February 2004, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
French Anti-Americanism Starts Early: I have been inclined to think that the many descriptions of French anti-Americanism found at the Merde in France site were not the whole story, that they reflected the ideas of the fashionable left more than those of the French nation as a whole.
I am no longer so certain of that after reading David Horsey's description of a French cartoon contest for children.
In January, a cartoon festival was held in the town of Carquefou, just outside of Nantes in the northwest corner of France. Students of all ages competed in a contest to illustrate their vision of the United States. They drew obese Americans devouring Coca-Cola and McDonald's hamburgers. They drew the Statue of Liberty with fangs or in chains or being run over by a wicked Uncle Sam on a motorcycle. And they drew George W. Bush: Bush riding a tank to war; Bush taking over the world; Bush as a liar; Bush as a monster.Since these were schoolchildren, there is no reason to think many of them had any direct experience of the United States. Instead, they must have drawn these ideas from their school lessons, their television news programs, their newspapers and magazines, and their parents. And their parents, in turn, must have gotten their ideas mostly from the first three sources.
What can the United States government do about the anti-American propaganda in the French media and schools? Not much. We can and should say that teaching about the United States with Michael Moore's movie "Bowling for Columbine" spreads bigotry. And our police officers can and should protest the near canonization of the brutal cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was made an honorary citizen of Paris. Individual Americans can and should refuse to travel to France, especially Paris.
But the government can do more. They need to speak out more, and in this the Bush administration has failed badly. Far too many of our ambassadors are businessmen who have been rewarded for their campaign contributions, not men or women who can make public arguments in a foreign tongue — or even in English.
The State Department is part of the problem. Far too many of the bureaucrats there half agree with the French cartoon vision of the United States, or at least think it vulgar to argue about such things in public. When Colin Powell took charge of the State Department, he thought that he needed to build up morale there. That may have been the right thing to do then, but it is no longer of top importance. When Colin Powell leaves, as I expect he will during Bush's second term, we need to replace him with someone who is willing to work at public diplomacy — and encourage the State Department to do so as well.
(David Horsey, for those not familiar with him, is the liberal Seattle PI cartoonist. Despite disagreeing with him more often than not, I usually enjoy his cartoons, though I think he is even more careless with facts than the average journalist. He is, unlike Ted Rall (another judge at the contest!), fundamentally decent in his cartoons, and has even apologized from time to time when he went too far. You can see that decency in his reaction to the cartoons.
At one point, as we stood onstage getting our pictures taken with yet another student being awarded a prize for yet another anti-American image, I turned to [Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve] Benson and said I felt like one of the Dixie Chicks, the all-girl country singers who got heat in the heartland for denouncing their president at a concert in Europe. We realized it was one thing for us to point out our country's flaws in our daily cartoons and quite another to see our homeland portrayed in such brutal imagery by French schoolkids echoing what they hear from their parents and teachers and see in the media.Finally, those in the Seattle area will be amused by Horsey's narrow view of his audience, so typical of those at the PI.
The typical citizen of Seattle would feel more at home, ideologically speaking, in Paris than in Dallas.Seattle has about 20 percent of the population of this metropolitan area, and you do not have to travel far to find suburbs and rural areas where the views are far closer to Dallas than Paris. Horsey seems to thinks those people are not part of his audience, even though he once worked for a suburban newspaper.)
- 8:20 AM, 29 February 2004 [link]
Can We Trust The Polls On Gay Marriage? If actions or opinions are not socially acceptable, then respondents in a poll are less likely to tell the truth about them. If a polling firm asks people directly whether they steal office supplies, some who steal are going to lie in their answers. (Polling firms have ways of getting around this. Sometimes, for example, they will ask not what the respondent does, but what a typical person does, or what their neighbor does.)
You sometimes see this phenomena with questions on race, where the media have made it clear that some attitudes are not socially acceptable. A person who plans to vote against a black candidate (or a candidate whose parents came from India, like Bobby Jindal) may not be willing to say so to a stranger over the phone, for fear of appearing biased.
The news media have come out so strongly in support of gay marriage that I wonder whether we can trust the polls on the subject. Some who oppose gay marriage may not be willing to tell that to a stranger after seeing hours of TV "news" supporting it. Now, let me say immediately that I have no direct evidence that polls like this one from Gallup underestimate the opposition to gay marriage. What I am saying is that I would not be surprised if they do.
If the polls underestimate opposition, that would explain two otherwise surprising things. In Massachusetts, opposition to gay marriage jumped by 10 percent over a few weeks. It could be that voters realized, after seeing open opposition, that it was not necessarily socially unacceptable to oppose gay marriage. Then we have the opposition to the San Francisco gay marriages from Democratic politicians like Senator Barbara Boxer of California and even Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Competent politicians — and whatever else you may say about Boxer and Frank, they are good at their trade — are expert at judging public opinion, without or even despite polls.
Hidden opposition is not the only explanation for either, of course. The polls in Massachusetts may have been badly done, or there may have been a real shift in opinion once people began thinking about the subject. And there's another explanation for the politicians' opposition in this Pew survey.
