Archive:

January 2003, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



More on Hiding the Sponsors, Hiding the Speakers:  Media Research gives a long list of news organizations that hid the news about the dubious sponsors and dubious speakers at the "peace" demonstrations last weekend.  Note the telling point that major newspapers simply refused to run substantial quotations from any of the speeches.  Perhaps the worst piece of all was a New York Times editorial, which David Hogberg destroys in this analysis.   Like him, I found much of the editorial laughable, especially the claim that demonstrators were making "nuanced" protests.  What, one wonders, would they consider to be not nuanced?
- 2:23 PM, 21 January 2003   [link]


Our Inconstant Sun:  The sun's output varies with the 11 year sun spot cycle.  NASA is now trying to get better measurements of the sun's output, as they explain here.  It's a trickier problem than you might think.  The article also has some useful information on the sun's variation over the last millennium, and how that has affected our climate.  
- 2:07 PM, 21 January 2003   [link]


Who Fights?  In our armed services now, it is disproportionately the white servicemen who do the fighting, in spite of the fact that blacks are more likely to enlist.  This USA Today article has some details, but puzzles over this pattern, which has been true at least since the Gulf War.  The explanation is quite simple; in general, blacks enlistees are looking for a job or a career, while white enlistees are looking for an adventure.
- 1:58 PM, 21 January 2003   [link]


Correction:  In this post, I relayed the claim from American press attache, Lee McCleeny, that the corn (maize to Europeans) we were offering to African nations was from South Africa and was not genetically modified.  McCleeny has now retracted that claim in this follow up letter.  The corn is from the United States and is genetically modified.  I should have been more skeptical about the original letter, which did seem strange to me.

There is an interesting general lesson here.  McCleeny made a mistake by not checking what he calls "anecdotal" evidence.  I made a mistake relying on an official's statement, even though he did not provide direct evidence in his original letter.  Neither of us will be able to pull back all the copies of this story that are floating around the world on the net, though I have corrected the original post, and will send emails to people I may have misinformed.
- 7:16 AM, 21 January 2003   [link]


Logistics:  There is an old military saying that "amateurs discuss tactics, but professionals discuss logistics".  Here's an article describing some of the logistical difficulties the British troops are having as they prepare for war with Saddam.  None of this will surprise those familiar with military history.  Stephen Ambrose says that, because they did not have winter boots, some 45,000 American men suffered from trench foot and had to be pulled out of the line during the winter of 1944-1945.  Alan Moorehead gives a striking example of the importance of small, ordinary items in his book, The March to Tunis.   The German "jerry can" was solidly built, and was used for all kinds of liquids, which were identified with painted marks.  The corresponding British fuel container was so flimsy that it often leaked after a single use.  In an age of high tech weapons, it is easy to forget just how important good boots and good fuel containers are.
- 7:13 AM, 21 January 2003   [link]


The Finsbury Park Mosque  in London was raided yesterday because of its many connections to crime and terror.  The mosque was originally built after urging by, ironically enough, Prince Charles.  This article tells how the the legitimate trustees were driven out by violence and threats of violence.  The leading figure in the takeover was the notorious Abu Hamza.  Since his takeover, it has become a worldwide center of crime and terrorism.  (The article repeats his claim that he lost an eye and a hand fighting the Soviets.  This column gives the evidence that Hamza's claim is false; there is a 1993 photograph showing him uninjured, though the war against the Soviets ended in 1989.  The column also has a chilling and hilarious story about one of the many terrorist attacks to originate in the mosque.  Six British Muslims went to Yemen to attack British citizens there.  When they were captured, they immediately applied to the officials they had planned to kill for British asylum.)

Finally, here's a column with samples of the vile teachings of Abu Hamza like this:
These are filthy people.  Animals!  They and their wives and children are scum of the earth, lower than cattle.  We must crush them without mercy, until decent people like us can live in peace in the way which our God dictates, which is the only right way to live.  Anyone who disagrees is filth
It is your very existence he objects to, as you can see.
- 6:40 AM, 21 January 2003   [link]


An Affirmative Action Puzzle:  Some years ago, I knew a couple with three sons.  The boys' father was the head librarian at a small university, and their mother was a musician, so they were not underprivileged by any standard.  Even so, two of the sons would be eligible for racial preferences at many institutions.  The third would not.  Can you guess why?  Let me exclude one possibility.  All three were natural sons, which I mention because adopted children are still categorized by their birth parents' race, even if they were raised by white parents.

