Archive:

August 2003, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Some Like It Hot:  Residents of Cleveland and Detroit are being told to boil water to kill any possible germs.  That would not work with the microbe just discovered by University of Massachusetts biologists, which lives quite happily at 121 degrees Celsius (about 250 degrees Fahrenheit).  "Strain 121", as the researchers have dubbed it for now, "uses iron the way aerobic animals use oxygen", as a source of energy, while surviving heat that would kill every other known living organism.

The microbe is not a bacteria, though it would look like one to most of us.  Instead it belongs to the archaea, microbes that were once considered to be odd bacteria, but are now given an entire kingdom of their own by most biologists.  As the name suggests, the archaea are ancient organisms, billions of years old.
- 7:26 AM, 16 August 2003   [link]


Out of Sympathy to the Northeast, perhaps, my area of Kirkland lost power yesterday afternoon, which cut back on my posting.  (The immediate cause appeared to be a tree limb, knocked down by a gust of wind, which is what causes most outages here.  I once lived in an area where suicidal squirrels, shorting out transformers, knocked out the power regularly.  No evidence was ever found to link them to the terrorist organization al Squirrela.)
- 6:44 AM, 16 August 2003   [link]


Which Side Is the BBC On?  The BBC has become a consistent critic of every country fighting terror.  The news organization is openly hostile to Israeli attempts to fight Palestinian terror.  They are persistently critical of Bush administration efforts to defeat radical Islamic attacks on the United States.  I suspect, though I do not follow that part of their coverage, that they are more sympathetic to the IRA than any decent person should be.  Now, they may have gone further and are actually hindering the war on terror.   The FBI is charging that BBC reporter Tom Mangold, by broadcasting an early (and partially incorrect) story on the arrest of arms dealer Hemant Lakhani, the BBC ruined their plan to turn the dealer into a counter-agent.  Most likely Mangold's story was motivated by nothing more than a desire for a scoop, but given the attitude of the BBC toward the war on terror, one can not exclude the possibility that some there were pleased by the thought that they could spoil an FBI operation.  And, it is worth remembering where the men who run the bitterly anti-American network, al Jazeera, got their training—the BBC.  (A quick search on the BBC site found no story on this scandal, which is why I haven't linked to their side of the controversy.)
- 9:08 AM, 15 August 2003
Update:  Mangold is threatening to sue Newsweek over the story.  Curiously, the BBC site still does not seem to have anything on this story.
- 6:06 AM, 16 August 2003   [link]


Good News From Afghanistan: Bad news from Afghanistan has predominated at least since the Soviets overthrew the government there decades ago, and perhaps even before then.  Even now, I am not sure whether there is now more good news than bad from the country, though I think so.  This story, about Afghan women students in the United States is unquestionably good news.  That at least a few of these young women can now worry about homesickness and strange foods, rather than far worse things, is a small, but real sign of progress.  And, it is hard not to be awed by stories like this one:
On the other hand, there is the experience of another new student, Anahita Ahmad, 27, who finished high school in Kabul in 1994, was unable to continue her education under the Taliban and will now study at Kennesaw State.  Although her father has a heart ailment and her job with an international agency was the only source of family income, he insisted that she accept the scholarship.

"I was paying all the payments for his sickness,"  Ms. Ahmad said. "But my father told me: `No, it is not important.  You have to go and you have to continue your education, because that is the important thing—for your future, for our future and for your country.' "
I hope they treat her right at Kennesaw State.  (Minor detail: The Times was wrong about one of the schools listed in the article; it was not the University of Notre Dame, but Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio.  My guess is that none of the women are fans of American football, so that probably won't matter to them.)
- 2:04 PM, 14 August 2003   [link]


