February 2007, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Politically Clever: On Friday mornings, the moderator of Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace, comes on a Fox radio affiliate in this area, KVI, to promote next Sunday's show. This morning, Wallace described Congressman John Murtha's plan to cripple President Bush's efforts to win in Iraq as politically clever. This is the plan that Murtha presented yesterday to MoveCongress.org, as described in this post, a plan aptly described (by MoveCongress) as intended to undermine President Bush on national security. (There's a description of Murtha's plan here, if you want to know some of the details.)
Let me concede that Murtha's plan is politically clever, at least in the short term. What Murtha wants to do, basically, is to make victory in Iraq (and perhaps elsewhere) impossible, without taking any blame for that.
But is "politically clever" the only criterion we should use in judging Murtha's plan? (Or any other plan, for that matter?) It may be natural for Washington insiders who are obsessed with political wins and losses to think only in those terms, but a citizen, unless they are a hopeless partisan, will want to judge the plan by other criteria.
A citizen might even want to ask whether Murtha's plan is honorable. Honor is an old-fashioned virtue, but some of us still think it important. Those who do will have no trouble finding Murtha's plan deeply dishonorable, in several ways. To begin with, it betrays those in Iraq who have believed American promises — and who may die for believing those promises. It is also, though this is less important, a dishonorable way to disagree with a political opponent. If Murtha will settle for nothing less than an American defeat in Iraq (and that appears to be his goal) then he should say so openly and vote to cut off funds for the troops, rather than doing his best to make victory impossible, indirectly.
Some will not care whether Murtha's plan is honorable, but almost all American will want it to meet another criterion: American interests. Almost all of us will want to know whether following Murtha's plan will make future conflicts more likely and more devastating. We will want to know, for example, whether following Murtha's plan will make terrorist attacks on our friends and ourselves more or less likely. And that question, if we accept the word of the terrorists, has an unambiguous answer; the terrorists say, again and again, that they have been encouraged by our retreats. And most, but not all, experts on terrorism agree with those claims. If Murtha is successful in forcing our defeat in Iraq, we and our friends will face more terrorist attacks, and soon.
It is not hard to understand these two points, if we learn the plain lessons of history. It was politically clever of President Clinton to minimize the Rwandan genocide while it was occurring. No doubt doing so kept his popularity at a higher level, but few would agree that the loss of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandan lives was worth a few percentage points in the Gallup approval ratings. Even Clinton now seems to believe that he erred in choosing the politically clever over the honorable.
And an older lesson, Munich, makes the point about interests even more clearly. The agreement that British Prime Minister Chamberlain signed with Hitler was politically clever, in the short term. There is no doubt that it made Chamberlain more popular — in the short term. But there are few who do not think that it was a disaster in the long term.
Chris Wallace is, as far as I can tell, a moderate and an honorable man. Again, as far as I can tell, he wants the United States to do the honorable thing, and he wants our leadership to protect our interest. That Wallace could, nonetheless, forget about honor and interest and concern himself only about short term political cleverness shows something terribly sad about our journalists, especially those who work in Washington, DC.
- 11:37 AM, 16 February 2007 [link]
Ninety Percent: Nigel Calder, a science writer and former editor of the New Scientist, makes an important argument on global warming.
When politicians and journalists declare that the science of global warming is settled, they show a regrettable ignorance about how science works. We were treated to another dose of it recently when the experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the Summary for Policymakers that puts the political spin on an unfinished scientific dossier on climate change due for publication in a few months' time. They declared that most of the rise in temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to man-made greenhouse gases.Or, to put it another way, those experts think that there is a ten percent chance that they are wrong. (Probably. We haven't seen the science behind the summary yet, and we know from experience that political summaries do not always get the science right.)
Calder takes that and runs with it, noting some inconvenient facts that support the ten percent side of the argument.
