February 2007, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Worth Reading: Michael Totten interviews an enemy of Syrian President Assad, Lebanese activist Eli Khoury, in troubled times.
On March 14, 2005, Lebanon captivated the world when one-third of the country demonstrated in downtown Beirut and demanded free elections and the withdrawal of the occupying Syrian military dictatorship.But they are not giving up.
(Diane Sawyer gets millions a year for her work as a journalist; Michael Totten gets an occasional payment from a small magazine or web site, and donations. But it is easy to see which of the two is doing real journalism, and it isn't the one with the biggest paycheck.)
- 10:49 AM, 8 February 2007 [link]
If You Were Wondering about yesterday's paucity of posts, the explanation is simple. Most of the day I was pretending to be a computer systems manager — with some success.
(For the curious: I was trying to get the new monitor working with Linux, and mostly succeeded. Linux works well with most equipment that has been around for a while, but there is some risk in getting something this new, and expecting it to be supported.
On the whole, I am pleased with the monitor, though I have found that the monitor is too bright at the default settings. I will be keeping the old monitor, because I have some old Windows games that require it for decent play, though the one new game that I have, Halo, seems to work well, though it does not use all the screen.
For the very curious: I probably won't bother to set up dual monitors in Linux, though it is possible.)
- 10:23 AM, 8 February 2007 [link]
Speaker Pelosi Thinks That Global Warming Is A Serious Threat: She has even created a select committee to "confront the rising tide of global warming". (Note to Speaker Pelosi: Botched metaphors detract from your argument and lead some to wonder about the competence of your staff.)
Perhaps the committee will begin by condemning the use of Air Force jets to haul a few favored politicians around.
The Bush administration has agreed to provide House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with regular access to an Air Force passenger jet, but the two sides are negotiating whether she will get the big aircraft she wants and who she may take as passengers, according to congressional and administration sources.(Or else? Murtha is chairman of a crucial subcommittee.)
Or the use of large, gas-guzzling SUVs to haul politicians to conferences on global warming.
Or even wasteful estates for retired trial lawyers. (Since John Edwards accomplished nothing in his six years in the Senate, it seems fairer to call him a retired trial lawyer than a retired senator.)
Perhaps that's how the committee will begin. But I wouldn't bet on it.
- 8:12 AM, 8 February 2007 [link]
Compare And Contrast: Newsweek editor Evan Thomas is asked in an interview on the PBS affiliate WETA whether the "mainstream" media is bashing President Bush unfairly His reply deserves attention:
Gordon Peterson: "What do you think, Evan? Are the mainstream media bashing the president unfairly?"Note two things: Thomas says that the job of the "mainstream" media is to bash the president, and tacitly admits that they are doing so "unfairly". Thomas then justifies that, in part, by saying that President Bush is not doing what the "mainstream" media tell him to do. (That Bush may believe that he is doing the right thing for the nation does not matter to Thomas, apparently.)
There is, of course, something bizarre about asking Thomas this question. It is rather like asking the head of GM if they make good cars. That Thomas openly admitted to biased reporting is to his credit. That almost no one in the "mainstream" media will criticize him for defending biased reporting is much to their discredit.
"Mainstream" reporters often take a different approach to other presidents, and Diane Sawyer's interview with the dictator of Syria, President Bashar Assad, provides a timely example. Did she think her job was to "bash" this dictator, who inherited his job from his even more repressive father? No.
Last week ABC and Sawyer were at it again. Another continent, another ruthless anti-American dictator, but the same results. This time, Sawyer flew to Syria, following in the footsteps of Sen. John Kerry, who warmly announced a few weeks back that dictator Bashar Assad is ready to work with the United States. That was exactly Sawyer's message, too, on the February 5 "Good Morning America." Sawyer diplomatically awarded Assad the title of "President," although no one elected him there. Dictatorship was handed down as the family business, but she called him "Your Excellency."Let's summarize. President Bush has overthrown two tyrannies; President Assad runs one. Evan Thomas believes that Bush deserves "bashing"; Diane Sawyer believes that Assad deserves the opposite. That contrast wouldn't bother me much, if I did not think that most American journalists share both opinions.
