Archive:

December 2002, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Books for Kids?  Ever since I saw the Seattle Times recommend a book on the Marquis de Sade (Probably this one.) for a Christmas present, I have looked forward to their lists of Christmas books with interest, and more than a little apprehension.   (I think it really did not occur to the book editor that some people might find de Sade inappropriate, or even offensive, at Christmas.)  This year they have an article by Kari Wergeland on books for kids, titled "Tales With Legs", with 33 recommended books.   In introducing the list, the Times claims that the "best kids books keep going long after the last page". (Yes, I know that phrase doesn't really make sense, but we can guess what is meant.)   Great, I thought, a list of classic kids books.  Maybe this will give me some ideas.   Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There are no classics in the list.  No Brothers Grimm or any of the other standards.   No Tom Sawyer or Little House on the Prairie.  No Doctor Seuss.  Nor are there books on dinosaurs, American history, science, technology, or sports (with a predictable exception).  There are only two books in the entire list that looked like they would appeal to normal kids, a book on Hansa, a baby elephant born two years ago at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, and Madlenka's Dog about a girl with an invisible dog.

The books would appeal to a radical feminist graduate seminar.  There is no book by Dr. Seuss, but there is Bee Boy Buzz for 2-5 year olds by bell hooks, who really does spell her name that way.   No books on any American heroes, but there is a book on a kid with attention deficit disorder and a no doubt uplifting novel for young adults that "explores broken families, infidelity, and even murder".   (Sounds perfect for Christmas, don't you think?)  No books on George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, but there are books on a surly foster child, a Mexican Cinderella, and a wise boy in the Middle East.  By this point you can probably guess what the one book on sports will be like.   It is a story about a boy on a flag football team that needs another player, but the best athlete is a "girl who doesn't shave her legs".  No religious books, but there is Crispin: The Cross of Lead, about a boy who has to struggle with the corrupt medieval church.   I could give more examples, but I think that the pattern should be clear by now.

I am not an expert on children's literature, but I think I can do better than this, and I am sure we can.  Tomorrow, I will start posting a list of book suggestions for kids.  I'd be grateful for any suggestions that you might have, books that you enjoyed as a kid or that you know kids enjoy.   I'd like to give credit for any suggestions I use by name, so please let me know if you would rather be anonymous.
- 4:52 PM, 11 December 2002   [link]


Media Bias?  Michael Kelly has the numbers.
- 8:48 AM, 11 December 2002   [link]


Euroskeptics  in Eastern Europe are right to be skeptical, says Roger Boyce in this column from the Times of London.  The Brussels bureaucrats, out of greed, are ruining what could have been a great step forward:
The over-regulated EU, run by a swollen bureaucracy, has done its level best to neutralise the East as future competitors and stifle the very energy that makes the region historically important and economically significant.
Boyce thinks that the United States is doing better than the EU.  I certainly hope so, as these small countries deserve better from both.

(Note to American readers:  The "CAP" in the column is the European Union's "Common Agricultural Policy", which is their general term for a system of controls and subsidies that makes our own farm programs look almost rational.  At one time—and I am not making this up—the European Union was solving the problem of butter surpluses, in part, by feeding the butter back to the cows.)
- 8:06 AM, 11 December 2002   [link]


A Little Arsenic  may be good for you.  And, so may a little radiation, a little dioxin, and many other nasty things, in small amounts.  That's the conclusion that toxicologist Edward Calabrese has come to after reviewing literally thousands of studies.   (You can see more about Calabrese in the December issue of Discover magazine; only this teaser, with some links, is available on line.)

The principal behind all this is called "hormesis", a word that is not even in many dictionaries.  Hormesis comes from a Greek root meaning to excite.  Roughly, it refers to the concept that small amounts of dangerous substances can stimulate or excite an organisms's defenses making it healthier than it would be otherwise.  This is not the same as the standard idea that the dose determines the poison, which toxicologists have used for centuries.  Every substance can be dangerous in too large an amount.  People have died from too much Vitamin A or even drinking too much water.  Instead, hormesis is applied to substances known to be damaging even in small amounts, but that, apparently, stimulate the organism's defenses making it healthier overall.  I have not seen any explanation of how hormesis might work in organisms as different as yeast, peppermint, mice, and men.

