April 2008, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Inside Help? Once again, an anti-war demonstrator has disrupted a congressional hearing on the war. Considering how many times this has happened, I am beginning to wonder whether these demonstrators have inside help in getting into these hearings, whether some sympathetic staffer is helping them get seats.
It is either that, or really poor security procedures.
- 1:53 PM, 8 April 2008 [link]
Facts? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Facts! Not if we write editorials for the New York Times. Consider this excerpt from a March 24th editorial on national parks.
For all these reasons, Congress in 1977 amended the Clean Air Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to make a special effort to clean the air in national parks, wildlife refuges and other places of "scenic" and "historical" value it hoped to leave in somewhat better shape for future generations.Yesterday, the New York Times published a reply to that claim. Here's the last half of the letter:
In fact, I signed an order in 1991 in the Grand Canyon with President George H. W. Bush looking on that did just that. The order required a 90 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide from Arizona Power's Navajo Generating Plant, ultimately cost the company $400 million and was explicitly invoked to protect the Grand Canyon National Park.Was that all that the editorial writer got wrong? Well, no, as this letter shows. (Not that the letter writer, John F. Sheehan of the Adirondack Council, gets all his facts right. In fact, President Bush has a good record on cleaning the air, though it does not match his father's record.)
Are those the only factual errors in the editorial? Well, no. For instance, I noticed this one:
Improving the national parks was one of President Bush's two big environmental promises in the 2000 campaign. The other was his pledge to control greenhouse gas emissions, abandoned the day he rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.Do you remember that promise? Neither do I. The only thing that comes close to it was a speech in which Bush promised to reduce carbon dioxide, mostly remembered because Bush mispronounced "carbon dioxide". Probably, because as the context of the speech makes clear, he was expecting to see "carbon monoxide". Some speechwriter, forgetting his high school chemistry, confused the two, and Bush's opponents have been using that slip ever since.
Are there still other factual errors in the editorial? Of course, notably the central error. The current Bush administration has approved EPA regulations that will greatly reduce air pollution, though not as fast as environmental extremists would like. The editorial writer concludes from that fact that the "air in these parks will only get worse if the administration proceeds with its latest rules". In fact, there is every reason to expect the air in our parks to continue to get better, in large part because of rules promulgated by the current Bush administration, and laws passed during the first Bush administration.
(Fun fact: The "steenkin' badges" line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was actually much longer, though many people remember it the way I did.)
- 1:13 PM, 8 April 2008 [link]
Congratulations To Cartoonist Michael Ramirez: For winning his second Pulitzer Prize. In recent years, most Pulitzer prizes in journalism could (and should) be viewed as reprimands, as reproofs for bad work. But Ramirez's cartoons are so good that this time a Pulitzer Prize in journalism deserves to be called a prize.
You can see his latest cartoons here.
- 7:35 AM, 8 April 2008 [link]
Hope This Game Is Better: On Saturday, Kansas and North Carolina played three bad basketball games, with Kansas winning the first and third, and North Carolina winning the second. (I was cheering, slightly, for Kansas, mostly because I am sure that CBS wanted a UCLA-North Carolina championship, not a Kansas-Memphis championship.)
Tonight, I would just like to see a close, well-played game.
(Memphis uses a "Dribble-Drive Motion" offense, as I learned when I was looking for a particularly bad post at the Volokh Conspiracy. I may write about that bad post tomorrow, since it contains a very common error.)
- 4:30 PM, 7 April 2008
Update: I was hoping for a good game; I saw a great game
But Kansas's thrilling 75-68 overtime victory against Memphis on Monday will be remembered as much for the Jayhawks' first national championship since 1988 as it will be for Memphis squandering a nine-point lead with 2 minutes 12 seconds remaining. An NCAA tournament filled with blowouts and mismatches featured a classic finale that included clutch shots by Kansas and gut-wrenching missed foul shots by Memphis, a team that had been plagued by inept free throw shooting all season.With a satisfying moral. I have long thought that a player's proficiency at foul shooting showed how hard he was willing to work, how disciplined he was. That Kansas won because Memphis couldn't make foul shots shows that hard (and in this case, boring) work is often the path to success.
