Archive:

April 2005, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Check The Cables First:  That's what I have learned, through years of hard experience in debugging problems with computers and with their peripherals.  If, for instance, your printer is not printing correctly, then the very first thing you should check is the printer cable.  In my experience, about half the time, the cable will turn out to be the problem.   I pass this advice on because I forgot this yesterday and wasted several hours.

For years, I have had an external SCSI hard drive that I hook up to my computer when I want to experiment with operating systems, for example, when I want to try to out a new Linux distribution.  A few days ago, I hooked it up, rebooted the computer, and tried to do a new installation.  After some experimentation, I found that, although the drive turned on and sounded as though it was coming up to speed, the computer was not seeing it.  Next, I did the obvious check and reconnected the Epson scanner that I usually have attached to the external SCSI connector.  (For those who know SCSI, I don't daisy chain them, because space problems make it hard to put the two close enough together.)  When I first tried this several days ago, the scanner worked fine, so I assumed that something was wrong with either the cable, or the SCSI drive.

Yesterday, I repeated my check and this time the SCSI card could not see either the scanner and or the disk drive.  It could still see the internal Yamaha CD burner, so I concluded that the card was somehow failing to work with the external connector.  That's not impossible, I suppose, but it is unlikely enough so that I should have thought longer about the problem.  But I didn't.

Instead, I went out, purchased a replacement card (an Adaptec 2930), installed it, and tested it with the Epson scanner, which still didn't work.  Only then did I notice that I had, when doing my earlier experiments, somehow pulled the SCSI cable out of the back of the scanner.  I re-installed the old SCSI card, hooked up the scanner, which worked just as before.  So now I have to return the Adaptec card for a refund, after wasting several hours, and I still don't know what is wrong with the external SCSI drive.

Could the problem be the drive cable?  Possibly, although it is a quality cable and has no defects that I can see.  There are test devices that could resolve that in a minute, but I don't happen to have one.  And replacement SCSI cables are so expensive that I am not sure that I want to buy a replacement, especially to connect to an old 4 gigabyte drive.  Better, perhaps, to replace the drive with one that has a USB or even a Firewire connector.

Finally, I should mention that similar problems may become more common, since the computer and peripheral manufacturers are skimping on connectors.  For example, the compatibility problems that plagued USB connectors seem to have been solved (mostly), and USB is a much better protocol than the serial and parallel protocols it is replacing.  But I would be happier if the designers had made the USB connectors less easy to pull out accidentally.  The pennies that would have added to the cost of the connectors would have been well worth it, in my opinion.
- 10:33 AM, 30 April 2005   [link]


What Happens When Republicans Take Control Of The Georgia Legislature?   They repeal some laws intended to enforce segregation.
The Republicans take control of the Georgia Legislature for the first time in a century and they repeal the Jim Crow Laws.  The democrats scream the Republicans are racists, but it seems when good things happen for Blacks in Georgia, Republicans are behind it.

I know it is a purely symbolic gesture, but why didn't the Democrats do something about it previously?
(Those not familiar with politics in Georgia may need to know that this is the first time that the Republicans have controlled Georgia since the Reconstruction era, so it has been more than a century since they had control.)

If you would like to know a little about the content of the laws that were just repealed, you can find some brief descriptions in this Washington Post article.   (You can also follow the link to the Atlanta Journal Constitution article given in the post, but I skipped that after I ran into registration questions that I thought were far too intrusive.)

By way of Polipundit.
- 8:13 AM, 29 April 2005   [link]


How Accurate Can Vote Counts Be?  The argument is sometimes made that vote counts are estimates, that they can only be right within a certain error margin.   In fact, vote counts can be completely accurate — if we want them to be.

To see this, let me sketch the ideas that could be used to make a formal proof of that argument.  We need one assumption, that the law has clear standards for legal and illegal votes.  It does not matter what those standards are, as long as they are unambiguous.   The levers on mechanical voting machines are an example; they are either set, or they are not.

Can we count one vote accurately?  That follows from the assumption.

If we have an accurate count of n votes, can we add a single vote and have an accurate count of n + 1 votes?  We can if we believe in arithmetic.

And that's all we need to show that we can make an accurate count of votes, because we can start with one vote and then add the votes one at a time, until we are done.  (And if some mathematician would like to formalize this simple argument, please do so, and let know, so I can link to it or add it to this post.)

(Practically, we may not want to spend enough to make the vote counts exact.  However, it is worth mentioning that electronic voting machines and mechanical voting machines can, in principle, deliver exact counts.  Adding the votes from a set of these machines, and getting an exact result, should not be that difficult, even with large electorates.)
- 1:52 PM, 28 April 2005   [link]


The Kabul Golf Club:  It has a difficult course, and an amazing Afghan manager.
Still, Kabul Golf Club is the pride of Afzal Abdul, who is symbolic of so many people I met traveling around this massive country last week with a delegation from the remarkable international aid organization Save The Children.