Along the way, he makes this very serious charge:
Twenty years ago, climate research became politicised in favour of one particular hypothesis, which redefined the subject as the study of the effect of greenhouse gases. As a result, the rebellious spirits essential for innovative and trustworthy science are greeted with impediments to their research careers. And while the media usually find mavericks at least entertaining, in this case they often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported.As you probably know, both sides in this debate have made similar charges, that the other side is hurting those who disagree. From what I can tell, there is more evidence that climate skeptics face "impediments" to their academic careers than the other way around.
Calder is especially interested in one particular alternative hypothesis, that global warming has mostly been caused by changes in the sun, indirectly. To get his entire argument, you may have to buy his forthcoming book, but he does give this brief summary:
More cosmic rays, more clouds. The sun's magnetic field bats away many of the cosmic rays, and its intensification during the 20th century meant fewer cosmic rays, fewer clouds, and a warmer world. On the other hand the Little Ice Age was chilly because the lazy sun let in more cosmic rays, leaving the world cloudier and gloomier.Which, he says, fits the data better than the manmade global warming hypothesis.
It's certainly an interesting argument, and one that deserves study, but what I found most significant in the op-ed is that admission of uncertainty, that ninety percent. And that ninety percent is coming from the very people who have been working hard to convince us that global warming is a threat.
It is such inconvenient facts that led me to write, almost three years ago, this disclaimer, in which I argued that the scientific questions were not as settled as newspaper stories might lead you to believe. So far, I haven't seen any reason to change my views on the subject.
(Calder is not a climatologist, if you are wondering. According to this brief bit, he was "educated as a physicist at Cambridge University", which suggests to me that he did not complete a doctoral degree there.)
- 10:22 AM, 15 February 2007 [link]
Undermining: That's the key word in an email sent out by a leftist group, MoveCongress.org. The Victory Caucus has the original here. Here's the paragraph that contains the word:
Chairman Murtha will describe his strategy for not only limiting the deployment of troops to Iraq but undermining other aspects of the president's foreign and national security policy. Chairman Murtha discusses these steps in a videotaped conversation with former Congressman Tom Andrews (D-ME), the National Director of the Win Without War coalition, sponsor of MoveCongress.org.That's Congressman John Murtha, unindicted Abscam co-conspirator, and Nancy Pelosi's choice to be House majority leader. (It would be interesting to know whether Murtha approved that email, by the way.)
MoveCongress does not say which aspects of our foreign and national security policy they want to undermine. One hopes, for example, that they do not want to undermine our efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons, efforts that have had bipartisan support for decades. But, you know, I can't be sure, even on that issue.
Will Murtha reject this characterization of his appearance? Will "mainstream" journalists even ask him about this? Don't hold your breath waiting for either.
As the Instapundit says, it's obvious that many on the left want to undermine our foreign policy, but it's surprising to see them admit it openly.
(While they are being honest, however briefly, perhaps MoveCongress.org should change their name to the "Defeat Caucus", since that is their objective.)
- 8:48 AM, 15 February 2007 [link]
Remember The Self-Esteem Movement? It's still around, though much diminished, at least for those who are willing to look at the evidence.
Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids' self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.Dweck and Blackwell found in their experiments that even deserved praise can demotivate kids — if it's the wrong kind of praise. If you praise smart kids for being smart, they slack off; if you praise them when they work hard, they work even harder.
Except for young kids, the praise must be genuine:
Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies where children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyer's findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well—it's actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it's a teacher's criticism—not praise at all—that really conveys a positive belief in a student's aptitude.Why did the self-esteem movement have such success, despite the lack of evidence? One reason is obvious; if just 200 of 15,000 studies met standards, then there must have been a great many bad studies, many of which must have had positive results, or, I should say, "results". And those "results" often got picked up by "mainstream" news organizations, where there are few people qualified to evaluate this kind of work.
But I am inclined to think that there was another underlying reason. Nearly all of us want to think well of ourselves. The self-esteem movement told us that, if we did, we would be happier and more successful. It is hard not to fall for such an agreeable hypothesis.
