Archive:

December 2003, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Did Bush Prevent A World Wide Recession?  In 2000, I thought that Bush's economic plan was too expansive.  I thought it cut taxes too much, and expanded spending too much.  (Gore's plan was even worse, in my opinion.  Though he proposed smaller tax cuts than Bush, he proposed much more in spending, so that his total package was larger. And, neither his tax cuts not his spending increases promised much benefit to the economy.)

The argument Bush's economic team made in 2000, that the economy might be slipping into a recession, seemed plausible to me.  After the bubbles of the internet and the Y2K, it seemed likely that we were due for a slowdown, or worse.  Because of that possibility, immediate tax cuts made sense to me, but not some of the long range ones.

The first three quarters of 2001 showed that Bush's team had been right to worry, as the economy began to slip at the beginning of the year.  Businesses, which had wildly over-invested in the dot com boom and the worry about Y2K, began to cut back sharply.  Business fraud, which had flourished during the bubble, as it always does during bubbles, began to be exposed, hurting the confidence of investors.  Even before 9/11, the economy was in a recession.  The attack exacerbated all these problems.   It caused large losses to many businesses, especially the airlines and aircraft manufacturers, and damaged confidence everywhere.

Our problems were made worse by errors in other nations.  The United States is still the largest exporter in the world, so when the economies of our trading partners slip, ours is hurt.  Japan has been in a slump for a decade.  The countries of the European Union were growing very slowly at best.  Just as the critics had warned, the growth and stability pact hurt the economies of those countries that had agreed to it, especially Germany.  South America, which buys many of our exports, was plagued by a range of problems, among them narco-guerrillas in Columbia, an economically incompetent Castro admirer in Venezuela, and a spending spree that had bankrupted Argentina.  Though Southeast Asia was recovering from its own crisis, it was no longer expanding as it had in the boom years.

When I add all these together, the inevitable slowdown after the bubble, the 9/11 attack, the problems in other countries, I have to think that the slowdown we are now coming out of could have been much worse.  If, that is, Bush had not opted for so much stimulus.   European newspapers, including some consistently hostile to Bush, agree that the growth there, which is now beginning to pick up, is caused, in large part, by the American recovery.   Without our stimulus, they might be slipping from stagnation into recession, which would hurt us soon after.

Business writers like to describe one nation or another as the "locomotive" that pulls the others along.  Using that metaphor, we would have to say that Bush may have been right to open the throttle as he did.  The United States is benefitting from that decision, as is most of the world.  (Don't expect much gratitude or credit, of course.)

Finally, I should qualify all this by saying that I am not an economist, and usually don't even play one here.  Still, it would be interesting if someone who is plugged these ideas into one of the standard economic simulations.
- 3:56 PM, 8 December 2003   [link]


Consenting Adults:  For some people, especially libertarians, that phrase settles a lot of arguments.  Nearly everyone has heard someone say "what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home ought not to be the business of government", or something equivalent.  For those who believe such arguments, I have an example you may want to think about.  In Germany, a man put up an advertisement on the internet for an adult who would consent to being eaten.   And he found one.  In fact, he found more than one, but rejected some because they were "too weird".  Eventually he found one who was not too weird, killed him, and ate him.   (Those who believe in the cultural superiority of Europeans will be pleased to know that he accompanied at least some of his unconventional meals with decent wines.)

It seems to me that, if you believe that "consenting adults" is a universal rule, then you must conclude that the German government is wrong to prosecute this man.  If, like me, you think the man should be prosecuted, you will have no trouble concluding that "consenting adults" is not enough for a universal rule.  Instead, you will conclude that, however old-fashioned the idea may seem, eating people—even if they consent—is wrong.
- 1:00 PM, 8 December 2003   [link]


Yesterday,  as I probably do not have to remind you, was the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.  There's a bit of trivia I learned, or was reminded of, when I read the third volume of Morison's history of the US Navy in World War II.   The attack was an enormous surprise, fully deserving FDR's famous phrase, "a day that will live in infamy".  But not every defender was surprised.  In fact, American forces actually got in the first shots during the battle.
Ensign R. C. McCoy USNR of U.S.S. Condor, one of two small converted minesweepers that were conducting a routine sweep of the harbor entrance, made the first enemy contact of the war.  At 0342, four full hours before the air attack, he sighted the periscope of a midget submarine less than two miles outside the harbor entrance buoy, and passed the word by blinker signal to destroyer Ward, then on night patrol.  After Ward had been searching for over two hours, a Navy Catalina sighted the same or another midget at 0633 and dropped smoke pots on the spot.  The submarine was apparently trailing U.S.S. Antares (a repair ship engaged in towing an empty steel barge toward Pearl Harbor) in the hope of slipping through the gate under the protection of the barge's wake.  Ward, being close by at the time, attacked the midget at 0645 and sank it with gunfire and depth charges. (p. 96)
Unfortunately, few were as alert as Ensign McCoy.  The warning from these sightings did not get to the admirals as quickly as it should have because it was sent in code, in spite of standing orders to switch to in clear messages in an emergency.