The Great Smog of London:  It is hard for many to realize just how much progress we have made in reducing air pollution.  I remember, some years ago, just how much skepticism I met from college students when I mentioned that air pollution was lower than it had been.  It was, I sensed, a brand new idea for most of them.  This description of a recent study of the victims of the Great London Smog, which killed thousands of people in 1952, may give you an idea of just how bad air pollution once was.  London was not exceptional for its pollution; here are more examples from Gregg Easterbrook's A Moment on the Earth:
By the turn of the century heavy-industry towns like Birmingham (U.K. and U.S. both), Buffalo, Chattanooga, and Pittsburgh regularly had air so murky street lights were turned on in daylight.  At that time, plain old smoke, an awful pollutant was the leading threat. (p. 185)
There is a detail in the article that is important for our current efforts to control pollution.
Perhaps more significant, the study found concentrations of particles associated with diesel fuel, which remains a major source of air pollution in Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States.
. . .
Still, the findings are of much more than historical interest, experts said.  Janice E. Nolen, director for national policy at the American Lung Association, which helped pay for the study, said they reinforced the need to restrict emissions from diesel fuel and older factories that still burn materials like coal.
The article does not mention it, but one nation just set stringent (and expensive) new standards for diesel emission.  The nation?  The United States, under President George W. Bush.
- 1:39 PM, 14 August 2003   [link]


The California Recall Election and the Crackpots:  Most news reports have treated the California recall as a "circus" with all the celebrity candidates, and have ignored the political fight behind it.  The few accounts that have discussed the issues behind the recall have usually explained it by the widespread disgust with Governor Gray Davis, with some, mostly partisan Democrats, thinking that he was as much a victim as perpetrator.  Democratic activists, and a candidate or two, are starting to experiment with another explanation for the recall; it is not a circus in our weirdest state, or the natural reaction of disgusted citizens, but a Republican plot.   Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics gives some examples of this new explanation here, but misses one of the most extraordinary.

As I have mentioned before, Knute Berger, editor of the alternative newspapaper, the Seattle Weekly, has more than once described the Bush administration as "fascist", and compared them to the Nazis.  In his most recent editorial, Berger claims that the California recall is evidence for that crackpot theory.  The California recall is not, he tells us, about a corrupt and incompetent Democratic governor, or even about his potential replacements.  (He allows that Arnold Schwarzenegger might make a decent governor.)  No, it is all part of a plot by the "vast right wing conspiracy" and the Republican party.
What's going on in California has to be seen in context.  What's going on everywhere has to be seen in context.  Perhaps it's my Cold War upbringing, my training to see a commie under every bed.  But I am not imagining that our crazy times are being made crazier by those who are trying to stamp out dissent and remake this country in one image.

It is no less than an effort to turn America into the tyranny of a single mind, a single purpose, a single voice, a single party. It is the domestic version of the new imperial foreign policy.  We are being told that the "chaos" of a multicultural world—and society—is unacceptable, that order and safety can only be restored with the discipline that a strong hand can bring.
Just in case you might miss the point, he echoes the Nazi slogan, "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer" (one people, one state, one leader), so as to drive it in.  Those who like to see a little evidence will be disappointed by his passive ""We are being told".  By whom, Mr. Berger?  Why not give us a single example?

As every rational person knows, there is no evidence for this insane idea, and much evidence against it.  The California recall, far from being backed by a right wing or Republican conspiracy, has drawn mixed reactions from both conservatives and the Republican party.   Conservative columnist George Will just advised voting against the recall on the grounds that it was not a conservative way to change the government.  Conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh have been quite critical of Schwarzenegger, since they see him, correctly, as that dreaded person, a moderate.  Republican leaders, including President Bush, have mixed feelings about the recall.  Some think that it would be best to keep Davis in office so that voters, even in California, can see the dismal consequences of electing Democrats.  Others think that taking power in Sacramento will be to their benefit in 2004, given just how strong the California governor is.   Far from being unified in a plot, the party has three significant candidates, Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon, and Tom McClintock, who may deliver a win to the Democrats by their division.   (A fourth, Peter Ueberroth, is running as an independent.)

It seems to me that, broadly, there are three possible explanations for Berger's crackpot argument.  First, Berger may be a pure cynic who knows that this is nonsense, but thinks it a useful way to throw mud at his political enemies.  He knows it is false, but doesn't care.  (For what it is worth, I can not recall him ever criticizing anyone on the left for telling lies about someone on the right.)  Second, he may actually be crazy enough in his political ideas to believe this.  It is not hard to find people, especially on the extremes, who hold views that are nuts.  Berger may be the modern equivalent of those John Birch Society members who were convinced that President Eisenhower was a Communist.  Third, and this is the explanation I think most likely, Berger may feel that there is some truth in his argument and exaggerates because he thinks the cause important.  (What cause that may be is unclear; those who read Berger regularly will know who he hates, but will be unsure what ideas he favors.)