There are many implications to hormesis.  Low doses of radiation, at the level one might receive living near a nuclear plant or at high altitudes, may be good for you.  So, too, may be small doses of poisons like arsenic.  In the future, parents may supply their children with arsenic tablets, if they are not lucky enough to live in areas where arsenic is in the water naturally.  Polluters may be asked to put pollutants back in the water or air.  And, so on.
- 1:53 PM, 10 December 2002  
Update:  My original post left out an interesting number, and an important caution.  First the number.  The best level for arsenic in the water supply may be 50 parts per billion, the maximum level for many years here in the United States.   In a last minute decision, the Clinton administration lowered it to 10 parts per billion, setting a trap for Bush.  After he fell into it, he was forced to reverse his decision and back the Clinton level.  Biologist Gary Kayagian believes that this lower level will cause additional cancer deaths.  (How many is not quite clear.  The magazine says "1,000 deaths per day nationwide", but this is implausible for several reasons, among them the fact that most parts of the United States do not have significant amounts of arsenic in the water.  I suspect the correct estimate is 1,000 deaths per year.)  For what it is worth, I saw reports during the arsenic controversy that deaths from bladder cancer were actually lower in those parts of New Mexico and Utah that had high levels of arsenic in the water.

Now the caution.  Calabrese believes that the right levels of these substances vary considerably by individuals.  A dose that might improve your neighbor's health might damage yours.   I am not planning to dose myself with arsenic or anything similar, and you shouldn't either.
- 8:30 AM, 11 December 2002   [link]


Radical Chic Returns:  Or, perhaps it never really left, in spite of the scorn from Tom Wolfe and others over the years.  It has found a friendly home at the New York Times, as Emily Yoffe shows in this brilliant piece.  In its article on Rhodes scholar Chesa Boudin, the Times was completely indifferent to the three officers murdered by his radical parents, and the officers' nine fatherless children.  In his blog, David Horowitz supports my suspicion that Boudin was chosen partly for his radical views and history, in spite of Rhodes' requirement that the recipients share his views.  Does this quotation suggest that Boudin agrees with British imperialist Rhodes?
We have a different name for the war [America is] fighting now—now [they] call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on communism. My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I'm dedicated to the same thing.
By the way, though Boudin certainly had to struggle against physical difficulties, he grew up in a privileged home, since his adoptive parents are a lawyer and a college professor.
- 7:24 AM, 10 December 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  This column, by Colbert King, on some of the African and African-American victims of al Qaeda.  And, from the same newspaper, this account of the latest Kenyan victims.   The indifference of al Qaeda to these victims shows both their cruelty and, yes, their racism.   As King says: "To al Qaeda, dead Africans mean nothing."
- 7:43 AM, 9 December 2002   [link]


He's Baaack!  Congressman "Baghdad Jim" McDermott, that is.   Yesterday, I saw a news report on KIRO 7, the Seattle CBS affiliate, with a segment on a talk that McDermott gave to Temple Beth Am, in Seattle.  In the talk, McDermott made the following sensational charge: "I believe that the president will lie to take us into war."  With Iraq, of course.  This should remove the any doubt about where McDermott stands.  A man who voted for the 1998 resolution authorizing President Clinton to use force against Iraq, on less evidence than we have now, is now accusing President Bush of taking us to war through lies.  Does he now think that Clinton was lying in 1998?  Or that (Democratic) Senator Joe Lieberman, a strong supporter of the Bush policies toward Iraq, is lying?  There was one telling pronoun in the report.   McDermott referred to the United States, not just the current administration, as "they".  (For more on McDermott, see this earlier post.)

