Archive:

August 2005, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



What's The Most Popular TV Program in Iraq?  Americans, as well as Britons, would find it familiar.
Where politicians and a draft constitution have failed, a television show has succeeded. Iraq stands united in its enthusiasm for its own version of Pop Idol.
. . .
Wadia Nader, the show's producer, admitted surprise at the success of his creation, watched by an estimated half of all viewers when broadcast at 9pm every night.

"We have people coming from across the provinces to audition who say that everyone they know is watching it and talking about those who appear," he said.
. . .
As in Britain, contestants take turns to audition before three judges. The most successful are invited back for the final rounds in which the public will vote by telephone.

The show even has its own Simon Cowell, the feared music producer whose caustic put-downs have reduced many contestants to tears, in Muhammad Hadi.  A music teacher at Baghdad's Institute of Arts, he likes to interrogate the performers while dressed in a black suit.
There are some differences from the British and American versions of the show.  There is no studio audience because of security problems, and one judge criticized a contestant for bad grammar.

And I must add that practice in voting — even for pop stars — won't hurt in a country that hasn't had many free elections.
- 3:05 PM, 24 August 2005   [link]


Have A Low Opinion Of Most Politicians?  Here's one you may admire, John Miller, former congressman and latter day abolitionist.
You may remember John Miller. Twenty years ago, he was a mild-mannered Republican congressman representing the 1st District in Seattle.  He was sincere, intellectual, decent.  And perhaps just a bit of a milquetoast.

Today, Mr. Milquetoast storms the back alleys of Calcutta, the gutters and red-light districts of Cambodia and Indonesia with a team of true believers from the State Department and human-rights groups, asking young girls about being forced into prostitution, listening to them describe indescribable acts, looking to change their futures.

His constituents now are Arab domestic maids and Russian construction workers forced into servitude in places as different as Kuwait and Israel.

Despite a sneer or two in the article, I think you can see that this is a courageous man, doing difficult work.  And the job has meant personal sacrifice; it apparently cost Miller his marriage.

The world's anti-slavery movement began about two centuries ago.  It has achieved great successes, but there are still millions of slaves in the world.  Can we end slavery in the next decade?  Probably not.  But maybe before the end of the century.  And it is good to see John Miller working toward that end.  (With, as far as I can tell, the full support of the Bush administration.)

(Our names are similar, but John Miller and I are not related.

Here's his State Department biography, which leaves out much, but still shows that he has been fighting for freedom for most of his life.
While in Congress, Mr. Miller held a seat on the House Committee on International Relations and was a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.  He was active in furthering the struggle of Eastern European countries to gain freedom from the control of the then-Soviet Union, and he visited Lithuania to encourage free elections and independence there. For his leadership on human rights, the Seattle Anti-Defamation League gave Mr. Miller its Torch of Freedom Award.
There's a minor error in the piece; the 1st district (in which I now live) is not a Seattle district, but a mostly suburban district, though it includes a part of Seattle.  Sadly, the current Congressman, Jay Inslee, has none of the fine qualities of John Miller.  In fact, he is even worse than the Democrat who held it for one term after Miller left, Maria Cantwell.  Try as I have I can only think of one good thing to say about Inslee: he doesn't look bad in that blue parka he always wears as he slips in front of the TV cameras at every opportunity.

Does the editor who picked that terrible photo hate Republicans, or at least John Miller?   That's my tentative conclusion.)
- 8:14 AM, 23 August 2005   [link]


Vote Fraud In Florida, Again:  In his column last Friday, Paul Krugman gave us what he calls the simple truth.
In his recent book "Steal This Vote" - a very judicious work, despite its title - Andrew Gumbel, a U.S. correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, provides the best overview I've seen of the 2000 Florida vote.  And he documents the simple truth: "Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election."
As usual, Krugman had many of his facts wrong, as Richard Baehr of the American Thinker explained.  Some of the criticism by Baehr and others must have gotten through, because Krugman backtracked a little in his Monday column, in which he argued that we should not "prettify" our history.  He still had the facts wrong, as Richard Baehr showed again.   (Mickey Kaus argues that there are recount scenarios in which Gore might have won — which is true, but of doubtful relevance, since Gore never requested a recount of the overvotes.)

As it happens, I agree with Krugman that we should not prettify our history.  But the ugly truth is not what he thinks it is.

