December 2003, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
No "Leap Second" This Year: Our years have stopped getting longer.
In a phenomenon that has scientists puzzled, the Earth is right on schedule for a fifth straight year.Those who would blame this on George Bush should note that, like our last recession, it began in 1999 while Bill Clinton was in office. And, even though you will not get that extra second, there is still no need to rush while you are driving, except for life and death emergencies.
- 8:27 AM, 31 December 2003
Correction: The New York Times story confuses rotation and revolution. The earth is not, to my knowledge, slowing down in its movement around the sun, but it is slowing down in its rotation on its axis. After I put up the post, I realized the Times had erred and I had followed their error. I was feeling irritated because I realized I would have to do some digging to get the correct information. Most of the time—really—I take no pleasure in correcting newspapers.
But when I checked my email, I found a message with pointers to sites with the correct information. Many thanks. Here's a site with a moderately technical explanation.
The secular variation of the rotational speed seen by the apparently linear increase in the length of the day is due chiefly to tidal friction. The Moon raises tides in the ocean diminishing the speed of rotation. This effect causes a slowing of the Earth's rotational speed resulting in a lengthening of the day by about 0.0015 to 0.0020 seconds per day per century.But that's an average, and the amount that the day lengthens each year varies, as you can see from the chart at the same site.
Finally, the lengthening is cumulative, so days were much shorter hundreds of millions of years ago.
One hundred million years ago the day would have been 0.55 hours (2 msec/century × 1,000,000 centuries = 2,000,000 msec = 0.55 hours) shorter than the present day, giving 374 days/year (8766 hours/day ÷ 23.45 hours/day = 374 days/year). At 600 million years (the oldest radioactive dated material where abundant well-defined fossils occur), the day would have been 3.3 hours shorter, giving 424 days/year.This fact is sometimes used to date fossils which have daily and yearly bands, such as some corals. If you count 374 daily bands in a year's deposit, then the fossil is about 100 million years old, and so on.
- 4:26 PM, 1 January 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: This grim analysis by Lee Harris on the limits of our knowledge in this new age of terrorism.
We will never know: that is the great leitmotiv of our epoch. We will never know if Saddam Hussein might have provided weapons of mass destruction to those whose work on 9/11 he had already hailed so enthusiastically. We will never know whether the invasion of Iraq was really in our national defense. We will never know how many, if any, terror attacks we may have thus prevented.What would it take to know? Even agents in every terrorist group would be insufficient because some terrorists do not belong to a group. I can not think of any way to know, short of some incredible scientific advance that allows us to read minds.
How long will we live in what Harris calls this new age? There is a discouraging precedent. Terrorist attacks by anarchists began more than a century ago and had a terrible impact. Barbara Tuchman begins her chapter on the anarchists in The Proud Tower with this paragraph:
So enchanting was the vision of a stateless society, without government, without law, without ownership of property, in which corrupt institutions having been swept away, man would be free to be good as God intended him, that six heads of state were assassinated for its sake in the twenty years before 1914. They were President Carnot of France in 1894, Premier Canovas of Spain in 1897, Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, King Humbert of Italy in 1900, President McKinley of the United States in 1901, and another Premier of Spain, Canalejas in 1912. Not one could qualify as a tyrant. Their deaths were the gestures of desperate or deluded men to call attention to the Anarchist ideal.Besides these assassinations, there were many more killings of less prominent people and many attacks on symbols. Joseph Conrad's novel, The Secret Agent, was inspired by an anarchist attempt to blow up the Greenwich Observatory.
But surely that anarchist violence is all in the past? Unfortunately, no. It is not as widespread as it was, but anarchists are still trying to assassinate people. Letter bombs may have replaced knives and guns as their preferred weapon, but the anarchists have not vanished.
Muslim terrorism has a far longer history than anarchist terrorism. We should not expect that it will vanish, even in the next century.