(Those familiar with KIRO 7 will not be surprised to learn that the story containing the segment on the McDermott talk was a wholly positive account on local peace demonstrations.  There was no attempt at balance.  I can not be sure, but the way the McDermott segment was presented suggested to me that the station did not see anything especially controversial about his inflammatory statement.  Certainly, they saw nothing so controversial as to require a response from a supporter of the President.  And, no surprise again, the station repeated the usual Iraqi propaganda about the effects of sanctions, without any skepticism at all.)
- 7:13 AM, 9 December 2002   [link]


"First Comes Love, . ."  And that love, more and more in the United States, is, as Nicholas Kristof points out, colorblind.  Just as the children's rhyme says, the colorblind love is often followed by a baby carriage.  In Washington state, which has a lower percentage of minorities than the nation as a whole, the Seattle Times found that mixed-race births have risen from 10.7 per cent to 15.4 per cent of the total, between 1989 and 1999.
- 2:31 PM, 8 December 2002   [link]


New Age Cherie Blair:  When Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie were introduced to the American public, they were described as having the advantages of the Clintons, without, well, the disadvantages.  The representative of new Labour and his lawyer wife were, fortunately, not carrying all that unpleasant Clinton baggage.  They seemed, even to their detractors, to be normal, decent people.  From everything I have seen, the Blairs still beat the Clintons by a large margin, but they do, it turns out, have some oddities of their own.   Specifically, a taste for magic stones, seances, "Mayan" rituals, crystals (one given to Blair by Hillary Clinton, interestingly), acupuncture, feng shui, and ayurvedic medicine.  I never quite know what to think when I see educated people believe in such things.  Worst of all, for me, is to find some one with a scientific or technical degree—and I have known several—who subscribe to New Age ideas like the Blairs, or astrology, or something similar.  It always makes me a little skeptical about their scientific or technical work.  Perhaps it shouldn't.  After all, Newton dabbled in alchemy for part of his life, and there are similar examples from other great scientists.
- 2:19 PM, 8 December 2002  
Update:  A reader notes that it is not entirely fair to group acupuncture and feng shui with frauds like seances.  True enough.  Though I am hardly an expert on the subject, I have seen reports of scientific studies on acupuncture that suggested it could be helpful for some ailments.  Feng shui, from what little I know about it, seems to be a mostly harmless set of superstitions.
- 8:08 AM, 10 December 2002  
Further Update:  No sooner had I posted the first update then I saw this attack on all alternative therapies.  Of acupuncture, Dr. Wallace says:
after thirty years, over 400 clinical trials, and 33 comprehensive literature reviews of those trials, only two specific conditions were found affected by acupuncture more than sham procedures.  But even those effects are minimal, they are not superior to standard medical methods, they remain implausible and unpredictable.  They will probably not be confirmed because of their results are best explained by biased experimental errors.
So, although acupuncture has passed some clinical trials, Wallace would not give it an endorsement.   (I should add a point that will be familiar to anyone who has passed a statistics class.  If you do enough trials on a substance or procedure, with small samples of patients, just by chance a few of the trials will show positive results.  And, also by chance, a few will show negative results.)  After reading The Okinawa Program, which describes the remarkable health of Okinawans, I am a little less negative than Dr. Wallace about traditional practices.  Diet, exercise, and strong families explain much of the health advantage Okinawans have over Americans, but not necessarily all.
- 10:47 AM, 10 December 2002   [link]


Kurds Versus al Qaeda?  That's what it looks like in this New York Times account.   The most obvious explanation of the attack is that al Qaeda, or an organization allied to it, is trying to disrupt the anti-Saddam forces.
- 7:19 AM, 7 December 2002   [link]