The Japanese used at least five midget submarines; according to Morison, we sank or destroyed all of them.  We even captured the skipper of one when he was forced to beach his craft, after we damaged it.
- 9:55 AM, 8 December 2003   [link]


Surprise!  Those who think that the Democratic nomination has already been decided should read Joel Connelly's column on the "funny stuff" that has happened in past contests.  The contest is far from over.

I should add one correction.  Howard Dean is not so much a "no-nonsense" candidate as he is a "blunt nonsense" candidate.  He has the brash, attacking style that many associate with truth-telling politicians, but his statements often do not bear scrutiny.  He is nearly as careless with the truth as another Democratic candidate for the presidency, George Wallace, who also had a "no-nonsense" reputation.

(This column shows Connelly at his best.  For an example of Connelly at his worst, see my comments on an earlier column, where he botched his World War II history badly.  I sent a letter to the editor, but they never published it.   Maybe I should send an email to Connelly, though I have not found him especially willing to correct errors in the past.)
- 7:34 AM, 8 December 2003   [link]


Who Is Calling Who Unpatriotic?  Democrats complain again and again that Bush calls them unpatriotic when they disagree with him on the war on terrorism.  Has he?  Fred Barnes has the facts:
The claim that Democrats are targets of a political low blow by being labeled unpatriotic has become a Democratic refrain.  It's been used by Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, and presidential candidates Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark, and Howard Dean.  Kennedy was upbraided by Republicans in September for claiming Bush had concocted the Iraq war for political gain.  His response: "There's no question that this White House sees political advantage in the war.  And you can see it in the way they attack the patriotism of those who question them."

But nobody called Kennedy or any other Democrat unpatriotic.  Bush didn't.  Senate Republicans didn't.  House majority leader Tom DeLay denounced Kennedy, but didn't accuse him of a lack of patriotism.  In this and every other case in which Democrats claim to have been smeared as unpatriotic, the facts don't bear them out.  Bush has never used the words "Democrat" and "unpatriotic" in the same sentence or in nearby sentences. In fact, he's never uttered the word "unpatriotic" in public in any context.
(Though he doesn't say so, presumably Barnes made the obvious computer searches, or had a research assistant do it for him.)  Some conservative talk show hosts have charged the Democrats with being unpatriotic, but I don't know of any important elected Republican who has done so.

But the charge has been used by the Democrats, again and again.
There is, however, one political figure who's been accused time and again of being unpatriotic: President Bush.  The accusers? Democrats.  Graham said Bush's Iraq policy is "anti-patriotic at the core, because it's asking only one group of Americans, those soldiers in Iraq and their families, to pay the price of the occupation."  Kerry was harsher.  In a candidate debate last September, he said Bush "lives out a creed of greed for he and his friends.   I'm tired of seeing chief executives be permitted to take their millions or billions to Bermuda and leave the average American here at home stuck with the tax bill.  You know what I call that?   Unpatriotic."  Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton complained of Bush, "Real patriots don't put troops in harm's way on a flawed policy."  And Dean has questioned the patriotism of Bush's attorney general, John Ashcroft.
Now we might pass off Kerry's remark as something said in the heat of debate—if he had retracted it later.  But Dean's attack on Ashcroft has been part of his stock speech, something he has said over and over.  (Along with, of course, his attack on Bush for being a divider.)

Are the Democrats who claim that Bush is calling them unpatriotic mistaken, or lying?   Some of each, I suppose.  Most may just be using what they see as an effective line, without bothering to check its truth.  It shows something about our "mainstream" media that the Democrats have received so little criticism for this falsehood.  Or even for their own use of "unpatriotic" to attack the Bush administration.
- 7:07 AM, 8 December 2003   [link]


Why Do They Hate Bush?  For some people, for example, Jonathan Chait of the New Republic magazine, the answer is so obvious that they have trouble articulating it, and just splutter when they try.  When I read Chait's now notorious article, I was left with no doubt that he, and many of his friends, did in fact hate Bush, but was still a more than bit mystified about his reasons.  The reasons he gave seemed insufficient to explain his anger, and the same is true of many other Bush haters.  Columnist Paul Krugman comes to my mind immediately; that he hates Bush is obvious, but the reasons Krugman gives seem insufficient to explain the depth of his anger.

For those who feel this hate, or who think they understand it, let me put this question.   If you feel hatred for George Bush, what do you feel for Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden?  Or consider some historical villains.  Nearly all of us would agree that it was appropriate to hate Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.  Does it make any sense at all to feel the same emotion toward Bush?

There are some people whose hatred for Bush is easily explained.  Communists will hate almost every president of the United States, as will extremists on the far right in most countries.  The (almost certainly late) Osama bin Laden, and other Islamic extremists, will hate the man they see as the head crusader.