Gay marriage has surpassed other major social issues like abortion and gun control in its influence on voters. Four-in-ten voters say they would not vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on gay marriage, even if they agree with the candidate on most other issues. By comparison, 34% say they would not support a candidate who disagrees with them on abortion and 32% expressed that opinion about a candidate's stance on gun control.34 to 6! That's arithmetic that even the most innumerate politician can understand. By the way, were you surprised by that imbalance? I know I was, and I follow public opinion fairly closely. It isn't what most news sources would lead you to expect, certainly.
So, I am not certain that the polls underestimate the opposition to gay marriage, but I do think it likely.
(Two unrelated technical points: First, I think that Pew's questions on the subject are better than Gallup's. In fact, both Gallup's questions and their report lead me to think that the Gallup organization supports gay marriage.
Second, the numbers that Pew reports on abortion and gun control are a bit misleading. Most studies, though not all, have shown that there is a small gain for pro-life candidates nationally, though not in every state or locality. The same is true for opposition to gun control; it is a small plus for candidates nationally, again according to most studies.)
- 9:03 AM, 28 February 2004 [link]
More On French Marriages To The Dead: In this post, I speculated that the strange French law allowing women to marry their deceased fiances might be motivated by a desire to give legitimacy to unborn children. After seeing a number of stories laughing at the practice, I finally found one with the facts.
The marriage is retroactive to the eve of the groom's demise, allowing [Christelle] Demichel to carry her husband's name and identify herself as a widow on France's plentiful bureaucratic forms.So, giving legitimacy to an unborn child is one of the reasons for the law, and not a bad one, I think.
- 8:10 AM, 27 February 2004 [link]
What Stories Attract Guardian Readers? Thanks to the internet, we have answers to such questions. Today's Guardian provided this list of their top ten stories last week:
1 Mortified MTV to ring global changes (69,999)The choices don't paint an attractive picture of the Guardian's on-line readers. The top choice had one more picture of Janet Jackson, leading me to think many of the Guardian's readers have never seen a breast before.
Number two was a story smearing President Bush on the National Guard story (and recycling other smears as well), with almost no attempt at balance. The authors do not, for example, quote more recent statements from Tom Turnipseed, whose poor memory has been exploited by Bush's opponents. (Among other things, Turnipseed has said that he can't remember whether he himself went to the base while Bush was there.) They quote Josh Marshall, whose hatred for the Bush administration approaches the pathological, but do not quote George magazine (edited by John F. Kennedy, Jr.), which absolved Bush in a thoroughly researched 2000 article.
Number four may well be an important story even though, as I noted at the time, the Guardian did not promote it, but numbers three and five are not. Both concern the fake picture that some amateur created showing Fonda and Kerry together and then circulated on the internet. There are thousands of such pictures created during every election campaign. There is no reason to think this was done by anyone connected to the Bush campaign, just as there is no reason to think that the many similar pictures showing Bush as Hitler were created by anyone connected to the Kerry campaign. Kerry supporters cleverly used this picture to claim that they were being smeared. (As far as I know, the person who made the picture has not been identified. For all we know, he could be a Kerry supporter, hoping for just this reaction.)
The false picture tells, however, a story with some truth to it. Kerry and Fonda were acquainted during his anti-war period, and he did join in some of her worst attacks on the United States military. They did, at least once, speak at the same event. Kerry supporters are complaining about the fake picture to conceal this history.
The next five stories are more substantial and drew many fewer readers, as you can see. If the Guardian were to use this traffic pattern to decide on their stories, it is easy to see what we can expect from now at least until November, trash and smear stories attacking President Bush. This explains something that has puzzled me, their choice of Sidney Blumenthal as a columnist. Not familiar with Sidney Blumenthal? Here's Jonah Goldberg's summary, written after Christopher Hitchens exposed one of Blumenthal's many lies.
For Blumenthal I have zero sympathy. Loyalty is not an infinite horn of plenty. Bill Clinton abused the trust of his staff in more ways than there is space here to recount. Sidney Blumenthal did what he did and said what he said because that is the kind of man he is. He likes saying bad things about people. If you snapped him open like a peapod nothing but bilious black ooze would come out. He has been a whisperer of innuendo for much of his professional life. That he now gets paid for it does not make him any more admirable.(Andrew Sullivan, who once employed Blumenthal, gives a somewhat more favorable picture here, but does not disagree Goldberg on the essential point: that no one should believe a word Blumenthal says or writes, without corroboration.)
Bilious ooze on President Bush and the Republicans is what the Guardian readers want, judging by those top five stories; no one is better suited than Sidney Blumenthal to deliver it.
Finally, I should mention a connection to my previous post on the BBC. When the BBC wants to hire journalists, where do they advertise? The Guardian.
- 7:20 AM, 27 February 2004 [link]
Boris Johnson, a Tory MP, says that President Bush is not "universally popular" with his party.
But, alas, it is true. Towards the end of a tumultuous Tory brainstorming session, I asked the audience for a show of hands. There were about 25 who went for Kerry, about 25 for Bush, and the rest were abstentions. Now bear in mind that these findings were for Tory activists, the tough eggs of our great party. Who knows what the great mass of Tory voters thinks, let alone the Tory MPs, traditionally soggier than those who propel them to Westminster?Robert Jamieson, a columnist for the Seattle PI, finds the same phenomena in East Africa.