Whichever explanation is true, it is troubling to see even an alternative newspaper spreading ideas that are crazy by any rational standard.  It is even more troubling to see ideas like Berger's seeping into the language of Democratic activists and even candidates like Richard Gephardt.  They may, whether they intend to or not, inspire people to violence and even assassination.  Although Berger is unclear about much, he is absolutely clear about his position on violence—he is for it.  He has been openly advocating violent demonstrations against President Bush when he visits Seattle.   We can only hope that one of Berger's readers does not take that violence even farther than he might wish.
- 10:17 AM, 14 August 2003   [link]


1300 Posts:  As regular readers know, every 100 posts I like to review my work.  This time, instead of noting posts that I thought were memorable, I looked for systematic problems.  One stood out, lack of follow up.   Though I often criticize journalists here, I am not consistent in notifying them when I do.  I'll probably have to install some kind of reminder system for myself, to make up for my absent-mindedness.  It's not hard to do, though not nearly as much fun, for me anyway, as writing more posts.

There are several improvements I have been planning for the site.  I am going to experiment a little with the appearance to make it a bit less plain.  I am thinking of adding, mostly for my own use, a separate page of resources.  I have been experimenting with an additional format, with two columns, for longer pieces, which you may see in the next week or two.  (Note to technophiles: I could use Adobe's portable document format for these longer files, but it seems like overkill for a four or five page article.)   And, of course, I'll be adding more links, both to bloggers and to traditional news sources.  (One source I will be dropping, the Times of London, which no longer allows free access to its articles from outside Britain.)  Please feel free to suggest other changes, or to tell me if you think the changes are not improvements.
- 8:20 AM, 14 August 2003   [link]


Paul Krugman Changes the Subject: For months and months, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been arguing that, because of Bush administration policies, the economy might not recover.  Now, he has suddenly changed the subject and is discussing salinization in ancient Mesopotamia and logistical problems in Iraq.  (I hope the professor will forgive me if I say that he does not seem to be an expert on either subject.  In fact, I noticed several mistakes in the salinization column and, as Phil Carter points out here, Krugman is mostly wrong on the logistics story.)  Why did Krugman change from writing about the economy, where he has some credentials, to these other subjects?   Because, according to reports like this one, the economy is beginning to grow faster, contrary to what Krugman has been saying.   (In the last few weeks, I have seen evidence of this even in my own area, suburban Seattle, notably some help wanted signs that were not there just a few months ago.)  Rather than forthrightly admitting that, contrary to his fears, the economy is beginning to grow more briskly, Krugman has looked around to find other sticks to beat the Bush administration.  This is intellectually irresponsible.  If, as it now seems, Krugman has been wrong about the direction of the economy, he should admit it, not wander off into subjects about which he knows little.

(Some related thoughts:  I am not an uncritical admirer of the Bush administration economic policies.  During the 2000 campaign, I argued that both he and Al Gore were promising too large packages of tax cuts and new spending.  Gore was promising much more than Bush, but both went too far.  Of course, Bush may have learned from his father's experience, that an effort to be responsible will not necessarily be rewarded by the voters.

Second, the decline in jobs and the failure of the job market to recover quickly are caused in part by what is a very good thing—in the long run—the remarkable growth in productivity in recent years.  The rise in productivity will make us all better off in the long run, but it does delay hiring.

Finally, here's an interesting statistical comparison of the 1990-1991 and 2001 recessions.)
- 8:15 AM, 13 August 2003   [link]


Feminists and Servants:  In his 1970 article, "Radical Chic", Tom Wolfe described, acidly, a strange mixture of radicalism and wealth, people with leftist politics who must have personal servants.  Both the servants and the radical politics, Wolfe told us, were required for reasons of fashion.   To be chic, conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein had to have personal servants and contribute to those radical thugs, the Black Panthers.  (Since racial issues were then so central, radical chic people like Bernstein could not have black servants.   Luckily for him, his wife was from Chile, so they were able to get Chilean servants, and stay fashionable.)