Neither the Soviet tanks, nor the civil wars, nor the Taliban's repression has robbed Afzal Abdul of his passion.  The mines, the bombs, the fear that comes from 30 years of war hasn't taken away his love of golf.
. . .
The Soviets locked him up during their occupation in the 1980s.  They built a compound adjacent to the ninth hole and every day watched the golfers suspiciously.

Finally, they stormed his clubhouse, closed down his course and put him in jail for six months, without giving him a reason.  He believes they must have thought he was conspiring with the golfers to overthrow the Soviets.
. . .
Ten years later, the Taliban broke into his home as he slept, took all of his golf clubs, his shoes, all of the certificates and trophies he had won and jailed him for two months.

"They left nothing of my golf," he said.  "They told me they didn't like the people playing games.  They said games are for the Americans, not for the Afghans."
But now after decades of repression, he can play again, and he is loving it, even with a flaw or two in the course and the need for a guard as he plays.

Those planning to play there will find the fees reasonable and will learn that Abdul has ambitions for the course.
He said about 70 people, mostly American, British and Korean, regularly play here.  Greens fees are about $10.

"I wish Tiger Woods could come here and see what we are trying to do," said Afzal Abdul, who earns about $80 a month.  "I am inviting him to come here and play."
That would be cool.
- 12:57 PM, 28 April 2005   [link]


What Is Happening In The Senate Fight Over Judicial Filibusters?  I don't know for sure, not having any inside sources, but I can offer you some speculation.  The Republican whip, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has said that Republicans have the necessary votes to change the rules so that a simple majority, rather than the current 60 votes, can end debate on a judicial nomination.  Although it is not unknown for senators to fib to their leaders, or even to for them to change their minds, I believe that McConnell is most likely telling the truth.

So, if they have the votes, why don't they simply change the rule?  Here's where I start to speculate.  First, I think the Republicans may want to highlight the issue with their two most political attractive nominees.  The editors at the New York Times agree on that, and don't like it one bit.
If war breaks out in the Senate over judicial nominations, the initial battle is likely to center on two women, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown.  Republicans seem to think that those nominees will come off as so likeable that Democrats will be forced to back down from their threats of a filibuster.
Owen and Brown have both won re-election by enormous margins, Owen in Texas and Brown in California.   If you want to call them extreme, as the New York Times does, you have to explain why the voters in our two most populous states disagree.

Second, I think that the Republican leaders prefer a Democratic surrender to an open fight.  If the Democrats can be led to accept their defeat, then it will be easier to work with them on future issues.  Given the possibilities for obstruction in the Senate, that's not an unimportant consideration.

Third, and this is the most important, the swing votes, the Republican moderates, may have made their support conditional.  I can easily imagine Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania, for example, telling the leadership that they will have his vote to change the rule, if they absolutely need it, after making it clear that he expects Republican leaders to try for a peaceful resolution first.

If this is the Republican strategy, is it the correct strategy?  I think so — if my assumptions are correct.

(If you need some background on the issue, see this straightforward op-ed by former majority leader Bob Dole.

The Times editorial claims that Senator Frist, the current majority leader, "participated in a filibuster of an appeals court nomination made by President Clinton".  I am fairly sure that they are simply wrong about that, though Frist may have delayed or blocked the nomination in other ways.   They don't name the judge or give any details, so it is hard to do a quick check.

Other accounts that I have read on filibusters of judicial nominations agree that there was only one before George W. Bush took office, that against Abe Fortas — and there are some who say that it was not really a filibuster.  I haven't seen a full enough account of that fight to be certain.  You can see some of the arguments on the subject here.   Gerry Daly agrees that Fortas was stopped by a filibuster, but argues that it was not a precedent for the current filibusters.

Part of the problem is that there is no clear line between what some might call "extended debate" and others would call a filibuster.