Let's start with the felon vote.  Florida has strict rules against voting by felons; nonetheless, investigations by two newspapers that endorsed Gore, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post found nearly 6,000 felons who had voted.  Florida has registration by party; according to the Palm Beach Post, 68 percent of these felons were registered as Democrats.  Just from this group — and I am sure the newspapers did not find all of the felons on the rolls — I would estimate that Al Gore gained at least 2,000 illegal votes, net.  (For more, and some references, see this post.)

We do not have equally good estimates of the non-citizen vote in Florida.  But we do know these two facts: Non-citizens come from groups that tend to vote heavily Democratic, and when officials make a real search for non-citizen voters, they find many on the rolls.  Given Florida's population, I think it likely that Al Gore's net gain from the non-citizen vote was at least as large as his gain from the felon vote.

Then we have more traditional forms of vote fraud.  As it happens, South Florida, where the Democratic votes are concentrated, has much recent history of vote fraud.  Can we assume that the vote fraud magically vanished in 2000?  I don't think so.  And for an example of how this sometimes works, read this account and this follow-up on Ezzie Thomas, who appears to have been facilitating vote fraud in Orlando for years.  Does anyone think he skipped 2000 for some reason?  Or that he is the only person who supplements his income this way?

And then there are the double voters; investigations in both 2000 and 2004 showed that tens of thousands were registered to vote in both New York and Florida.  Some of these voters may have made innocent mistakes, but not all; an investigation by the Republican party found that thousands voted in both states.  And this group, like the felons, is heavily Democratic in its registration.  (That's not the whole story; Florida also has many residents from the Midwest, who are more likely to be Republicans — and some of this group voted twice, too.  But I still think that Gore gained, net, hundreds of votes from these illegal double voters, at the very least.)

Finally, there is the least known, but most glaring example of all.  There is strong reason to believe that about 15,000 votes were simply stolen from George Bush in Palm Beach County in the 2000 election.  For the evidence, most of which comes from John Fund, see this post.  For some supporting evidence from last year's election, see this post.

So, I agree with Krugman that we should not prettify our history.  The ugly truth is that fraudulent votes nearly tipped Florida and the election to Al Gore in 2000.  There is no recount that would have given Gore the win — if we could exclude all the illegal votes.   And it is long past time for Paul Krugman and the New York Times to admit these facts.

(And there's more.  There was much Democratic chicanery in the recounts, as I discussed at length in this Q&A.  Whether all these incidents were technically vote fraud is something I will leave to the legal experts.  That they were unethical and that Al Gore benefited from them by hundreds of votes, at the very least, is indisputable.)
- 3:19 PM, 23 August 2005   [link]


H'm mm:  I don't know anything about this climatologist, so I don't know what to make of this story.
A scientist who has long disagreed with the dominant view that global warming stems mainly from human activity has resigned from a panel that is completing a report for the Bush administration on temperature trends in the atmosphere.

The scientist, Roger A. Pielke Sr., a climatologist at Colorado State University, said most of the other scientists working on the report were too deeply wedded to particular views and were discounting minority opinions on the quality of climate records and possible causes of warming.

"When you appoint people to a committee who are experts in an area but evaluating their own work," he said in an interview, "it's very difficult for them to think outside the box of their research."
But I do know that the story would have been much bigger if he had left the panel for the opposite reason.  What would the headline be in that case?  Maybe something like this: "Scientist Leaves Panel In Protest Over Global Warming Cover-Up".

And what Pielke says seems plausible, scientists being as human as anyone else.

(As always, when I discuss global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.  And this time I will add that Pielke seems to agree with my general view, that the science on the subject is less settled than many (on both sides of the debate) claim.)
- 8:21 AM, 23 August 2005
Update:  An alert emailer told me that I had omitted the link to the Revkin article.  I have corrected that above.  And he also sent me a link to the web site of Pielke's research group, which has a detailed reply to the Revkin article.  Pielke says that Revkin mischaracterized his views on climate change, and got much else wrong as well.

I was interested to learn that Pielke believes that:
. . . climate prediction (and therefore attribution to specific climate forcings) is a daunting challenge since the climate system is nonlinear and chaotic.
If it is chaotic, then climate change may be inherently unpredictable, as I speculate in my disclaimer.