In dozens of similar conversations in Tanzania and other countries in East Africa, the very mention of "Bush" induces eye-rolling -- even harsh rebuke at times.Now for a large leap. I think attitudes in both these places have a common cause. If you look through the Boris Johnson column, you will find the complaints that the BBC (and the Guardian, even though he is a Tory) make about Bush, an exaggerated account of Bush's actions on steel tariffs, a disgraceful attack on the treatment of terrorists held at Guantanamo, some sneering at Bush's religious beliefs, and so on. Different issues are important in East Africa, but it is not hard to see the same influence of the BBC and leftist European newspapers. Bush gets no credit for actions to help Africa. None of those Jamieson quotes even mention the Bush administration's efforts to end the civil war in the Sudan or think his AIDS program anything but politics. (Actually, given how unpopular foreign aid is in the US, it probably hurt Bush here, though it certainly helped him in other nations.).
For both groups, the Tories and the East Africans, I have some unsolicited advice. Tories should remember how unfair the BBC often is to their own party, and allow for that when they listen to its stories about President Bush. (I would not be surprised to find that the BBC is even more biased against Bush and the Republicans than it is against the Tories. Bias against the leader of the Tories will draw a quick reaction and may lead to retribution in time; bias against Bush and the Republicans is almost risk free for the BBC.)
East Africans need to discard their colonial mentality and develop their own ideas about Bush, rather than rely on the BBC and other dubious European sources. They should begin by looking not at what BBC says, but the facts. President Bush has reached out to Africa in many ways, most of them of no great benefit to him politically.
- 1:44 PM, 26 February 2004 [link]
Strange Advice: Researchers have found evidence linking oral sex to mouth cancer. This is not a big surprise since the virus thought to cause these rare cases of mouth cancer, the human papilloma virus (HPV), is known to be the cause of most cervical cancers. What is a surprise is what the BBC says experts advise doing. Nothing.
Experts say heavy smoking or drinking causes most mouth cancers, but the HPV link could help explain why some young adults develop the rare disease.Consider this analogy. Suppose Mr. Jones is operating a factory that puts out chemicals known to cause cancer. Nearly everyone would think Jones should alter his behavior. Now suppose Jones is infected with HPV and has an active and varied social life. Should he not alter his behavior? I certainly think so. And the same is true for a woman infected with the virus, though I do not think it poses the same cancer risks for men, as it does for women.
- 1:02 PM, 26 February 2004 [link]
Pruning Higher Education: When I saw the headline for this Kate Riley column, "Nurture the branches on state's higher-ed tree", I immediately recalled what my father did to nurture our apple, cherry, and pear trees. He pruned them. He cut them back to give them balanced shapes, and to remove unproductive branches. That wasn't all he did, of course, but it was an essential part of the nurturing, and probably the most skilled part. Those familiar with higher education in the United States know that, above all, it needs pruning now, for the same reasons that our trees did.
This Jill Stewart column describes two of the problems in the California colleges and universities, subsidies for the wealthy and the unready, and teacher colleges that turn out unqualified graduates.
Roughly, taxpayers have been spending $9,600 per year per UC student, $7,800 per CSU [California State University] student and $4,500 per community college student. If Californians paid the entire bill for university-bound students to instead attend community college for two years, they would save about $10,000 per UC [University of California] student and about $7,000 per CSU student.I have no doubt that the public colleges and universities in Washington state have similar problems (or much worse in the case of Evergreen), and would greatly benefit from some pruning. But it is hard to get newspapers to even discuss that idea. I recently sent an email with some suggestions to Ms. Riley; she hasn't bothered to reply, and I very much doubt that she will come back to the subject with anything as sensible as Stewart's column.
- 10:18 AM, 26 February 2004 [link]
Mel Gibson's "Passion" Has Certainly Aroused Passions: They are so strong that Lucianne's site has an interesting policy on the movie.
If you are among those who have seen Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and wish to comment please feel free to do so on this thread. All other commentary on the film, as you know, will not be posted.In an earlier thread, the site said they were doing this because of the traffic. I suspect, with all due respect to Lucianne, who runs a lively and useful site, that they are also doing this to keep control over the comments. The site removes comments that do not meet their quite reasonable standards and the emotions are so strong that many might be offended by what some of her posters have to say.
I don't share those passions and think it is a mistake for anyone, regardless of their religious views, to become so passionate about what is, after all, just a movie. Those who agree with Gibson's religious beliefs are no more likely to be right because Gibson made this movie; those who disagree are no more likely to be wrong because of it.
People often take ideas from movies (and from television programs, plays, and novels), and they are often wrong to do so. In his influential essay. The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening Tom Wolfe described the baneful effects of another movie.
A key drama of our day is Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage. In it we see a husband and wife who have good jobs and a well-furnished home but who are unable to "communicate"—to cite one of the signature words of the Me Decade. Then they begin to communicate, and thereupon their marriage breaks up and they start divorce proceedings. For the rest of the picture they communicate endlessly with great candor, but the "relationship"—another signature word—remains doomed. Ironically, the lesson that people that people seem to draw from this movie has to do with . . . "the need to communicate".Wolfe said he personally knew of two marriages badly damaged by the "communication" that started after the couple had seen the movie.