- 7:03 AM, 8 February 2007 [link]
Are Senate Republicans blocking debate on the war resolution? No. In spite of what you may have read in your newspaper.
- 12:54 PM, 6 February 2007 [link]
Do You Enjoy Your Job As A Computer System Manager? For instance, do you find this fascinating?
A new class of rootkit, using the hardware virtualization capabilities of new Intel and AMD processors, is essentially impervious to anything but a clean boot from an uninfected disc. A demonstration version of the rootkit by security researcher Joanna Rutkowska, called Blue Pill, creates a virtual machine and swaps the operating system into it—in about a millisecond. She's on the white-hat side but doesn't hold out much hope that the average user or antivirus software will be able to detect this latest breed of invaders.I suspect that most of you are not fascinated by that, even if you understand it. (I am only mildly interested in it myself.) But if you own a a personal computer at home, or take care of one at work, then you are expected to be able to handle that problem and many others equally complex. You may not enjoy being a computer system manager, but you are one, like it or not. (Unless, of course, you can talk a friend or relative into doing it for you.)
This is, of course, crazy. The average computer user should no more be expected to handle such problems than the average airplane passenger should be expected to maintain a Boeing 747. But we have somehow come to see this as normal, even as computer users have become less technically proficient (on the average, since so many more people are using them) and personal computers have become incredibly more complex.
But we are stuck with such problems because of the success of Microsoft DOS, and then Windows. Each inspired programmers to write wonderful programs, and those programs trapped us into depending on operating systems that were fundamentally flawed. Flawed in two ways; they were insecure, and they were needlessly difficult for novices to use. But we couldn't give up those operating systems without also — in most cases — giving up those wonderful programs.
And I am very definitely including myself when I say we are stuck. There are several programs that I use regularly that are available only on Windows, and so, though I do most of my work with Linux, I do switch over to Windows, frequently. But I continue to support Linux because it has some advantages over Windows, and because I prefer to avoid monopolies when I can.
What can the ordinary user do? Not much, I am sorry to say. Windows, in its latest form, will be with us for some time; as Lance Ulanoff says, the success of Vista is inevitable, or if you prefer his phrase, a fait accompli.
But you can do some things. Learn how to back up your data and do so frequently. Consider taking your PC to a computer shop for regular check-ups, just as you would a car. (Although you should be careful about which shop, since you may well have sensitive data on the system.) Clean re-installs are a simple brute force tactic that will solve many problems. If you have kids, you will want to warn them about putting strange things in their mouths, or strange things in the computer.
And if you want to become a little better system manager, learn a little bit more about your system. Find a book that you like, or listen to computer talk show, such as Kim Komando.
Politically, you should support candidates who prefer open systems and open data standards, so that our governments can counterbalance the monopoly. And there are signs that a few politicians are beginning to understand those ideas.
(To be fair to columnist Bill Machrone, I should add that he begins the column by describing some tools for defeating such rootkits, tools that are freely available on line.
Why not Macintosh? Because it is a monoply of another kind. Except for one brief experimental period, they have refused to license their operating system to other manufacturers, and so their systems cost way more than they should.)
- 10:46 AM, 6 February 2007 [link]
Here's A Nasty Propaganda Piece: Suppose that you had hoped for a 7.6 percent pay raise and instead received a 6.7 percent increase. Would you think that your pay had been "reduced", or that this was "devastating news", or even that your boss was "declaring war" on you? Few would have those reactions. (And those few, unless there are some extraordinary circumstances, should seek help, perhaps even psychiatric care.)
But that's how the Democrats in this Associated Press article reacted to President Bush's efforts to slow the increase in Medicare spending — and the AP reporter, Kevin Freking, went right along with their demagoguery, instead of calling them on this nonsense, as he should have.