Give up?  You can find the answer here.
- 2:16 PM, 20 January 2003   [link]


Hiding the Sponsors, Hiding the Speakers:  The demonstrations in Washington, D. C. and San Francisco yesterday were sponsored by a far left organization, ANSWER, and featured an array of anti-American and extremist speakers.  News organizations chose to conceal these two important facts.  I saw only two exceptions to this pattern in all the news stories I saw on the demonstrations.  On the Friday Jim Lehrer news program, a man opposed to the demonstrations mentioned some of the other causes that ANSWER supports.   The interviewer did not follow up this interesting point with the ANSWER spokesman.  On the Sunday Fox opinion show, Tony Snow noted mildly that ANSWER is a socialist organization, which is true in the sense that Stalin was a socialist leader.

Here are the facts on the sponsors and speakers from David Horowitz, who knows a little about radical movements.  ANSWER is a front group for the Workers World party, which has supported anti-American dictators, "including the Ayatollah Khomeini, Kim John Il, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein".  A radical Islamic cleric, a Stalinist, a one time Stalinist turned ethnic purger, and a Fascist dictator all deserve support, according to the sponsors of the demonstrations yesterday.  The speakers included representatives of Columbian narco-terrorists, supporters of Islamic suicide bombers, and a variety of other anti-American groups.  One mullah called for violent revolution in the United States.  Somehow none of this got onto the evening news or into the morning papers.

The same pattern of concealment can be found in the British newspapers.  I looked at articles on the demonstrations from three of the most prominent, the Guardian, the Times, and the Telegraph, going from left to right.  The most that the Guardian's Matt Engel would say about ANSWER is that its "roots are on the extreme left of American politics", which is like saying that Al Capone sometimes got in trouble with the law.  He did not mention any of the more extreme speakers.  Chris Ayres of the Times did not even mention ANSWER in his silly article covering the San Francisco demonstration.  Nor did he mention any of the extremist speakers.  He did have much to say about the wealth of some of the demonstrators, though wealthy radicals are hardly a new phenomena.  Toby Harnden of the Telegraph was the most frank about the far left at the Washington, D. C. demonstration, in his article, but did not provide any background on ANSWER or much description of the extremist speakers.
- 8:53 AM, 20 January 2003   [link]


Three Unpleasant Findings:  In the latest of his recurring research summaries, Richard Morin notes three that I would rather not read.  Prosperity may be unhealthy.   As incomes rise, people spend more on things that are bad for their health and devote less time to exercise.  Second, anti-Semitism is higher among the young, perhaps because of the attacks on Israel so common on college campuses.  Third, translations from English are often inaccurate, so there is even more reason to worry about our messages getting across correctly.
- 7:16 AM, 20 January 2003   [link]


It Was Never About a Smoking Gun  says former UN arms inspector David Kay, in this column describing his experience in the first round of inspections, and criticizing the current round.  Kay says that the experience, which was dismal, has already been forgotten.
The UNSCOM inspectors simply did not have the resources to win a game of hide and seek.  The same is true today.  The number of inspectors was always terribly small—seldom more than 300 in the country at any one time.  And we were totally outclassed by Iraqi security, which had managed to infiltrate the United Nations in Vienna and New York, as well as the Bahrain office of UNSCOM.   In late 1991, when we seized more than 100,000 pages of information on Iraq's nuclear weapons program, we found one particularly surprising document.  In it, the head of Iraqi security warned the chief security official of the facility holding the documents that in 10 days I would be leading a team to search his building and he should remove all sensitive material from this facility.  The document was dated less than 48 hours after the decision had been made that I would lead this team!  At the time fewer than 10 people in the United Nations and IAEA knew about this mission.
Even without the Iraqi spies, a little bit of thought will show you that, without defectors, it will be almost impossible for a few inspectors to find weapons in a country the size of Iraq.  If the Telegraph story below is correct, then the inspectors must have had a tip.  This is not something we can rely on for inspections.
- 6:01 AM, 20 January 2003   [link]


The Telegraph Reports That:  
Acting on information provided by Western intelligence, the UN inspection teams discovered a number of documents proving that Saddam is continuing with his attempts to develop nuclear weapons, contrary to his public declarations that Iraq is no longer interested in producing weapons of mass destruction.
Here's the article.   The principal sources are, understandably, but unfortunately, anonymous.
- 7:38 AM, 19 January 2003   [link]