Gerry Daly also has a fine table showing the appeals courts confirmations for presidents from Truman through George W. Bush.  Bottom line: The confirmation rate started to decline when Reagan took office and was by far the worst for our current president.  Bush has nominated 65 appeals court judges; just 35 of them have been confirmed.  How does the New York Times editorial present those facts?  Deceptively:
Senate Democrats have confirmed almost all of President Bush's judicial nominations, more than 200 of them.  But they have balked at a few of the least qualified, most ideologically driven nominees.
When they say 200, they are including lower court nominees.  One of Bush's 65 appeals court nominees withdrew; so the Democrats managed to block, in one way or another, 31 of the 65.   The New York Times must be using an unusual definition of "few", one not found in my dictionary.)
- 8:08 AM, 28 April 2005
More:  Frist's tough stand supports the conclusion that he has the votes.   What he is offering the Democrats amounts to no more than a bit of face saving.  And this article claims that some of the Republican senators are shaky, just as I thought.  One interesting possibility is that the leaders may have a spare vote that they can use, if necessary.  And I would say that McCain's no vote shows that he does not plan to run for president — or has gotten some really bad advice.
- 5:03 PM, 28 April 2005   [link]


Can There Be Muslim Democracies?  Two years ago, the Seattle Times gave an entire page, and another column, to this long and muddled opinion piece by writer Jonathan Raban.   The piece, which was adapted from an even longer piece in the leftist Guardian, argued that there can not be Muslim democracies.  (Or perhaps Raban meant to tell us that there can not be Arab democracies, since he switches back and forth between Arab and Muslim in a most confusing way*.)

Raban meanders through a travelogue, some dubious theological arguments, and some history of the British mandate in Iraq after the World War I before he comes to this reactionary conclusion:
From the start, the unwieldy assemblage of Iraq needed not a government but a ruler.  When monarchy failed, tyranny of a peculiarly Middle Eastern kind took over.  Lawrence Rosen interestingly asserts that the idea of "state," in the Western sense of a complex machinery of government independent of the person of the ruler, barely exists in the Arab world, because an entity as abstract and impersonal as a state cannot be credited with those "bonds of obligation" that define and constitute the Islamic self.

This is borne out by fundamentalist Web sites that warn their followers not to vote in Western elections for fear of committing the sin of shirk, or blasphemy: to show allegiance to a secular state, instead of to the Ummah and to Allah, is to worship a false god.  The typical Arab ruler is likely to echo Louis XIV: The state, such as it is, is him — a warlord-like figure on a grand scale, with an army and a secret police at his disposal, like Nasser, Hafez al-Assad, King Saud, or Saddam Hussein. For the individual strong man, even a secular one, is compatible with strict Islamist teaching in a way that a strong secular state is definitely not.

In the case of Iraq, arrogant colonial mapmaking happened to conspire with Islamic tradition to create a state that would permanently tremble on the verge of anarchy, or at least of violent partition into a Kurdistan to the north, a Shi'ite theocracy to the south, and a Sunni-led secular statelet in the middle with Baghdad as its capital.  That Iraq still conforms — just — to its 1921 borders is a tribute to the extraordinary power and brutality of Saddam Hussein.
So there you are.  The best that Arabs (Muslims?) can expect is to be ruled by a tyrant.   That's a view that was not uncommon a century ago among those who administered European colonies, though even among colonial administrators it was not universal.  To find that belief in a leftist writer in the 21st century shows how far the left has fallen.  (There are still many honorable people on the left, people who do not think that democracies should be reserved for white Europeans, but there are fewer of them than there once were.)

Let me begin with two points that would be obvious to anyone who knows even a little about Iraq.   Not all Muslims are Islamic extremists; many Muslims, in fact, are no more religious than many Christians, though they may not be as free to say so.  Anyone who had studied the whole history of Iraq would know, for instance, that Iraq once had a powerful Communist party with considerable popular support, something you would not guess from Raban's account of all those fervent Muslims.  Second, Saddam Hussein was born in 1937, became the most powerful man in Iraq during the 1970s, and became president of Iraq in 1979.  Somehow, even without Saddam, Iraq held together for decades.  (Broadly speaking, Iraq had a constitutional monarchy imposed by the British from 1921 through 1958, when it was overthrown in a coup.  During that time, Iraq did have elections and they did have some significance for policy.  After 1958, Iraq was governed by a series of military rulers.)

Now for Raban's larger argument.  Can Muslim states be democratic?  To answer that question, let me first review some generally accepted ideas from comparative politics.  Most students of that subject would say that democracies are most likely to succeed in nations with a certain minimum levels of wealth and education.  A nation does not have to be wealthy to be a democracy — I think a per capita income of $2000 is usually enough — but it can't be dirt poor.  And you can have a democracy even if most adults have only a few years of schooling, but it will be hard to have one if nearly everyone is illiterate.

It is simply a historical fact that, until very recently, few Arab (or Muslim) countries met those minimum requirements of income and education.  (Americans can be fooled by our own history on these requirements.  It is true that Americans were poor and ill educated by our standards in 1776, but it is also true that Americans were then as now among the wealthiest and best educated people in the world.  The first point is much easier to see from our vantage point than the second.)