It is natural, but not always sensible, to try to act out what we see on the screen or read about in a book. Couples who want better marriages should try to emulate successful ones in their own lives or study what successful marriages share, not copy what made a movie marriage fail. (One thing found in many successful marriages, according to some press reports I have seen, is that each person accepts or even enjoys different behavior from the opposite sex. I don't know whether that is correct, but it seems plausible to me from marriages that I have observed.) Those who want to explore Christian beliefs should attend a church or read authors like C. S. Lewis, rather than go to a movie.
- 8:29 AM, 26 February 2004 [link]
Election Fraud In Philadelphia: For a change, this case does not involve mail ballots. Instead the Democratic officials used more traditional methods.
Philadelphia ward leader and two other people were charged today with forging hundreds of signatures on nomination papers for last year's primary.(As you may have noticed, I am collecting stories of election fraud. I plan to do some systematic searches on the subject before November, but would appreciate any tips on the subject before then. And yes, the station did misspell "misspelled".)
- 7:13 AM, 26 February 2004 [link]
Seattle PI Columnist Bill Virgin slipped something interesting into the end of this column.
Ambivalence on the tax issue is not a phenomenon limited to our little corner of the woods. There's a fascinating piece on the Web site of Down East, "the magazine of Maine," in which Jeff Clark analyzes the conflicting emotions residents of the Pine Tree State feel when looking across the border at New Hampshire.(The Down East item no longer seems to be available on line.)
In short, people in Maine pay much higher taxes than people in New Hampshire—and get less in return. The same is true of New Hampshire and the other upper New England state, Howard Dean's Vermont. Citizens there pay much higher taxes than in New Hampshire—and have worse outcomes. If you have been reading this site for a while, you may remember one striking example. Despite all Dean's efforts to improve health care in Vermont, New Hampshire has a significantly lower infant mortality rate. New Hampshire usually beats its neighbors in SAT scores and other measures of educational achievement, too.
This better performance at lower cost has been true for decades; I recall reading a paper in the 1970s comparing New Hampshire and Vermont which made this same argument. Yet, to my knowledge, neither Maine nor Vermont has spawned a political movement to emulate their more successful neighbor. Why not? If three stores competed, two selling poorer goods at higher prices than the third, you would expect the two poor performers to go out of business or reform. But for some reason, states (and localities) that compete are not forced to change in the same way.
I can't say I know why these differences in performance are so stable, but I think part of the reason is that newspapers seldom, and television programs almost never, make these kinds of comparisons. Readers and viewers are given the idea that there is always a direct one-to-one relationship between taxes and outcomes. In many cases, citizens really should be able to get more for their money, as New Hampshire has proved. I don't know exactly how New Hampshire does it, but I am all for trying some of their ideas. And those of other states and localities with high performance to price ratios.
Any chance Virgin will tell us how New Hampshire does this? It's unlikely, but there is a better chance he will do so than any other person at the PI.
This is not a left-right issue, or at least it should not be. In principle, people on the left should want efficient government just as much as those on the right, if not more so. If Maine were as efficient as New Hampshire, the state could have lower taxes, or more services, or both.
- 5:43 PM, 25 February 2004 [link]
Marin County Likes Kucinich: Or, so he thinks. And he might be right. Here's the description of the area from the 2004 Almanac of American Politics:
Today this part of California is far more populous, with 247,000 people in Marin and 458,000 in the faster-growing Sonoma, affluent beyond the dreams of Americans of 50 years ago and extreme in cultural attitudes, but with relatively few racial minorities compared to other counties in the San Francisco Bay area . . . . And Marin and Sonoma are attracting the most liberal of the liberal—averse to traditional religion, derisive of traditional sexual and marriage mores, and viscerally anti-military. (p. 181)Those on the far left, like Kucinich, now draw much of their support from wealthy leftists, whose leftism is more cultural than economic, more fashion than considered policy. In the 1930s, the left wanted to help the poor and working class; now it often wants to sneer at those it considers unenlightened, those in the military, evangelicals, and so forth. That their sneers are often directed at people and institutions who are actually helping the poor has not dawned on many in Marin, and similar places.
(On my favorite bicycle ride, I go by a home with a Kucinich sign. Unless appearances deceive, it does not belong to a poor family.)
- 3:22 PM, 25 February 2004 [link]
The Other White Meat: This Dr. Weevil post reminded me that genetic engineering may bring back some extinct animals and even add to our food choices. As I understand it, reviving dinosaurs (or trilobites as Dr. Weevil suggests) will probably always be impossible, because DNA breaks down over time, in a process called racemization. But more recently extinct animals, especially animals that have close living relatives, like the mammoths, might be revived, maybe even soon. In some cases, extinction need not be forever. There is no shortage of DNA for mammoths and some other ice age mammals, as you can learn from this Discover article.
How would barbecued mammoth taste? Not like chicken, but like elephant, I suspect.
And here's a curious point. If some large food company knew that there would be a big demand for mammoth meat, the revival would probably happen much sooner.
- 2:50 PM, 25 February 2004 [link]
Low Turnout Again: The three Democratic contests in Hawaii, Idaho, and Utah drew few voters yesterday. Neither of the two main remaining candidates, John Kerry and John Edwards, made much effort to campaign in the states, so I would not expect high numbers, but even allowing for that, the turnout was not impressive.