- 8:03 AM, 8 April 2008 [link]
This Story Is Four Years Old: But it's still pretty funny.
Sounds incredible, but the Middle East Policy Council published a 540-page book called Arab World Studies Notebook, a teacher's guide for presenting Arab culture to young American students. The text, published five years ago, has a two-page chapter entitled, "Early Muslim Exploration Worldwide: Evidence of Muslims In the New World Before Columbus." The text says Arab Muslim explorers were here in America before Columbus, and married Algonquin Indians. These early marriages produced descendents who, by the 17th century, became Algonquin chiefs, like "Abdul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik." The Washington Times notes there is no evidence to validate the story.Unless you are an Algonquin Indian, in which case you have every right to be offended.
By way of a post at Gateway Pundit.
(David Yeagley, who wrote the post I quoted, exaggerates and weakens his case. He calls that absurd claim "intellectual genocide on American Indians". It is hard to laugh, even at something that absurd, after Yeagley says that. But laughing is still the appropriate reaction.
The post at Gateway Pundit also exaggerates. It would be more accurate to call the book a guide, rather than a text book. And it appears that this particular offending bit was removed years ago, and that the guide never had wide circulation.)
- 2:09 PM, 7 April 2008 [link]
One Hundred Years? How about more than two hundred years? John McCain has been receiving criticism from Barack Obama for saying that he could imagine American troops remaining in Iraq for a hundred years. As long, McCain added, that they were not being killed.
McCain had a career in the Navy and so would know that such long deployments are not unprecedented in our history. Soon after the United States was founded, our navy was fighting pirates in North Africa and the Carribean. (For an account of these early conflicts, see Max Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace.)
And, more than two hundred years later, we are still fighing pirates, for instance, off Somalia.
Does this continuing war with pirates show presidential failures from Jefferson through Bush? No, it shows that one side can not end a conflict by itself, if it is not willing to wipe out the other side. And we have not been willing to wipe out the nations that breed pirates, and so we have had a pirate problem all through our history. And will continue to have one for the foreseeable future.
Those who know little military history often think that most wars are like World War II, immense and relatively short. In fact, many wars are like our two century long war with pirates, low intensity, but unending.
Americans are often criticized for wanting instant results, and I think there is some truth in that criticism. Perhaps if we knew our own history better, we would be more patient, less ready to expect a quick victory in our wars with the pirates— or in the war on terror.
(Obama's attack on McCain has drawn criticism from the Washington Post and the Columbia Journalism Review, and a defense (naturally) from Media Matters.)
- 1:24 PM, 7 April 2008 [link]
Barack Obama is telling audiences how patriotic he is.
Barack Obama wants to make something clear: He loves America.Some of his supporters at the 43rd district caucus in Seattle disagree
There was some time to kill as multiple tallies of the delegates and alternates were done, and when the time-killer of taking audience questions had run its course and the idea of teling jokes had been nixed, someone suggested doing the Pledge of Allegiance to pass the time. (Are you listening, right-wing bloggers? This is going to get good.)So is Obama patriotic? Or do the views of his supporters in one of Washington state's most leftist areas tell us more about what he actually believes? Hard to say. I have wondered for years what religious beliefs, if any, Bill Clinton holds, and have never been able to come to a conclusion on that subject. I fear I will be as puzzled, for years, about Obama's attitudes toward his country. But it does say something about the man, and his campaign, that so many wonder about this question.
But about one thing there is no doubt. Both Clinton and Obama believe in themselves.
(Incidentally, the AP article that I took that first passage from is trying to persuade voters that Clinton is patriotic — regardless of the evidence. (And half talking about Obama's tactics in persuading those ignorant voters.)
Warning: The Stranger, from which I took the second selection is not a family friendly publication.)
- 10:15 AM, 7 April 2008 [link]
Can Redwoods Be Criminals? They can if they block solar panels in California.