British Muslims, Part 2:  The UK Telegraph has more results from its on-line survey of British Muslims, and they are just as disturbing as those they published yesterday.  (Again to see the actual results, click on the graphic, this time in the second paragraph.)  Here is my summary of these findings:
  • Only one third agree that Iraq has tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction.   This, in spite of Iraq's use of chemical weapons against the Kurds and Iranians, the discovery of chemical and biological weapons during and after the Gulf War, and the testimony of many Iraqi defectors.
  • In a war with Iraq, nearly as many British Muslims, one sixth, admit they would support Iraq, as say they would support Britain, one fourth.  I agree with Professor King that many of those who refuse to say actually would support Iraq.
  • One in four would interpret a war against Iraq as a war against Islam.  This supports an argument I made in What Would Mohammed Do? that, for some Muslims, Islam has become a "super tribe".  Those in the tribe automatically deserve support against outsiders, regardless of the individual circumstances.
One answer means less than it might seem at first glance.  Nine of ten would rather see the Iraqi people overthrow Saddam than US-led action.  Well, so would I.  This, in fact, is the one hopeful result.  If it comes to war with Saddam, the United States and Britain should do everything possible to put the anti-Saddam Iraqi forces at the center of the stage.

The caveat I made for the earlier post applies to these results as well, of course.
- 6:28 AM, 7 December 2002   [link]


Modern Art, Literature and Music:    Martin Kettle finds them all wanting because they dismiss the public:
To put it crudely, a century ago a generation of writers stopped writing books that the public liked to read; a generation of musicians stopped writing music that the public enjoyed listening to; and a generation of painters and sculptors stopped creating works the public liked to look at.  In some ways it was a truly magnificent moment.  Much of the work of those years was stunning.  Much of it has endured.  Some of it has now entered the mainstream, though much of it has not. But that was then and this is now.  And some of the ideas about art that were generated at that time continue to exercise excessive influence today.  None of them has been more baleful than the belief that artists must make no compromise with the public.
Tom Wolfe explained how this worked for modern art, in his brilliant and brilliantly funny book, The Painted Word.

Although Kettle does not mention it, much the same thing happened in jazz, in spite of its popular and perhaps even disreputable origins.  Jazz musicians once played for popular audiences; now jazz is much more limited in its appeal.  The public and the artists are both worse off for these shifts.

- 9:36 AM, 6 December 2002   [link]


British Muslims?  Or Muslims living in Britain?  The UK Telegraph used the YouGov service to conduct an on-line poll of Muslims in Britain with these disturbing results.   (Unless your eyes are way better than than mine, you'll need to click on the graphic in the fourth paragraph to see the numbers.)  Here is my summary of the findings:
  • One in five British Muslims have no loyalty to Britain.
  • Almost one in ten think that the 9/11 attacks and similar terrorist attacks were justified.
  • Almost half, even now, do not believe that the 9/11 attackers were Muslims.
  • Nearly two thirds are unwilling to admit that the terrorist attacks in Bali and Kenya were conducted by Muslims.
  • Almost three fourths find statements by Osama bin Laden more believable than evidence from the British and American governments.
The last finding is, for me, the most disturbing of all.  Most Muslims in Britain are simply not open to the kinds of evidence that might convince their fellow citizens.  Note that, in the Bali case, they are refusing to accept the claims of the Muslim government of Indonesia and terrorist spokesmen, as well as the claims of the Australian and United States governments.   It is not obvious to me how one would begin to change their minds.

Americans will wonder whether the Muslim population here holds similar views.  From what I have seen, they do, though perhaps not as extreme.  The "Mosque" article, which I will post soon, will describe a Seattle example.

Caveat:  Note that the sample size was small, that the poll was conducted on-line, and that YouGov reported "difficulty" in conducting the poll.  Even more important, on subjects as emotionally charged as these, people may conceal their real feelings.  On balance, I suspect that the true opinions are even worse than those revealed in this poll.  Note, for example, the 37 per cent who are unwilling to characterize Taliban and al Qaeda as traitors, heroes, or people who have damaged the reputation of Islam.  It is hard not to think many in that 37 per cent think that the Taliban and al Qaeda are heroes, but prefer not to say so.
- 6:15 AM, 6 December 2002   [link]