Finally, all this reminded me that I have had my own objections to Revkin's reporting, in particular his wild claim that "science was seemingly at war with the Bush administration".
- 9:41 AM, 24 August 2004   [link]


How High Will The Price Of Oil Go?  New York Times columnist John Tierney makes a bet.
I proposed to him a bet using what Julian [Simon] considered the best measure of a resource's value: how it compares with the average worker's wage.  I offered to bet that the price of oil would not rise faster than the average wage, meaning that future workers would be able to afford oil more easily than they could today.

Mr. Simmons said he favored a simpler wager, based on his expectation that the price of oil, now about $65 per barrel, would more than triple during the next five years.  He said he'd bet that the price in 2010, when adjusted for inflation so it's stated in 2005 dollars, would be at least $200 per barrel.
Tierney is a columnist; Mathew Simmons is an investment banker specializing in the oil industry who has just written a book predicting the collapse of the Saudi oil industry.  So Simmons is an expert and Tierney is not.  Nonetheless, I would give high odds that Tierney will win this bet.  (And the fact that oil companies, which have their own experts, are not rushing to develop every possible barrel of oil, also suggests that oil prices not likely to triple in the next five years.)

What about farther out?  That's much harder to predict, given the possibilities that governments may foul things up.  But there are already companies getting oil out of tar sands, and the known reserves of tar sands are much larger than the known reserves of oil.  And, of course, at some price, it will become commercially practical to get gasoline from coal, of which we have enormous reserves.
- 7:26 AM, 23 August 2005   [link]


Worth Reading:  These highlights from Michael Barone's introductory essay to the 2006 Almanac of American Politics.   (I don't have my copy of the book yet, but I will order it soon.)

For instance:
While both the Bush and Kerry campaigns concentrated on turning out the maximum number of the party faithful, the Bush campaign "created an organization unlike any seen before, a networking organization that far surpassed what the Democrats were doing."  During the fall of 2003, for example, the news media marveled at Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's list of 600,000 e-mail addresses.   Virtually unreported, however, was the fact that the Bush campaign had collected six million e-mail addresses.  For the general election campaign, compared to the 233,000 volunteers assembled by the Democratic National Committee, the Bush campaign recruited six times as many, or an unprecedented 1.4 million.
Which helps explain why Bush was able to increase his total vote by 23 percent between 2000 and 2004.   And there is much more in just the highlights.  (I should have the book and be able to give you a full account of the essay sometime next month.)
- 4:34 PM, 22 August 2005   [link]


So That's Where The Great Mambo Chickens Went:  That was my somewhat fanciful reaction to this post, which shows a sign in Pune, India with a picture of a remarkably husky chicken.

Great Mambo Chicken?  That's part of the title of this book, and one small part of the book.
There was the hyper-G work done on chickens, for example, done by Arthur Hamilton ("Milt") Smith in the 1970s.  Milt Smith was a gravity specialist at the University of California at Davis who wanted to find out what would happen to humans if they lived in greater-than-normal G-forces.
. . .
Anyway, Milt Smith and his assistants took a flock of chickens — hundreds of them in fact — and put them into two eighteen foot-long centrifuges in the university's Chronic Acceleration Research laboratory, as the place was called.

They spun those chickens up to two-and-a-half Gs and let them stay there for a good while.   In fact, they left them spinning like that day and night, for three to six months or more at a time.  The hens went round and round; they clucked and they cackled and they laid their eggs, and as far as those chickens were concerned that was what ordinary life was like: a steady pull of two-and-a-half Gs.  Some of the chickens spent the larger portion of their lifetimes in that goddamn accelerator.

Well, it was easy to predict what would happen.  Their bones would get stronger and their muscles would get bigger — because they had all that extra gravity to work against.  A total of twenty-three generations of hens was spun around like this and the same thing happened every time.   When the accelerator was turned off, out walked . . . Great Mambo Chicken!

These chronically accelerated fowl were paragons of brute strength and endurance.  They'd lost excess body fat, their hearts were pumping out greater-than-normal volumes of blood, and their extensor muscles were bigger than ever.  In consequence of all this, the high-G chickens had developed a three-fold increase in their ability to do work, as measured by wingbeating exercises and treadmill tests. (pp. 54-55)
Smith used chickens, because they are cheap and, like us, walk on two legs.  Could we adapt similarly?  I suspect we could, though perhaps not to the same extent.  And I have often wondered whether athletes (and fighter pilots) might not benefit from this kind of "training".   (Some cross country skiers sleep in bedrooms that have part of the air pumped out, so they can get the benefits of living at high altitudes, so there is a precedent.)