Hawaii, a heavily Democratic state, and Idaho, a heavily Republican state, held caucuses. Just 3716 voters showed up in Hawaii, and 4,576 in Idaho. Hawaii has 676,242 registered voters and Idaho 611,588. Neither state registers voters by party. I would guess, based on their voting history, that about half of the Hawaii voters are Democrats and about a third of the Idaho voters are. So, about 1 percent of the Hawaii Democrats went to their caucuses, and about 2 percent of the Idaho Democrats went to theirs.
Utah held a Democratic primary yesterday, which drew just 34,168 voters. Utah has 1,131,190 registered voters, not identified by party. Like Idaho, it is a heavily Republican state. Using the same guess as for Idaho, that a third of the voters are Democrats, participation would be about 9 percent in the Utah primary. The results from the 2000 races provide some perspective:
Total Votes in Presidential Primaries, 2000 and 2004
In 2000, the Democratic race was essentially over by the time of the Utah primary, but the Republican race was not. John McCain did not campaign heavily in the state, but Alan Keyes did and came in second with 19,367 votes, almost the same number that Kerry received yesterday (19,432).
(If you want to look at the votes in the three contests, here they are for Hawaii, Idaho, and Utah. If you have not read it before, you may also want to look at my disclaimer explaining the problems encountered in comparing turnout in these races.)
- 8:34 AM, 25 February 2004 [link]
The Best Comment On Gay Marriage I have seen comes from the satirical magazine, the Onion.
Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-2 Monday in favor of full, equal, and mandatory gay marriages for all citizens. The order nullifies all pre-existing heterosexual marriages and lays the groundwork for the 2.4 million compulsory same-sex marriages that will take place in the state by May 15.And why not? If four of the seven members on the Massachusetts court can establish homosexual marriage, why can't the same four abolish heterosexual marriage? If they have the power to do the first, then they must have the power to do the second as well. The Onion writer meant to strike at opponents of gay marriage, but hit an arrogant court instead.
As I said some months ago in this post, my views on gay marriage are not settled. But my views on the proper place of judges in a democratic society are, and I think the decision, by a 4 to 3 vote, of the Massachusetts court to establish gay marriage is outrageous.
The narrowness of the decision points out one of the flaws in judge-made law. Suppose one judge in the four person majority dies or retires, and is replaced by a judge with more respect for the peoples' wishes. Immediately, the decision might be reversed, and Massachusetts forced into another drastic change in policy, again without an election of any kind. The effects of the decision are worse than they would be in other states, because the Massachusetts constitution is exceptionally difficult to amend, and does not provide for the popular recall of judges. If the voters in Massachusetts try to amend their constitution to settle the issue of gay marriage, they should correct those other two defects as well.
In my October post, I compared the attention we give to gay marriage (very great) to the attention we give to birth rates (very little). The first —unless it leads to polygamy and polyamory— will not matter much to society, I suspect. The second is fundamental. So, too is the impact of fatherless families, and that subject also draws little public attention. David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America, is an expert on it and has some thoughts about how gay marriage might make that problem worse, which you can find in this Wlliam Raspberry column.
So, does Blankenhorn favor gay marriage or oppose it?To the extent that gay marriage made it less likely that children would have both mothers and fathers, Blankenhorn would oppose it. That's a good summary of my position, too. So far, I don't think gay marriages would have much effect —again, assuming they did not lead to polygamy and polyamory — but I would oppose establishing them if they did lead to more fatherless families. And I am absolutely opposed to having them established by a few unelected judges.
- 7:26 AM, 25 February 2004 [link]
Disclosure Is Required Of George Bush, Democrats have been telling us. The same Democrats seem to think that disclosure is not required of other candidates. For example, Ralph Nader.
Mr. Nader is best understood as the inventor of today's nexus of liberal politics and trial-lawyer opportunism. His network of organizations have long been suspected of taking trial-lawyer cash, but it is impossible to tell because Mr. Nader refuses to disclose their financial backers.If Ralph Nader ever met a trial lawyer he didn't like, I missed it.
And John Forbes Kerry.
Vietnam, The Washington Post opined at the weekend, "is a double-edged issue" for the 60-year-old Democratic frontrunner. Kerry has not authorised the release of his war records - a strange omission, say his political foes, given the ferocity with which his supporters have demanded to see every last document of Bush's military service in the Texas Air National Guard.Is there anything terrible in those war records? Probably not. But he did, in his radical stage after Vietnam, charge that almost all US soldiers in Vietnam committed war crimes.
Nor did Democrats demand that Bill Clinton release his medical records in 1992 or 1996. What did Clinton want to hide? There are two obvious categories. One doesn't bother me much, considering all we learned about Clinton's social life. The other, possible treatment for mental illness, still does.
- 2:10 PM, 24 February 2004 [link]
Political Putdowns: In replying to criticism from Republicans, former Democratic Senator Max Cleland tried to recycle a famous insult, but garbled it slightly, as you can see here.