Now, if this piece by Guardian writer Fiachra Gibbons is correct, leftist Barbara Ehrenreich, most famous for her book Nickel and Dimed, is extending Wolfe's charge to feminists.  Ehrenreich is the co-editor of Global Women, whose subtitle, Nannies, Maid, and Sex Workers in the New Economy", gives you some sense of her views but omits her explosive charges about Western feminists, among them:
She told the Edinburgh Book Festival that many of the benefits feminism had brought to middle-class women in the west had been paid for by the enslavement of poor migrant women.
. . .
"Our children learn quickly in this servant economy that some people are more worthy than others.  New hierarchies emerge.  Because increasingly cleaning women are women of colour, so you imprint racism very early."  But the main blame lies with men for their failure to properly share the burdens of the home, she argued.
. . .
Feminism had badly failed these poor and migrant women, she insisted.  "We thought entirely in terms of reforming men, which hasn't worked yet.  Even in the west, feminism may have made great gains for middle-class women, but the other 70% who are still doing stereotypical female jobs have not seen much change."
. . .
But the real destruction was in developing countries, many of whose governments actively collude with the trade in domestic servants.  "If you look at countries like Sri Lanka or the Philippines that these women have left behind, it has had a calamitous effect.  Children are left to be looked after by the men, such that they do, who are mostly unemployed."
In sum, Ehrenreich thinks that Western feminists have enslaved migrant women, spread racism, failed poor women, and damaged developing countries.  You and I might wonder—assuming Gibbons has described Ehrenreich's views correctly—whether Ehrenreich thinks a movement with these trifling faults should be abandoned.  Gibbons has nothing to say about that question, which may not even have occurred to her.

Immigrant servants is not a subject about which I have any great knowledge.  I suspect that Ehrenreich has exaggerated the problems, but not invented them whole.  It is hard not to be troubled, for example, by those mothers who have left their own children to go to another country to care for other people's children.  And, I should mention that, if the reports are correct, Western feminists treat these women far better than, say, wealthy Saudis do.
- 4:25 PM, 12 August 2003   [link]


Bureaucratic Politics explain more than you might think about both events, and the way news organizations cover them.  In this column, Frank Gaffney argues that, since the federal bureaucracies tend to be staffed with liberal Democrats, they are often an obstacle for conservative Republican presidents.  In general, he is right, though there are bureaucracies that tend to favor Republicans and sabotage Democrats.   Colin Powell and the bureaucrats at the Pentagon defeated Clinton on more than one issue,  And there are bureaucracies that conflict with almost all presidents, regardless of party or ideology.  The Corp of Engineers, which builds so many pork barrel projects, almost always has more friends on Capitol Hill than in the White House.

One of the main ways bureaucrats manipulate the political process is by anonymous leaks to friendly reporters.  Normally, the reporters protect their sources, both to preserve access and because they have some sympathy for the causes that the bureaucrats are promoting.  Readers rarely know the identities and almost never know the motives of the leakers, who have power without responsibility.

The political struggle over the liberation of Iraq inspired even more bureaucratic leakers than usual.  As Gaffney says, one entire organization, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), has been openly opposing the president they are paid to serve.  And, since this opposition serves the purposes of news organizations like the New York Times, you probably have not read just how weak their case is:
Two INR officials, recent retiree Greg Thielmann and his former subordinate Christian Westermann, have been among the few intelligence officials publicly to attack the integrity of the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq.  The former reportedly fared poorly when given an opportunity to support his charges recently before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Senate staffers have described Mr. Westermann's charges of politicization of intelligence to be "laughable."
(By the way, why do we even have am intelligence bureau in the State Department?   Don't we already have a CIA, an FBI, and an NSA for that task?)

The Defense Department has been more supportive of the president, but even there a few bureaucrats have opposed him, notably Patrick Lang and Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatowski.  You may have heard or seen their attacks on administration policy, though often without their names, but you probably have not seen what Gaffney tells us about their qualifications:
In fact, neither critic appears to have been directly involved in or otherwise to have first-hand knowledge of the alleged activities.  Instead, they seem to be passing on scuttlebutt whose provenance, to say nothing of veracity, seems highly questionable.
Kwiatowski also appears to be breaking a number of rules, judging by Gaffney's account.