Times Envy?  While I am on the subject of the Guardian, what explains this editorial on a single hole at a single golf course?  The only explanation that occurs to me is that they are jealous of the attention the New York Times has gotten for its campaign against the Augusta National, even though that attention is almost entirely unfavorable.  And to repeat a point I have made before, it is racist to claim that Tiger Woods, who is partly black, is thereby required to have certain political views.  I would still like to know whether people who make that argument adhere to the old "one drop" rule.
- 10:36 AM, 5 December 2002   [link]


Global Warming Good?  The argument is not new, but this is the first time I have seen it in the leftwing Guardian.   Steel notes that global warming has benefits as well as costs, and, most important, "protects us from the unpredictable big freeze that would be far, far worse", by which he means a new ice age.  (Completely irrelevant thought.  As some one addicted to reading, I have always found Steele's title, "reader", delightful.  I gather it is roughly equivalent to the American assistant or associate professor.)
- 10:36 AM, 5 December 2002   [link]


Another Boss's Daughter:  Like Nancy Pelosi, Senator Mary Landrieu is the daughter of an urban boss, in her case Moon Landrieu, the long time mayor of New Orleans.  As one would expect from a New Orleans politician, Moon was not a bland, forgettable type.  Lowell Ponte has the colorful details, along with thoughts on this Saturday's election.  Senator Landrieu has inherited some sound political instincts from her father; she has been trying hard to move to the political center, as this Congressional Quarterly study shows.  Patrick Ruffini thinks she hasn't moved quickly enough and is predicting her narrow defeat.
- 7:36 AM, 5 December 2002   [link]


Sigh:  Why do journalists make these arguments?  That the Seattle area is having relatively warm and dry weather shows almost nothing about global warming, despite what columnist Erik Lacitis thinks.  He would never conclude from this article that global cooling was in progress, in spite of the record cold temperatures in parts of the United States.   So why does he make the opposite argument?  I know few journalists have statistical training, but still they could try a little harder.  (Let me add my usual caveat.  I am a skeptic about the most extreme predictions of human caused global warming, but do not at all discount the possibility that we are beginning to warm the earth.  This is one of the reasons I favor a shift toward nuclear power.)
- 4:23 PM, 4 December 2002   [link]


5.1%  That was the revised non-farm productivity growth in the third quarter.  If that seems boring, then you should read the rest of this post carefully.  For much of our history, productivity in the United States grew at about 3 per cent a year.  Over the years, that made us far wealthier than our ancestors.  The pie grew fast enough so that everyone could have a bigger share, higher wages for workers, and higher profits for businesses, and higher tax revenues for governments, and more leisure for everyone.  About 1974, the productivity growth slowed down to less than 1.5 per cent a year, and the steady gains we had come to expect, almost vanished. (Here's a Bureau of Labor Statistics site, if you want to look at the data.)  Those who were adults then will remember just how grumpy people got about that time.

About 1995, productivity growth began to return to its old levels, or close to them.   The numbers for this last quarter and for the two preceding quarters give strong support to the pleasant prospect that productivity growth will be closer to historical levels than those we saw from 1974 to 1995.  Let me give you an idea of how much difference this would make over the next decade, with some very rough estimates.  The United States Gross Domestic Product is now about 10 trillion dollars per year.  The federal government share of that is about 2 trillion dollars per year.  Suppose the long term increase in productivity has returned from the anemic levels of 1974 to 1995 to historical average of 3 per cent.  In ten years, that would make our economy about 16 per cent larger than it would be otherwise, a gain by then of 1.6 trillion dollars a year.   Since the federal government takes about 20 per cent of the GDP in taxes, it would be receiving an extra 320 billion a year, with no additional pain to the taxpayers.  Not quite a cornucopia, but close.

(Note to my British readers: I am, as you probably guessed, using the American billion and trillion, that is, 1,000,000,000 and 1,000,000,000,000, respectively, rather than the larger British versions.)

Our European friends have been doing much less well in productivity growth, as economist Brad DeLong explains.  They also had a slow down beginning about 1974, something he doesn't mention.