The original insult came from Virginian John Randolph, who held many offices in the early Republic and was famous for both his eccentricity and his invective. About one opponent, Edward Livingston, he said:
He is a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight.Randolph made many enemies, in particular Henry Clay, the long time Speaker and a founder of the Whig party. Randolph's attacks on Clay finally led the two to fight a duel, bloodless, fortunately. (There are some brief biographical bits on Randolph here and here.)
Clay's declaration that he would "rather be right than president" inspired another famous putdown by a later Speaker, Thomas Reed of Maine. Here's how Barbara Tuchman describes it in The Proud Tower.
When a wordy perennial, Representative Springer of Illinois, was declaiming his passionate preference to be right rather than president, the Speaker interjected, "The gentlemen need not be disturbed. He will never be either." (p. 117)Reed is also credited with saying that William McKinley, a rival in Congress and later president, "has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair". (Some think Teddy Roosevelt said it, but it sounds more like Reed to me.)
- 10:24 AM, 24 February 2004 [link]
Howard Dean Helped Save Democracy: So says Molly Ivins in her latest column.
I think we owe Howard Dean more than a "Gee, thanks for participating in our noble political system." Personally, I'd like to say, "Gee, thanks for helping keep democracy alive when it looked fairly dicey."Why does Ivins think this? It is hard to say, since the column is standard Ivins, mostly material borrowed from the far left (this time with attribution, something she sometimes neglects), translated into pseudo-folksy language, but without a coherent argument. She never explains why democracy is threatened or how Dean saved democracy, perhaps because even to try to make such arguments would show how silly they are.
She seems to think that Dean's raising of issues that other candidates were not discussing was a great contribution, but this idea fails in two ways. Others, notably Kucinich, were raising the same issues, and simply raising an issue does nothing by itself to "keep democracy alive".
- 6:55 AM, 24 February 2004 [link]
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has gotten the most publicity for his marriage policies, but I think the way some of his supporters helped him win his election deserves some attention too.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris opened an investigation Friday into allegations that city-paid workers were pressured to campaign and vote for Gavin Newsom for mayor and other complaints of election improprieties.Did Newsom have anything to do with this, personally? Almost certainly not. These operations are almost always "outsourced". Did some of his staff know that these kinds of groups often deliver voters a very old fashioned way? Sure.
You will notice in the story two characteristics found in most cases of vote fraud in the United States. The fraud helped a Democratic candidate and used mail ballots. (I suppose I should say "alleged fraud", although there seems to be a lot of evidence for it.)
- 5:57 AM, 24 February 2004 [link]
Wonder Why Bush Is Down In The Polls? His recent news coverage has been terrible.
Bush's depressed polls can be explained by what the public has heard over the past month. A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs shows that references to Bush in January were more than two-thirds negative on the three broadcast network evening newscasts, while references to Democratic presidential candidates were 71 percent positive.96 percent favorable for Edwards! No wonder he surged in Wisconsin. (My coverage of Edwards has been, as you probably know, about 96 percent unfavorable. I have this odd notion that a man with no executive experience and no political accomplishments should not even run for president, but that's just me.)
- 1:58 PM, 23 February 2004 [link]
Everyone Has Heard About The Battle Of Stalingrad: But have you heard about "Operation Mars"? I can't say that I had for certain, and I have read more than one book on the Eastern Front in World War II. My ignorance wasn't entirely my fault. I looked through several histories of the struggle between Hitler and Stalin, including Alan Clark's insightful Barbarossa, and found no references at all to Operation Mars. I did find a brief paragraph about it in my 1959 copy of The West Point Atlas of American Wars.
This New York Times article explains why you have not heard of Operation Mars, and much else about the Eastern front as well.
In short, the war fought on the Eastern Front is arguably the single most important chapter in modern military history — but it is a chapter that in many essential ways is only now being written. From evidence released from Soviet archives since the mid-1980's, scholars have learned, for example, that Soviet deaths numbered nearly 50 million, two and half times the original estimate; that the Red Army raped two million German women during their occupation to wreak revenge; and that an astonishing 40 percent of Soviet wartime battles were for decades lost to history.Operation Mars was an attack by the Soviets on the Rzhev salient south and west of Moscow, begun about the same time as the Stalingrad counterattack. (The Stalingrad counterattack was code named "Operation Uranus", indicating that the Soviets considered these two attacks part of the same counteroffensive.) The Soviets committed more forces ("83 divisions, 817,000 men and 2,352 tanks") to Operation Mars than to their Stalingrad counteroffensive, but after weeks of attacks and enormous losses, were completely defeated by the Germans. There's a blow by blow account of the battle here for those who would like to read more.
This demonstrates, once again, how difficult it is to know what is happening inside totalitarian nations. The United States invested vast sums and considerable ingenuity in trying to learn about the Soviet Union, but much was still hidden from us, until the Soviet regime collapsed.
(Finally, here's a tip for those who read the New York Times occasionally. The most interesting pieces, like the one I linked to in this post, are often to be found in the Saturday Arts & Ideas section.)
- 1:33 PM, 23 February 2004 [link]
Real Help For Homeless Kids: After seeing my post criticizing Seattle's multimedia project starring homeless kids, an emailer suggests that those who want to help the kids contribute to the University Street Ministry. I am not personally familiar with the charity, but their approach looks sound.