Gaffney ends by urging those who can not support an administration's policies to resign, rather than sabotage the policies from within.  He is not wrong, but standards are so much lower now, with so many feeling that honor allows this kind of sabotage, that his plea will be ineffective.  Instead, we need to cut back on the protections for the civil servants and increase the number of people that presidents can fire.
- 2:53 PM, 12 August 2003   [link]


California Governor Gray Davis has managed to alienate even his most likely supporters on the left, mostly by his crude, permanent campaign.  That ally of the trial lawyers, Ralph Nader, might be expected to support Davis, another supporter of the trial lawyers, except that:
Davis has tried to make an issue out of the $66 million or so that the state will spend to run the election.  But what should be front and center in evaluating Davis' tenure is his notorious, relentless and specific cash-register politics since his first day in office.
(Actually, Davis' "cash-register politics" started long before he was elected governor, but Nader is right about the main point.)

And Harley Sorenson, who writes a "View From the Left" for the San Francisco Examiner, notes in passing that:
Nobody in his right mind (excepting sycophantic Democrats, who don't count) believes Gray Davis has been a good governor for California.
So Davis is corrupt (Nader) and incompetent (Sorenson).  Good enough reasons to remove him from office one would think, or better yet not to elect him in the first place.  Now then, why weren't these Gray characteristics better known before he was elected governor of California?  It's a question I'll come back to in a later post.
- 11:17 AM, 12 August 2003   [link]


Remember the Patty Murray Theory of Terrorism?  Washington state's senior senator got laughed at for her claim that Osama bin Laden had earned popular support by, among other things, building day care centers in Afghanistan.  Even more absurdly, she claimed that "we", that is the United States, had not done the same, in spite of our billions in foreign aid, much going to precisely these kinds of projects.   Although Murray's theory of terrorism took it into the realm of parody, milder versions of it are held by all kinds of people, especially on the left.  Again and again, you will hear people claim that poverty and lack of education cause terrorism.  You will even hear this from Bush administration spokesmen from time to time, including Colin Powell.

That the evidence does not support the theory does not seem to bother anyone who propounds it, if they are even aware of the critiques.  Even statistical studies do not shake the faith of those who think that another school or two, or a few more jobs in the right place, will prevent terrorist attacks on the United States.  People who hold this theory must also ignore the explicit words of the terrorists, with their base in extreme versions of Islam.  They even must ignore such cases as that well educated millionaire, Osama bin Laden, whose hate for us did not come from his poverty or lack of education.

There is an even more remarkable counter-example to the Patty Murray theory in this Daniel Pipes column on Maher Hawash.
Given Maher Mofeid "Mike" Hawash's biography, this all came as a particular shock, for he personified the American success story.  A Palestinian born in Nablus in 1964 and reared in Kuwait, he arrived in the United States in 1984, earning degrees in electrical engineering at the University of Texas.  He went on to work for Compaq in 1989 and became a U.S. citizen in 1990.

His career at Intel began in 1992, where he worked on video technologies.  When his father fell ill, he got Intel to transfer him to its plant in Israel, where he lived for two years.  He married Lisa Ryan in 1995 and fathered two children.  In 1997, he published a well-received book on video graphic formats with the prestigious scientific press Addison-Wesley.

Hawash had achieved much by 2000.  He worked at one of the world's greatest companies, earned nearly $360,000 a year, had a circle of friends and was admired for his volunteer activities.
In short, Hawash is neither impoverished not ill-educated, as the Patty Murray theory would predict.  Instead, he has been treated very kindly by this country, but turned against us when he got religion, when he turned to an extreme form of Islam.  That, not the lack of day care centers, is what we must watch.

Pipes has more on the reaction to the original detention of Hawash and the support he drew from the usual critics on the left.  Will any of those who condemned Ashcroft and the Justice Department over the Hawash case admit they were wrong?  Don't hold your breath.
- 9:27 AM, 12 August 2003   [link]


President Bush did not choose to build his home in Crawford, Texas to drive the White House press corp nuts every August, but it works beautifully as this satire from 2001 shows.  If many of the reporters weren't such jerks, I would have more sympathy.
- 4:13 PM, 11 August 2003   [link]


Hidden Chemical Weapons Discovered: In China, from World War II.   The Japanese left hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of them behind in their retreat.  The Chinese are still digging them up, which shows just how difficult it can be to find these barrels in a large country.  (Via Bill Quick and the Instapundit.)
- 4:04 PM, 11 August 2003   [link]


Chimeras Have Nothing to do with politics, as I far as I can tell, but they are so interesting that I had to pass this information along, after hearing a story about them on NPR this morning.  Here's a brief definition, a longer article from Nature, and a genetic description of a recent human example.  Chimeras have genes from, not two, but four gametes.  They form when two embryos fuse very early in development so that what began as fraternal twins ends up as a single person, with four sets of genes.  The articles don't go into it, but scientists have created some chimeras by combining different species.