(Coincidentally, shortly after I saw this article, I saw another article comparing NBA coach Phil Jackson to the Knicks organization. Jackson, according to the article, criticizes his players openly and frankly; the Knicks avoid almost all open criticism. Judging by Jackson's record and the Knicks' current record, his policy works better than theirs does. Dweck and Blackwell would not be surprised.
Oh, and one other dismal thought. Almost all of those 15,000 self-esteem studies were not rigorous enough to be used as evidence on the main questions — but they were (mostly) good enough to be published by professional journals. And no doubt these dubious efforts often led to tenure for some of their authors.)
- 2:53 PM, 14 February 2007 [link]
Happy Valentine's Day! And, as I have in the past, I take some pleasure from the way the holiday annoys some, such as these Hindu extremists.
As a Valentine's Day card smoldered, more than 100 members of the Hindu extremist group Shiv Sena gathered in central New Delhi chanted "Death to Valentine's Day" and "People who celebrate Valentine's Day should be pelted with shoes!"(Am I wrong in thinking that some women wouldn't mind being pelted with the shoes, if the shoes weren't thrown too hard — and they were the right model?)
In this nation, it is, of course, mostly radical feminists who attack Valentine's Day, often by showing Eve Ensler's play. (Though to be fair, the play no longer includes the statutory rape scene.)
(Not much is known about St. Valentine; in fact, if the Wikipedia article is correct, nothing is know about him for certain. According to the article, we may owe many of our Valentine traditions to Geoffrey Chaucer.)
- 1:45 PM, 14 February 2007 [link]
No Political Point, but you might enjoy this collection of strange buildings I found as I was clearing out my old bookmarks.
- 9:04 AM, 14 February 2007 [link]
Schedule a congressional hearing on global warming. And an unwelcome guest shows up.
Today, the multi-faceted winter storm pulls out of the hard-hit Ohio Valley and unleashes its wrath on the Northeast.It may be particularly nasty in Washington, DC.
Windy...with light rain and freezing rain this morning...later mixing with light snow and sleet. Significant icing likely.It's almost as if these hearings attract the nasty winter weather. (And, no, to the best of my knowledge, Al Gore is nowhere near Washington, DC. Tim Blair suspects the Gore effect is more potent this year, so that he can cause this weather without even being there.)
- 5:09 AM, 14 February 2007 [link]
Who Will Win The World Series In 2008? Even the best informed baseball fan would have trouble making that prediction. But many pundits are willing to make predictions on next year's presidential election, mostly by telling us that the current front-runners will win.
But front runners are often defeated, especially in the Democratic party. For instance, the Democratic poll leader in January, 2003 was — Joe Lieberman. But he never heard the White House band play "Hail to the Chief". For more examples, see this John Fund column, or this New York Times article.
- 2:03 PM, 13 February 2007
More: As I have said before, the betting markets are the best place to look for early predictions. Here's a New York Times article on the success of those markets, though the article overemphasizes the short term. (And doesn't mention the failure of these same markets on election day in 2004, when too many betters took the partial release of exit poll data seriously.) Here's one of the more famous sites, Intrade, but if you are just interested in political results, you would be better off going to the Chicago Boyz site, which has a table showing the Intrade results. For example, as I write, I can see that Hillary Clinton has about one chance in two of being the Democratic nominee in 2008, and about one chance in four of being elected president that year.
- 9:11 AM, 15 February 2007 [link]
Donald Maze Is A Helpful Fellow: Maybe too helpful.
A county attorney in eastern Kentucky was one of several people involved in a vote-buying scheme that affected elections in two county offices, federal prosecutors said.And the payments that Maze made to some of these voters? His defense says that he has a practice of helping his clients, when they need it. And you have to admit that a blind beautician and a blind hazardous materials trucker might need a little help.
Curiously, the article does not tell us which party Maze belongs to, nor does this similar article from the Herald-Leader. So I did a search and found the answer on a blog. Maze is accused of rigging the Democratic primary. The odds favored that answer, but one can't be certain, since eastern Kentucky has seen vote fraud by both parties in recent years.
And, you will have noticed that Maze is accused of using, surprise, surprise, absentee ballots to commit the vote fraud.