- 12:46 PM, 23 February 2004 [link]
48 + 3 ≠ 51: Ralph Nader's decision to run for president again has reignited the discussion of his effect on the 2000 election. Those who don't want him to run often argue that Nader's 3 percent of the vote plus Al Gore's 48 percent would have given Gore the win. There are two problems with this argument. First, if Nader had not run, not all of his voters would have backed Gore. Second, it neglects the dynamics of the race.
I can't vouch for the numbers, nor do I necessarily agree with the conclusion in this Nader FAQ, but there is substance in the general line of the argument.
Did Ralph cost Al Gore the election in 2000?Now these points are a little confused because what you want to settle this question is not party identification, but voting intentions. Still, the party identification is a clue to what the voters would have done had Nader not run. Here's my guess at how the Nader voters would have distributed themselves if he had not run. About one half would have voted for Gore, one quarter for Bush, and one quarter abstained or voted for other minor parties.
Some readers will wonder at my estimate that Bush would have gotten a significant share of the Nader vote, in spite of the exit polls mentioned above. What you must remember is that voters do not choose solely on ideology, and that not all of the voters see politics in the same simple left to right spectrum most journalists and activists use. Some voters backed Nader because of their disgust over the scandals of the Clinton administration. Many of that group might have voted for Bush, not because they agreed with him on most issues, but because they were still unhappy with, for example, the Clinton fund raising tactics. (Some Dean supporters are threatening to vote for Bush, even now, as a protest against what they see as unfair actions by Democratic leaders.)
Many other voters, including some who voted for Nader, do not evaluate politics with the usual left to right spectrum, and so could see themselves closer to Bush than Gore, even if they voted for Nader. Consider, for example, Muslim voters. Generally, they have tended to vote for the Democrats (along with, interestingly enough, Jewish voters). Some Muslim voters, unfortunately, are motivated by hatred of Israel. During the campaign, most observers thought that Gore was more supportive of Israel than Bush. If Nader had not run, some of these voters might well have gone to Bush. (That Nader is of Arab descent may also have helped him among Muslim voters, of course.) It is not hard to think of other examples, once you drop the false idea that all voters share a simple left to right picture of the parties.
A few of you may be feeling impatient at this point. All right, you say, Gore wouldn't have gotten all of Nader's 3 percent (actually 2.7 percent, but let's not quibble), still he would have a net gain by your estimate of about 0.75 percent, which would have been enough to help him win in Florida and possibly New Hampshire. (In New Hampshire, the percentages for the three were: Bush - 48.07, Gore - 46.80, and Nader - 3.90.) True enough, but that neglects the second part of the argument, the dynamics.
If Nader had not run, it is possible to think of factors that would have helped Bush. It would have been easier, for example, for the Republicans to paint Gore as environmental extremist. They would have had an even stronger argument to backers of Buchanan and the Libertarian party that they should vote for their second choice, most often Bush. And so on.
Now I am not saying that I know that these factors would have more than made up for Nader not being in the race. I am saying that we can not be certain. Let me review my argument to make it as clear as I can. First, it is wrong to conclude that Gore would have received all of Nader's votes had Nader not run; 48 + 3 ≠ 51. The net gain to Bush from Nader was far less than 3 percent. Second, because of the dynamics of the race, we can not be certain that Nader's presence helped Bush, though that is the most likely alternative.
This analysis makes me conclude that Nader, who will probably receive fewer votes this time than last, is unlikely to determine the outcome in 2004.
- 8:59 AM, 23 February 2004
More: Here are some better numbers from my research assistant at the New York Times.
Voters leaving polling places in 2000 were asked by Voter News Service, a consortium of television networks and The Associated Press, how they would have voted if George W. Bush and Al Gore had been the only candidates on the ballot.As you can see, they are almost identical to my estimates, which makes me wonder whether I had remembered, rather than estimated. The reporter fails, however, to consider how the election might have been different had Nader not run. It is, I grant, an exceptionally difficult problem.
- 10:54 AM, 24 February 2004 [link]
Bob Dole Is As Feisty As Ever, as he showed in an interview.
MSNBC anchor Laurie Jennings was conducting a routine interview with Bob Dole last week when she asked about Vice President Cheney and his former company, Halliburton.This counter attack is something that Republicans should do from time to time. It will not bring perfect balance to news accounts, but it will help.
Halliburton is a perfect example of the bias Dole was criticizing. A blogger, whose name escapes me, looked through many of the recent news accounts on the firm and found the following pattern. Stories accusing Hallburton of wrongdoing almost always included Cheney's name and his connection to the company. Stories exonerating Halliburton almost never did. (If you happen to remember who did this, let me know so that I can give him credit.)
- 7:10 AM, 23 February 2004
More: Two emailers pointed me to this post by John Cole, which compares the Halliburton stories. In the stories accusing Halliburton of wrongdoing, Cheney's name is almost always in the lead paragraph; in the stories exonerating Halliburton, it almost never is. (Digression: I rather like Cole's site name, "Balloon Juice".)
- 7:17 AM, 24 February 2004 [link]
Australia Is Number One With Americans: This Gallup poll shows that Americans mostly have sensible evaluations of other nations. We may not know much about them, but we know which ones are friends and which aren't.