Even more common are mosaics, a term usually used for people who had a mutation during fetal development, so that part of their body has the mutation and the rest doesn't.  You could call all mammalian females mosaics because they have two X chromosomes.  In some parts of the body one chromosome will be expressed, and in other parts, the other will be.   In a few cases this produces startling results, like the "wolf" family in Mexico.  Some of women carrying the X chromosome for the extra hair have it over most of their body; others have just a few patches.
- 3:55 PM, 11 August 2003   [link]


New Republic Editor Peter Beinart finds another person to blame for Howard Dean's rise, former president Bill Clinton.   Beinart thinks that Clinton's liberalism, especially in his first two years as president, eliminated most of the Democratic governors that would ordinarily be competing with Dean for the nomination.  (Beinart is quite right to argue that senators are at a sharp disadvantage to governors in running for the nomination, by the way, as election after election shows.)

It is even worse for the Democrats than Beinart thinks, in my opinion.  Presidential candidates set the tone for their party and heavily influence which young people aspire to be candidates.  Both Reagan and Kennedy influenced many young people to go into politics and strengthened their parties long term.  In contrast, Nixon damaged the Republican party long term by discouraging them.  Clinton, I think, will be more like Nixon than Kennedy or Reagan.  For years to come, the Democrats will find it harder to recruit good candidates because of his tainted example.

And one last ironic thought.  If one looked only at his effects on the Democratic party, one could make a good case for the conspiratorial argument that Clinton was working for the Republicans.  When he came into office the Democrats were dominant everywhere; now they have lost control of the House, the Senate, and even the majority of seats in the state legislatures, the first time that has happened since the 1930s.  Over and over he sacrificed the party to his own ambition—and in return he has received a loyalty unseen since John F. Kennedy.
- 9:42 AM, 11 August 2003   [link]


David Kelly, the British Ministry of Defence official who committed suicide after he became the center of a controversy between the BBC nd the Blair government, was in serious trouble with the bureaucracy.   I had mentioned this point before, but, until I read this column by John Keegan, I had not realized just how serious Kelly's trouble was.  If Keegan is correct, and I have no reason to think he is not, Kelly would have been ostracized by his colleagues and wounded professionally by his indiscretion in speaking to a reporter.  Worst of all, he could not appeal to outsiders, without again breaking the rule that had gotten him into trouble.
- 9:16 AM, 11 August 2003   [link]


Routine Anti-Americanism, Example 9:  Gary Younge, who is reckless even by Guardian standards, wins this award again with another error and bias filled column.   Younge begins with one fact, that American blacks have been less likely to support the our wars in the last century, but then continues with a series of errors.  First, he pulls the usual sleight-of-hand trick by implying that, of course, blacks were correct in not supporting American wars.  In fact, wars have generally brought big advances for blacks.  The American Civil War, as even Younge probably knows, ended slavery in the United States.  World War II, as he probably does not know, resulted in enormous gains for blacks.  The Korean War ended segregation in the armed services.

Here he leaves out the crucial point:
Black Americans obviously shared the shock and loss of September 11.  But most did not share the righteous indignation because the notion that they could be the victims of a mindless act of deadly violence in their own country was not entirely new.  "Living in a state of terror was new to many white people in America," said writer Maya Angelou.   "But black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years."
He wants his readers to think that American blacks are threatened now, as they were in the distant past, by violence from whites.  In fact, as he must know, the greatest danger to blacks comes from black criminals.  This has been true for many years; one study found that black soldiers were safer in combat in Vietnam than they were just living in some areas of Washington, D. C.  In interviews before and after the liberation of Iraq, blacks opposed to the war often made just this point, that their own neighborhoods were so dangerous that the effort should go to pacifying them, not Iraq.