- 7:02 AM, 31 December 2003 [link]
Who Worked For The Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab? A man suspected of having al Qaeda connections. As an air conditioning repairman, not a scientist or technician, granted. But that isn't entirely reassuring, since an air conditioning repairman might have access to many areas of the laboratory. He left his job there in 2000. No doubt the FBI will be very interested in both his time at the lab and what he and his brother have been doing since he left, now that they have been expelled from the Philippines for their connections to terrorist organizations.
This article omits something I have seen in other accounts. Michael Ray Stubbs and his brother James are said to have Middle East backgrounds, even though they were born in Missouri. Their names don't sound Middle Eastern to me, but immigrants often change their names. Or perhaps the earlier accounts were wrong.
- 5:53 AM, 31 December 2003
More: This newspaper story has more information on both the evidence against the Stubbs brothers, and their defense. I find it interesting that both decided to get married to Philippine women at about the same time. Fake marriages for cover? Possibly. Be interesting to know more about the women.
- 9:01 AM, 2 January 2004 [link]
Who Handled Security At Air France? Some men with interesting backgrounds.
The company put in charge of security for Air France flights employed a convicted murderer and a number of others with serious criminal records, it emerged yesterday.Now we can be pleased that the company is no longer in charge of security at Air France and that it is in bankruptcy proceedings (for cheating on taxes), but they were in charge for almost two years, starting just after 9/11.
This scandal may explain why the United States is asking for tighter security on flights to the US. You probably recall that the "shoe bomber" took an Air France flight. (And, if I recall correctly, he was able to do so after raising enough security concerns to be prevented from taking a previous flight.)
- 4:48 AM, 31 December 2003 [link]
Castro As Hitler? The official Cuban Communist newspaper Granma has published a photo of Castro that appears to have been altered to make him look like Hitler. Apparently Fidel has a critic at the newspaper. (Americans will be amused to see that the photo shows him speaking to "progressive" students from the US.)
The similarities between Hitler and Castro have struck other people for some time. (There are important differences too, of course.) Decades ago I saw an argument (probably in Commentary magazine) that, if he had been born earlier, Castro would have become a fascist, rather than a communist. Given the strong strain of Cuban nationalism in his creed, this seem plausible. And the leader worship in Cuba is similar to that in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
- 9:25 AM, 30 December 2003 [link]
David Aaronovitch makes the same analysis of the death toll from the earthquake in Iran that I did.
So why the polar disparity between Bam [Iran] and Paso Robles [California]?Aaronovitch then adds an important point. Some, like author Arundhati Roy, want to keep peasants all over the third world living in their dangerous mud brick homes.
What, I wonder, has Arundhati Roy to say now about the superiority of traditional building methods over globalised ones? Some Iranians might think that it's a shame there wasn't a McDonald's in Bam. It would have been the safest place in town.It is not just traditional building methods that need changing. One reason that so many recent buildings collapsed in Bam is that mullahs there, in traditional fashion, took bribes from unscrupulous developers.
- 7:33 AM, 30 December 2003
More: Amir Taheri provides more facts on the Iranian regime's failures.
- 8:54 AM, 30 December 2003 [link]
Worried About Mad Cow Disease? You shouldn't be. Here's a summary of the scientific evidence on the "link" between mad cow disease (Bovine Spongioform Encephalopathy) and variant Creutzfeld-Jacobs Disease (CJD).
That didn't stop vCJD from being labeled the human form of mad cow. A popular orthodoxy has evolved, fueled by media frenzy, that meat contaminated with the brain prions of mad cows could give people the disease. "It's all been much ado about nothing," said Scott C. Ratzan, director of the Emerson College/Tufts University School of Medicine Program in Health Communications and editor of the Journal of Health Communications. "Based on available scientific evidence, we can be virtually certain that mad cow disease poses no threat to humans."So, almost certainly there is no link, and your risk of contracting vCJD from eating beef is zero. The Center for Disease Control has calculated that your chances of getting it from eating British beef at one in ten billion, which is close enough to zero that I will eat a hamburger or two on my next visit to Britain without worrying.