What requires explaining is the hatred Bush now inspires in the American left, especially the activists in the Democratic party.  When Bush came on the national scene, most did not hate him.  Some disliked him, as partisans will, and more than a few felt contempt for a man without Clinton's gift for extemporaneous speaking.  It is easy to forget now, but the 2000 election was not an especially bitter fight.  (With, of course, the great exception of the campaign waged against Bush among blacks by Gore and allies such as the NAACP.  They were worried, rightly, that Bush would appeal to appeal to blacks and begin to break the Democratic monopoly on their votes.)  Bush did not wage an especially partisan campaign.  In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, for example, he did not spend much time attacking Clinton, but instead expressed sorrow about the waste of Clinton's talent.  (More than a few Democratic activists agreed with with that sentiment.)

The fight over Florida after the election changed the feelings for many Democratic activists.   The left naturally credited many of the charges that were made by their own partisans and many concluded after the court fights that Bush had "stolen" the election.  (You can make a much better case for the argument that Democratic election officials in some counties tried to steal the election and almost succeeded.)  Even so, there was something of the usual honeymoon after the inauguration.  Bush made a number of gestures reaching out to the Democrats, inviting Ted Kennedy to the White House and naming a building after his brother, Bobby Kennedy.

I think that the feelings of Democrats toward Bush softened later in 2001 when Daschle made the back room deal with Jim Jeffords and took control of the Senate.  In the period between April 2001 and November 2002, I do not recall hearing much about hatred for Bush.  Even before the 9/11 attack, which united the nation temporarily, Democratic activists during this period seemed to dislike or feel contempt for Bush, but not hate him.  This changed after the 2002 election, when the Republicans took back control of the Senate.

Some of the haters, notably Chait, now say that they hate both Bush's personality and his policies, but this does not explain why Bush did not inspire much hate during the 2000 campaign.  His personality has not changed much; those who say they hate him because he is a reckless cowboy, or spoiled frat boy, or whatever, often did not hate the same man three years ago.  Nor have his policies changed much.  The tax cuts are very similar to those Bush proposed during the 2000 campaign.   As Clinton had said in 1998 and Gore had promised in the 2000 campaign, Bush promised to make regime change in Iraq an American goal.  The education bill, passed in 2000, was based on promises Bush had made during the campaign, after some compromises with the Democrats, particularly Ted Kennedy.  And so on.

I think the surge in hatred for Bush among Democratic activists came after the 2002 election because they saw themselves being shut out of power for years to come.  The typical Democratic activist has a whole list of actions that they would like government to take.   If you meet a woman with 13 point plan in her purse, or a man with a 7 point program in his briefcase, you can bet that they are Democrats.  Their plans and programs, though not quite a religious creed, come close to that, psychologically, for many on the left.   (For some in the environmental movement, their beliefs are their religion, as many have noted, and as as some Greens openly admit.)  They want to control government because they want to save our souls with their plans and programs.  The 2000 and 2002 elections makes it likely that they will be unable to do so for years, and perhaps longer.

This is novel for all but the very oldest of the activists.  The Republicans last controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency for just two years after the 1952 election.   Democratic activists are used to being in power and being shut out completely is a terrible shock to those who want to use the government to change society.

The 1994 election, in which the Democrats lost both the House and the Senate, was a similar shock, and produced a similar hatred for Newt Gingrich.  Again, it was the loss of power, more than the personality or the programs, that inspired the hate.

The campaign to liberate Iraq increased the hate because it showed how powerless the left was.  Since most leftists still see the world through their experience of Vietnam, they opposed this very different campaign almost automatically.  Their opposition made no difference; despite angry campaigns and massive street demonstrations, the United States overthrew Saddam and liberated Iraq.  Bush showed them not only that they were powerless, nationally, but that he would take actions that they deeply disapproved.

If their loss of power in the 2002 election is what triggered their hatred, and the liberation of Iraq deepened it, then Howard Dean's curious presidential campaign becomes understandable.   Dean quite bluntly appeals to the activists' desire for power.  And it explains why Iraq is so important to them as an issue, even though Dean is not promising large changes in the present policy.  They were shut out of the decision on Iraq, as they see it, and Dean is promising that will not happen again, if he is elected president.
- 4:29 PM, 7 December 2003   [link]


Another Mystery About Iraq  is the British claim, before the liberation, that Saddam had chemical weapons he could use in 45 minutes.  The precision of the claim suggested that the British had a source inside Saddam's military.  Now, the Telegraph has found an Iraqi colonel who may have been the source of that intelligence.   As you can see from the article, he is sticking to his story.
Lt-Col al-Dabbagh, 40, who was the head of an Iraqi air defence unit in the western desert, said that cases containing WMD warheads were delivered to front-line units, including his own, towards the end of last year.
. . .
Local commanders were told that they could use the weapons only on the personal orders of Saddam.  "We were told that when the war came we would only have a short time to use everything we had to defend ourselves, including the secret weapon," he said.