He repeats a partisan slur, long since disproved:
Indeed, the very man who claims to be fighting the war to make the world safe for democracy - President George Bush - came to power because black Americans in Florida were systematically denied the right to vote.
Because of its power to wound, this absurd charge continues to be made, against all the evidence.  The United States Civil Rights Commission, headed by radical (and black) Mary Francis Berry held extensive hearings in Florida trying to find evidence to support this claim.  How many blacks was she able to find there who were denied the chance to vote because of their race?  None.  She also commissioned a bogus statistical study which tried to prove the same thing.  You don't need to know statistics to know that its conclusions are wrong, just some common sense.  In Florida, as in most of the United States, most blacks vote in jurisdictions where Democrats control the voting procedures.  It would be crazy for these Democratic officials, many of them black, to make it hard for a group that has their strongest supporters to vote.  This is especially true in Florida, which puts most of the control of elections at the county level.  (There is significant evidence that some of these Democratic officials cheated in registration, voting, counting and recounting; for more, see this Q&A.)

He is misleading when he says that:
It would be almost another 20 years [after President Truman's civil rights committee report] before black Americans would be assured of the right to vote.
In fact, blacks had voted since the Civil War without serious obstacles, in most parts of the North.  Even in the South, a few blacks had voted since Reconstruction in every state, even Mississippi.  (One black Mississippian continued to vote because he was a Confederate veteran.)  During and after World War II, black voting rose sharply in the urban areas of the South, especially in states like Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.   Voting rates were still low, but the same can be said of whites in the South at that time.   And the rates continued to rise in most of the South before the passage of the voting rights acts in the 1960s.  Black voters probably provided Kennedy's margin in several Southern states in 1960.

And he repeats a common error when he writes that:
But while they [blacks] were the least likely to support these wars, since Korea they have been the most likely to end up fighting them.
In fact, though blacks are more likely to join the military, they are not more likely to fight.  Black recruits to the military are likely to see it as a career, and choose non-combat specialties.  White recruits are more likely to be looking for a chance to fight and they are heavily over-represented in the elite units like the Delta force.  Blacks suffered casualties in Vietnam in about the same proportion as they are in the whole population, and were actually less likely to be killed in the Gulf War.

None of these points I have made come from obscure sources, though they may not have been published in the Guardian.  That Mr. Younge (and the Guardian) choose to repeat slurs on the United States, long since disproved, shows just how deep their anti-Americanism is.
- 8:43 AM, 11 August 2003   [link]


The Washington Post, which endorsed Al Gore in 2000, finds the latest version of Gore less attractive than the earlier one.  In this scathing editorial, they compare Gore's previous statements, from 1998:
If you allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons, how many people is he going to kill with such weapons?  He's already demonstrated a willingness to use these weapons.  He poison-gassed his own people.  He used poison gas and other weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors.   This man has no compunction about killing lots and lots of people.
with his latest speech, which crossed the line into conspiracy theories about how George W. Bush fooled the people and the Congress, and conclude that Gore is suggesting a course that will take the Democratic party "off the cliff".  They don't retract their endorsement from 2000, but they may if Gore continues on this course.
- 10:47 AM, 10 August 2003   [link]


Worth Reading:  Bjorn Lomborg takes a cool look at Europe's heat wave and what it shows about global warming.  Nothing:
But it is simply not correct to claim that global warming is the primary explanation of the kind of heatwave we are now experiencing.  The statistics show that global warming has not, in fact, increased the number of exceptionally hot periods.  It has only decreased the number of exceptionally cold ones.  The US, northern and central Europe, China, Australia and New Zealand have all experienced fewer frost days, whereas only Australia and New Zealand have seen their maximum temperatures increase.  For the US, there is no trend in the maximum temperatures - and in China they have actually been declining.
And don't miss these two points:
In both hemispheres and for all seasons, night temperatures have increased much more than day temperatures.  Likewise, most warming has taken place in the winter rather than the summer.  Finally, three quarters of the warming has taken place over the very cold areas of Siberia and Canada.  All of these phenomena are - within limits - actually quite good for both agriculture and people.
. . .
In the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries have agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent by 2010.  This will be very expensive and will only have a negligible effect.
Political effects of the Kyoto protocol, on the other hand, have already proved not to be negligible.  A treaty that was rejected, 95-0 (in an advisory vote), by the United States Senate, before George W. Bush even became president, has become one of the best weapons his political foes have.  That attempts to find a compromise after the Senate vote were sabotaged by the Europeans, notably the French, seems to have cost them nothing, politically.
- 10:30 AM, 10 August 2003   [link]