Call it an eco-parable: one Prius-driving couple takes pride in their eight redwoods, the first of them planted over a decade ago. Their electric-car-driving neighbors take pride in their rooftop solar panels, installed five years after the first trees were planted.Those who do not share the religious views of Bissett, Treanor, and Vargas can sit back and enjoy this conflict, or be distressed that no one in the conflict seemed to think it as important to be neighborly as it is to be green.
(Note, by the way, that the New York Times reporter, Felicity Barringer, calls it an "eco-parable", that is, a story illustrating a religious lesson. Again, we see religious language used to describe environmental beliefs. Appropriately, in my opinion.
For the record, although redwoods do grow that far south, they are generally found in foggy coastal areas, not places as dry and as far inland as Sunnyvale.
In this area, I have been struck by the number of home owners who do not understand that trees grow, that, for instance, trees planted under wires will almost certainly be touching those wires in a few years.)
- 6:42 AM, 7 April 2008 [link]
How Did Lenders Make All Those Risky Home Loans? In many cases, by not bothering to make simple checks.
We've all heard a great deal in recent months about the greedy borrowers who caused the subprime mortgage calamity. Hordes of them duped unsuspecting lenders, don't you know, by falsifying their incomes on loan documents. Now those loans are in default and the rapacious borrowers have moved on with their riches.If you read farther along in Morgenson's piece, you learn that lenders could have run that IRS check for about twenty dollars per loan, and that it would have taken a day or less to do the check. But most lenders didn't bother.
Amazing, simply amazing. Especially for someone who grew up thinking of bankers as people who wouldn't loan you money unless you could prove that you didn't need it.
Lawsuits over these failures may be coming, which should suprise no one.
(I can't say that I understand what is happening in the mortgage market. (Does anyone?) But I did know, some time ago, that something was wrong, simply because I was hearing too many, and too wild, ads from lenders on the radio.)
- 4:57 PM, 6 April 2008 [link]
Bill And Hillary Clinton Made A Lot Of Money Over The Last Six Years: Some of the money came from dubious sources. Dick Morris has some examples. For instance:
The [tax] returns released yesterday also reveal another outfit paid substantial sums to Bill - InfoUSA, a mailing-list company that was under investigation for providing lists of vulnerable senior citizens to telemarketers.And there's much more in the column. What worries me most is the foreign sources of some of that dubious money.
(Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush did not set perfect examples in this area, but Bill Clinton makes them look pure by comparison. Retired presidents should realize that they are still — in some ways — public servants, and should act accordingly. Of course the spouse of a sitting senator and presidential candidate should be even more restrained in their business dealings.)
- 6:41 AM, 6 April 2008 [link]
Too Good To Check? Hillary Clinton had a good story for her campaign. It made the point that she wanted to make, vividly and forcefully. Unfortunately for her, the story appears to be false.
Over the last five weeks, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has featured in her campaign stump speeches the story of a health care horror: an uninsured pregnant woman who lost her baby and died herself after being denied care by an Ohio hospital because she could not come up with a $100 fee.The hospital also claims that the Clinton campaign never contacted them to check on the accuracy of the story. Perhaps the story was just too good to check.
Almost all politicians love stories that illustrate their arguments. And it is easy for most of us to hear one of these stories and draw the conclusion that the politician wants us to draw. But that is often, perhaps even usually, a mistake.
To understand why that is so, consider the way politicians use health care stories to make their points. Every system, whether it is private insurance, single payer, socialized medicine, or the strange mix that the United States has, rations health care in some way. In every system, some times those rationing decisions will be wrong and someone will suffer, or even die, because of a wrong decision. That means that any politician — regardless of their positions on health care — will be able to find vivid and forceful examples that support their case.
That will be true even if the medical professional, the insurance adjuster, the bureaucrat, or whoever makes the decision, makes the correct decision, based on the facts available. In college I had a room mate who suffered an attack of appendicitis. He was taken to the hospital, but the doctor failed, for hours, to make a correct diagnosis, because my room mate's appendix was in an unusual place. Since the location of the pain is a key symptom in appendicitis, it is not surprising that the doctor hesitated before operating. Given the location of the pain, the odds were that it was not appendicitis.