(Despite its title, the book is not really about chickens, but about people, how we might be "improved" in various ways.  The second half of the title is the Transhuman Condition, which is a better description of the book, though not nearly as amusing as the first half.   I mostly liked the book, but I should say that the subtitle, Science Slightly Over the Edge, expresses what I think is the book's principal flaw.  The author, Ed Regis, sees all the ideas as little funny, and more than a little suspect.  Some are suspect, some are funny, some are both, and some are neither.  Regis has too much fun chuckling at all of the ideas to give you serious evaluations of the ideas in the second and fourth categories.  It's a fun book, but may leave you hungry for a more serious approach to some of the subjects.)
- 1:55 PM, 22 August 2005   [link]


Michael Scheuer Makes Some Interesting Claims:  By way of Newsmax, I learned that the former head of the bin Laden desk at the CIA had made some interesting claims on last week's Hardball.  (Host Chris Matthews was absent, which may explain why the show had more substance than usual.)

First, he made just a small criticism of the Clinton administration.
[MSNBC correspondent Norah] O'DONNELL: But many people have made the impression that something in the Bush administration was done wrong.  But there's evidence that the Clinton administration knew full well that bin Laden had the wherewithal and was planning to attack the United States.  Who is to blame and did the president, Clinton, get this information?

SCHEUER: Certainly the president got the information.  And most certainly his closest adviser, Sandy Berger and Mr. Clarke—Richard Clarke, had the information from 1996 forward that bin Laden intended to attack the United States.  There's no question of that.  And in terms of which administration had more chances, Mr. Clinton's administration had far more chances to kill Osama bin Laden than Mr. Bush has until this day.
One would almost think that he believes that Clinton, Berger, and Clarke are at fault for not acting on the intelligence he and others provided.

And he passes on this story about lawyers in the Clinton administration.
SCHEUER: I don't know firsthand information about Able Danger, ma'am, but from what I've read in the media, that the lawyers prevented them from passing the information to the FBI, that certainly rings true.  The U.S. intelligence community is palsied by lawyers.

When we were going to capture Osama bin Laden, for example, the lawyers were more concerned with bin Laden's safety and his comfort than they were with the officers charged with capturing him.  We had to build an ergonomically designed chair to put him in, special comfort in terms of how he was shackled into the chair.  They even worried about what kind of tape to gag him with so it wouldn't irritate his beard.  The lawyers are the bane of the intelligence community.
I would find this hard to believe if it weren't for the many similar examples of pettifoggery handicapping the war on terror.  By the way, wouldn't you love to see one of those "ambush" interviews with those lawyers who were so worried about bin Laden's comfort?

But Bush supporters shouldn't take too much pleasure from Scheuer's opinions, because he also thinks the decision to remove Saddam Hussein was an error:
O'DONNELL: And, finally, the president has made the case that winning the war in Iraq is central to winning the war on terror and making sure that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda cannot take—harm the United States.  Is that true, if we win there, will that help?

SCHEUER: No, ma'am. The war in Iraq has broken the back of our counterterrorism effort.   I'm not an expert on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but the invasion of Iraq has made sure this war will last decades ahead and it has transferred bin Laden and al Qaeda from being man and an organization into being a philosophy and a movement.  We‘ve really made sure that the war against us is going to be a long and very bloody one.  Iraq was an absolutely disastrous decision.
It is only fair to add that he gives this opinion after disclaiming any expertise on Saddam.   And it is also common in wars with multiple fronts for those fighting on one front to begrudge the resources given to another.  In World War II, there was a constant struggle for men and equipment between those fighting against the Japanese and those fighting against the Nazis.

Hardball didn't explore Scheuer's strategic views, but 60 Minutes did, and got this revealing segment:
Right or wrong, he says Muslims are beginning to view the United States as a colonial power with Israel as its surrogate, and with a military presence in three of the holiest places in Islam: the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, and Jerusalem.  And he says it is time to review and debate American policy in the region, even our relationship with Israel.