Beyond education and income, most students of comparative politics would agree that a democracy requires that most of the citizens hold certain values, and there we come to a real question.   It is true that radical Islamists mostly reject democracy in principle.  But is is true that most Muslims do?  Despite what Raban thinks (and what Getrude Bell thought — in the 1920s), there is clear evidence that many Muslims value democracy.  To begin with, we have the fact that most Muslim countries have some form of elections.  The elections may not be entirely free and fair, may even be shams, but the fact that the leaders (or rulers) hold them is at the very least a tribute to the idea of democracy.  If most of their citizens (or subjects) despised the very idea of elections, they would not hold them.

And then we have the inconvenient fact that some Muslim nations — Turkey, for example — have been holding elections for many years.  Not perfect elections, but elections nonetheless.  And many more have begun to hold them in recent years.  Here's a table with examples:

Election Turnouts in 18 Muslim Nations

nationlast electionturnout (%)
Afghanistan200476.9
Algeria200458.1
Bahrain200253.2
Bangladesh200174.9
Egypt2000"low"
Indonesia200484.5
Iran200483.0
Iraq200559.9
Jordan200358.9
Kuwait200380.0
Malaysia200463.6
Morocco200251.6
Oman2003?
Pakistan200241.8
Senegal200167.4
Somaliland**2003?
Tunisia200491.5
Turkey200278.9

(Data from Election World.)


Let me say immediately that I know that some of those were not real elections, and that some of those numbers are mostly invention.  But the fact that the rulers felt it necessary to have show elections in those countries still shows, as I said, that their Muslim citizens expect elections — which is not what Raban would have lead us to believe.

And some of those elections were real elections.  From what I know, the elections in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, and Turkey were all real elections, and others in the list may have been.  Radical Islamists may believe that voting is blasphemy, but the turnout in these elections shows that many Muslims, perhaps most, do not agree.

Even Saudi Arabia, with many radical Islamists and no tradition of elections, has begun to experiment with local elections.

The Seattle Times headlined Raban's piece, "Democracy holds little allure in the Muslim world".  The millions and millions of Muslims who have voted in the last few years would disagree.

How did Raban get it so wrong?  He tells us, though he doesn't realize it.
Passionate ideologues are incurious by nature and have no time for obstructive details.
I wouldn't disagree with a word.  And I am certain that he will never realize that it applies to him.

I want to end by saying that I am cautiously optimistic about the long term prospects for democracy in Muslim nations.  The caution is real and so is the optimism.  And don't miss the "long term".  I expect that many Muslim nations will experiment with democracy, lose it for a while, come back to it, lose it again, and then come back to it again, just as many Latin American nations have done, and some European nations, for that matter.  We should not expect too much, too soon, and we should not give up when setbacks happen.

(*A review for those who, like Raban, who think that Arabs = Muslims:  Most Muslims are not Arabs, and many Arabs are not Muslims.  In fact, in the United States, a majority of Arab-Americans are Christian, and there are still significant Christian minorities in such Arab countries as Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria.  The largest predominately Muslim state is, of course, Indonesia.  After Indonesia, the nation with the largest Muslim population is India.  The Muslims in Indonesia and India are not Arabs.  Nor are most of the Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Iran.

**Somaliland is a breakaway part of Somalia.  See Timothy Goddard's site for more information on this new nation.)
- 6:12 PM, 27 April 2005   [link]


Adam Smith Understood Colleges And Universities:  Here's a quotation I ran across a few minutes ago:
The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters.
(I found this in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, which gives the source as Smith's Wealth of Nations.)
- 9:09 AM, 27 April 2005   [link]


Japan's Birth Rate Is So Low that its population will soon begin to shrink.
Japan's population will decline to 109 million people in 2050 from 127 million in 2004, according to United Nations projections, presenting a future crisis with a smaller working population supporting a mass of pensioners.
The article gives one big reason for that low birth rate, a reason I found both obvious and unexpected.  (Some parents may not think the article suitable for their youngest sprogs.)
- 5:02 AM, 27 April 2005   [link]


Worth Reading:  Christopher Hitchens' endorsement of Tony Blair.
On May 5, 40 years after I first took out a membership card, it will be possible, for the first time since the 1945 Labor victory that threw out the Churchill Tories, to vote Labor on a point of principle.  Sixty years is a long time to wait, but the struggle for Iraq has decided the matter.
(Though of course I don't know as much about Britain as Hitchens does, I would disagree with his argument that "Anti-Americanism in Britain has long been a conservative rather than a radical trope".   From what I read, those on the right are often annoyed and exasperated by the United States, but the true hatred for my nation is mostly found among those on the far left.)

And which party would I support in Britain? That's not an easy choice for me.  On domestic policy, I am closer to the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, but Tony Blair has been such a staunch friend of this country that I would not be hurt if he were to win another victory.