Why did productivity growth slow down beginning in 1974?  I have not seen a convincing explanation from the economists, but there is a political explanation that occurs to me.  Although Democrats controlled Congress, except for two brief breaks, after 1932, it was not true that liberals controlled Congress for most of that period.  Instead, on most economic issues, control rested with the "conservative coalition", a tacit alliance of Republicans and Southern Democrats.  About 1974, that began to break down, first with the Watergate election and then with Republican gains in the South and Democratic gains outside the South.  Power in Congress shifted to the left, and a wide range of legislation, especially on environmental issues, was passed.  Similar leftward shifts produced similar results in many European countries.  None of this would have surprised economist Mancur Olson, whose influential book, The Rise and Decline of Nations, predicted just this result, though he did not make the ideological connection that I do.

If this argument is correct, then the rise in American productivity after 1994, would be, in part, a consequence of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, which put a brake on the regulation producing machine.  There is an interesting piece of evidence for this idea in Margaret Thatcher's record in Britain, where productivity growth rose while she was in office, as even Paul Krugman admits, though rather grumpily.
- 3:31 PM, 4 December 2002   [link]


Schroeder's Problems:  German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder appealed to anti-Americanism to win his recent narrow victory.  This sobering account shows why he had to resort to that tactic.  He has done nothing to solve Germany's severe economic problems, and needed to distract the voters from their troubled economy.  Now the bills are coming due in the form of unpopular tax increases, which are inspiring all kinds of protests, including a hit song.   One protester expects Schroeder to receive no fewer than 50,000 shirts off taxpayer's backs.   Schroeder is in an especially difficult position, politically, because his margin in parliament is so small; he has the responsibility without having a firm grip on power.  Ralf Goergens, who is always worth reading, has this commentary on Schroeder's dilemma.

Finally, one curious point: The only party that seems to recognize the need for reform is the Greens.
- 8:36 AM, 4 December 2002   [link]


Canadian Foot in Mouth Disease:  Al Kamen gives some history to explain why Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was reluctant to drop his communications director, Francoise Ducros, after she called Bush a moron.  He's had his own problems with foolish statements at NATO conferences.  (It was also interesting to learn that, according to Chretien, Canadian politicians do not have to compromise to win legislative support.)  More seriously, this is just another bit of evidence on the costs to Canada of not having a united conservative party, which either would have defeated Chretien by now, or at least put limits on his errors.  I don't follow Canadian politics closely enough to know just why the fractions have been unable to unite, but they are not serving their country well by their continued division.
- 8:14 AM, 4 December 2002   [link]


What Do Women Want?  Earrings that "flash in synchronism with the wearer's heartbeat" as described in this patent?  The inventors, two men, think their earrings will mainly be used by a lover "to determine when his or her partner is excited".  Putting aside some practical objections—for instance, one's heartbeat increases with anger as well as desire—I wonder if they are something women would want to wear, in public, anyway.  (This comes, by the way, from the weekly roundup the New York Times does on recent patents, which is always interesting.)
- 4:42 PM, 3 December 2002   [link]


Technology for Terrorists:  It is easy to think that our great technological advances always work in our favor in the battle with terrorists.  This is not true, as this article, and much bitter experience, show.  The counterfeiting of money and documents is made far easier by our advances in desktop publishing.  The internet has provided them a secure means of communication.  Sometimes the terrorists even have better technology, as in Sri Lanka, according to a report I saw recently.
- 4:18 PM, 3 December 2002   [link]


Dueling Columnists:  One of the great strengths of the Washington Post's editorial pages is the intellectual diversity of the contributors.  Unlike its competitor, the New York Times, the Post has columnists who had no trouble backing George W. Bush in the last election.  (Safire might seem to be an exception, but in the last election he delivered an odd, split endorsement; he suggested voting either for a Republican congress, or Bush, but not both.   In 1992, he endorsed Bill Clinton, though he did apologize for that months later.)  A pair of recent columns shows the value of that intellectual diversity.  In the first, George Will makes the free speech case against the McCain-Feingold "campaign finance reform" bill, now headed for its first court test.  In his reply, E. J. Dionne claims that the bill will reduce corruption.