"No one wants to abandon the Israelis.  But I think the perception is, and I think it's probably an accurate perception, that the tail is leading the dog - that we are giving the Israelis carte blanche ability to exercise whatever they want to do in their area," says Scheuer.  "And if that's what the American people want, then that's what the policy should be, of course.  But the idea that anything in the United States is too sensitive to discuss or too dangerous to discuss is really, I think, absurd."
In other words, we should appease bin Laden by selling out Israel.  To his credit, Steve Kroft saw that and asked whether Scheuer favored appeasement.  Scheuer denied it, calling it American self interest, but that is what those who favor appeasement almost always say.   (Unfortunately, Kroft did not ask Scheuer about the effects of our appeasement in Somalia, which, according to bin Laden himself, greatly encouraged his movement.)
- 10:44 AM, 22 August 2005   [link]


When Did The Great American Job Machine Go Into Reverse?  According to this New York Times article, in 1999.
Late in 1999, hiring slowed so sharply that it reversed almost five years of gains in two years, according to the data released yesterday.  And although hiring rose for a few months after the recession of 2001 ended, it soon began falling again - hence, the so-called jobless recovery.

But last year ended with more optimism.  From October to December, existing employers added 6.4 million jobs and new employers added 1.7 million jobs, for 8.1 million in all.
(That is total jobs added, not net jobs added, as Jennifer Bayot should explain, but does not.   But you probably figured that out already, just from the numbers.)

The article bases this on a comprehensive job report from the Labor Department that was just released.

Now whose fault was that reversal?  It could be the fault of Bill Clinton, since he was in office then.  Or of the Federal Reserve.  (Unlike some of his fans, I have never thought that the current chairman is infallible.)  Or it could be the fault of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.  Or it could be the fault of none of the political leaders, but just a consequence of, for instance, the dot com boom and bust.  Or, though some economists think we can avoid economic cycles, it might have been just another inevitable down turn.

Of one thing we can be sure.  The down turn was not the fault of George W. Bush, though he has had to cope with it through all his time in office.  And I have to give Bush's 2000 economic team credit for understanding that the economy was beginning to weaken.  I recall being surprised by their pessimism in 2000, which was not shared by most economists, as far as I could tell.
- 9:26 AM, 22 August 2005   [link]


What Is Bin Laden's Strategy?  At first glance, the 9/11 attack seems like a crazy thing to do, at least from the point of view of an orthodox strategist.  Why attack the strongest nation in history, when there were so many weaker and closer targets?   After establishing their base in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda had good reason to hope that they could win control of other Muslim countries, including nuclear armed Pakistan and oil rich Saudi Arabia.   Instead, though they knew they were risking their base, they chose to provoke us.  Why?

The 9/11 attack is best understood, as I have argued before, as a recruiting video, as a propaganda tool.  And that's how at least some Al Qaeda members see it, at least according to this account from a Jordanian journalist.  The attack was just part of the first phase of a seven phase plan:
The First Phase Known as "the awakening" -- this has already been carried out and was supposed to have lasted from 2000 to 2003, or more precisely from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington to the fall of Baghdad in 2003.  The aim of the attacks of 9/11 was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Islamic world and thereby "awakening" Muslims.  "The first phase was judged by the strategists and masterminds behind al-Qaida as very successful," writes Hussein.   "The battle field was opened up and the Americans and their allies became a closer and easier target."   The terrorist network is also reported as being satisfied that its message can now be heard "everywhere."
Now this, of course, need be no closer to their actual strategic estimates than the Nazi propaganda in World War II.  I think it almost certain that they did not expect to lose their base in Afghanistan, and that their many setbacks since have hurt them badly.  But I also think that they most likely believe they are still winning the propaganda war, even as they are losing nearly all the battles.  And I wouldn't say they are completely wrong in that.  Not completely, anyway, though we now seem to be gaining there, as well — in spite of the best efforts of many Western journalists.

