Archive:

August 2003, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Is Microsoft At Fault for the rapid spread of viruses like Sobig.F and worms like Blaster?  Yes, in part.  Here's an explanation of how Microsoft leaves its home operating system, Windows XP, too open to intruders.  It is possible to close these open doors, but many users will not know how or why they should do it.

There is also a fundamental error in interface design in the way Microsoft Outlook (and most other email programs) handles email attachments.  In general, a computer file is either a data file or a program file.  Operating systems recognize which is which, but many users do not.  An email attachment that is a program, like many of these viruses, should be treated in an entirely different way than attachments that are data.   They should be labeled differently, and they should not be as easy to run as an attached data file is to load.  (As computer experts will notice, and others may guess, I have simplified a bit here to keep from being too technical.)
- 9:08 PM, 24 August 2003   [link]


Salmon And Dams:  On his way to this area, President Bush stopped in eastern Washington to give a speech arguing that salmon and dams can coexist.   He was repeating an argument, very popular in that part of the state, that he had made in the 2000 campaign, and will be making again in 2004.  Bush's argument on this issue is in the tradition of conservationists like Teddy Roosevelt, and opposed to the extremists on the environment, whom we might call preservationists.  The same kinds of arguments are made by both sides in many disputes over environmental issues, so a look at the salmon issue can show us something about the politics of the environment generally.

(Some background for those who may not be familiar with the issue.  When we began building dams on the Columbia river and its tributaries, like the Snake, we provided cheap hydroelectric power, irrigated much of the dry half of the state, and made barge traffic possible deep into the interior.  We also blocked the annual salmon runs in many places.  The fish had great difficulty ascending, though "fish ladders" were installed as detours for them, and in descending, since the salmon fry often did not survive the passage through the turbines.  Many of the fish now begin their lives in artificial hatcheries, like the one described here.  Preservationists have objected to these artificial ways of restoring the salmon and now argue that the dams, especially those on the Snake, should be destroyed to restore the river and, in time, the salmon runs.  The Seattle City Council actually passed a resolution asking for some dams to be destroyed, which aroused considerable anger in the eastern half of the state.  During the campaign, Gore hedged a bit on whether he would ever favor destroying the dams for the salmon, while Bush was resolutely opposed.)

The most recent salmon runs on the Columbia have been excellent.
In the past two years, returns of salmon from the Pacific have reached levels not seen in four decades.  For the first time since 1965, Indian tribes along the Columbia River have been allowed to net summer chinook salmon and sell them on the riverbank.
Do these record levels of salmon show that Bush policies are restoring the salmon?  No, since these fish were born before Bush took office and spent most of their lives in the ocean.  Much of the increase appears to be due to changes in the Pacific that have helped salmon in the last two years.  But the levels do show that it is possible, just as Bush argued in 2000, to have both dams and salmon.  When confronted with this evidence, the preservationists retreat to another argument.  Yes, there may be plenty of salmon, but these are the wrong salmon in the wrong places.  They don't live their entire lives in the wild and they are different genetically from wild salmon.  And, there are some parts of the Columbia river system that once had many salmon that now have almost none.   The first and third points are true; the second may have a bit of truth to it, but the genetic differences, if any, are very small.

So the argument on this issue can be summarized as follows:  The preservationists, in order that salmon runs can be exactly like those of a hundred years ago, would destroy large amounts of our hydroelectric power, end agriculture in large parts of eastern Washington, and stop barge traffic in much of the area.  The damage this would do to hundreds of thousands of people in eastern Washington (and in much of the West because of higher power costs) does not seem to bother them.  In this, they are worse than the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), and even the BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) people.   I don't know of a good acronym to describe them, but we need one.

Most American citizens would, I think, favor President Bush's approach to this issue over that of the extreme environmentalists—if they knew the alternatives.  Outside the areas affected by these extreme proposals, few people will learn from the network news, or even the local newspapers, just what the real alternatives are.

(The reaction to Bush's speech illustrated a common political technique, the use of a straw man.  Bush's opponents criticized him, even before his speech, for claiming that his policies had made possible the record high salmon runs.  The charge even made it into the original headline of this article, though nothing in the body supported the charge.  In fact, Bush never claimed that his policies had created the surge in salmon in these last two years.  You can verify this by reading Bush's speech, which I found using sophisticated Internet search techniques.  (I went to www.whitehouse.gov.)  Here are the two key paragraphs if you don't want to read the whole thing:
Today, there are a lot fewer salmon in the waters.  And the mission has got to be to fight the decline.  The mission has got to be to make sure that we understand that without the salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers that this would be a huge loss to this part of the world.  That's part of what the focus of my short discussion is today, is to let you know that we understand in this administration that we want to work with the local folks to revitalize the salmon runs.