What Do the Iraqis Want?  According to left wing journalist Johann Hari, they want us to overthrow Saddam, as he explains in this article, which originally appeared in the left wing British newspaper, the Independent.  The Iraqis have conditions on their support for a war against Saddam.  They want the war to be quick and relatively bloodless, and they want help in rebuilding after the war, like the aid we gave Germany and Japan after World War II.  Hari came to these conclusions from his interviews in Iraq, which are supported by a study made by an independent research organization, the International Crisis Group, which found from its own interviews that:
[A] significant number of those Iraqis interviewed, with surprising candour, expressed their view that, if (regime change) required an American-led attack, they would support it.  The notion of leaving the country's destiny in the hands of an omnipotent foreign party has more appeal than might be expected—and the desire for a long-term US involvement is higher than expected.
Hari is honest enough to admit that he came to support the liberation of Iraq reluctantly, and in spite of his hatred (his own word) of George W. Bush.  (Wonder if he would change his mind on that subject if he spent a month interviewing Americans?)
- 7:19 AM, 19 January 2003   [link]


More Daschle Dirt:  An alternative paper, the LA Weekly has more on the lobbying career of the Senate Minority Leader's second wife, Linda Daschle, including the sensational charge that the Daschles' intervention to help a small airline may have resulted in a fatal crash.  None of these serious allegations is a secret; so far, none has been of any interest to a major news organization.
- 9:03 AM, 18 January 2003   [link]


Europeans Shouldn't Subsidize Palestinian Terrorists  said Ian Duncan Smith, the leader of Britain's Conservative party, in a speech to a Jewish charity in London.  The speech is a direct critique of the Blair government's policies, and an indirect criticism of the policies of European Commissioner Chris Patten, another Conservative.   As you can see in this weasly speech, Patten first denies that European Union money is financing terrorism, and then admits that some of it may be.  His claims about the tight controls on EU money are so dishonest, by the way, that one wonders whether his listeners laughed at him.

There are enough hints in Patten's speech so that we can guess at his real thoughts.  He thinks that no peace can be made without a Palestinian state, and that requires the Palestinian Authority:
Let me repeat once more that if there is to be a Palestinian State there needs has to be a Palestinian Authority.
(Emphasis in the original.)  So, although he will never admit it publicly, Patten (and many others in the European Union) will tolerate some terrorism against Israel to preserve the Palestinian Authority.  What Patten, and these others, miss is that recent history shows that the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat can not create a Palestinian state, because it is unwilling to live in peace with Israel.  Those who want peace between Israel and its neighbors will support President Bush's efforts to encourage new leadership for the Palestinians.  Ian Duncan Smith's condemnation of European support for terrorism is a good first step.
- 8:14 AM, 18 January 2003   [link]


Give or Take 50,000 Dead:  Here's a column giving some background to the Algerian civil war that is spilling over into Britain and France.  As Ben Macintyre rightly says, the 50,000 margin of error in the total number of deaths shows just how indifferent news organizations have been to this long running war.  That margin of error is, of course, many times greater than the total deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It is hard not to conclude that journalists, who are mostly on the left, simply don't care when Muslims kill each other, however large the numbers.
-7:28 AM, 18 January 2003   [link]


9,000 Lost Algerians:  Yesterday, I mentioned the problem of terrorists claiming political asylum to enter Western countries, and then vanishing when their asylum is not approved.  In Britain, no fewer than 9,000 Algerians claimed political asylum, had it denied, and vanished.  Not all of the 9,000 are terrorists, but Mohammad Sekkoum, of the Algerian Refugee Council believes that hundreds are, and that:
People who are really terrorists are being allowed in and they are not going to stop killing when they get to this country.
Here's the full story from the UK Times, with all the dismaying details.
- 6:58 AM, 17 January 2003   [link]


Not Biased Enough:  That the British media are terribly biased against Israel is obvious to any open minded person who has looked at their coverage.  Reuters, to take an obvious example, refuses to call people who slaughter civilians, "terrorists", and explains that decision, and similar ones, as motivated by fear.  Putting it bluntly, if Reuters told the truth, their stringers in areas controlled by the Palestinians might be killed.  This former BBC Middle East correspondent thinks the British media are not biased enough, as he explains in this dishonest column.   Interestingly, the Guardian did not, at first, add his current affiliation, " executive member of the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding (CAABU)".  That he was considered suitable to be a Middle East correspondent for the BBC helps explain the bias at that organization.
- 6:38 AM, 17 January 2003   [link]