I do know which party I oppose, the third party, the Liberal Democrats, who are also, under their current leadership, the most openly anti-American party.  Perhaps the best result, from my standpoint would be big gains for the Conservatives, most of them at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.
- 5:46 PM, 26 April 2005   [link]


Crooked Poll Questions On Filibusters:  This Washington Post article begins with a surprising claim:
As the Senate moves toward a major confrontation over judicial appointments, a strong majority of Americans oppose changing the rules to make it easier for Republican leaders to win confirmation of President Bush's court nominees, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.
And it is a strong majority, 66 percent.  But there was something just a little bit odd about the article; it did not give the exact wording of the question used to get that response.  And when I saw the poll questions, which you can download here, I saw why Morin and Balz had omitted the question.  Or questions, to be exact, since the pollsters ask a series of four questions on judges, given in this order in their document:
33. Overall, do you think the federal judges in this country are (too liberal), (too conservative), or about right?

35. Do you approve or disapprove of the way that (ITEM) in the Senate are handling the confirmation process for federal court judges nominated by Bush?

34. The Senate has confirmed 35 appeals court judges nominated by Bush, while Senate Democrats have blocked 10 others.  Do you think the Senate Democrats are right or wrong to block these nominations?  Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

36. Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush's judicial nominees?
(Some explanations may be needed for several of the questions.  This is the form used by the polltakers, so parts of it are directions for them.  For instance, the parentheses in "(too liberal), (too conservative)" are a reminder to the polltaker to switch the order of the two phrases each time they call a new person.  The "(ITEM)" in question 35 is a placeholder for Democrats and Republicans, and the polltaker is supposed to ask the question twice, once for each party.   I have no idea why the questions are not in numerical order.)

Questions 33 and 35 are unobjectionable, though I think I would change 35 to make it easier for respondents to admit that they have no opinion, perhaps by first asking if they had paid much attention to confirmations and then directing a follow up question only to those who had.

Question 34 gives a misleading account of the confirmation fight, omitting a central historical point: With one possible exception (the Abe Fortas nomination), filibusters had not been used to block judicial nominations before George W. Bush took office in 2001.  And it omits the central fairness question: Should just 41 senators be able to prevent a judicial nominee from even having a vote?  Question 36, which produced that 66 percent result, has several faults.  To begin with, it should not say "Republicans", since the rule change is not partisan; it could in future Congresses make it easier for Democrats confirm Democratic nominees.  And it is far too vague; there are changes which would "make it easier" to approve nominees that I would oppose.

Why is question 36 so bad?  I think it is so bad because whoever wrote the question (Richard Morin?) knew the polling result they wanted and knew that they would not get it with a fair question, one that explained that a Senate minority was blocking a Senate majority from even voting on nominees.   I think that because Richard Morin is a professional with long experience in constructing poll questions.  If question 36 is a mistake, it is an astonishing one for someone with his experience.  (And if question 36 came out of a shop I was running, I would be tempted to blame it on an intern.)

As it happens, the unobjectionable questions in the series, 33 and 35, provide evidence that the poll response to 36 is misleading.  Twenty-six percent of the respondents said that federal judges were too liberal, while just eighteen percent said they were too conservative.  And the respondents were almost evenly divided on how the two parties were "handling the confirmation process".  If anything, the Republicans have a small edge, though the differences could easily be due to sampling errors.

But such evidence won't stop those who oppose Bush from touting the poll result from question 36.

(I should add that it is hard to construct a good question on this subject, because so many voters don't know enough about it.  The polltaker can either filter them out and direct the question to those who are left, or can give a long explanation before asking the question.  Still, a professional pollster should able to do better.  Here's my quick try:
Under the current rules, a minority of 41 senators can stop the Senate from even voting on judicial nominees.  Democratic senators have used this to block many Bush nominees from having a vote.  Only one judicial nominee had been blocked in this way before Bush became president.   Would you favor a change in the Senate rules so that a majority of the Senate, 51 senators, could vote on judicial nominees?
I am sure that could be improved — and I am also sure that it is already a much better question than the one actually used by the Washington Post.)
- 1:13 PM, 26 April 2005
Correction:  Richard Morin tells me that in the print edition of the Washington Post — which is not easily available here in Washington state — question 36 was "printed in full in the graphic right next to the story on page 1".  So, although it was not in the text of the article, or in a graphic with the on-line edition, I would now say that the Post made no effort to hide the question.  I'll have more to say about the survey and the rest of Mr. Morin's response in a day or so.
- 6:02 AM, 27 April 2005   [link]


Should American Public Libraries Be Havens For Terrorists?  Put that way, one would like to think the answer would be obvious.  And American public libraries have been havens for terrorists, as you can learn from this chilling article by Deroy Murdock.
As Congress considers reauthorizing the Patriot Act, it explicitly should add libraries to the locations where federal investigators may hunt terrorists.  Here are five reasons why: Marwan al Shehhi; Mohand, Wail, and Waleed Alshehri; and Mohamed Atta — September 11 hijackers, all.
All are known to have used American and German public libraries to help carry out the 9/11 attack.