(Bath is a tiny county; fewer than 5,000 voted there in the 2004 election, so you would not need to buy many votes to steal a Democratic primary there.)
- 11:00 AM, 13 February 2007 [link]
Today Is Lincoln's Birthday: If I were to judge by our news organizations, his birthday is not something we should celebrate, or even notice. A search of Google News on "Lincoln's birthday" this afternoon got just 323 hits, an absurdly small number. But I think the news organizations are wrong, as they often are.
To begin with, there is Lincoln's remarkable rise, told briskly in this White House biography.
And this ambitious man taught himself to be a lawyer — and an enormously successful one — and then a politician with remarkable gifts. Those achievements by themselves would be remarkable enough, but Lincoln did far more. This boy from the backwoods somehow made himself into a great statesman and led us to victory in our bloodiest war.
His war leadership is far too large a subject for a brief post, but I can say something about his most famous speeches. As I have said before, the Gettysburg Address, his most famous, does not touch me as some of his other speeches do.
In 1858, he began his Senate campaign with the House Divided speech, which combines tight reasoning with biblical language in these famous lines:
In 1860, he gained much favorable attention with his scholarly Cooper's Union speech, which refuted an argument made by his principal opponent in the presidential election later that year, Senator Stephen Douglas.
And in 1865, six weeks before his assassination, he gave my favorite, the Second Inaugural. It's brief, so you should read the whole thing, if you have not done so recently. His last paragraph is, I think, good advice for us now.
(Having read that, you may wonder if his first inaugural speech comes anywhere close to matching the second. It doesn't, but it does end with his famous lines about the "mystic chords of memory".)Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:25 PM, 12 February 2007 [link]
Tim Blair claims Richard Branson's Prize for a solution to global warming.
Easy. Simply ban automatic cars, as I advised in 2005. Because automatic cars use around 5% more fuel than manual cars, that simple law would save 5,650,000,000 barrels of oil per year in the US alone (and be minimally disruptive in developing nations, where a greater proportion of vehicles are non-automatic). If each barrel contains 175 kilograms of carbon, we're looking at an annual carbon reduction (US only) in the region of 988,750,000 metric tons.And it is true that Blair offered this solution in December, 2005. But it is also true that I suggested the same solution in May, 2004, though for a different reason than Blair. However, I won't claim the prize because I am sure that thousands of people beat me to it.
But the points we made deserve repeating. If you wish to get better gas mileage or reduce global carbon emissions, one of the simplest ways to do both is to drive a car with a stick shift. (And, cars with manual transmissions are always (almost always?) less expensive than the same cars with automatic transmissions.)
- 9:27 AM, 12 February 2007 [link]
How Many People Can Keep A Secret? One? Two? Five? Ten? Twenty? Up until twenty, you might have said yes to each question. But all of us know that, as the number increases, the secret is less likely to be kept.
So, what if the number is 435? Would the secret be kept? I think all of us would say no, unless those holding the secret were members of a very disciplined organization. And even then, the chance that the secret would leak out by mistake would be significant.
The number 435 was not chosen at random, as many of you have already guessed. According to this post, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has just voted to make a secret National Intelligence Estimate available to every member of the House.
To the surprise of the Bush administration, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to allow all 435 House members to see the classified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq sent to the White House last week. The report is classified in part because it contains information about sources and methods used in intelligence-gathering.Sources and methods are usually the most sensitive parts of intelligence estimates, because knowing them may allow your enemies to get rid of the sources and to defeat the methods.
Oversight of intelligence poses a difficult problem for democracies. Intelligence operations require secrecy, but democracies require openess. In 1977, the House attempted a compromise and set up the select committee, usually just called the House intelligence committee. But the full name helps us understand why the House set up this committee. Since many can not keep a secret, the House would delegate the oversight of intelligence operations to a "select" committee, with members chosen, in part, for their ability to keep secrets. (Some current committee members, notably Alcee Hastings, would not strike most of us as especially trustworthy.) Gossips, crooks, and potential traitors — and there have been some, from time to time, in the House — would be kept off the committee.