In my opinion, Will has the better of the duel.  Each columnist uses quotations to support his position, but Will's quotations come from the supporters of the legislation, and they are damning.  It is crystal clear that the supporters do, in fact, want restrictions on freedom of speech, restrictions that, not coincidentally, would help them stay in office.  Dionne is right to say that the bill hardly comes close to the infamous 1798 Sedition Act.  He is wrong to claim that corruption is widespread from campaign donations and also wrong to ignore the bad effects of previous attempts at reform.
- 10:36 AM, 3 December 2002   [link]


The Contrarian:  Some columnists, like, for example, David Broder, almost always write columns presenting commonly accepted ideas.  Others, like William Safire, take pleasure in being contrarians, and going against the accepted view.  Each type has its place.  In this column, Safire shows the advantages of contrarians by commending the choice of Henry Kissinger for the 9/11 commission.  Though I still think my criticism below is correct, Safire's arguments are worth some thought.  One troubling point in the column.  He does not suggest anyone for the commission who is new.
- 10:02 AM, 3 December 2002   [link]


Diamonds in Oil:  Little tiny ones, but they may prove very useful, as this article explains.
- 9:45 AM, 3 December 2002   [link]


Airliner Attack:  There is an old story about a minister, a lawyer, and an engineer who are captured by terrorists.  The terrorists decided to kill them using an old fashioned guillotine.  The minister volunteered to be first and was led up to the guillotine and his neck placed under the blade.  The executioner pullled the trigger and the blade fell part way down and stuck.

After some time, the minister spoke up and said, "It is God's will that I live.  You must release me."

The terrorists agreed and released him.  Next, the lawyer was led up and his neck placed under the blade.  Again, the executioner pulled the trigger and again the blade stuck part way down. The lawyer quickly spoke up, saying, "It would be double jeopardy for you to try to execute me again."

After some discussion, the terrorists agreed and released him.  Finally, the engineer was led up to the guillotine.  As they started to put his neck under the blade, he looked up at the mechanism and said, "I think I see what the problem is."

I hope it was an innocent engineer's sentiment like that in the story, and not something worse, that led the British New Scientist magazine to print this article, after the missile attack on the Israeli airliner in Kenya.  You'll note that O'Halloran explains, for all the world, including the terrorists, to see, how they can succeed next time.  This is horribly irresponsible, unless, and I very much hope this is not the case, O'Halloran and the New Scientist want the terrorists to succeed next time.  Given the widespread anti-Israel feeling in Europe, I can not completely rule out that possibility.
- 7:02 PM, 2 December 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  This debate between Chris Patten and Richard Perle, from the European Union and the US State department, respectively.  Patten begins with a whole series of overstatements, intended, it seems, to be provocative rather than to contribute to a serious discussion.  Perle knocks them down in order in his reply, while backing away from some of his own past statements.  In his end statement, Patten moves away a bit from his opening statement, but only a bit, ending with one of those grating attempts at reassurance that I find more annoying than open hostility:
Final point: Charles Dickens said that he wasn't prejudiced about the United States except to be prejudiced in favour of it.  That is entirely my point of view.  Winston Churchill, again, said that you would always depend on the United States to do the right thing in the end, but not before it had tried all the available alternatives.
Given Dickens' views about the United States, as shown in the novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, and other writings, this is not reassuring.  Churchill's statement was meant as a joke, but I think that Patten takes it seriously, at least in part.