And I think we should study those next six phases in their plan with care.  Note, for instance, what the Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein thinks Al Qaeda will try to do in their second phase.
The Second Phase "Opening Eyes" is, according to Hussein's definition, the period we are now in and should last until 2006.  Hussein says the terrorists hope to make the western conspiracy aware of the "Islamic community."  Hussein believes this is a phase in which al-Qaida wants an organization to develop into a movement.  The network is banking on recruiting young men during this period.  Iraq should become the center for all global operations, with an "army" set up there and bases established in other Arabic states.
In other words, if we can defeat them in Iraq during the next few years, we will, at the very least, set back their plan for years.  This is something that those in the West who are beginning to call for a unilateral withdrawal should consider — but won't.
- 8:32 AM, 21 August 2005   [link]


A Solution For Kansas?  If you follow American politics at all, you probably know about Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, which deplored what Franks saw as the willingness of Kansans to vote against their own economic interests.

(If you are interested in the facts about Kansas, look for S. Pollock's review, which quotes Steve Malagna and James Nuechterlein to great effect.  Here's part of what Malagna has to say:
The objects of Mr. Frank's particular concern, his hometown of Shawnee and the rest of Johnson County, have done especially well.  For three years in the 1990s, the Shawnee area's unemployment rate actually dipped below 3%, making it one of the tightest labor markets anywhere.

When the recession hit, Shawnee's unemployment rate did rise, but it still stayed below the nation's.   And though Mr. Frank describes the place as practically desolate, Shawnee's population grew by a robust 27% during the 1990s.  Even more astonishing, today, only 3.3% of its citizens live below the poverty level, compared with about 12.5% nationally.
Which doesn't sound all that bad to me.)

Frank isn't the only leftist to be annoyed by the voters in Kansas and the other Plains states.   So I can't help wondering if there are political motives behind this plan.
Lions stalking deer in the stubble of a Nebraska corn field.  Elephants trumpeting across Colorado's high plains.  Cheetah slouching through the West Texas scrub.  Prominent ecologists are floating an audacious plan that sounds like a "Jumanji" sequel — transplant African wildlife to the Great Plains of North America.
That ought to reverse population growth in places like Shawnee.
- 8:08 AM, 19 August 2005   [link]


Betting On Colder Weather:  Two Russian scientists have just put their money behind their theories.
Two climate change sceptics, who believe the dangers of global warming are overstated, have put their money where their mouth is and bet $10,000 that the planet will cool over the next decade.

The Russian solar physicists Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev have agreed the wager with a British climate expert, James Annan.

The pair, based in Irkutsk, at the Institute of Solar-Terrestrial Physics, believe that global temperatures are driven more by changes in the sun's activity than by the emission of greenhouse gases.   They say the Earth warms and cools in response to changes in the number and size of sunspots.   Most mainstream scientists dismiss the idea, but as the sun is expected to enter a less active phase over the next few decades the Russian duo are confident they will see a drop in global temperatures.
In general, I think I approve of such bets.  Nearly all scientists now risk other people's money to test their theories, so it is good to see some risking their own, as well.

(As always, when I mention global warning, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.

Some will be reminded, though the Guardian doesn't mention it, of the famous bet between Julian Simon and Paul Ehrlich.
In 1980, economist Julian Simon and biologist Paul Ehrlich decided to put their money where their predictions were.  Ehrlich had been predicting massive shortages in various natural resources for decades, while Simon claimed natural resources were infinite.

Simon offered Ehrlich a bet centered on the market price of metals.  Ehrlich would pick a quantity of any five metals he liked worth $1,000 in 1980.  If the 1990 price of the metals, after adjusting for inflation, was more than $1,000 (i.e. the metals became more scarce), Ehrlich would win.   If, however, the value of the metals after inflation was less than $1,000 (i.e. the metals became less scare), Simon would win.  The loser would mail the winner a check for the change in price.
Click on the link if you don't know who won.)
- 7:34 AM, 19 August 2005   [link]


The BTK Killer, The Death Penalty, And Deterrence:  Today, Dennis Rader received a life sentence.
BTK serial killer Dennis Rader was sentenced Thursday to life in prison, with no chance of ever going free.

Rader, 60, who terrorized the Wichita area and taunted police during a 17-year murder spree from 1974 to 1991, received 10 consecutive life sentences — one for each of his victims — for a minimum of 175 years behind bars without the possibility of parole.