Those fretting about mad cow probably think nothing of taking a bath (which kills 320 Americans a year), walking downstairs (which kills 1,421 Americans annually) or driving their car (which kills 42,000 of us each year). Our odds of getting vCJD from eating British beef, said the CDC, is about one in ten billion.Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. If you are worried about your safety, have a steak to celebrate, but don't go out driving.
Unfortunately, I have no advice for politicians who have to face one of these scares. In the long run, perhaps better education in science will help, but in the short term there seems to be no way to avoid the kind of expense and drama we are going through now.
- 7:04 AM, 30 December 2003
More: The Washington Post has both an editorial and a column with similar arguments. The Post deserves credit for publishing the column, which directly criticizes the paper's own coverage.
- 11:06 AM, 31 December 2003 [link]
Richer Is Safer: When it comes to earthquakes, you are more likely to survive if you live in a wealthy nation. Of the ten recent earthquakes with high death tolls listed by USA Today, only one occurred in a wealthy nation, Japan. Even that earthquake, which hit Kobe in 1995, illustrates the general point. The buildings damaged, according to this report, were mostly older buildings, that is buildings constructed when Japan was much less wealthy. (Some "innovative" designs also collapsed. I was distressed to learn that Seattle has similar buildings.)
This Guardian editorial makes the obvious comparison between two recent earthquakes:
A week ago today, an earthquake registering 6.5 on the Richter scale hit large parts of southern California. The tremors were felt from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The quake brought down a number of buildings, left a few thousand households without power and killed a total of three people. Three days ago, another earthquake, also registering 6.5 on the Richter scale, hit a large part of southern Iran. This time the effect was catastrophic.The Guardian believes the difference is mostly the result of choices made by the governments in Iran and California. One has chosen not to have strong standards or to enforce them, while the other has strong standards and, on the whole, enforces them.
There is another difference, as well, besides wealth, and the choices made by governments. In spite of widespread belief in astrology and other superstitions, most people in California have modern attitudes. Most believe that the our choices, not fate or God, determine what happens to us. In contrast, Iranians are more likely to agree with Seyed Sardari that their choices do not matter.
Sardari, his eyes bloodshot, pointed to a domed structure that remained standing in the same compound. "Nobody stayed in those rooms, and they are still there," he said. "God was willing to kill people."People with modern attitudes make sense of it and change their building codes and their governments when a catastrophe like this one happens.
It is not as if Iran was taken by surprise. The nation has a particularly bad record of deaths from earthquakes. In 1990, one caused more than 35,000 deaths, which must make it one of the worst ever.
Finally, there is one other reason that Iran was unprepared, one that some Iranians understand. Their government has spent its time stirring up hate, rather than improving the country.
For many people at the centre the deaths of more than 20,000 people and the government's inability to handle people's donations are signs of mismanagement in the country. "Our government is only preoccupied with slogans: 'death to America', 'death Israel', 'death to this and that'," said Fariba Hemati, 47, who was also waiting in the queue.Just imagine how much earthquake proofing they could have bought with the money that went into their nuclear program.
- 2:05 PM, 29 December 2003 [link]
More On Ramzy Baroud: On December 23th, I wrote this critique of a column by one Ramzy Baroud, arguing that, since his allegiance was to an imagined Arab nation, rather than the United States, he had obtained his American citizenship fraudulently. On the same day, Stefan Sharkansky demolished Baroud's arguments about Palestine and Israel. On the day after, Brian Crouch made the broadest argument of all, showing that Baroud's thinking has strong parallels to Nazism.
The three posts show one of the strengths of blogs, as compared to conventional journalism. Each of us took a different aspect of Baroud's column to criticize. A single newspaper or magazine article which tried to cover all three would have been awkward to write, I think, since the author would have had to struggle to link the three aspects together. If you missed either Sharkansky's or Crouch's post, be sure to take a look at them. Both make important points.