The most troubling aspect of the Patten arguments for me was the sense that he, and many others like him, have closed their minds to the possibility they may be wrong on the facts.  He thinks the Kyoto agreement a good thing, regardless of consequences.  He does not know, or care, that American land mines have self destructive capabilities and so do not pose the danger to civilians that other mines do.  He thinks more aid for development essential, despite the abundant evidence that much of it has been wasted and some has even made things worse for the recipient countries.   He does not mention the substantial aid that the European Union has given to Arafat, aid that has helped fund terrorism.  He thinks, conventionally, that poverty leads to terrorism, ignoring such examples as that millionaire, Osama bin Laden.  He claims that he finds American evangelicals as worrisome as Islamic extremists.  (Hint: One group will pray for you, but the other may kill you.)  Evidence to the contrary on all these points is not hard to find, but he seems uninterested in mere facts.

Finally, he concedes that the European Union is unlikely to do anything practical to build up its military strength.  This is, as I have explained elsewhere, entirely a matter of political will.  The European Union has the capacity to be much stronger, but chooses not to be.   So long as it continues in that path, it will not be able to be either a "counterpart" or a "counterweight" to the United States.
- 5:35 PM, 2 December 2002   [link]


Fighting Whites Update:  Remember the story on the college intramural team that chose this name to protest over using Indian names for mascots?  Here's a cheerful article on how it all came out.  And, if you, unlike me, still want to buy a shirt, here's their site.
- 9:11 AM, 2 December 2002   [link]


What Would Mohammed Do About Beauty Pageants?  When I wrote my original essay on Mohammed, I wanted to include this story on the disgraceful way he acquired one of his wives, but could not find a reference.  (Should have searched the Koran, I see.)  It certainly supports the Nigerian journalist's idea that Mohammed might have chosen a wife from among the beauty contestants.

(While I am on this subject, I should mention that I did a search when I originally came up with WWMD? to see if some one had anticipated me.  I was unable to find an earlier usage, though the idea seems fairly obvious.  If you happen to know of an earlier one, let me know so I can give the author credit.)
- 8:51 AM, 2 December 2002   [link]


Amnesty International Backs Torture:  All right, that's too strong, but what they have just done is object to the release of a report from the British government on torture in Iraq.  In their reply, Amnesty International calls this "nothing but a cold and calculated manipulation of the work of human rights activists".  For years, Amnesty International has criticized western governments, with considerable justice, for ignoring the human rights abuses of Saddam's regime.  Now that the British and American governments have come over to the Amnesty International position, the organization objects to their change.  Why?   Because those governments now propose to end the Saddam's regime and save the Iraqis from the abuses.   Apparently, Amnesty International would rather the abuses continue.
- 6:51 AM, 2 December 2002   [link]


The Quiet American:  Graham Greene's novel was controversial then, and is controversial now.  Mark Steyn reviews the latest movie made from it, finding it at
least as much a travesty of Graham Greene's novel as the old 1958 film was.  Back then, the book was too anti-American. Forty years on, it's not anti-American enough.
At least for many in Europe and Steyn's home Canada, where the anti-Americanism can be so impervious to evidence as to be, Steyn thinks, a type of mental illness.
As with those wacky Arabs and their Zionist conspiracies, Euro-Canadian anti-Americanism is a psychosis.
The French, to take an obvious example, can make Le Pen their runner up in the contest for the presidency, after the corrupt Chirac, and not even pause in telling us just how lacking George Bush is.   I'm not sure this is psychotic, but it certainly is neurotic, by any common definition.
- 5:40 PM, 1 December 2002   [link]


Britney Beats Osama:  At least in Indonesia, that is.  Ralph Peters argues that we should "Turn East from Mecca" and concentrate our efforts to win Muslims over, not in the heart of Islam, but in countries like Indonesia, where, in fact, Britney draws more attention than Osama.  Another way to say the same thing is to say that we would do well to concentrate our efforts on nations recently Islamized, historically speaking.  In many of these, Islam is a thin veneer over older religious ideas.   In Indonesia, for example, Peters estimates that fewer than 20 per cent of the people would meet the rigid standards of Saudi Arabia.

We will do better in such efforts if we improve our speakers program, which does not represent us well.  It even sends anti-American professors abroad to speak for us, which does not seem like the best use of resources.
- 5:06 PM, 1 December 2002   [link]