The Iraqi Recovery is continuing, as shown by this powerful bit of evidence:  The Visa credit card is back.  
- 9:34 AM, 10 August 2003   [link]


The BBC Has Been Plagued By Scandal all through 2003.  It botched, as nearly everyone agrees, what should have been a routine story, the Conservative gains in local elections.  It is now in an all out fight with the governing Labour party, after a story in which a BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, appears to have, using his phrase, "sexed up" information from government employee David Kelly.  (Kelly, as you probably know, committed suicide shortly afterwards.)  The Israeli government, almost the only democracy in the Middle East, has stopped cooperation with the BBC, after many inaccurate stories and a terribly biased documentary.  The BBC's coverage of the liberation of Iraq was so biased that the sailors on the British flagship, the Ark Royal, asked that the ship provide a different news channel.  So, the governing party in Britain, the largest opposition party, the Israeli government, and British sailors have all concluded that the BBC is not to be trusted.  University of Washington professor of "news media and public policy" Margaret T. Gordon, perhaps unaware of all these events, thinks that the United States needs our own BBC.   Her reasons for this are straightforward; she distrusts the profit motive, at least in the news business.  (And misunderstands the business side as this Stefan Sharkansky post explains.)  

Now it is true that free markets will not always lead to ideal behavior in the news business, or anywhere else.  It is equally true, though not as well known when Professor Gordon was a college student, that bureaucracies will not lead to ideal behavior, either.  Both have their places, but experience shows that markets have a great advantage that is especially relevant in the news business.  Martin Mayer put it this way in his book, Today and Tomorrow in America:
The great advantage of decision-making in an economic market is that markets, automatically, routinely force the recognition of error.  Presumably, computers will someday make it possible for a bureaucratic society to recognize and correct mistakes; but this presumption is likely to remain just that, because bureaucracies are fundamentally motivated by fear of the discovery of error.  (p. 36)
(The book, published in 1975, is an insightful discussion of the effects of the baby boom on the United States.)  Journalists will err for many reasons—tight deadlines, lack of knowledge about the field they are covering, political bias, et cetera—but if we want them to be forced to recognize and correct errors, we will be better off with markets than bureaucracies.  The New York Times, which has its own problems with bureaucracy, was forced to admit Jayson Blair's errors only when another newspaper complained about his plagiarism.  The BBC seems prepared to be demolished rather than admit error in the Gilligan story.

Let me end with two speculative thoughts, one that I think quite plausible, and one that I admit is a little wild.  First, the plausible one.  For people like Professor Gordon, the unwillingness of the BBC to admit error may be one of its attractions.  If you share the rather curious ideology of the BBC, as many American professors do, you will be told that you are right almost continuously.  That the predictions, implied or explicit, from the BBC keep being wrong, is less important than the day to day soothing claims that your picture of the world is correct.

Now, the wild one.  This Seattle Times op-ed piece is only the latest of many from a professor at one of our public institutions that I find intellectually embarrassing.   In this column, for example, journalism professor Floyd McKay asserted that Oregon software engineer Maher Hawash was a poster boy for "guilt by association", just like the Japanese-Americans interned in World War II.  McKay shouldn't have been so sure, since Hawash has just pled guilty after he saw how strong the case against him was.  If past experience is any guide, Professor McKay will not admit his mistake.  And, in this column, Walter Williams, "professor emeritus at the Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington", argued that President Bush should be impeached and removed from office because his "unprecedented pattern of deception" is a "high crime against the nation".  That Professor Williams does not establish an "unprecedented pattern of deception" does not bother him.  (Hint to the professor: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is not exactly an unbiased source on the Bush administration.)

Why is the Seattle Times publishing all these pieces that discredit the professors who write them and academics in general?   Could editorial page editor, James Vesely, a sharp journalist, share my view that our universities are in great need of reform?  Is he publishing these columns to demonstrate just how poor some of the thinking is at our universities?  If so, I am not sure whether to applaud his goal or to condemn his means.  Certainly, and these columns are only a small part of the evidence, our universities are in great need of reform, but is this a fair way to promote it, by embarrassing these professors for all the world to see?
- 9:18 AM, 10 August   [link]