The only reason that these weapons were not used, said Col al-Dabbagh, was because the bulk of the Iraqi army did not want to fight for Saddam.  "The West should thank God that the Iraqi army decided not to fight," he said.
. . .
Col al-Dabbagh, who was recalled to Baghdad to work at Iraq's air defence headquarters during the war itself, believes that the WMD have been hidden at secret locations by the Fedayeen and are still in Iraq.  "Only when Saddam is caught will people talk about these weapons," he said.
Given the small volumes of these weapons, this is entirely plausible, though obviously one would like to have confirmation from other sources.

If the colonel's story is true, it does not entirely absolve Prime Minister Blair of the charge that he exaggerated the dangers, since the colonel does not think that Saddam had the capability to put chemical weapons in long range rockets, as Blair had suggested.  Here's the Telegraph editorial on the subject.
- 9:35 AM, 7 December 2003   [link]


Saddam And 9/11?  I have never formed a firm opinion on the possible connections between Saddam and 9/11, or between Saddam and the earlier attack on the World Trade Center.  That Saddam might have backed either or both terrorist attacks is entirely possible.  Whether he actually did so is completely uncertain, given what we know publicly.  Here's an article from a Czech publication on the "Prague connection", the possible link between the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta, and Iraqi intelligence.  Atta's visit to Prague requires an explanation, but no completely convincing one has surfaced.  (For more, see these two Edward Jay Epstein articles, "Saddam and Terrorism" and "Prague Revisited".)
- 5:58 AM, 7 December 2003   [link]


Tapeworms Can Be Good For You:  (Warning: You may not want to read this before lunch.)  When I was first studying science in grade school, I learned that there were a few nasty animals called parasites that did not earn a living in a honest way, but preyed on other animals from the inside.  There were also, I learned, symbiotes, animals that lived with other animals, to the benefit of both.  Scientists now know that my simple grade school picture is wrong in many ways.  Far from being rare, parasites are actually in the majority.  By one estimate, there are four species of parasites for every free-living species.  And, the line between parasites and symbiotes is not nearly as clear as we once thought.

Since there are so many parasites, the free-living species have adapted to them, and, strange as this may seem, may now depend on parasites.  This BBC article, though not really news, since the experiments described are at least six years old, gives an example with many implications.  Tapeworms may relieve the symptoms of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.  In both diseases, the immune system attacks the lining of the intestines.   Both are new diseases, not having been diagnosed before about 1930.  They were first seen in wealthy city dwellers, who benefited from the better sanitation and were free of the intestinal parasites that still plague much of the world's population.

(The article does not give much of a description of the experiment.  At least in earlier experiments, the scientists used a species of tapeworm that can live in people, but not reproduce, to keep them under control.  In the very first trial, with seven volunteers, the tapeworms caused complete remission of the symptoms of colitis and Crohn's disease in six of the seven.)

To live inside us, the parasites had to damp down our immune systems.  To keep the parasites under control, our immune system had to work harder.  The result of this long struggle is that we have an immune system adapted to a certain level of parasites.  When they are absent, the immune system can go wrong.  Many in advanced nations no longer have tapeworms, hookworms, and other parasites, but we have new problems like Crohn's disease, and much higher levels of asthma and hay fever.

(For more on this subject, see Parasite Rex, a book that may give you the creeps, but will change your thinking about biology forever.)
- 9:08 AM, 6 December 2003   [link]


Death Of US Manufacturing Greatly Exaggerated:  Many people, even well-informed people, believe that US manufacturing is declining, even absolutely, that we no longer make things in this country, that everything is being outsourced to nations with lower wages.  In fact, the value of US manufacturing is close to its all time high, and more than twice what it was two decades ago.   There's a good summary showing the strength of US manufacturing in this article.   (Since I had to go through a lengthy registration process to read it today, I will quote from the article extensively, so that you can avoid that if you are willing to trust me.)
"The last 10 years have been one of the best (decades) for factory output we've ever had," said Russ Sheldon, an economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns.  From leather to wood products, "practically everybody in the manufacturing sector is on board."

U.S. industrial production grew 3.6 percent a year on average in the last decade, vs. 2 percent in the 1970s, according to Federal Reserve statistics.

. . .
Manufacturing remains a pillar of the economy, contributing 16 percent to U.S. GDP growth in 2002, roughly the same level as in 1987, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

Contrary to common misconception, the U.S. remains the world's top manufacturer.  A World Bank report put total manufacturing output at $1.7 trillion in 2001, the most recent reported period.  That's almost as much as Japan and Germany combined, both a distant second at $900 billion each.
One common belief is correct.  There are fewer manufacturing jobs.
The U.S. had been steadily losing factory employment since its last peak of 17.64 million in March 1998.  Since then, the factory sector has shed 3.1 million jobs, or 17.6 percent of its work force.

