iraqi cameraman they wounded in the northern city of Mosul and who was carrying credentials for the American television network CBS, the military said.
Greyhawk of Mudville Gazette has much more in this post, including this important point: The US forces appear to have been tipped off to the cameraman's activities by Iraqi citizens.

If I indulged in cheap jokes on this site, I would end by saying that the cameraman should have a lock on a Pulitzer in next year's awards (or as I like to say, reprimands).
- 9:02 AM, 8 April 2005   [link]


Worth Reading:  This touching story on how Pope John Paul II, when still a seminary student, saved a Jewish girl from almost certain death.
The elder of these daughters was Edith Zierer.  In January 1945, at age 13, she emerged from a Nazi labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland, a waif on the verge of death.  Separated from her family, unaware that her mother had been killed by the Germans, she could scarcely walk.

But walk she did, to a train station, where she climbed onto a coal wagon.  The train moved slowly, the wind cut through her.  When the cold became too much to bear, she got down at a village called Jedrzejow. In a corner of the station, she sat.  Nobody looked at her, a girl in the striped and numbered uniform of a prisoner, late in a terrible war.  Unable to move, Edith waited.
And there Karol Wojtyla, as he was known until he became Pope, found her.  He gave her tea, fed her, got her to Krakow, and most likely saved her life.

Also worth reading is this Anne Applebaum column on what John Paul did to help defeat communism in Eastern Europe.
- 8:21 AM, 8 April 2005   [link]