It was the longest possible sentence Judge Gregory Waller could deliver.  Kansas had no death penalty at the time the killings were committed.
Fox News says, blandly, that "Kansas had no death penalty at the time", but does not explain why.  Kansas had no death penalty then because the Supreme Court threw out all state death penalty laws in 1972.  The Court did not quite abolish the death penalty, though a majority on the Court may have wanted to, but imposed such stringent standards that no state laws met them.   So, before 1972, Kansas had a death penalty, but lost it because of the Court's decision.   (In 1976, the Court took a step back and accepted some state's death penalty laws.)

Kansas could have tried to change its death penalty laws, as many other states did, but chose not to do so until 1994, probably because of the resistance of death penalty opponents.

To the best of our knowledge, Dennis Rader did not kill anyone before the 1972 decision, and did not kill anyone after Kansas restored the death penalty.  Given his warped character, I think it likely that he wanted to kill during the times that Kansas had a death penalty, but chose not to.  (He calls himself a "monster", and if you read this description of some of his crimes, you will agree.)

Why did he choose not to kill then?  We can't know for sure, but I think it plausible that he was deterred by the death penalty.  If that is true, then he might not have murdered anyone had the Supreme Court not ended the Kansas death penalty in 1972.  (And some of his murders might have been deterred had Kansas acted more quickly to reinstate its death penalty.)

If we conclude that Dennis Rader was deterred by the death penalty, can we conclude that other would be murderers are, too?  Can we conclude that we would have fewer murders we used the death penalty more often than we do?  As it happens, there is some statistical evidence for that conclusion.

It is a harder problem than it may seem for those who support the death penalty.  At some level, nearly all of us believe in deterrence.  If someone points a gun at us, nearly all of us will act differently.  But though the threat of death changes our behavior in those circumstances, we can not be sure that the death penalty changes the behavior of would be murderers.  When someone points a gun at us, the threat is immediate and the probability that we will lose our life very high.  Under our current legal system, as nearly everyone knows, a man who commits a murder, even if he is caught, is quite unlikely to receive the death penalty, and if he does, it will be years, perhaps decades, after the murder.  And of course, in normal times, so few of us are murderers that we can not be sure that what might change our behavior would also change the behavior of those few.

The problem has attracted many social scientists, not all of them careful methodologists.  (One common mistake is to compare states with death penalty laws to states without them — and ignore the fact that the states with the laws do not always impose the death penalty.)  The first serious attack on the problem that I know of was made by economist Isaac Ehrlich in 1976.   He found that each execution deterred about eight murders.  Others, using similar methods, got even higher estimates.  These results were attacked on many grounds by opponents of the death penalty and the statistical arguments made on both sides are difficult enough so that I am not sure that I could follow all of them, especially given how long it has been since I studied statistics.

But I think we have to say that, just as it is plausible that the BTK killer was deterred by the death penalty, it is plausible that other killers are too, and that Ehrlich and his supporters may be right.  (It is only fair to mention that, according to this on-line paper, criminologists generally do not agree with Ehrlich.  Given my opinion of that field, I am inclined to take that as additional evidence in support of Ehrlich.)

If the death penalty does deter, then the two sides in the argument over the death penalty have similar moral problems.  Supporters of the death penalty must admit that it is possible that some innocents will be executed.  Opponents of the death penalty must admit that it is possible that, without the death penalty, more innocents will murdered than would be murdered otherwise.  (And each side tends to believe that what is possible never happens, or almost never happens.)

Can we deter some of the BTKs out there?  I think so,and that is why I support the death penalty, even though I know that our courts are not perfect and may err some times.  In short, I support the death penalty because I think it saves lives, net.

(There are abstracts of papers that support the deterrence effect of the death penalty here.  You can find a New York Times article with a common methodological error here.  To their credit, the Times includes a quote from Ehrlich calling their approach "devoid of scientific merit".  To their debit, the Times did not try to understand his criticism.  Finally, when I was thinking about this question some years ago, I found Walter Berns' For Capital Punishment quite helpful.

One last ironic point:  The Kansas Supreme Court ruled, last December, against the state's death penalty law, 4-3.  They didn't rule against all death penalty laws but found what they considered a flaw in the law passed in 1994.  I think that Dennis Rader was already in custody by then.  Here's a summary of the changes in the Kansas laws over the years.)
- 6:46 PM, 18 August 2005   [link]


Canada's Strange New Governor General:  Like most nations, Canada has a ceremonial head of state, in their case a Governor General.  The Prime Minister has nearly all the power; the Governor General signs papers and cuts ribbons.  (I suppose that you could say that Canada has two ceremonial heads, since Queen Elizabeth also cuts ribbons and may sign papers from time to time.)  Canada's Prime Minister, Paul Martin, has just chosen a new Governor General, Michaelle Jean, and a most unusual choice she is.