Yet the job decline in manufacturing is universal due to technology driven productivity gains, noted JP Morgan Chase economist James Glassman.  China and Mexico also are losing manufacturing jobs due to automation, he said.

"The story is one of automation -- not de-industrialization," agreed Sheldon.
We are producing more with fewer people.  In the long run, that makes us all more prosperous.  In the short run, it can be very difficult for those who have to adjust to the changes, as anyone familiar with farms can tell you.  The productivity increases on a farms have meant much cheaper food, and far fewer farmers over the last century.   Our factories are now going through similar changes.

Why do so many Americans think that our factories are dead or dieing?  Partly because of the very real job losses.  Partly because politicians like Pat Buchanan, for their own reasons, have promoted the idea endlessly.  (And perhaps for other people's reasons.   Buchanan has received support in the past from a textile magnate who feared foreign competition.)  Partly, I think, because so many of our small consumer products are now made by foreign companies.  (Some of those products, of course, may be made in the United States, even though the nameplate is foreign.)  We see the Krups coffee pots, but we don't see the far more valuable GE MRI machines.

If you are still skeptical about the future of US manufacturing, consider this fact.  The following car companies have bought or built manufacturing plants in the United States in the last two decades: BMW, Daimler-Benz, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota.  If these companies, run by unromantic foreign businessmen, think that the United States is a good place to manufacture cars, perhaps they know something that Pat Buchanan and company do not.
- 7:16 AM, 6 December 2003   [link]


My Apologies  for the delay in posting.  I was a bit sick yesterday and it will take me a day or two to catch up.
- 10:09 AM, 5 December 2003   [link]


Suppose President Bush  toyed with the idea of breaking up ABC or CBS on "ideological grounds".  How would the press react?  With nearly unanimous outrage.  (And I would join them.)  But that is just what Howard Dean did, except that he wanted to break up Fox.  Here's the crucial exchange with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Would you break up Fox?
(LAUGHTER)
MATTHEWS: I'm serious.
DEAN: I'm keeping a...
MATTHEWS: Would you break it up?  Rupert Murdoch has "The Weekly Standard."  It has got a lot of other interests.  It has got "The New York Post."  Would you break it up?
DEAN: On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but...
(LAUGHTER)
MATTHEWS: No, seriously. As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?
DEAN: I don't want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not, because, obviously
(CROSSTALK)
MATTHEWS: Well, how about large media enterprises?
DEAN: Let me-yes, let me get...
(LAUGHTER)
DEAN: The answer to that is yes.
So he would like to break up Fox on "ideological grounds", but when asked about GE, a much larger media company, he is is evasive:
MATTHEWS: Well, would you break up GE?
(APPLAUSE)
DEAN: I can't-you...
MATTHEWS: GE just buys Universal.  Would you do something there about that?  Would you stop that from happening?
DEAN: You can't say-you can't ask me right now and get an answer, would I break up X corp...
We have had presidents that used the power of the government to attack their ideological foes in the press, going all the way back to John Adams.  More recently, this has drawn so much disapproval that presidents almost always do this secretly.  The Kennedy campaign against right wing radio stations was kept secret, as were some of Nixon's attacks against news organizations.  Dean's willingness to toy with this attack on the 1st Amendment, openly, is dismaying.

A Dean defender might argue that Dean was joking, though Dean has yet to issue a clarification.   And, the exchange does remind me of Dean's angry demand to have a billboard that he disliked torn down immediately, when he was governor.  Some see that as evidence of his temper; I worry more about his lack of support for freedom of speech.

There is another side to this exchange that is equally dismaying.  Chris Matthews has been both a Democratic aide and a journalist.  Now, he may be trying to be provocative here, but I read the transcript as him arguing for constraints on a news organization, Fox, that competes with him and that he disagrees with, ideologically.  Thirty or forty years ago, very few journalists would have made that argument.  Now, with the rising challenge of conservative outlets, like most of talk radio, or more mixed outlets, like Fox, many leftist journalists are beginning, as Matthews seems to be here, to favor restrictions on their competitors.

Others have been troubled by this same exchange.  Charles Krauthammer, who was trained as a psychiatrist, sees it (and other Dean statements) as evidence of delusion.   Donald Sensing thinks we should be "very afraid".   Journalist Jeff Jarvis has this summary:
Translation: He's going to meddle in news.  He's going to decree who can and can't own media outlets.  He's going to break up companies for sport and political pandering.  He's not concerned with the First Amendment.  He's not concerned with the realities of the media business today (if you don't allow some level of consolidation, then weak outlets will die).
Again, what would happen if President Bush made a similar threat?