The good news is that salmon runs are up.  (Applause.)  And that's really positive.  And we just need to make sure we keep that momentum.  I want to talk about some ways we're going to do it.  Gale mentioned one thing is that we can spend that money in Washington, and we're writing a pretty good size check in '04.  It helps keep the commitment about what I said when I ran for President.  I said, look, we are concerned about the fish.  We're also concerned about the citizens of Washington State who depend upon the dams for electricity, and the water to water their land so we can have the crops necessary to eat in America.
For a politician, he was being remarkably modest.  There is progress, but he claims no credit for it, instead saying that more needs to be done.  Later in the speech, he praises the local people for coming up with solutions to the problem, giving them the credit for the progress.

You can see how these straw man arguments get echoed after they have been made in this post by Kevin Drum.   Note that neither he, nor the people who agreed with him in the comments, seem to have read Bush's speech, but they are willing to blame Bush for what he didn't say.  Even the change in the MSNBC headline didn't make them take a second look.)
- 5:53 PM, 24 August 2003   [link]


Yesterday's Demonstrations in Bellevue were peaceful.   As I had mentioned Thursday, I was worried because of the heated rhetoric from the left and the competing demonstration just four blocks away by Bush supporters.  Fortunately, there were few of the anarchists who helped tear apart Seattle in the 1999 WTO riots; these two in black were the only people I saw wearing the uniform.

There were plenty of police on hand from the Bellevue police department (and two from the Washington state patrol), as well as some private security guards.  (The four block stretch of Bellevue Way, separating the two demonstrations, is the eastern boundary of Bellevue Square, a very large shopping mall, which explains the security guards.)

The two demonstrations had about the same number of participants, 200-300, counting those who came and went.  The people in the demonstrations differed in much the same way that people in the "peace" and the "support the troops" rallies earlier this year did.  The anti-Bush demonstrators were older; perhaps half had gray hair.  A barista told me that they were still fighting the Vietnam war.  So, too, were these Vietnamese veterans, who came out to support the United States in still another war.



The two groups differed in the ways one would expect.  For the most part, the Republicans came on time, were dressed neatly, included a number of visibly religious people, and drew support from other nations that have faced terror.  I saw, besides the Vietnamese group, people with Israeli and United Kingdom flags.  For the most part, the Democrats came late, were dressed informally or even sloppily, included no visibly religious people, and drew support from people with international loyalties.  Besides the American flags, several carried UN flags.  Most of the children were in the Republican demonstration; one of the few I saw among the anti-Bush people belonged to a woman who appeared to be a single mother.  The pro-Bush demonstration drew many more honks of support in this mostly Republican area, but I was not surprised when an old Volvo went by the anti-Bush demonstration, honking continuously.

The three local newspapers gave different accounts.  The Seattle Times merged the story of the demonstrations with a general story on the Bush trip, and left out just how extreme some of the anti-Bush people were.  The King County Journal had a similar story, again omitting the extremism of some in the anti-Bush crowd.  To its credit, the Seattle PI mentioned the anarchists and Communists in its story.  Most of the anti-Bush demonstrators carried printed signs that said either "Impeach Bush" or "Bush Lied"   None of the demonstrators, who included supporters of several Democratic presidential candidates (Dean, Kerry, Kucinich), seemed to think signs like the one below went too far.


Nor were they bothered by this one, accusing Bush of fascism:



(In the last line, he is trying to spell Mussolini.  Realizing he had gotten it wrong, he added a little apology for the spelling in parentheses.  And, yes, he missed with "corparate" and "facism" but didn't realize it.)  Another man, carrying a sign that urged people to "Stone Bush", was positively surprised when I sarcastically complimented him on his adherence to non-violence.

Both demonstrations drew entrepreneurs.  The pro-Bush demonstrators had one man selling military toys and another selling pro-Bush sweatshirts.  The anti-Bush demonstrators had a commercial venture with rather different goals.



Something strange happened in the last hour or so.  At the start, the two demonstrations were carefully separated.  I even saw one of the anti-Bush leaders complaining to a policeman about a single pro-Bush demonstrator who was standing on their corner.  The policeman, to his credit, took the free speech position, telling them not to worry about it as long as the man wasn't bothering anyone.  (I spoke to another policeman afterwards and that appears to be their quite sensible general policy.)  But, in the last hour, about half of the anti-Bush demonstrators moved north, a few at a time, and merged into the pro-Bush demonstration.  This started, as you would expect, a number of conversations, some a bit heated.  I have no idea what the anti-Bush demonstrators hoped to accomplish by this, unless they wanted a confrontation.
- 3:34 PM, 23 August 2003   [link]


The Dixie Chicks' Attack on Bush never particularly bothered me.  The Chicks seem like shallow entertainers, convinced by their commercial success that they had something to say about politics, in spite of their all too obvious ignorance.  And, I thought that some of the protests against them went too far.   But, that is one of the prices of free speech.  Both the Chicks and their opponents were exercising their First Amendment rights to make fools of themselves.   Unfortunately, the controversy, which shows mostly how vigorous free speech can be in the United States, has become a symbol for those who want to believe that the Bush administration is clamping down on free speech.  Yesterday, I noted that Paul Berendt, the Washington state Democratic chairman, had used them as an example of repression.  We have another example in this Guardian piece by Nigel Williamson, who seems to think that speech by the Chicks is legitmate, but speech by their opponents is not.