President Franklin?  President Benjamin?  This time the Guardian can't get Benjamin Franklin straight in two tries.  First, they make him president, which he never was, and then, as you can see in the correction at the bottom of the article, they confuse his first and last names.  This would be funnier if the Guardian weren't one of the most influential newspapers in the world.  Their coverage of the United States, with its frequent errors and persistent bias, contributes to our difficulties in fighting terrorism.
- 6:22 AM, 17 January 2003   [link]


Krugman Predicts and Misses:  An essential test for a scientific theory is its ability to predict.  It is a bit of a stretch to treat a person's political beliefs as a scientific theory, but only a bit.  If their beliefs lead them to make false predictions, again and again, it is fair to conclude that there is something wrong with their theory of politics.   While sorting through an old stack of newspapers, I found this Paul Krugman column with a prediction so false as to raise doubts about Krugman's theory of American politics.   Writing a few days after the story broke about Trent Lott's comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, Krugman predicted:
It is unlikely that Mr Lott will be forced to explain himself.  The "liberal media", which went into a frenzy over political statements at Paul Wellstone's funeral, have largely ignored this story.
Krugman then goes on to urge the Democrats to make an issue of the statements, since the media will not.

As everyone knows, Lott was "forced to explain himself" endlessly, even though most Democrats, especially those who have to work with him, gave him a pass.  The media, all across the spectrum, did not let the issue drop.  Conservative talk show hosts joined with liberal columnists to condemn him for his remarks and his slow, awkward way of apologizing for them.  The crucial blow came when President Bush condemned Lott's remarks in a public speech.  Krugman's prediction was wrong in every way.  He was so wrong that, judging from the column, he did not even consider the possibility that President Bush and other conservatives would attack Lott.

That matters worked out this way should not have been a surprise to Krugman, or to any knowledgeable observer.  Conservative white males seldom get a pass from the media when they make these statements, as former relief pitcher John Rocker can tell you.  Rocker was not even a politician when he ruined his career with some colorful talk.  (I thought that, as a relief pitcher, he should have gotten more of a break from the press, by the way.  The job has such high stress that expecting them to behave normally is simply not fair.)  That Krugman has not noticed this pattern shows that his theory of American politics is faulty in some important ways.   It is, however, politically correct, which is enough for the current management at the New York Times.  Just don't put any of your money on Krugman's predictions.
- 3:14 PM, 16 January 2003   [link]


Al Sharpton Versus David Duke:  Jeff Jacoby makes the obvious comparison:  
But it is impossible to imagine, say, David Duke running for president as a Republican and not being shunned by every leading figure in the party.  Impossible to imagine his campaign appearances being covered in news accounts that made no mention of his years in the Ku Klux Klan and his links to neo-Nazis.   Impossible to imagine that he would be treated as just another candidate, albeit one with a "controversial" past.  No one would roll over for Duke.  Why are Democrats rolling over for Sharpton?
And why are news organizations ignoring incidents like Sharpton's Tawana Brawley smear campaign, his anti-Semitic incitements that led to a riot in which Yankel Rosenbaum was killed in 1991, and his racist incitements that led to a riot in which seven people died in 1995?

There is one Democrat, Donna Brazile, who is doing something practical about Sharpton.  She has been recruiting candidates to be black "favorite sons" to run against him in primaries, to limit his strength.  Credit to her for that, even if, to the best of my knowledge, she hasn't spoken out against him.
- 7:42 AM, 16 January 2003   [link]


North Korea Has Not Changed:  The last Stalinist dictatorship still has a its own very old fashioned Gulag, as described here.
- 7:23 AM, 16 January 2003   [link]


Clinton  would probably lose a national election in the United States, but he still has support where they don't know him as well, for instance, among the undergraduates at Oxford.   I might add that he was never as popular here as his admirers seem to think.  Early in 1996, for example, a private poll found that he would lose to George H. W. Bush in a hypothetical rerun of the 1992 election.  The same poll showed Dole losing by about the margin he did lose by in the 1996 election, so the support for Bush shouldn't be discounted.  (The result was mentioned in a piece in the National Review, if you are wondering where I found it.)
- 7:03 AM, 16 January 2003   [link]