This is, by now, an ancient trick. But it is still disgusting. And it handicaps our ability to develop rational policies. When large increases are automatically attacked as devastating cuts, and reporters pass on these lies — and they are lies — it becomes difficult for the public, especially the inattentive public, to understand what is actually happening.
How should the article have been written? The reporter should have begun by saying that President Bush was proposing a large increase in Medicare, and that leading Democrats wanted even more. And they should not have passed on the Democratic lies, without saying that they were lies and without challenging at least one of those Democrats.
(The article was bad enough, but MSNBC made it even worse with this headline: "Bush seen as 'declaring war' on health care". (The Las Vegas Sun used a less demagogic headline, "Health Industry Cool to Bush Budget Cuts", but even that is false, since there are no overall cuts.))
- 5:44 AM, 6 February 2007 [link]
Bias, Ignorance, Or Both? In the middle of this New York Times article on Steven Bigari, there is this paragraph:
Mr. Bigari, 47, is an unlikely candidate to save the working poor. He is a millionaire who lives in Colorado Springs, a politically conservative city that is far from the coastal enclaves of most social entrepreneurs, the catch phrase for people who come up with innovative, nongovernmental ways to address social problems. He has the no-nonsense short hair and straight back of a West Point graduate. (He was in the class of 1982.)The reporter, Michael Fitzgerald, thinks this background is surprising for a social entrepreneur. Actually, there is nothing surprising about it. To begin with, few social entrepreneurs are likely to be poor, simply because it takes some resources to be a social entrepreneur, at least on the scale that gets you noticed by the New York Times.
Second, as Arthur C. Brooks argued in his book, Who Really Cares, conservatives* are more charitable than liberals. So those in politically conservative places are more likely, not less likely, to give their money and their time to those who have less.
Third, West Pointers are taught that, if they want to succeed as a leaders, they should take care of their men. (In the old days, I understand that cavalry officers were taught to take care of the horses first, the men second, and themselves last.) So this, too, leads me to think that Bigari would be more likely to help those who work for him — and go on from that to help the working poor generally. Not all officers are paternalistic, but they are certainly trained to be.
So all the things that Fitzgerald thinks make it less likely that Bigari will be a social entrepreneur actually make it more likely. Why doesn't Fitzgerald know this? The answer, I fear, is in the post's title.
(The article, despite this paragraph, is well worth reading, though parts of the story seem a little too pat to me.
Arthur Brooks' book received considerable attention recently, but as far as I can tell in a quick search, has not been mentioned by the New York Times. Perhaps they would have found it more interesting if Brooks had come to different conclusions.
*Eduardo Peñalver, who writes for the religious left magazine, Commonweal, argues that religion, not ideology, is what leads conservatives to be more charitable. More conservatives are religious and that's why they are charitable, not because they are conservatives. I haven't looked at Brooks' data myself, so I can't tell whether Peñalver is right, but he does admit that religious liberals are somewhat less charitable than religious conservatives.)
- 6:12 PM, 5 February 2007 [link]
The Bookies Or The Orangutan? As football fans know, the bookies have made the Indianapolis Colts a seven point favorite. But "Inji", an orangutan at the Oregon Zoo, picked the Chicago Bears And she's been right six out of the last nine times. (You can watch a video of her making the pick here.)
For what it's worth, Inji agrees with the statisticians, according to this New York Times article. Statistician Scott Berry, a former A&M professor, thinks that the Bears should be slight favorites because the team with the better defense usually wins the Super Bowl — and this year, that's Chicago.
(Berry also makes this general point:
Berry said the greatest lesson any statistician could give is that the winner of the Super Bowl should not be anointed as a team of destiny. In reality, Berry said, the teams in this year's Super Bowl and in most Super Bowls are close to evenly matched. Winning one game does not necessarily make the winning team superior.I suspect that's true for championships in most sports. Some years ago, I did a quick look at the NBA playoffs, and found that, after the first round, the results were about what you would get if each team had a 50 percent chance to win each game.)
- 1:02 PM, 4 February 2007
Update: Inji is now six for ten.