Another thing struck me about Williamson piece, though I hesitate to mention it given the stellar reputation of British journalists.  A few of the details in the story seemed, well, just a little implausible.  Now, I don't want to accuse Williamson of making things up, but it would be nice to have the name of the immigration officer who supposedly said, "They should string those girls up."  Or the name, or even the company, of the taxi driver who supposedly said, "Those girls need to learn to keep their mouths shut."   And when Williamson claims that the American Red Cross turned down a one million dollar donation from the Chicks, it would be nice to have a statement from a Red Cross official to back that up.  Maybe his reference to Communist Leon Trotsky just makes me too suspicious:
As Trotsky once observed, the proletariat is radicalised by experience of the struggle.   And while many have abused and reviled the Chicks, to others they have become a cause célèbre.
I don't claim to be an expert on Trotsky's career, but I don't think he was a champion of free speech, at least while he was in power in the Soviet Union.  And, like Lenin and Stalin, Trotsky was not above telling a few lies from time to time.

(Let me add something that should be obvious, but in our time of heated political discussions is not.  It is disgusting that some creeps have threatened the Dixie Chicks, and I support the efforts to find and prosecute them.  That said, I should also add that these threats are one of the prices celebrities pay, regardless of their political views.   If you are famous, some nuts will threaten to kill you—regardless of your political views.)
- 9:21 AM, 22 August 2003   [link]


North Korea Attacked South Korea to start the Korean War, a war that has still not ended.  (Officially, there is a truce.)  The war devastated Korea and killed hundreds of thousands of Koreans.  It divided families for generations.  After the truce was signed, the North Korean government continued hostilities in other ways, minor attacks on land and sea, kidnapping hundreds of South Koreans, an attack on an airliner carrying South Korean officials, and endless preparations for another war.  Recently, the North Korean government even has threatened South Korea with a nuclear attack.

After an enormous bribe from the South Korean government, the North Koreans did agree to peace talks and some cosmetic changes in their policy.  But they continued to develop nuclear weapons and to threaten to use them.  You would think that all that bitter history, and this more recent experience, would convince President Roh of South Korea that a firm line was the best policy toward the North Korean government.  You would be wrong.  In order to get North Korean participation in an athletic tournament, President Roh has apologized to the North Koreans.   For what?  For a peaceful protest in which South Koreans burned the North Korean flag and an effigy of Kim Jong Il.
- 7:08 AM, 22 August 2003   [link]


The Sponge With Fiber Optics:  Researchers have found a sponge in the Indian Ocean that uses glass fibers to carry light, just like our fiber optics.  Well, not just like.  The sponge's fibers are more resistant to breakage than manufactured fibers.  And, they have traces of sodium, which helps them conduct light, traces which we do not know how to add to manufactured fibers.
- 4:18 PM, 21 August 2003   [link]


Anti-Americanism at the BBC, Example 1:  This article by Paul Reynolds, a BBC "world affairs correspondent", illustrates the pervasive anti-Americanism at the BBC.  In his discussion of the current situation in Iraq, Reynolds claims that (1) "Foreign powers have always found Iraq ungovernable" and that (2) Britain learned this in the 1920s.  He then uses the old reporter's trick of quoting an expert, one Toby Dodge, who claims that (3) "The US lacks experience in nation-building verging on the incompetent", and (4) "It needs more troops but doesn't have them."

All four of these claims are false.  In order, here are the facts:  (1) Throughout its long history, what is now Iraq has been governed by foreigners far longer than it has been independent.  It has been ruled by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs (after the Muslim conquest), Mongols, and Turks of several kinds.  For four centuries, it was disputed between the Ottoman Turks and the Persians, with the Turks having the edge most of the time.  (2) That ended with World War I, when the British defeated the Turks and took indirect control of Iraq.  There were revolts against the British, just as there were in other parts of its empire, but they never became a serious threat.  One can see just how successful the British were by the ease with which they reversed a German inspired coup during World War II.  (3) During the last century, the United States acquired nation building experience, successful and unsuccessful, in Nicaragua, in Haiti, in Cuba, in the Dominican Republic, in the Philippines, in Germany, in Japan, in South Korea, and in South Vietnam.  (4) There are already some 50,000 armed Iraqis who are supporting our efforts, according to a report I heard this morning.  If more United States forces are necessary, which I think unlikely, more are available.  In the very worst case, more of the reserves could be activated.