Even if the odds are very much in the decision maker's favor, they will still be wrong often enough to provide some vivid stories, for any politician who needs those stories.
(Kudos to the hospital for complaining about this story, and to the New York Times for doing this check. Sadly, I doubt very much whether most of the news organizations that originally passed on this story will do corrections. But they should.)
- 1:56 PM, 5 April 2008
Update: Clinton is dropping the story.
- 7:02 AM, 7 April 2008
More: Here's an example of a failure of the British National Health Service.
Nearly half of NHS maternity units had to turn away women in labour last year because they were full, figures showed on Thursday.Or what appears to be a failure. Undoubtedly, these events were inconvenient for some women. But did they cause any bad health effects? Possibly, but we can't tell from the article. (Which has a completely bogus subhead.)
By way of Tom Maguire, who agrees with me that every system will have failures, and that it would be unwise to base policies only on stories of those failures.
- 4:33 PM, 8 April 2008 [link]
Good Question: Mona Charen looks at a BBC poll and wonders whether Americans should care if other nations dislike us.
I wonder whether Democrats ever indulge the suspicion that "world opinion" may be bunk? Let's contrast, for example, the popularity of Israel (19 percent positive, 52 percent negative) and North Korea (23 percent positive, 44 percent negative). Israel is a fully functioning democracy with a free press, an independent judiciary, one of the highest standards of living in the world (including for its Arab citizens who enjoy a far higher standard of living than the average Arab in any Arab country), full civil rights, and the rule of law — all of this despite being under relentless terrorist attack.We should care, I suppose, because popularity can be an asset, but I am not sure we should take such opinions seriously. Not if we care about our own values.
- 9:43 AM, 4 April 2008 [link]
Glad Zawahiri cleared that up.
Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, rejecting criticism of attacks by the terrorist network's followers that have killed thousands, maintained Wednesday that it does not kill innocent people.Because, if Al Qaeda kills them, they aren't innocent. Or something like that.
(This absurd denial is, probably, a sign of progress, a sign that they are getting a little nervous about Muslim reactions to their murderous ways.)
- 8:56 AM, 4 April 2008 [link]
The Seattle Times Hopes Clinton And Obama Are Lying: In this plaintive editorial, the Times reviews the anti-trade promises from the two Democratic candidates, hopes that the promises are not serious, and ends with this:
Business leaders and elected officials here discount the campaign rhetoric as just that — a means to get elected but not a sign of new policies that will foreclose expanded trade. We hope they are right.In other words, they hope Clinton and Obama are lying to the voters.
The Times has endorsed Obama for the Democratic nomination. I can't recall another presidential campaign in which so many supporters of a major candidate hoped that he was lying to them.
(Is Obama lying to the voters or to supporters like economist Austan Goolsbee? My guess, and it is just a guess, is that he is lying to both.)
- 12:46 PM, 3 April 2008 [link]
Democrats Have Been Running Against Herbert Hoover Since 1932: And now they want to imitate his policies.
In 1930, he signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, setting off a wave of protectionist retaliation that undid the globalization of the preceding decades and did far more harm to the world economy than the stock-market crash ever did. Two years later, amid a bad recession, he undid the Calvin Coolidge-Andrew Mellon tax cuts, raising the top marginal income-tax rate to 63% from 25%. The recession became a Depression.Actually, that question should be: "Which two presidential candidates", since both Clinton and Obama want to imitate Hoover's policies of increasing taxes and raising barriers to trade. (Or at least they say they do.)
- 5:18 AM, 3 April 2008 [link]
And Now, since the day is sunny, I am off to Mt. Rainier for some cross country skiing and a little photography. (Maybe more than a little photography. The light conditions look good enough so that I am taking my Minolta SLR and a tripod, as well as a digital camera.)
The automated phone at Rainier (360-569-2211) tells me there is about 240 inches of snow pack at Paradise, so I shouldn't have any trouble finding a little to ski on. The message also said that there was three inches of new snow, which is just about the perfect amount for cross country skiing. Unfortunately, the Paradise web cam doesn't seem to be working, so I can't show you a picture.