Finally, though this was the most disturbing part of the interview, there were other parts that were almost equally troubling.
- 9:56 AM, 5 December 2003   [link]


More On The Banning Of Al Aribaya:  The Iraqi official who made the decision explains why:
Al-Arabiya's conscious decision to break Iraqi law and the breaking of its own solemn promise not to promote violence in our country.

On Nov. 16 al-Arabiya broadcast what it claimed was an audio tape by Saddam Hussein.   Hussein's horrible legacy, including responsibility for the needless deaths of millions of my countrymen, torture, executions and the virtual destruction of Iraq's economy, is well known.

And what did he say?

He called for the extermination of the Governing Council and of the coalition forces that liberated us and are now helping us reconstruct our country.
Will Helen Thomas, and others who have attacked the decision, note these facts?  Don't bet on it.

And, note that al Aribaya can continue to gather news in Iraq, and can go back to broadcasting to Iraq as soon as they agree to follow the laws of Iraq (and nearly all other countries, too).
- 10:13 AM, 4 December 2003   [link]


Are Tiny Black Holes Raining Down On Us?  Some scientists think they might be.   But don't worry.  If black holes are created high in our atmosphere, they last just "a billion-billion-billionth of a second", which does not give them time to hit us.
- 9:58 AM, 4 December 2003   [link]


Wishful Thinking:  Robert Kuttner, writing in the Boston Globe, thinks that Bush may have peaked too early, on both the economy and Iraq.  It is hard to tell how events in Iraq might affect next year's election, but it is unlikely that the good economic news will stop before November 2004.   An economy as large as ours is like a supertanker; it does not start or stop quickly.   And the fiscal stimulus is not finished from the tax cuts, by any means.  The average tax refund next year will be much larger than usual and will come at a good time to further stimulate the economy and boost Bush's chances for re-election.

As an election issue, Iraq is harder to calculate.  It is worth remembering that Richard Nixon, more hawkish than his Democratic opponent in both 1968 and 1972, won both elections, despite the casualties of the Vietnam war and the doubts about whether it could be won.   1972 was a landslide victory for Nixon.  Although 1968 was close, that was only because George Wallace was running; without him in the race, Nixon would have won by 8-10 percent in the popular vote.

Going farther back, Korea was an issue in the 1952 election, but not because Eisenhower was promising a pull out.  Roosevelt was re=elected in 1944, partly because of his war leadership, and Lincoln was re-elected in 1864, in spite of horrific Union losses.  In all our history, there are no examples of incumbent president being defeated during a major war.  Incumbent parties that lost during a war (1952 and 1968) lost to candidates who were promising stronger action.
- 6:41 AM, 4 December 2003   [link]


Man Bites Dog, Guardian Compliments Rumsfeld:  The Plain English Campaign gave Rumsfeld its annual Foot in the Mouth award for a statement that as this editorial says, is "perfectly clear" and "expressed in admirably plain English, with not a word of jargon or gobbledygook in it".  Here's the quotation, if by chance you have missed it.
"Reports that say something hasn't happened are always interesting to me," Mr Rumsfeld said, "because, as we know, there are known knowns, there are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."
- 8:10 AM, 3 December 2003   [link]


Suspicious Minds:  Is the Washington Post hinting at something in this article?   From it, we learn that Dean sometimes travels alone with a longtime aide, Kate O'Connor, that she has been close to him for years, and that they mapped out the presidential campaign in her living room.  The Post reminds us that Dean's wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, "has played virtually no role in his campaign".  What would a small town gossip make of these facts?

I would be less suspicious if news organizations had not so often concealed these matters.   Many journalists knew about Gary Hart's affairs; there was even a broad hint about them in The Making of the President, 1972, when Hart was working for McGovern, but little was said about them during the 1984 campaign.  Many more knew about Bill Clinton's reckless promiscuity in 1992.  Joe Klein of Time magazine did not write about Clinton's behavior during the campaign, but did write a novel, Primary Colors, as "Anonymous" later that described it in detail.  Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes has admitted, or perhaps I should say boasted, that he and everyone in the studio knew the Clintons were lying when they taped the program that may have saved the 1992 Clinton campaign.  Hewitt did many takes of key parts of the program so as to give the Clintons the best chance to present themselves as a now happily married couple.

(What difference would it make if Dean was having an affair?  Some.  Like most people, I am very hard on those who abuse their offices, by exchanging sex for jobs or by conducting affairs on public property or public time.  Clinton did both of these, in Arkansas and in Washington, but got away with it by asserting that it was "personal" even though the taxpayers were paying for his philandering.  I worry about the recklessness shown by Kennedy and Clinton in some of their escapades.  I am less critical of affairs that are truly private, but think they often show character flaws.)
- 7:45 AM, 3 December 2003   [link]


Update On The Iowa Race:  In this post, I argued that Howard Dean was not yet the frontrunner, noting that he was behind Gephardt in Iowa.  Some recent polls have given Dean a narrow lead in Iowa.  It is still early, since the caucuses are held in January.  I continue to believe that Gephardt will, at the very least, damage Dean in the fight for Iowa.