These serious errors raise doubts about both Reynolds and the BBC.  Surely, one would think, there is someone at the BBC who would know enough about the history of Iraq to see why his first claim is foolish.  The same is true of the other three claims.   That they appeared in print can only be explained by bias, incompetence, or some combination of the two.

Reynolds follows these errors with a quotation from a former British ambassador to Iraq, Sir John Moberly, who says that there should be "more UN, not less".  No doubt Sir John thinks that because he has seen the brilliant success of the UN in operations around the world.  Though it does not always fail, its record is poor, as every informed person knows.  Finally, note that in all this critique of the United States, Reynolds could not find space for a single person who supports our current policies.  Not one.   Now that's balance.
- 3:56 PM, 21 August 2003   [link]


Sorry, Idaho:  This Seattle Times article on President Bush's visit illustrates the narrow, Seattle-centered view of many reporters in this area.  David Postman writes that "the environment is key to attracting suburban and moderate voters who three years ago kept him from success in the Northwest".   There are three states that are nearly always included in the Northwest, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.  Bush carried Idaho by almost 200,000 votes, lost Oregon by less than 7,000 votes, and Washington by less than 140,000 votes.  So, taking the Northwest as a whole, Bush actually won the popular vote in the region.  (If you add in Alaska, which Bush won by almost 90,000 votes, his margin would be even larger.)  What kept Bush from complete success was the way the votes were distributed.

As a matter of completeness, I should add that Postman's conclusion may be wrong, too.   Though I think that Bush should compete for the votes of moderates on the environment, and deserves them, he may be able to win in 2004 in both Washington and Oregon by drawing a few more votes from those who have been hurt by the environmentalists or are threatened by them.  Even in this area, moderates are beginning to worry about the cost of environmental proposals and the extremism of most environmental organizations.
- 2:03 PM, 21 August 2003   [link]


Violent Protests Against Bush?  In 1999, a week before the WTO riots in Seattle, I was almost certain that there would be violence here, just from what I saw in the local media and heard on talk radio.  Tomorrow, President Bush is visiting this area briefly for a fund raiser, after some environmental photo-ops elsewhere in Oregon and Washington.  A number of organizations are organizing protests both during his visits and afterwards.  Although I think the odds are still against violence during the anti-Bush protests tomorrow and Saturday, I think they are not long odds, perhaps 2 or 3 to 1.  

Bush haters abound in this area, especially in Seattle itself.  They have been encouraged by the local alternate newspapers, and ignored or even condoned by the major newspapers.  The shadowy organization organizing one of the main protests, "Majority Visibility Project", has this chilling quotation on their "About" page:
"This is no part-time, do-gooder hobby. We are in a fight for our lives here.  It really is that simple.  These guys [the Bush administration] go down, or we don't survive."  Mike Yossarian, Seattle 2003
(I assume the "Mike Yossarian" is a pseudonym, taken from Catch 22.)  If you thought that you were in a fight for your life, wouldn't you also think that violence might be warranted?

Democratic officials are encouraging the protests, just as they did before the WTO riots.   Then, some Seattle city council members actually helped find housing for the anarchists who came to tear up the city.  This morning, Washington state's Democratic party chairman, Paul Berendt, said, on the Dave Ross talk show, "We just want to use our Constitutional rights to free speech while we still have them."  When Ross challenged him on this, he cited the protests against the Dixie Chicks as an example of attacks on free speech, and never really backed off his original claim.   That's not as extreme as "Mike Yossarian", but it's similar enough to be disturbing.   If you thought that you were about to lose your rights, wouldn't you also think that violence might be warranted?  (Berendt is showing some caution.  The Democratic party protest will be held in Seattle, far away from Bush, and separate from the "Majority Visibility" protest.)