- 9:17 AM, 2 April 2008 [link]
What Do The Stockholders Think? That's what I have begun to wonder after the failure of another anti-war, anti-American movie, "Stop Loss", and the expected failure of still another, "The Lucky Ones".
Five years after the invasion of Iraq, the toll of war-related movies that have proved disappointments or outright duds just ticked higher, as audiences spurned "Stop-Loss" over the weekend, despite its hot young cast, an MTV-branded marketing campaign and some glowing reviews.The New York Times reporter, David Halbfinger, calls these movies "war-related", but that's misleading, perhaps deliberately misleading. To the best of my knowledge, no major American studio has made a positive movie on the war in Iraq, for example, a movie celebrating the heroism of our troops. That kind of movie might "entice audiences" into the theaters.
Halbfinger, and others on the left, may think that the studios should keep making movies like "Stop-Loss", but at some point stockholders, or possibly corporate raiders, are going to notice that these films don't make any money. (For what it is worth, Lionsgate stock is down over the last year.)
(Just to help out Hollywood, let me give them this plot suggestion: A tribal leader in Afghanistan in 2001 is cooperating, though not very happily, with the Taliban. But the Taliban demands one of his daughters — as they sometimes did. The demand convinces him to join the Americans in liberating his country and he begins to fight, side by side, with American special forces. Together they drive out the Taliban. At the end, his daughter gets to marry the man she loves.
That would would be the kind of movie that Hollywood has been making — profitably — since the 1920s. The producers and directors there know how to do great fight scenes, how to use spectacular scenery for backgrounds, and how to tell a positive story, with some twists. They don't know how to make money with films attacking American troops.)
- 6:34 AM, 2 April 2008 [link]
Hillary Clinton Admits To Being A Lefty: As a boxer, anyway.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, fending off pressure from some senior Democrats for her to give up her presidential campaign, on Tuesday likened herself to the fictional boxer "Rocky Balboa," saying: "I never quit. I never give up."(Those who haven't seen the original Rocky may need to know that Balboa was a lefty.)
- 5:07 AM, 2 April 2008 [link]
Flying Penguins: The Telegraph has the story.
The BBC will today screen remarkable footage of penguins flying as part of its new natural history series, Miracles of Evolution.If the day this was published makes you suspicious, you can watch a video of the penguins flying.
- 12:44 PM, 1 April 2008 [link]
Mugabe Out? If this is true, it's good news.
HARARE, Zimbabwe — The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is in talks with advisers to President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe, amid signs that some of those close to Mr. Mugabe may encourage him to resign, a Western diplomatic source and a prominent Zimbabwe political analyst said Tuesday. The negotiations about a possible transfer of power away from Mr. Mugabe come after he apparently concluded that a runoff election would be demeaning, a diplomat said.Mugabe deserves to hang for his many crimes. But Zimbabwe would be better off if he leaves peacefully than if he continues to cling to power.
(One possible explanation for this development: Mugabe and his cronies may have underestimated how much electoral fraud they would need to stay in power.)
- 7:54 AM, 1 April 2008 [link]
Obama Wins the most delegates in Texas.
Sen. Barack Obama has won the overall delegate race in Texas thanks to a strong showing in Democratic county conventions this past weekend.As I predicted. That's four for four for that set of contests.
(Lucky or good? Partly lucky, since the Texas race was so close. I'll let you decide about the other part.)
- 6:42 AM, 1 April 2008 [link]
Peter Wehner Has 22 Questions For Barack Obama: Here's my favorite.
9. With which elements, if any, of black liberation theology — as represented by Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ — do you strongly disagree? Do you think any of the core tenets of black liberation theology are racist? Are they consistent with, or fundamentally at odds with, your expressed desire to end racial divisions in this country?Although I would have phrased it less accusatorily.
Ordinarily, I would prefer that reporters leave matters of personal religious belief alone. But the tenets of black liberation theology are so at odds with most Americans' beliefs, and so political, that I think questions about them are legitimate.
- 6:12 AM, 1 April 2008 [link]