- 9:55 AM, 5 February 2007 [link]
Santiam Pass: In the center of the Oregon Cascades, the volcanic lava flows of eastern Oregon meet the evergreen forests of western Oregon, and Santiam Pass is a wonderful place to see that meeting. Conveniently, it is also on one of the shortest routes between the Seattle area and Bend, Oregon. This picture from Google Earth shows how sharp the boundaries are between lava and trees.
That's a cinder cone near the center of the picture. There are roads on it because it is being mined for, I would guess, sand for the roads. There are many other cinder cones in this general area, but that one is especially close to the highway.
Just north of the cinder cone, I stopped to take this picture of a lava flow and the plants working hard to convert it into dirt. They'll succeed in time; the area west of here, though mostly now covered with vegetation, was once the Western Cascades, a range that preceded the current Cascade range (which geologists call the High Cascades).
You can find the last post from my 2005 disaster area tour, with links to all the other 2005 disaster tour posts, here.)
- 5:41 PM, 2 February 2007 [link]
Experiment, Check Bulb Sizes, And Look For Rebates: That's my advice to anyone who wants to try replacing their incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. The quality of the light from the compact fluroescents varies widely. And, of course, what pleases me may not please you. I have found only one place on line that gives you an idea of what the light will be like; for some of their compact fluorescents, Service Lighting will show the color of the bulb, as they do here.
I have tried several 3-way bulbs, but have not found one that I liked, yet.
In general, the larger bulbs, 40 Watts and higher, seem to be much more expensive. Unfortunately for me, that's the size I like to use in my reading lamps.
Some of the larger size bulbs will not fit in some standard fixtures. A Commercial Electric 42 Watt bulb would not fit inside the harp of one of my Stiffel desk lamps, and a 40 Watt GE bulb barely fit inside it. (In contrast, the Sylvania 40 Watt bulb that I am using right now fits inside them easily.)
WalMart got much publicity recently for their efforts to push the bulbs, something I discussed here, but the one I visited did not have an impressive selection, nor did they have especially low prices, once you allowed for the rebates.
Many utilities, it turns out, give out rebates for compact fluorescent lights, and sometimes those rebates offer substantial savings. For example, my electric utility, Puget Sound Energy, offers a variety of rebates. The lowest is 2 dollars per bulb. A few days ago, I found a package of three Sylvania 13 Watt bulbs for sale at Lowes for 8 dollars. The store let me use three rebates with the package, so the price per bulb, including sales tax, was about 90 cents.
PSE's rebates are not universal; they are good only at some retailers — and WalMart is not on their list, so it is often not the cheapest place to buy the bulbs.
And there is another thing to be aware of. According to this 2006 article in a trade journal, utilities budget a fixed amount for these rebates each year, and may run out of them during the year.
(The Instapundit has been doing some experimenting too, and has found some bulbs he likes, as does his wife, which is more important.)
- 5:10 PM, 2 February 2007 [link]
Pause For New Computer Monitor: Just before lunch, my new computer monitor arrived, and I have been experimenting with it. I got it working in Windows fairly quickly; the trick was to use the old monitor to set up the new one. Since the old one is analog and the new one is an LCD monitor with a DVI input, that wasn't too difficult since my video card can support analog and DVI simultaneously. (The simple directions that came with the monitor did not work, and there was nothing in the manual that would have helped a novice.) Haven't gotten the monitor to work with my current Linux set up yet, but that's what I expected.
First thoughts: It is nice to have the extra room; the new monitor's native resolution is 1680x1050, which means I have more than twice as many pixels as on my old monitor, which I run at 1024x768. And the colors are bright, maybe even a little too bright, at the factory settings. They make the colors on the old monitor look faded (which they may be, since the monitor is about ten years old, and I have used it very heavily.) The built-in speakers, which I don't plan to use, make the monitor just tall enough so that I will have to reorganize my desk. Most of the reviewers at Newegg, where I bought it, despise the speakers, but they might be a big plus in an office environment, where they would reduce clutter. The manual, which came on the CD is awfully skimpy, as most are these days. The control buttons for the display are tiny, identical, and on the side, so adjustments are more difficult than they should be. Fortunately, adjustments should be rare.