At the top of the list (based on the percentage of Americans who give each country a favorable rating) are three English-speaking nations: Australia, Great Britain, and Canada, each of which is viewed favorably by 87% to 88% of Americans. Next comes Japan, with a 75% favorable rating, followed by four nations with favorable ratings in the 60%-or-better range: Germany, Mexico, Brazil, and India.Just 7 percent of Americans have unfavorable views of Australia, as compared to 10 percent who have who have unfavorable views of Britain and 11 percent of Canada.
Here's one reason that Americans like Australia. Their troops performed superbly during the Iraq war, as in earlier wars. Many of the actions of the Australian SAS are still classified naturally, but there are some interesting bits in this article on their exploits.
We are also, Gallup tells us, beginning to forgive the French, and that seems about right to me, too. French policy in the last six months has been much less obstructive than it was before the Iraq war.
- 6:53 AM, 23 February 2004 [link]
As More And More Details Of Pakistani Nuclear Proliferation emerge, the operation looks more and more brazen.
Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan presided over a nuclear smuggling operation so brazen that the government weapons laboratory he ran distributed a glossy sales brochure offering sophisticated technology and shipped some of its most sensitive equipment directly from Pakistan to countries such as Libya and North Korea.If it was that brazen, why was it not detected by American intelligence? It was.
U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats say they have known the broad outlines of Khan's activities since at least 1995.What did we do about them? Well, you probably remember who was president then.
Three times from 1998 to 2000, President Clinton raised concerns about nuclear technology leaking from Pakistan to North Korea during private meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Pervez Musharraf, the general who replaced him in a 1999 coup.The Clinton administration knew about this in 1995 but Clinton didn't even speak to a Pakistani leader until 1998? And after he raised the issue, he let it drop twice with no follow up? That's what this article from the very liberal Los Angeles Times says.
I have generally avoided making partisan arguments about failures in the war on terror, because I agree with the point made more than once by President Bush, that there has been a generation of failure in coping with Islamic terrorism. President Clinton's response to terror attacks was inadequate, but so were the responses of his three predecessors, Presidents H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter. But, in the matter of nuclear proliferation, I think it fair to make a tentative judgment that President Clinton failed. I say tentative, because there is so much that is secret about these matters (and will be secret for many years), that we can not now make a final judgment on his actions or inactions. We can say this much for certain: During the eight Clinton years, the problem of nuclear proliferation worsened drastically. We are all endangered by that.
Those who think that unfair should consider this point:
In response to U.S. pressure, Musharraf removed Khan in March 2001 as head of Pakistan's main nuclear weapons laboratory, where he had developed fissile material for atomic weapons as well as long-range missiles.After, that is, President Bush took office.
- 9:08 AM, 22 February 2004 [link]
Britain Is Not In Europe: This morning, listening to NPR, I heard Daniel Schorr say that the United States fought the Iraq war without "any major European support". (His remarks were taken from his February 4th Daniel Pearl Memorial speech at UCLA. As I write this, the Daniel Pearl Foundation promises a transcript, but has a null link. I assume it will be posted in time.) Since Britain gave us considerable support, I can only assume that Schorr does not think that Britain is in Europe. Some Britons will probably be pleased by that, since they never wanted to be Europeans, but most will see this as more evidence that Americans, even very senior NPR correspondents, don't know geography, or about Britain's membership in the European Union
Britain was not alone in supporting the United States, of course. So did Italy, Spain, Poland, and a whole group of European nations with smaller populations. Many sent token military units, or have sent forces to aid in the occupation.
Since this was a prepared speech, this removal of Britain from Europe was not the kind of on-air slip that can happen to anyone, but Schorr's considered opinion. Perhaps it is time for Daniel Schorr to retire.
- 7:49 AM, 22 February 2004 [link]
Headlines Often Show More Bias than articles. This morning I saw three such headlines on major media web sites. The CNN web site used "Bush sneaks judge past Senate" for a headline to describe Bush's recess appointment of William Pryor. (The article is not much better, though it does use "Bush Appoints Judge During Senate Break" for its own headline. On the other hand, the article does not mention the essential point: Democratic senators blocked a vote on Pryor, which he almost certainly have won.) Bush is not sneaking Pryor past the Senate; he is putting a man on the court backed by a majority of the senators. (CNN's competitor, Fox News, used "Pryor Appointed to 11th Circuit Court", which strikes me as "fair and balanced".)
The BBC web site uses the headline "Schwarzenegger fights gay unions" to describe the California governor's efforts to get San Francisco officials to follow the state law on marriages. During the election campaign, Schwarzenegger backed civil unions for gays and still does.
The Globe and Mail in Toronto put a typical headline, "Bush administration fudging data, top scientists warn", on the story of an attack by the Union of Concerned Scientists on the Bush administration. The Globe and Mail never tells its readers the essential point about the UCS; it is a leftist organization with a dubious history of pronouncements just like this one. Although some famous scientists are members, it is not truly a scientific organization. For my Canadian readers, I should add that the Globe and Mail story was much worse than those in comparable American newspapers, which at least gave readers hints about the ideology at the UCS.
- 5:57 AM, 22 February 2004 [link]