- 8:11 AM, 29 December 2003 [link]
If You Have Been Reading this site regularly, you will know why this result is wrong.
Seven in 10 Canadians -- 71 per cent -- believe that Canada should not be excluded from bidding on projects to rebuild the Middle Eastern country, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid for The Globe and Mail and CTV.The poll question misrepresents American policy. Canadian firms are not blocked from bidding on projects in Iraq. There are two large blocks of money for reconstruction in Iraq, one provided by a group of nations, and one provided by the United States. There are no limits on contractors for the international block. The limits on the United States block apply only to prime contractors; Canadian firms are free to apply for reconstruction sub-contracts with the firms that will be spending the American taxpayer's money.
There is nothing unusual about this American policy, except its generosity. Nations commonly require that aid be tied to purchases from their own firms. The United States has opened our aid up to allies as well, which is less common.
If Canada wants to show its "soft power" by providing its own separate aid to Iraq, it can set whatever requirements it wants on the contracts. I think nearly all Americans would agree with me that we have no right to tell Canadian taxpayers how to spend their money. And, I think that most Canadians would not object to the current American policy--if they were asked about it. The Globe and Mail ought to do that, in its next poll on Canadian-American relations.
(Here's the full question from the Ipsos-Reid poll.
Now, the United States recently announced that they would not allow countries that did not support the United States war effort in Iraq, such as Canada, to bid on contracts related now to the reconstruction of Iraq. Prime Minister Martin has indicated that even though Canada did not support the war it contributed at least $300 million to the reconstruction process in Iraq and should be allowed to bid on the contracts. Knowing this do you think that the United States is justified or not justified in its position of refusing contracts to Canada and other countries that did not support them in the war?It isn't the worst question I have seen in a survey, but it's in the bottom ten.)
- 6:53 AM, 29 December 2003 [link]
Tell The Truth About French Newspapers: And you may get fired.
Alain Hertoghe believes that in covering the Iraq conflict, French newspapers recreated "the war they would have liked to have seen." That meant concentration on the Vietnams and Stalingrads that didn't take place, he said, and so many more accounts of U.S. difficulties rather than advances that it was "impossible to understand how the Americans won."I could make a crack about how freedom of the press is not respected in nations less advanced than the United States, but that might be damaging to the friendship between our nations.
Similar criticisms are being made about German television programs, in a report that will be released next month. One of the sponsors of the report is the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a prestigious German newspaper, which should help the report get attention.
- 8:19 PM, 28 December 2003 [link]
For Almost Ten Years , Jeff Jacoby has been attacking liberal hate speech in his columns. He thinks he is making some progress, that people are actually beginning to see the hate speech from the left as the same problem as the hate speech from the right. I hope so, though I fear he may be wrong. I do not believe that, ten years ago, Democratic campaign workers would have been quite as willing to mix with activists calling Bush a fascist or even Nazi as they are now. (For some examples, see my coverage of the anti-Bush protests here last summer.)
Jacoby ends his column with the essential distinction:
Of course this complaint can be taken too far. Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party's chairman, has been accusing Democrats of engaging in "political hate speech" when they call Bush a "liar" or a "miserable failure." But there is a world of difference between labeling someone a failure and labeling him Hitler. My objection has never been to political elbow-throwing. What I have tried to argue is that certain kinds of insult -- those that fantasize about people's deaths, or slime them as racists or fascists or terrorists -- do such violence to our public discourse that they should simply be shunned.And so should the reckless charges that once were called McCarthyism, but now should be called "McDermottism", after one of our worst demagogues.
That Jacoby is right to think that we have far to go before liberal hate speech is as unacceptable as rightwing hate speech can be seen in this airy Geoffrey Nunberg column, which treats even raising the issue as a Republican plot, and ignores completely some of the worst examples, examples that can be found at almost any university campus, including, I am sure, Nunberg's own Stanford.