(Here's the monitor, if you are curious. I bought the monitor this week because there was a 30 dollar rebate on it that expired January 31st. And if you are very curious, I'll add that it will be replacing a 17 inch Iiyama.
Here's an explanation of the Digital Video Interface, if you are curious about that. It is likely, by the way, that the directions would have worked if I had hooked up the monitor to the analog connector, instead of the DVI connector.)
- 4:30 PM, 2 February 2007 [link]
Congratulations To The New York Times: For helping to destroy another intelligence source, and an important one in the war on terror.
The European Central Bank must take action by April to stop the transfer of personal information from Swift, the bank-data consortium, to American authorities for use in antiterrorism investigations, a regulatory agency said Thursday.The article says that the consortium came "under scrutiny" for this cooperation, but does not explain how that happened. The Wikipedia article on the consortium is more straightforward:
A series of articles published on June 23, 2006, by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times revealed that the Treasury Department and the CIA, United States government agencies, had a program to access the SWIFT transaction database after the September 11th attacks called the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.Having helped destroy this cooperation, the New York Times should be honest enough to admit their own part in the affair, rather than hiding it on page A8 in a vague article from the Agence France-Presse.
(The AFP article claims that:
Under European Union rules, information on money transfers can be used only for banking purposes and not for other uses, like combating terrorism.Is that true? I know nothing about these rules, not even how to find them, but this flat statement seem dubious. Rules of this kind almost always have law enforcement exceptions, and I suspect these do, too.)
- 10:58 AM, 2 February 2007 [link]
Worth Reading: John Leo tells us about the sad state of free speech at our colleges and universities.
Remember when the Right had a near-monopoly on censorship? If so, you must be in your sixties, or older. Now the champions of censorship are mostly on the left. And they are thickest on the ground in our colleges and universities. Since the late 1980s, what should be the most open, debate-driven, and tolerant sector of society has been in thrall to the diversity and political correctness that now form the aggressive secular religion of America's elites.And they often succeed in doing so.
- 8:05 AM, 2 February 2007 [link]
Should Journalists Correct Their Errors? That's the question I have for four local journalists*, Knute Berger, Susan Paynter, Steve Scher, and Danny Westneat.
First, some background: Last September, after the Plame "scandal"** collapsed, David Broder wrote a column urging journalists who had hyped this "scandal" to apologize to Karl Rove, and to stick to the facts in the future. After the Broder column appeared, the four discussed it on the Weekday program. The host, Scher, asked the other three whether they intended to apologize. Berger said that he would not, because Rove was guilty of other things. (Berger made, as I recall, no specific charges.) The other three seemed to find Berger's position . . . amusing.If we put the matter abstractly, what Berger was saying was that journalists should not correct their errors — if the correction would help a Republican. Or perhaps even more narrowly, a Republican Berger especially dislikes. You don't have to be a logician to see that anyone who agrees with Berger should answer "no" to my original question, perhaps saying that journalists should correct errors when the corrections help politicians they like, but not when the corrections help politicians they dislike.
If this is not what Steve Scher, Susan Paynter, and Danny Westneat believe, along with Knute Berger, they should say so. In particular, they should say whether Berger should correct his own errors on the Plame "scandal".
And because this episode left me even more suspicious of our "mainstream" journalists, the four may want to answer the following questions, which may give them some idea of how common errors are — and how often they go uncorrected:
If there is one lesson I would like these four (and other journalists) to take from this post, it is this: If journalists do not correct their errors, the public will no longer trust journalists — rightly. These four (and other journalists) may want to consult recent polls on journalists to see whether the distrust has already begun to grow. And these four (and other journalists) may want to think about the way that bloggers spread doubts when journalists refuse to make corrections — as so many journalists do, when those corrections come from outside. And I will give them this hint: The case of Dan Rather is, I think, particularly instructive.