Finally, conservative talk stations here, notably KVI, have been encouraging a support rally for Bush, at the same time and in the same place as the "Majority Visibility" protest.   Conflicts between the two groups seem almost inevitable.  I plan to be in Bellevue to cover both the protest and support rallies.  I hope that all I have to show you will be colorful signs carried by peaceful people.
- 10:09 AM, 21 August 2003   [link]


Seanet and the Virus:  Like nearly everyone else, Tuesday I received a large number of emails generated by the Sobig.F virus.  Tuesday afternoon I sent an email to my internet provider, Seanet, telling them about the problem.  The flood of bogus email stopped almost immediately.  Yesterday, I received a reply from their support staff explaining that they had adjusted their virus filtering to stop the flood.  That's a pretty quick fix, and good service.
- 7:21 AM, 21 August 2003   [link]


No Evidence?  I don't intend to spend as much time criticizing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as I do.  Others, with better qualifications than mine, are already on his case, and I long ago decided that his bias is obvious to anyone with an open mind.  But then he comes up with another incredible statement, like this one from his latest column, and I can't resist:
Incidentally, there seems to be a weird reluctance to face up to what happened in California.   Since the blackout, I've seen national news reports attributing California's woes in part to environmental restrictions, while ignoring the role of market manipulation.  Huh? There's no evidence that environmental restrictions played any role; meanwhile, even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which strongly backs deregulation, has concluded that market manipulation played a major role.  What's with the revisionist history?
No evidence?  What about this summary from the World Nuclear Association?
Several plants, totalling 2700 MWe, had used up their annual pollution credits so could not restart without severe fines.  In particular, three gas-fired plants (2000 MWe) were shut down after the south coast Air Quality Management District required them to install emission control equipment for NOx.  As the crisis developed, the state's Independent System Operator (ISO), which operates most of the state's power grid, called them back into service, but they are required to obtain NOx emission credits to cover the short-term impact of this.  The price of such credits has soared.
So, environmental restrictions affected both the availability and price of electricity in California during their crisis.  Of course, environmental restrictions have made it more difficult for years to build new power plants and transmission lines, as well.   How can Paul Krugman, who is a Princeton economics professor as well as a New York Times columnist, not know these things?

(For a more balanced take on these problems, see this Samuelson column.   And for more critiques of Krugman, see Don Luskin and Robert Musil.)
- 9:08 AM, 20 August 2003   [link]


UN Good, US Bad:  Sometimes Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee is unintentionally revealing.  In this muddled column, she claims—correctly, I think—that many of those who opposed the liberation of Iraq would have supported it, if it had had UN approval.  In other words, a vote by an organization mostly composed of dictatorships would have given the liberation a legitimacy that votes in Britain and the United States, two democracies, did not.  I doubt very much that she realizes just how odd this argument is.  Nor does she or Robin Cook, who she thinks held this view, remember enough history to notice that this principle, that UN approval is required before a tyrant can be removed, would have blocked the overthrow of Idi Amin and Pol Pot, among others.  Does she really think they should have been left in power?  Or perhaps it is simply anti-American bigotry, as some other parts of her column suggest.  It may be that, for her and for Robin Cook, UN approval is required only when the United States is involved, so as to remove the taint of association with the world's most important democracy.
- 7:56 AM, 20 August 2003   [link]


When Senator Hillary Clinton came to Seattle recently, this is how Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly greeted her, with an entirely positive column.  He had no hard questions and many compliments.  President Bush is coming to town for a fund raiser and this is how Connelly greats him, with a column full of accusatory questions.  Sometimes Connelly is so blatantly biased, it's funny.  It would not matter so much if the PI had anyone covering politics who had the opposite bias, but they do not.   As far as I can tell, the newspaper would rather die than hire a Republican to cover politics.  (And they may die soon.  They have been losing circulation since they made a sharp turn to the left in the last year or so, and are in a tough fight with the Seattle Times.)

Suppose Connelly were to ask Senator Clinton a few questions.  What might they be?   Well, here are just a few suggestions:  What does she now think of her associations with radical Saul Alinsky and Stalinist lawyer Robert Treuhaft?  How did she earn 100 thousand dollars in the futures market on an investment of one thousand dollars?   (By far the most probable explanation is that it was a bribe from Tyson Foods.)   After an affair with Bill Clinton, Gennifer Flowers received an Arkansas state job.   After sexual encounters with Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky received a job at the Pentagon.   Is it appropriate for an elected official to trade public jobs for sex?  If not, what should the penalty be?  At the end of his time in office, President Clinton pardoned a number of criminals, including Marc Rich and leaders in a Jewish community.  His library received a very large contribution, and you received the votes of that community in the election.  Did he exchange pardons for cash and votes?
- 7:28 AM, 20 August 2003   [link]


Kudos to Richard Poe for getting the facts right on Hillary and the Black Panthers.   Her association with those violent radicals was not innocent, but not nearly as bad as some are now claiming.  There are two other points in the column worth thinking about.  It is true that many 1960s radicals with violent pasts did not serve appropriately long sentences and are far too welcome at some colleges and universities.   And, it is also true that Hillary Clinton has never really explained or apologized for her youthful associations with the hard core, violent left.  Just imagine what an issue it would be for a Republican politician if it were learned that he had worked for a lawyer with connections to the Nazis.  In contrast, Hillary Clinton's internship with Robert Treuhaft, a hardline Stalinist, never draws any media attention.
- 10:35 AM, 19 August 2003   [link]