Opening the secrets to every House member defeats the very purpose of the committee, though it is only fair to add that they are doing it just for this one document.
Not every House member will look at the document (and most should not), but enough will so that some secrets will leak out. Inevitably.
(By way of Hugh Hewitt. Incidentally, Hewitt errs by putting all the blame on Democrats. The committee decision was unanimous, which means that the Republicans who were there agreed with the decision. I do think it unlikely that the committee would have done anything this foolish if the House were still being led by Dennis Hastert, but the Republicans on the committee can not escape their share of blame.)
- 4:38 PM, 11 February 2007 [link]
Walker-Ames and Danz Lectures At The University Of Washington: In 1936, a bequest from the estates of Maud Walker-Ames and Edwin Gardner Ames established a fund that the university uses to "bring to campus many of the most outstanding scholars in the academic profession". In 1961, a gift from a movie theater owner, John Danz, established another fund in order to bring "distinguished scholars who have concerned themselves with the impact of science and philosophy on man's perception of a rational universe" to the campus.
Together these two funds are paying for ten lectures during the current school year. Two of the lecturers are scientists, Hubble space telescope senior astrophysicist Mario Livio and Harvard physics professor Lisa Randall. Both appear to be real scholars who meet the terms of the bequest and the terms of the gift.
The other eight lecturers are all politically correct leftists. And although some of them may be real scholars, others, all too obviously, are not. For example, writer Ana Castillo may be entertaining, but she does not even claim to have done scholarly work. (Her lecture is titled "How I Became a Genre Jumper", which may be interesting, but does not sound scholarly.) Similarly, Urvashi Vaid is director of the Arcus Foundation and an activist, not a scholar. (Her lecture is titled "The Enemies of Love and the Future of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Politics", which again sounds interesting, but not scholarly.)
And then there is Angela Davis, the former Black Panther and former communist, who has produced no significant scholarly work but now holds the Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She does have some achievements, though. For example, she almost certainly provided the weapons used in a murderous escape.
Since that is her most significant accomplishment, we have to ask whether that is why she is being invited to speak at the University of Washington. Or perhaps she is being invited because of her long record of support for communist tyrants. (Some who suffered under communist rule are not fond of her; she drew a famous rebuke from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.) She did finally leave the Communist party, but still, apparently, likes some communist leaders, including the brutal Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro.
But she is no scholar, in spite of her titles, and every serious person knows that.
Most likely, it is not possible to force the University of Washington to adhere to the terms of the Walker-Ames bequest and the terms of the Danz gift. But those who are considering similar bequests or gifts may want to reconsider, or at the very least, attach not just strings, but steel cables, to their gift, so it can be pulled back if the university abuses it.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:48 PM, 10 February 2007 [link]
Migrating Butterflies: When I stopped at McKenzie Pass to view the lava flows, I got an entirely unexpected bonus. As I was walking around, a bit of movement caught my eye. I looked down and saw a medium-sized orange and brown butterfly.
This was puzzling because there were no flowers or open water in sight. As I looked around, I saw more of the butterflies, but they were not grouped together in some sort of mating dance, my next guess. They were by themselves and all of them, I realized after a bit, were heading south.
When I got back home I did a search and learned that the butterflies were California tortoise shells, and that they migrate when their populations became too large.
Or so the experts seem to think. The searches I did gave me the impression that the experts were not absolutely certain about the reasons for these migrations, though the idea that they move in response to population pressure certainly seems plausible. And, of course, their migrations would be far more noticeable when the populations were large.
Whatever motivated them to migrate, they were great fun to watch, especially against the harsh background of the lava flows.
(You can find more about their migrations here. Sometimes there have been so many tortoise shells in these migrations that they have become a traffic hazard.
You can find the earlier posts from my 2006 disaster area tour here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
You can find the last post from my 2005 disaster area tour, with links to all the other 2005 disaster tour posts, here.)
- 2:14 PM, 9 February 2007 [link]