- 10:43 AM, 28 December 2003 [link]
Who Was The Man Of The Year In 1992? I don't recall who Time magazine chose that year, but the only reasonable choice, at least in politics, was Bill Clinton, for defeating Bush and returning a Democrat to the White House. This year, the choice is even more obvious, though Time chose three soldiers, instead of President Bush. Time was not as petty as Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift, who picked the following as this year's "winners": Arnold Schwarzenegger, Howard Dean, Dean's campaign manager Joe Trippi, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton. Notice the omission?
Pretending that President Bush was not a winner will not make it so, Ms. Clift, though it will make your readers chuckle. (And when she writes that the way Schwarzenegger won office was a "Republican coup masquerading as democracy", I just sigh and hope that Newsweek replaces her with a journalist soon.)
(Martin Sieff, a veteran UPI analyst, makes the case for Bush here, if you want to see a review.)
- 5:51 AM, 28 December 2003 [link]
Letters To The Editor are not the best way to gage public opinion, but these three, attacking the Washington Post for criticizing Howard Dean are interesting, and possibly, representative straws. (As I mentioned here, the Post had sharply criticized Dean for "false statements" and "contradictions". These letters are replies.)
In the first letter, Theodore Sorensen attacks an anti-Dean ad from an independent group, calling it a "smear", though he identifies no errors in the ad. In the second letter, A Dean supporter ignores the problems the Post described, and says he loves Dean because Dean hates Bush more than the other candidates. In the third letter, another Dean supporter trivializes the Post's criticisms, without answering any of them. If these letters are typical, then rational arguments would appear not to be the best way to appeal to Dean's supporters.
- 4:34 PM, 27 December 2003 [link]
Muslim Brotherhood In The DC Jail: A few weeks ago, in this post, I discussed the link between Muslims and crime in the West. In the United States, I argued, criminals tend to become Muslims, though the reverse happens more often in Europe, as far as I can tell.
In this column, Colbert King illustrates my argument. When King investigated the stabbing death of Givon Pendleton in the DC Jail, he found something significant in a police affidavit.
Thirteen days after responding to the call about a stabbing at the jail, D.C. police detectives charged the alleged assailant, Dominic Jones, aka "Twin."(Need some background on the Muslim Brotherhood? Here's King's summary:
The Muslim Brotherhood movement, known officially as Jamiat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, has been around since 1928, when it got started in Egypt. Best known for its opposition to secular influences on Islamic societies, the Muslim Brotherhood has spread throughout the world, including the United States. By thought, word and deed, it doesn't exactly represent the peace-loving side of Islam. Its motto: "Allah is our objective; The Prophet is our leader; Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."Killing in the way of Allah might be more accurate for the last, given their record of terrorism. Here's their Web site. Maybe. At the end, the "maintainer" of the page gives an odd disclaimer. Here's their Q&A from the page. And here's what the Jewish Defense League has to say about the Brotherhood's bloody history.)
Judging by what King learned, they are not only recruiting in the DC Jail, but running parts of it as inmate gangs sometimes do in prison. The apparent motive for Pendleton's killing is significant. He objected to the Muslim Brotherhood controlling the milk distribution, and then "dissed" Muslims.
- 4:07 PM, 27 December 2003 [link]
Happy Kwanzaa? Today is the first day of "Kwanzaa", a holiday invented by a violent felon, Ron Karenga, (aka Maulana Karenga, aka Ron Everett). It has no real antecedents in West Africa, which is where the ancestors of most African-Americans came from. The language it supposedly uses, Swahili, is an East African language, with its origin in the Arab slave trade. If you say these things, which are indisputable, you can get censored by AOL, as Kathy Shaidle found out.