Finally, let me say something about my own motives, just so there is no misunderstanding. I very much want our local news organizations, especially the newspapers, to succeed. But I do not think they can succeed by continuing to do the same things that have led so many readers to distrust them. Wise patients will listen to the warnings from a pathologist, and wise journalists will correct their errors, even if a correction helps a politician they dislike.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(*Berger was, for many years, the editor of a local alternative newspaper, the Seattle Weekly. Paynter is a columnist for the Seattle PI. Scher hosts a talk program at the local NPR affiliate, KUOW, Weekday. Westneat is a columnist for the Seattle Times.**If you have forgotten the details on the Plame "scandal", here are the essentials: In his 2003 State of the Union speech, President Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Former ambassador Joseph Wilson went to Niger and talked to some officials informally, over tea. They told him that trade representatives from Saddam had visited the country in recent years. Since Niger has almost nothing to sell, except uranium, CIA analysts considered this weak supporting evidence for the Bush conclusion.
Outrageously, Wilson used the trip to Niger to claim that Bush had lied. And dozens of journalists swallowed his story, and his succeeding story that the Bush administration had "outed" his wife in revenge.
A study of British intelligence failures before the Iraq War, the Butler Report, explicitly supported what President Bush had said in that State of the Union speech.
In short, President Bush told the truth and former ambassador Wilson did not. But many journalists continue to believe Wilson rather than Bush, though the essential facts have been available for years. And a laughably large number of journalists confused Niger with Africa. As a point of simple logic, Wilson's visit to Niger could not discredit Bush's claim about Africa, since there are other uranium producing nations in Africa.Confession: After an earlier post on another Weekday program, a commenter wondered why I listened to the show. I do so for somewhat the same reason that a pathologist examines tissue samples. The pathologist is looking for evidence that may explain failures, and so am I.)
- 5:22 PM, 1 February 2007 [link]
Victor Davis Hanson Tries To Help A Petulant Adolescent Grow Up: A petulant adolescent who was the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.
Kerry, who appeared on stage in Davos this past weekend with former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, also proclaimed, "When we walk away from global warming, Kyoto, when we are irresponsibly slow in moving toward AIDS in Africa, when we don't advance and live up to our own rhetoric and standards, we set a terrible message of duplicity and hypocrisy."Hanson has more sound advice for Kerry, but I have think it unlikely that this petulant adolescent will take any of it, or will ever grow up. Kerry will continue to be about 14 years old, emotionally, for the rest of his life.
- 10:00 AM, 1 February 2007 [link]
Will This Make San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom less popular?
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's re-election campaign manager resigned Wednesday after confronting the mayor about an affair Newsom had with his wife while she worked in the mayor's office, City Hall sources said.Or more popular?
It is San Francisco, so I would bet on more popular. (And I can't be the only one hoping that some reporter will ask Nancy Pelosi to comment on this affair. I suppose that it would be too cruel to ask Hillary Clinton for her thoughts.)
- 5:28 AM, 1 February 2007 [link]
Now, Can We Call Him A Dictator? Venezuela's Hugo Chavez takes the next step toward dictatorship.
Venezuela's Congress on Wednesday granted President Hugo Chavez powers to rule by decree for 18 months as he tries to force through nationalizations key to his self-styled leftist revolution.His vast admiration for Fidel Castro does not lead one to think that Chávez has a steadfast adherence to elections, or that he will actually step down if he continues to hold them, and loses one.
Sadly, there is good reason to believe that he has the support of the majority of the Venezuelan people. Many dictators have been popular, especially early in their rule.
This shows, by the way, that Venezuelan government made a fatal error when it treated him so lightly after his failed 1992 coup.
(You can find more in this Scott Burgess post. Burgess asks this question about a leftist journalist who still supports Chávez:
And now a gedankenexperiment. Imagine that George Bush was shutting down opposition TV stations, passing laws forbidding making fun of him, implementing enabling laws and overturning term limits for his own benefit.And the same rhetorical question could be asked about many other leftists.)
- 5:03 AM, 1 February 2007 [link]