The 9/11 hijackers aren't the only terrorists or criminals who have used libraries to help carry out their crimes, or have been caught because of evidence found in libraries.  For example, one of the clues that led to the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, was his fondness for material on writer L. Sprague De Camp, which he had ordered from a Montana library.

As I said, one would like to think the answer would be obvious.  But it isn't; the American Library Association reacted to the 9/11 attacks and the efforts to detect terrorists by encouraging libraries to protect terrorists, especially their communications over the internet.  Think that's too strong?  Consider this example:
"We're quiet rebels," Cindy Czesak, director of New Jersey's Paterson Free Public Library, told Fox News.  Her institution collects every completed computer sign-up sheet.  "After that, it's removed and destroyed."  She added: "We bought a nice new shredder."  Paterson happens to be the Garden State town where Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi, Khalid al Mihdar, Hani Hanjour, and Majed Moqed rented an apartment in spring 2001.  All five slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Death toll: 184.
And many libraries have reacted to efforts to track terrorists by speeding up the destruction of the very records needed, especially the records of computer use.  It would be a foolish terrorist who did not now use American libraries to protect his communications.

What makes this even more aggravating is that these are almost all public libraries, paid for with tax dollars.  So the position of the American library Association comes down to this: They believe that they should provide protected communications (and other kinds of help) to terrorists and criminals — with your tax dollars.  (Users of private libraries might have a legitimate claim to privacy, but I have always thought it absurd to argue that users of public libraries, or any other public, tax-supported facility could make the same claim.)

There is a technical psychological term to describe the position of the American Library Association.   I am not a psychiatrist, but I think I can say with confidence that their belief that they should protect terrorists and criminals is crazy.  (And I wouldn't quarrel with those who might prefer to use other technical psychological terms and call that belief nuts, demented, idiotic, or brain dead.)

I have tried to understand the thinking of the American Library Association.  I really have.   For instance, I looked at their site for clues that would help explain their craqy ideas and found no rational explanations.  In the end, I was forced to agree with Murdock's conclusion:
These dangerously naive or clandestinely seditious librarians are beyond foolish.  They potentially jeopardize the lives of American citizens.

No square inch of this country should be a safe harbor where terrorists calmly can schedule the slaughter of defenseless civilians.  Whether fueled by sincere civil libertarianism or malignant Bushophobia, those who thwart probes of Islamo-fascist library patrons have the same impact: They make it easier — not harder — for terrorists to kill you.
Though I agree with Murdock, I would add a point he doesn't mention.  Many American librarians, most as far as I can tell, do not belong to the American Library Association.  And I am sure that many of their members do not agree with these crazy policies.  So we should not generalize and say "librarians" when we really mean "some librarians", or the American Library Association.  (The crazy policies of the ALA can be helpful in choosing librarians.  Those who hire or promote librarians should look on membership in the ALA as a defect in a résumé, a defect that at the very least requires an explanation and may disqualify an applicant.)

(Those crazy ideas will have political consequences for libraries.  I love libraries and would love to support them, but I recently voted against money for my own public libraries here in King County, and will do so as long as they have policies that help terrorists.

And those crazy ideas may have practical consequences for the libraries and those in them.   Many libraries have begun erasing surveillance videotapes very shortly after they are recorded.   That will make it more difficult to catch those who commit crimes in libraries, from stealing a CD to murder.)
- 7:26 AM, 26 April 2005   [link]


Last Week, Chuck Simmins and Meryl Yourish celebrated four and five years of blogging (or if you prefer, their third and fourth blogiversaries).  Both have covered subjects often neglected by the "mainstream" media; Meryl has been especially good on anti-Semitism, a growing problem in our universities, and Chuck has posted many accounts of American heroism and generosity.

And I should add that, when I was just starting out with my own site, Meryl generously helped me with advice several times.  Thanks again for that.
- 10:55 AM, 25 April 2005
Correction:  Although it doesn't look a day over three, Meryl's site has actually been up five years, not four.  I've corrected the text above.
- 4:33 AM, 26 April 2005   [link]


Is The Pope Catholic?  Does a bear . . ?  You know the rest of of the second question, and the answer to both questions, which are supposed to be ironically obvious.  But the answer to the first question continues to surprise many journalists, as Colby Cosh noted after he spotted an odd bit in this New York Times article on Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict's well-known stands include the assertion that Catholicism is "true" and other religions are "deficient"; that the modern, secular world, especially in Europe, is spiritually weak; and that Catholicism is in competition with Islam.  He has also strongly opposed homosexuality, women as priests and stem cell research.
I don't know the man, but I suspect Pope Benedict may actually believe that Catholicism is true, not just "true".