Most Americans Were Pleased when the reaction to the blackout in the Northeast was almost entirely peaceful.  Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is grumpy, annoyed that New Yorkers were not outraged.  But why should they be?  For many, thanks to the fortunate timing of the blackout, it was just an unexpected three day weekend.  And, though this does not seem to concern Cohen, there seems no reason to get angry until we know what caused the blackout.  (Breaking with tradition, Cohen gathered his information about opinion in New York, not from cab drivers, but in an expensive hair salon.  As anyone who has seen me can tell you, I am not an expert on hair styling, so I will leave it to those who are to decide whether Cohen's haircut is worth the cost, which Cohen describes as what he "once paid for a furnished apartment".)
- 10:17 AM, 19 August 2003   [link]


Worth Reading:  If millions of commuters make their trip safely and one has an accident, TV stations will show you the accident and not mention the millions.  This is natural, and when it occurs where you live, may not be too misleading.  But when the same thing happens far away, out of your personal experience, you can get a seriously distorted picture, even if none of the stories you see are false.   There have been many problems in Iraq since the liberation, most in the "Sunni triangle".   This column, written by Marine Lance Corporal John R. Guardiano, tells you what it is like in most of Iraq, peaceful, recovering, and filled with people who tell him, "Bush good, Saddam bad!"  
- 10:03 AM, 19 August 2003   [link]


So Many Mistakes, So Little Time:  British voters are right to be skeptical about the BBC, and they should be even more skeptical about the Guardian, as a whole series of mistakes today shows.  Columnist Hugo Young thinks that President Bush is "hard-right".
This is a hard-right administration offering virtually no concessions to the soothing niceties that might make it more electorally attractive to voters who are not Republicans.   Its tax policy is grotesquely loaded against the masses and in favour of the rich.  Its bias on the environment unfailingly comes out on the side of the big commercial interests.  It is daily tearing up tracts of policy and practice that protected the basic rights of people snared in the justice system.  It is the hardest right administration since Herbert Hoover's from a very different era.  And, which is the point, delights in being so.  There is no apology or cover-up.
In order:  In both the 200 election and since, Bush has courted independent voters and made a real effort to soothe them.  The tax cuts were larger, proportionately, for lower income taxpayers, establishing a new 10 per cent bracket and expanding the deductions for children.   The recent decision to cut diesel emissions was opposed by industry and will be expensive.   In some important ways, Bush is far less conservative than Ronald Reagan.  He pushed hard for an expanded role in education, with higher standards and higher expenditures.  His education bill had the support of Ted Kennedy.  The changes in anti-terrorism policy give the Bush administration less power than nearly all European governments have.  In several cases, they only allow investigators to use the same tools with suspected terrorists as they already could with drug dealers.

David Aaronovitch is usually closer to the facts than Hugo Young, but he misses badly in this column, where he claimed that the blackout closed down half the United States.  The blackout affected far fewer than 50 million people in Canada and the United States.  (For an explanation of where the 50 million figure came from, and why it is wrong, see this article.)  Even if 50 million had been affected and all were in the United States, that would closer to one sixth of our population than one half.

Even in a science, where the Guardian has a good reputation, they can not get the basics right.  In this piece describing a British Mars probe with an ion engine, the Guardian's science editor gives this description of its ion drive:
But ion drive has a huge advantage over chemical rockets.  A stream of xenon ions shoots away from the spacecraft at 10 times the speed of any rocket.  So an ion drive spaceship can go 10 times as fast - or set off with one tenth of the fuel.
In fact, the relationship between the speed of the propellant and the performance of a rocket is not linear, but much better than that.  (If you want to see how much better, see this brief description of what Charles Sheffield called the "fundamental equation of rocketry".)
- 9:34 AM, 19 August 2003   [link]


British Trust in the BBC is Low:  This Guardian article naturally hypes the lack of trust in Blair's government found in their poll, but the more striking finding is that a majority of the public there doesn't trust the BBC either.   British voters, like those in most countries, bring a sensible skepticism to politicians' statements.  In the past, they had more trust for the BBC, just as Americans had more trust for our networks years ago.  Now just one in three British voters will say that they trust the BBC more than the Blair government in general.  (A majority of 52 per cent say they trust neither, 6 per cent trust Blair's government more, and a confused 4 per cent say they trust both.)

It is natural to compare the trust for the Blair government and the BBC, since the two are engaged in a full scale political war, but it is mistaken.  Politicians who mislead, deceive, or even lie can still be effective leaders.  Journalists who do the same are worse than useless.
- 7:56 AM, 19 August 2003   [link]


British Schools Are Failing White Working Class Boys:  That's what the title, "Poor white boys flounder under 'feminised' teaching", of this article from the Observer implies.  The theory behind the title is plausible, but I don't think that it is the whole explanation, or even most of it.