China is Changing:  A man who is an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, a millionaire, and a former prisoner in a labor camp has just been offered a position by the Chinese Communist party.   Here are some details on Yin Mingshan.
- 6:52 AM, 16 January 2003   [link]


Asylum for Terrorists:  The murder of a British policeman highlights the hazards of our asylum policies.  The Algerian man who killed Stephen Oake had applied for political asylum, which allowed him to stay in Britain while his case was being considered.   When his application was denied, he disappeared as so many others have done, in Britain and in countries with similar policies.  These policies are based on assumptions about asylum seekers that do not hold for radical Islamists.  In the past, asylum seekers from Nazi Germany or the Communist nations were peaceful or, at the very least, harbored no ill intentions toward the Western countries that sheltered them.  For most radical Islamists, neither of these are true.  They are violent, and they hate the West as much or more than their own governments.

This long, thoughtful column by Charles Moore explains the problem:
In one way, Islamist terror resembles the Cold War.  It is a long-term, worldwide, ideological struggle.  In another way, it more resembles the problem with Irish Republican terrorism.   Unlike the Cold War struggle, this one involves deadly, but fairly small-scale threats to civilians, rather than nuclear holocaust.  As with the IRA, and its relationship with the large Irish community here, Islamists are not supported by most Muslims in Britain, but there is enough sympathy among British Muslims to provide the sea in which the fish can swim. The result, with the IRA, was many deaths for many years.  It is reasonable to expect the same with al-Qa'eda and its friends. So, by an obscene inversion, a system designed to give freedom and safety to those who lack it in their own country becomes the chief instrument of destroying freedom and safety here in ours.
Moore argues, and I would agree, that a solution requires a change in philosophy and a return to control of our borders:
An individual country cannot unconditionally extend "rights" to the whole world.  If people know that they have only to say the word "asylum" to gain these rights, that is what they will do.   For the word to have meaning once again, we have to be able to decide for ourselves who does and who does not come in, and on what terms.  It is astonishing that this most basic right of a country has been (undemocratically) taken away.
Americans should not be complacent, since our own asylum policies have similar flaws.  Changing them will not be easy, since there will be a knee jerk opposition from the left, as this Guardian editorial shows:
As we have long argued, the threat of terrorism is not just restricted to the physical violence that they pose.  An equally serious menace is the readiness of rightwing politicians to use the threat of terrorism to erode the very civil liberties that distinguish democracies from totalitarian states.
In other words, we will lose our liberties if we return to deciding who will, and who will not, be allowed inside our nations!  The right to be free from terrorist attacks is not, apparently, among the civil liberties that the Guardian cherishes.

Blocking asylum seekers who threaten us will require some difficult choices.  Algerians who want to overthrow the military government there do face an unpleasant fate if returned, and the same is true in many other nations.  Some potential terrorists we may want to detain until the war on terrorism ends, as one would do with other prisoners of war.
- 6:30 AM, 16 January 2003   [link]


Medical Care Has Improved:  That's the conclusion of a large study of Medicare patients:
The state-by-state sampling of treatment provided to Medicare patients found that on average, practitioners did better on 20 of 22 measures of quality in 2000-2001, compared with a similar survey two years earlier.  The quality measures included such proven "best practices" as prescribing aspirin to people having heart attacks, examining the eyes of diabetics every two years, and giving appropriate vaccinations to people hospitalized for pneumonia.
However, there is still room for further improvement:
While the trend is in the right direction, the care given to Americans still falls far short of optimal, the study found.  Overall, there is only about a 75 percent chance that patients will get any particular proven treatment their condition requires, the study found.
Though practices may be improving, from what I have seen, both patients and caregivers are less satisfied with the system than they were a decade or so ago.  Here's the full story.
- 11:07 AM, 15 January 2003   [link]


East Coast, West Coast, Who Cares?  If you think I have been exaggerating the number of errors the Guardian newspaper makes in its coverage of the United States, check the fourth paragraph of these Corrections.   In a story on travel, they had placed Portland, Oregon in the "north east of the United States".   (Whoever wrote the story probably confused it with Portland, Maine.)  If you spot some confused looking British tourists in the north east, please offer them your help.  (Last I checked, the Guardian had still not corrected the "University of Ohio" mistake that I noted in this post.)
- 9:46 AM, 15 January 2003   [link]