Maybe I am reading too much into this paragraph, but the reporter, Ian Fisher, seems honestly surprised that Benedict is Catholic and that he holds the same beliefs as nearly all the other leaders in the Catholic church.

And Cosh isn't the only one to make this observation; Gerard Baker, writing in the Times of London, suggests this headline for most of the stories on the election of Benedict: "Cardinals elect Catholic Pope. World in Shock."
- 9:53 AM, 25 April 2005   [link]


What Has Senator Maria Cantwell Accomplished?  Washington state's junior senator is up for re-election next year and is said to be in trouble politically.   That's why Joni Balter of the Seattle Times wrote this campaign ad for Cantwell.  Balter (and most likely others in the Seattle media) hope to save the junior Democratic senator, just as they helped save the senior Democratic senator, the intellectually challenged Patty Murray.

But, as I read through Balter's ad, I noticed something a little odd: If we believe Balter, Cantwell has worked hard, but hasn't accomplished much as a senator.  Balter does not mention a single significant piece of legislation sponsored by Cantwell that has passed, nor does she mention anything else that Cantwell has accomplished.  If Cantwell were a baseball player and we were trying to be nice, we might say that she "swings hard at most of the pitches".  If she were a basketball player, we might say that she "shoots often", and, like Balter, ignore the fact that she hasn't gotten many hits or made many shots, as a senator.

I found the lack of accomplishments in Balter's ad surprising, so I looked at both Cantwell's official Senate site and her campaign site for a list of her accomplishments, as a senator.  I found no significant accomplishments at either site.  The 2004 edition of the Almanac of American Politics was more informative; the Almanac mentions a number of minor accomplishments, but nothing impressive.

Should we expect more from a first term senator, especially one who was in the minority for most of her term?  I think so.  And I think if we read Balter's ad carefully, we can see why Cantwell has not accomplished much.  Although not intellectually challenged like Patty Murray, Cantwell does not understand our problems.  Take, for example, her positions on energy.  She believes, or at least says at her campaign site, that "we must become independent from middle east oil".  To achieve this independence, she has worked hard to restrict the development of our own energy resources.  Some people, though not Balter or Cantwell, might see a small contradiction there.  (Is it even possible to become independent of oil from the Middle East?  It is possible, in my opinion, but would be horrendously expensive.  And nothing that Cantwell has proposed would make a significant dent in our dependence on oil from the Middle East.)  A few people might even see dishonesty.  Cantwell may know what it would cost to "become independent from middle east oil", but is not willing to explain the unpleasant facts to the voters.  I am inclined to think that she does not know, but it is certainly possible that she knows and is concealing her knowledge.

(Her campaign site does give some of her "accomplishments" in previous jobs.  She gained a small fortune from her time at RealNetworks, but I have never seen a description of what she did to earn that fortune and have long wondered whether the lefty who runs the company, Rob Glaser, gave her the job as a political contribution.  As a state legislator she "shepherded" the state's Growth Management Act through the Washington legislature, and seems not to regret the high housing prices (and, probably, sprawl) that have resulted from the Act.  I am always amused, by the way, when I see surprise that housing prices rise after the passage of such measures.   Nearly all of them reduce the supply of land for housing.  You don't need to know a lot about economics to guess what will happen to prices when supply is reduced.  Interestingly, Cantwell does not list among her earlier accomplishments the 1993 "Motor Voter" act, which did so much to increase vote fraud.)

Overall, I think we should be grateful to Ms. Balter for this campaign ad.  Perhaps unintentionally, Balter has helped reveal the mediocre record of the Washington's junior senator.  Cantwell didn't treat the Senate as an opportunity for a much needed six year vacation, like John Edwards, but she has accomplished almost as little as her colleague from North Carolina.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Both Ms. Balter and Senator Cantwell omit two of the more interesting parts of Cantwell's résumé.  In 1982, she worked to elect Jerry Springer — yes, that Jerry Springer — governor of Ohio.  After that, she worked in California Senator Alan Cranston's presidential campaign.  Cranston was about as far to the left on foreign policy as American senators get.  He was also one of the Keating Five and was censured by the Senate for his part in that scandal.  One wonders just what Cantwell learned from Springer and Cranston.

Ms. Balter also omits any discussion of Cantwell's violation of campaign finance laws in the 2000 election and the use, by her and allies such as the extremist Sierra Club, of demagogic ads on the environment.  The ads accused incumbent Senator Gorton of wanting to poison the water because he supported a gold mine in Okanogan county.