First, let me summarize the the basic facts.  Overall, girls do better than boys on the GCSE* tests.  As the testing organization's press release, which I found here, puts it:
In all the qualifications for which results are issued today, males have improved their performance.  They are, however, outperformed by females overall in all qualifications and generally females are increasing their lead over males.
From the Observer article, we learn that Asians are doing better than whites, who in turn are doing better than blacks, or as they say "Afro-Caribbeans".  Both the ethnic differences and the growing lead of girls over boys are similar to the patterns in the United States.  Here too, girls have a growing lead in academic achievement over boys.  Here too, Asians, though in our case mostly East Asians rather than South Asians, outperform whites, who outperform blacks.  Is there a single explanation for all these patterns?

In my opinion, there is a cause that explains much of these differences.  First, let me add two more facts; in the United States, the gap between the achievement of boys and girls is very large for African-Americans and small or non-existent for Asian-Americans.   (If you would like to see some of the statistics behind this generalization, see Coley's "Differences in the Gender Gap: Comparisons Across Racial/Ethnic Groups in Education and Work", which you can find at this site.   You will learn, for example, that girls outnumber boys in Advanced Placement classes in every ethnic group, but the difference is largest among African-Americans, and smallest among Asian-Americans.)  The Observer article, though vague on this point, seems to suggest that there is the same pattern in Britain, that gender differences there are found more among blacks and whites than among Asians.  If feminized, or as the British spell it, "feminised" classrooms are the problem, they seem to affect the ethnic groups very differently.

The cause that fits this pattern in the United States is fatherlessness.   The 2000 birth data from the Center for Disease Control shows that the illegitimacy rate that year was 71.9 per cent for African-Americans, 25.7 per cent for whites, and 9.5 and 7.6 for Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans, respectively.  It fits it for ethnic groups and it also fits it in time. Fatherless grew in the United States in the same period that the gap between boys and girls in educational achievement appeared.   The surge in illegitimacy came later in Britain but the level is now close to ours.   (I don't know whether illegitimacy there is associated with poverty, as it is here, but that seems quite likely.)

If much of the reason for the growing gap between boys and girls and the differences between ethnic groups is caused by fatherlessness, then the problem will be difficult to treat with public policy.  Even if the modest marriage initiatives that the Bush administration is experimenting with work, it will take many years for them to make large changes in illegitimacy rates.  Meanwhile, and here I agree with the Observer article, we need to re-think how we educate boys, especially boys who grow up where fatherlessness is the norm.  Single sex schools, tighter discipline, and more competition are all worth trying.  Some of these ideas will be opposed, in the United States anyway, by feminist groups, which have been, at best, indifferent to the well being of boys.

*(If you are wondering what the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is, here's a brief explanation, along with some of the history of the test.)
- 5:34 PM, 18 August 2003   [link]


Fighting AIDS in Africa will require changes in some African customs.  In Kenya, local groups of women are beginning to resist the misnamed tradition of the village "cleanser".  
As tradition holds, they must sleep with the cleanser to be allowed to attend their husbands' funerals or be inherited by their husbands' brother or relative, another controversial custom that aid workers said is causing the spread of HIV-AIDS.  Unmarried women who lose a parent or child must also sleep with the ritual cleanser.

The custom has always been unpopular among women.  But in midst of an AIDS pandemic, which has led to the deaths of 19.6 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, having relations with the cleanser has become more than just a painful ritual that women must endure.  Cleansers are now spreading HIV at explosive rates in such villages as Gangre, where one in every three people is infected.
Since the cleanser is typically the village bum, he is especially likely to be infected.
- 8:01 AM, 18 August 2003   [link]


Free Speech Is More Threatened in Canada than it is in the United States, though the main threats there are similar to the main ones here.  As in the United States, "progressives" in Canada want to restrict the free speech rights of those who disagree with them, especially those with traditional religious beliefs.  This column by retired law professor Ian Hunter describes some of the recent attacks on freedom of speech and association in Canada.  A British Columbia teacher has been suspended for writing a letter to a local newspaper expressing his view that "homosexuality is not to be applauded".  A Saskatchewan prison guard was fined for citing (not even quoting) Bible verses on homosexuality.  A printer was fined for refusing business from homosexual activists.  A Prince Edward Island couple, unwilling to allow homosexual acts in their home, had to shut down their bed and breakfast.  In all of these cases, the attacks came from "human rights" commissions,

These direct attacks on freedom of speech have drawn, as far as I can tell, a muted response from the press there.  Some journalists, like columnist Heather Mallick, even support these attacks on freedom of speech and (indirectly) freedom of religion.  In a column that was arrogant, even by her standards, she told the Pope to stay out of Canada.   (The column is not available for linking, but is just as bad as Hunter says.)  Her biography, with its long list of newspaper jobs, suggests that both anti-religious bigotry and hostility to freedom of speech are perfectly acceptable at some Canadian newspapers.