For more than three years, I've run a weblog about religion, politics -- the usual non-dinner-table topics. And each December, regular as Rudolph, I diss Kwanzaa.Specifically, she wrote this poem, which recounts some of the facts about Karenga, like his part in torturing a woman. There were complaints, and AOL censored her poem, blocking emailers from forwarding it to AOL subscribers.
Some things, however true, should not be said in public. So thinks the management at AOL, and so think most journalists. You can see typical newspaper treatments of Kwanzaa here, and here, but if you want the facts, you are better off reading Shaidle's poem. (Which even has links for citations.)
One purpose of Kwanzaa was to divide the races, by creating a racist holiday, open only to blacks. It seems to have failed in that, since whites either snicker privately about the holiday, or ignore it. It has succeeded, as intended, in dividing African-Americans.
Oh, dear. It's that time of year again, when black folks have to be careful with one another. A simple invitation to your tree-trimming party can find you denounced for "capitulating to the master's culture" by the most button-down, suit-and-tie brother on the block. Asking the fellow preschool parent in kente clothing to make a Kwanzaa presentation can find you stammering your apologies when he thrusts his St. Christopher medal at you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer fending off the undead.There is some hope for the future. Much to the dismay of Karenga, large companies have seen an opportunity for profit and, as with every other holiday, commercialism is changing Kwanzaa and taking it from the control of its inventor.
Karenga himself has little to complain about, in my opinion. Considering his crimes, he should still be in jail. Instead, he is a tenured professor, paid to complain about how horrible his life is.
- 3:01 PM, 26 December 2003 [link]
The Mt. Everest Weight Loss Plan: Worried that you have gained a little weight over the holidays? There's a surefire way to lose weight without dieting. Just move to a higher place. (Some may find the amount of the loss not worth the effort.)
- 11:06 AM, 26 December 2003 [link]
Howard Dean Gets Religion: According to his own account, Howard Dean left the Episcopal church because he disagreed with them about a bicycle path, something most would not consider an important theological issue. He joined a Congregational church, but rarely attends. His wife is Jewish and their children were raised as Jews. Everything about his life suggests that he has no deep religious beliefs, that he is a member of the secular left that dominates the Democratic party, and that he has kept a nominal religious connection for political convenience.
Keeping a nominal religious connection is not an unusual tactic for politicans in either party, though it may be more common among Democratic leaders. Joe Lieberman stands out for that reason; his religious beliefs appear to be sincere and a large part of his life. A nominal connection is even an advantage for a politician with journalists and inside Washington, D. C., where religious beliefs are much rarer than they are among the general public. I recall the amusement and worry in Washington when George H. W. Bush said that he was praying before the first Gulf War. That he belonged to a church was understandable, Washington insiders appeared to think, but that he believed in God was a bit much for them.
Since a nominal religious connection is usually enough for a politician, I was a bit surprised by Howard Dean's recent claim that he is, in fact, a believer.
Presidential contender Howard B. Dean, who has said little about religion while campaigning except to emphasize the separation of church and state, described himself in an interview with the [Boston] Globe as a committed believer in Jesus Christ and said he expects to increasingly include references to Jesus and God in his speeches as he stumps in the South.Dean now says that faith is important to him, and that he prays every day. Why now? Because he is a cynical politician who does not mind fudging the truth, and because he has a cartoonish view of the South.
There have been many examples of what one might call, to put it as gently as I can, Dean's carelessness with the facts. The latest to draw much attention was his claim, in writing, that his brother had been a member of the armed forces, which I discussed here.
His cartoonish view of the South can be seen in his desire for the votes of pickup drivers with Confederate flag decals, something not very common in most of the South. Now, as the interview shows, he seems to think that the South is much more religious than the rest of the nation, which is not true. There are differences, but they are not that large. It is true that black churches in the South are a crucial part of the Democratic party there, and that campaigning in them requires some talk of religion, but I suspect many will see this latest from Dean for what it is—crude pandering.
- 7:01 AM, 26 December 2003 [link]