Michaelle Jean is a television journalist who has never held public office, and is best known, according to the CBC, for being the "host of The Passionate Eye and Rough Cuts on CBC Newsworld".  I'm not familiar with those programs, but it sounds as if Martin has chosen the Canadian equivalent of Katie Couric to be Canada's ceremonial head.  (Canadians who have seen her work are welcome to correct me here.)

So why did Martin make this choice?  Perhaps because Michaelle Jean fills so many quotas, all by herself.
Jean was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  She left in 1968, her family fleeing the oppressive regime of Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, settling in Quebec with her family.  She is fluent in five languages: French, English, Spanish, Italian and Haitian Creole.
A black woman francophone from Quebec.  Pretty good.  Too bad she isn't disabled as well.   And I don't think the choice will hurt Martin's relationships with the CBC.

So it's a great choice, but not a perfect one.  There is, it turns out, just one teensy little problem with Michaelle Jean — other than her complete lack of qualifications for the job.   Although the evidence is murky, she and her husband seem to have been awfully close to the Quebec separatists.
The controversy largely began after Quebec media reported on a documentary made 12 years ago by Jean's husband.

Critics pointed to a scene in the film where several people seated around a table raise their glasses to independence, including Jean and former FLQ member Pierre Vallieres.

A companion book to the film, written by Lafond, quotes Jean as saying that "one doesn't give independence; one takes it." It's unclear what her comments are referring to.

Quebec media also added fuel to the rumours by unearthing quotations made by Lafond from a book he wrote in 1993.

In it, he says: "I applaud with both hands" Quebec independence and promises to be at "all St. Jean (Baptiste) parades."
(Americans may need to know that the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec) was not just a separatist organization, but a terrorist organization.)

After this interesting history came out, Michaelle Jean declared that she loved Canada — and Quebec equally.  Perhaps I am being picky, but that doesn't seem to completely resolve the matter, since one can love them both and still think they should be separate.  And I see that at least some Canadians share my skepticism.

Finally, just to confuse matters further, Michaelle Jean has dual citizenship.  The woman about to become Canada's Governor General is, I just learned, also a citizen of France.  Which she no doubt loves just as much as she does Quebec and Canada.

(For more, read this entertaining post by Colby Cosh, who explains that a person can be "provisional separatist and a provisional federalist at the same time.)
- 10:53 AM, 18 August 2005   [link]


That Criminal-Muslim Connection Again:  This time in California.
LOS ANGELES -- A militant Islamic prison gang may have been behind an alleged plot to attack synagogues and National Guard installations on Jewish holidays or the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, investigators said.

The group _ known as Jamat Ul-Islam Is Saheeh, or JIS _ is headed by an inmate at the California State Prison, Sacramento, law enforcement officials said.  It has existed for about five years and is one of at least three Islamist groups operating in state prisons, officials said.

Federal and local investigators are examining possible ties between members of the group and Hammad Riaz Samana, a 21-year-old college student and Pakistani national who was arrested Aug. 2 in Los Angeles, George Gascon, assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said Wednesday.
. . .
Samana's arrest developed from a terrorism investigation in which authorities found what they believe was a target list after arresting two men suspected of robbing gas stations in Los Angeles County.  The list included three California National Guard facilities, the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles and several synagogues.
We should be paying more attention to this connection, both here and in Europe.  Part of the war on terrorism is being fought in our prisons.  And part is being fought outside them, as the police track criminals — who are also militant Islamists and potential terrorists.

(For a better understanding of this connection, you may want to read what British prison doctor Theodore Dalrymple had to say on the subject.)
- 8:52 AM, 18 August 2005   [link]


Confused?  The BBC says these lions are confused.
Small cars driving through a safari park in Merseyside have been chased by confused lions who think they are prey.

Staff at Knowsley Safari Park are monitoring smaller vehicles, including Smart cars and Mini Coopers, after the lions started paying special interest.
I don't think the lions are confused; I think they just haven't learned how to use can openers.
- 6:44 AM, 17 August 2005   [link]