(Technical point:  Using polls to forecast the Iowa caucuses is even more hazardous than using them to forecast primaries.  Although the Iowa caucuses have become a pseudo-primary, they are still conducted as caucuses.  Iowa Democrats meet and hold a series of votes, not one.  Candidates that don't receive a certain level of support are eliminated from the next round.  Organization and intensity of support matter more than they do in primaries.   Tactical voting and alliances are common.  All these make the caucuses less predictable than primaries, which are less predicable than general elections.)
- 5:59 AM, 3 December 2003   [link]


The Best Selling Book In Britain  is a tract on proper punctuation.
Congratulations to Lynne Truss, author of this Christmas's surprise bestseller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves—The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, which has hit number one on the Amazon chart.

The publishers have printed 140,000 copies of the book, in which Miss Truss declares war on misplaced apostrophes and absent commas, and yesterday bookshops put in an order for 75,000 more.
Wonder what the title means?  You can find the answer in this interview.
- 8:38 AM, 2 December 2003   [link]


Where Do You Put A Sewage Treatment Plant?  That's a classic political problem since you will offend voters no matter where you put it.  As a political move, I have to admire the solution found by King County executive Ron Sims.  He is planning to put the plant in Snohomish county, where no one affected can vote against him.  Is this the best solution from a technical point of view?  Probably not.

It's not even the best solution from his party's point of view.  Snohomish county has been moving toward the Republican party.  This will make it difficult, to say the least, for Snohomish Democrats to reverse that trend.

(I have two ideas for the general problem of siting sewage plants, dumps, and other unpleasant facilities, one frivolous and one serious.  The frivolous one combines redistribution with snobbery.  A sewage plant or dump should be sited in the most expensive neighborhood possible.  This would lead to coversations like the following:

"Where does your new boyfriend live, Tiffany?"

"Just three blocks from the dump, Mother."

"That's wonderful."

My serious idea comes from an article I read years ago.  The authors, noting the difficulty of finding sites for nuclear waste dumps, suggested that the government bribe the communities affected.  Having established the physical requirements, the government would offer a payment, beginning with a low offer and increasing it until a community accepted.  (I believe this is sometimes called a "reverse Dutch" auction.) The authors thought this would be cheaper than having a long legal fight over the matter, as almost always happens now.  It would also, I think, be fairer, since the people affected are compensated for any losses.)
- 8:07 AM, 2 December 2003   [link]


Who Backs Al Qaeda?  If you believe Senator Patty Murray you would think they would be poor people, frustrated with the lack of public services.   Others think the supporters are those who have been angered by discrimination against Muslims.  This suspect, Ahmed Idris Nasreddin, would not be the best example for either theory.  He's the owner of Hotel Nasco, a four star hotel in Milan, Italy.  (Sounds like a good place to boycott.)
- 7:13 AM, 2 December 2003   [link]


Allies:  More than 30 nations have sent troops to Iraq to help in the pacification; here's a table with the countries and the numbers.  Thanks to all those who are sharing this burden.
- 4:50 AM, 2 December 2003   [link]


The Puritans Were Not Puritanical:  So says historian David Hackett Fischer in his book, Albion's Seed.
Sex among the Puritans was very far from being puritanical in the popular sense.   Copulation was not a taboo subject in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, as it later became in the nineteenth.  It was discussed so openly that the writings of the Puritans required heavy editing before they were thought fit to print even in the mid-twentieth century.
. . .
The Puritans never encouraged sexual asceticism.  They did not value chastity in the Roman Catholic sense as highly as other Christians did.  The Boston minister Samuel Willard explicitly condemned "the Popish conceit of the excellence of virginity."   John Cotton wrote that "women are creatures without which there is no comfortable living for man: it is true of them what to be said of governments, that bad ones are better than none." (p. 87)
Not romantic, I'll admit, but not anti-sex, either.

The Puritans did think that sex should be entirely confined to marriage, but they also thought that everyone should marry, and they came close to achieving that.  Even though the New England Puritans delayed marriage, 94 percent of the women and 98 percent of the men married.  So this was a society in which nearly all the adults engaged in regular sex.  There are no comparative studies, of course, but they may have been more sexually active than our own society.

We do know that they had a children at a rate that suggests very active sex lives.  They were opposed to contraception and their fertility rate approached the theoretical maximum.

And we also know that their courtship practices included large amounts of sex play.   The Puritans, once a courtship had begun, often allowed the young man to stay overnight in bed with the young woman he was courting.  As practical people, they also provided safeguards.  The bed was often divided by a "bundling board" down the middle of the bed, and the young women might wear a bag or apron that covered her from her waist down.   This inspired an old New England ballad, with these lines:
But she is modest, also chaste
While only bare from neck to waist,
And he of boasted freedom sings,
Of all above her apron strings
Even now, I suspect there are many parents who would be uncomfortable with these practices.