Finally, one of the more interesting questions about the 2000 race is whether Cantwell won it legitimately.  Here's a speculative, back-of-the-envelope analysis that I did several years ago on that question.   If I were to do the analysis again, I would raise my estimate of the probability that Cantwell won through illegal votes because of all the problems revealed during the last year in the the King County elections office.

PS to Ms. Balter, whose writing sometimes amuses me: You can't "cleave toward" mainstream issues.   Cleave has two quite distinct meanings, to split with a sharp instrument, and to cling.  You wouldn't use "toward" after either split or cling, so you shouldn't use it with cleave.  There is a simple fix for Balter's sentence; since she is already using the stream metaphor, she could write something like "paddle toward the middle of the stream".)
- 7:46 AM, 25 April 2005   [link]


John Bolton And The State Department:  Those who oppose John Bolton as ambassador to the UN are attacking him for what they say is his difficult personality.  I have some trouble believing them since difficult personalities are not uncommon in Washington, D. C.
Washington, those who work in and around the government say, has always had more than its share of Not-So-Nice Guys, congressmen and bureaucrats who can be difficult to work with at best, and infantile at worst.
. . .
"The legendary ones are the senators," said David Frum, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and a former Bush speechwriter.  "The thing that causes this kind of behavior above all is impunity, that you're not answerable to anybody."

Patrick Caddell, President Jimmy Carter's pollster, said that Howard Metzenbaum, a fellow Democrat and former Ohio senator, had a reputation for being difficult.  Mr. Caddell said Mr. Metzenbaum was once described as "the man you want in the Senate - you just don't want to have to talk to him."
. . .
"How about Bill Clinton's unbelievable temper?" said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.  "The man can just explode.  People know about it, and it doesn't lead to systematic abuse of people.  But, boy, it's awfully uncomfortable to be around."
So what is the fight about, if not Bolton's personality?  Two things.  First, it's a chance for the Democrats to knock off a Bush appointee, just to show they can do it.  That's a nasty game, but both parties play it.  Second, and more important, there is a continuing disagreement between Bush and most Democratic senators on how internationalist our foreign policy should be, how much we should concede to the UN and similar organizations.  Defeating Bolton is part of the Democratic effort to get the Bush administration to try to work with the UN, rather than push for reforms in the organization.

Those views, common among the Democratic senators, are also found in the State Department, which has often opposed Bush policies in the last five years.  Bolton could avoid making enemies in the State Department only by letting the bureaucrats there set the policies, rather than the elected president.

This is an old problem.  In his fine collection, Great Political Wit, Bob Dole passes on a story of FDR's similar problems with the same department.
Shortly after Hitler came into power, efforts were made to obtain a visa to enable a famous German author to come to the United States so that he would not be put in a concentration camp.  A request was made directly to FDR, who agreed.

But days passed and nothing happened, and Roosevelt was asked about it again.  Once more, he put through the request, saying, "You know, I hope before this thing is over, the State Department will be on our side." (p. 142)
That's a sentiment that President Bush probably shares.
- 10:07 AM, 24 April 2005   [link]


Biased BBC, Example 7:  In this example, the bias is directed against the Conservative party in Britain, not the United States, but the incident is so remarkable as to deserve comment from this side of the Atlantic, too.
The BBC was last night plunged into a damaging general election row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones and sending them into a campaign meeting addressed by Michael Howard, the Conservative leader.

The Tories have made an official protest after the hecklers, who were given the microphones by producers, were caught at a party event in the North West last week.  Guy Black, the party's head of communications, wrote in a letter to Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news, that the hecklers began shouting slogans that were "distracting and clearly hostile to the Conservative Party".

These included "Michael Howard is a liar", "You can't trust the Tories" and "You can only trust Tony Blair".

Mr Black's strongly-worded letter accused the BBC of staging the event "to generate a false news story and dramatise coverage. . . intended to embarrass or ridicule the leader of the Conservative Party".
The BBC admits equipping the hecklers, but says that it was doing so to get footage for a program on on the history of heckling.   Who does the BBC think they are?  CBS?  And have Dan Rather and Mary Mapes found new jobs overseas?

(As you would expect, the Biased BBC site also covers this story.

Coincidentally, while I was reading this story, I was also listening to NPR's Weekend Edition.  The first seventeen minutes of the program consisted of attacks on Republicans, especially Tom DeLay, for various ethical problems by Liane Hansen (the host of the program), Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, and Democrat Norman Ornstein.  None of the three made any attempt to give the Republican side of any of the stories.)
- 6:34 AM, 24 April 2005   [link]