Americans should not be amused by these Canadian problems, but rather see them as a warning for us.  Though we have greater legal protections, the same hostility to religion and the same indifference to freedom of speech can be found among many "progressives" here.
- 7:42 AM, 18 August 2003   [link]


Kudos to Joel Connelly of the Seattle PI for this column giving the Bush administration credit for an environmental improvement.  Connelly holds extreme views on the environment, and does not rush to give the Bush administration credit for anything, so it is nice to see him get this one right.  (If rich urban environmentalists want to take land from people in rural areas for their own use, Connelly will almost always back them.  In this case, getting rid of a depression era dam, the rural people seem to agree with the wealthy environmentalists.)  Kudos also to Connelly for getting the description of Harriet Bullit right.  Recently, Timothy Egan of the New York Times presented her as a typical resident of the small town of Leavenworth, rather than what she is, a wealthy leftist heir to a Seattle broadcasting fortune.

(There's a more typical Connelly column here, which has a sensible analysis of how the left wing of the Democratic party is likely to help President Bush win re-election.  (Don't miss the funny headline.)  And this column, an interview with Hillary Clinton, shows his weaknesses.  If he asked her a single challenging question, it is not apparent.  The Hillary interview is not quite as bad as Connelly's interview with Bill Clinton near the end of the 1996 campaign, which still makes me blush for him.)

Any chance that Connelly will write about the Bush administration's decision to put stringent new limits on diesel emissions?  Probably not, though it may do more for our health than all the Clinton environmental proposals combined.
- 9:23 AM, 17 August 2003   [link]


Good News From Afghanistan:  President Karzai has fired some warlords.   His struggle to assert the power of the central government reminds me of the problems kings had in the late Middle Ages, as they attempted to unite European countries.  Nearly all succeeded; nearly all had long struggles before they did.  Afghanistan is often described as medieval and, in this, I think the description fits.  That Karzai chose one course with one warlord and another course with another suggests that he is adapting his tactics to the individual warlords, which is what the more successful medieval kings did, too.
- 8:19 AM, 17 August 2003   [link]


Paul Krugman Hasn't Given Up, After All:  I spoke too soon when I said here that Paul Krugman had changed the subject because the economy was improving.  He did change the metaphor in his latest column, and is allowing that there are some signs of economic improvement, but his basic message is the same.  Though he has switched from "quagmire" to "twilight zone", he still thinks things are awful and that it is all Bush's fault.  That a terrorist attack on November 11, 2001 may have affected our economy is not an idea that he even mentions.   Krugman argues that the economy is getting worse because there has been no job growth by the most common measurement, the payroll survey.  This neglects two things.   First, the job levels a few years ago were exceptional.  Take a look at the graph accompanying this article proposing a new measurement of unemployment.  Though the author is making an argument similar to Krugman's, you can see from his own graph that unemployment is better currently than it was in most of the last two decades.  The Y2K problem (Remember that?) and the dot-com bubble gave our economy a boost in the years 1998-2000 that can not repeated, and, in fact, are part of the reason for our slower growth and higher unemployment now.   Businesses invested enormous sums in hardware and software a few years ago and need to do less now.  The dot-com boom created a surplus in office space in many cities, which means we have now less employment for builders.

Second, another measure of unemployment, the household survey, shows job growth for the last nine months.  I am not an expert on measures of employment, but the household survey seems more likely to be the better measure, for the reasons given in the article.
But the payroll survey has limitations, and they may be important ones right now.  If a person has two part-time jobs, that person is counted twice.  If that person then gets one full-time job, the payroll total would fall.  And the survey does not try to count self-employed people, a group that is growing rapidly.

The alternative count is the household survey, which is used to compile the unemployment rate.  It is based on a survey of 60,000 households, and a quarter of them are replaced each month.
Given the statistical and anecdotal evidence of recovery, it seems likely that Krugman's hatred for the Bush administration has made him misread the economy.  Krugman seems to sense this, too, because he adds this odd little hedge in the next to the last paragraph.
The best guess is that growth in the second half of the year will be faster than in the first half, possibly high enough to create some jobs, but not high enough to make jobs easier to find.  In other words, in terms of what matters most, the economy will continue to deteriorate.
Nigglers will note that his second sentence contradicts his first, but that's not a surprise in a Krugman column.
- 7:53 AM, 17 August 2003   [link]