These attitudes are less surprising if you remember that most New Englanders were farmers, and all would have been familiar with farms.  A farm life, with the constant breeding of sheep, cattle, and chickens, leads to a matter of fact attitude about sex, for most.

But the Puritans went beyond the matter of fact because they considered marriage a covenant between them and God.  They were obliged, their ministers told them, to try to love each other and live in harmony.  And not just the ministers; if there were quarrels, their neighbors tried very hard to restore harmony in the marriage, including one can be sure, in their sex lives.  The result was very different from the stereotype.  As Fischer summarizes:
By and large, this culture was not a system of sexual tyranny and repression.  The sex ways of Massachusetts rested upon an intensity of moral and religious purpose which marked so many aspects of this culture.
The Puritans were very different from us, but they were not puritanical in the usual sense of the term.

(Albion's Seed is a fascinating history, organized in an unorthodox way.  Fischer describes the culture of the four main British groups that settled the United States, the Puritans, the Cavaliers, the Quakers, and the Borderers, in four separate sections, with chapters in each on speech, buildings, marriage, sex, and other matters.  You can read each section separately to understand that group, or you can skip back and forth comparing the groups on a topic.  The book is now back in print; you can find it here.)
- 3:06 PM, 1 December 2003   [link]


Why Does The Seattle PI Publish Helen Thomas?  To make Maureen Dowd look honest and reasonable.  In her latest column, Thomas complains about the limits put on al Jazeera and al Arabiya, saying they do not fit her "idea of how to spread democracy in the Middle East".  The headline puts it more succinctly: "Only dictators ban television news".  In fact, during a time of war, democracies routinely censor their press.  FDR, a hero of hers, put tough controls on the press during World War II.  There is nothing inherently wrong with such controls, during war time.

Al Arabiya was banned because it was broadcasting calls for violent attacks on Americans and Iraqis, something that can be prosecuted here even in peace time.  Thomas knows this, since it was included in nearly every account of the ban, but chooses not to mention it in her column.

Even worse, the column omits the history of al Jazeera and al Arabiya.  Both organizations, we now know, were infiltrated by Saddam Hussein.  And since his fall, both have been openly supporting the Saddam loyalists.  This Instapundit post summarizes the evidence against them.  As Reynolds reasonably asks, "Did we allow Nazi media to report on the liberation of North Africa?".  Is Thomas ignorant of these facts, or is she concealing them?
- 9:13 AM, 1 December 2003
More:  Here's another account of al Jazeera's problems from—take note, please, Ms. Thomas—the managing editor of the Arab News.  Will Thomas mention the unpleasant facts he recounts in a future column?  Almost certainly not.
- 9:38 AM, 1 December 2003   [link]


Thanks To All  who visited this site in October and November.   October set a record for page views and November was second only to October.  And, if the email I receive is any indication, the quality of the site's readers is quite high.
- 7:53 AM, 1 December 2003   [link]


What Should We Call The People  attacking our forces, our allies, the UN, and the Iraqi civilians who are trying to rebuild Iraq?  This New York Times article confusingly calls them "guerillas", "insurgents", and "fedayeen paramilitary fighters".  A few news organizations have even called them "resistance fighters", an honorable name most associated with the French resistance in Europe.  (Though the history of the French resistance is not entirely honorable.)   The most common term, at least in the American press, seems to be "insurgents".  That is a neutral term, unlike resistance fighters, but it seems obviously incorrect, since insurgent just means rebel.

The attackers complicate the problem because they are, for the most part, anonymous.   They strike, but do not claim credit for their actions after the strikes, at least not in the name of any organization.  That anonymity is our clue; most of the attackers have an identity that would make them suspect, especially in Iraq.  So we can conclude that they are part of the old regime or working for the old regime.   The right term for them is "Saddam loyalists", not "insurgents".  (Many appear to be criminals hired by Saddam loyalists, as well.)

(Not all of the attackers are working for the old regime, of course.  Some al Qaeda fighters have been captured in Iraq, and there have been reports of other groups, as well.   But most of the attackers are, from everything I can tell, connected to Saddam and his loyalists.)

Why don't news organizations call the attackers Saddam loyalists, or something similar?   Probably because the organizations adhere to an idea of neutrality in covering the news, even between fascist thugs and American soldiers.  To call the attackers what they are would violate the organizations' idea of neutrality, because it would make a point they do not want made.  This strange neutrality disguises the facts, rather than revealing them, not what most of us want from our news organizations.
- 7:38 AM, 1 December 2003
More:  Just heard the National Public Radio news account of the recent large scale battle near Samarra.  The announcer, Carl Castle, called the attackers simply "Iraqis".  It is easy to see which side he is on, isn't it?
- 8:08 AM, 1 December 2003   [link]