Speaker Hastert  is underestimated says David Broder in this column, which ends with an uncharacteristically sharp crack at the competition:  "Maybe if he does it[a good job] long enough, even the New York Times will notice him."
- 9:34 AM, 15 January 2003   [link]


Worth Reading:  Joshua Kaplowitz's story of how he "Joined Teach for America—and Got Sued for $20 Million".  His grim story of the conditions in one of our inner city schools will not surprise many teachers, even if they have not, themselves, been sued for 20 million dollars.  
- 1:31 PM, 14 January 2003   [link]


The 21st Amino Acid:  Every living thing, from the smallest virus to a blue whale or a sequoia uses the same small set of just 20 amino acids as building blocks for its proteins—until now.  Researchers have modified a bacterium so that it now makes a 21st amino acid, never seen before in an organism's protein.  As I understand it, biologists do not know why living things use just 20 of the many possible amino acids.  This modified bacteria may help us understand that puzzle.  There's more here.  
- 1:06 PM, 14 January 2003
Update:  "Many" amino acids is a bit misleading.  From a book on viruses, Pirates of the Cell, I am reminded that our ribosomes use just 3 nucleotides to identify each amino acid as they build proteins.  Since there are 4 possibilities for each nucleotide (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine in the original DNA, and adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil in the messenger RNA), there are just 64 possible codes for amino acids.  Of the 64, 3 codes are used as stop signals, leaving 61.  All 61 are used, since there are multiple ways to code for all except 2 of the 20 amino acids.  So, every possible 3 letter word, written in this 4 letter alphabet, means something.  The researchers used a technique called "amber suppression", whatever that may be, to replace one of the 3 stop codes with a code for their new amino acid.
- 10:48 AM, 15 January 2003   [link]


Iraqi Exiles  are rarely to be found in the peace movement.   Nick Cohen, who is on the left himself, explains why in this column:  
The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqi dissidents are an embarrassment to the Left.   After enduring misery few of us can imagine, they have discovered that, without foreign intervention, their country won't be freed from a tyrant who matches Stalin in his success in liquidating domestic opponents.  Only America can intervene. Therefore an American invasion offers the possibility of salvation.
Read the whole column to learn why Iraqi exiles hold these politically incorrect views.  The exiles are more numerous than you might think.  Recently, I saw an estimate that one in ten Iraqis now live in exile.  
- 7:17 AM, 14 January 2003   [link]


Guns and Race, With a Twist:  When Fredrick Sims of Tacoma saw Carl James stealing his 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix last December, he knew what to do, since he'd lost three cars to thieves already.  He got his gun and pursued James in another car.   What happened after that is disputed.  According to Sims' girlfriend, James swerved the stolen car, threatening to crash it into Sims.  Other witnesses tell a different story.  Whatever happened, no one disputes that Sims fired three shots, one of which hit James in the head, killing him.  Sims, 33, is a counselor of developmentally disabled children at a state facility.   James, who was 15 when he died, had a record of drug use and car theft.  (Some background may help explain why Sims acted as he did.  Tacoma has a high crime rate, especially in the area where Sims lives.  Washington state has weak penalties for car theft, especially by juveniles.)

All the leaders I heard, including those who strongly support 2nd amendment rights and self defense, agree that Sims was wrong to be so aggressive in his pursuit.  Some think he may have been justified in shooting if James really did swerve the stolen car toward him, while others are not so sure.  Many ordinary citizens, especially those who have been crime victims or strongly support self defense with guns, supported Sims.  Letters to the Tacoma paper were heavily in his favor, and callers to talk shows, especially the conservative shows, often supported Sims, too.

The shooting is a tragedy, of course, but there is something hopeful in the reaction to it.   As it happens, Sims is black, and James was white, though the news media here were careful not to mention those facts.  (It was mentioned on the talk radio programs, especially those with conservative hosts.)  From what I can tell, race made no difference to the public.   In particular, 2nd amendment supporters, who are mostly white here as elsewhere, were often strong supporters of Sims.  For those people often called "gun nuts", self defense, not race, was the salient issue in this tragedy.  Fifty years ago, in most parts of the United States, race would have been the salient issue, not gun rights and self defense.  That race was irrelevant in this tragedy shows the progress we have made since then.

The Tacoma paper had the most detailed account that I could find, which you can see here.
- 6:58 AM, 14 January 2003   [link]


This Dutch Heroine  is named, improbably, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  She escaped from Somalia, is no longer a practicing Muslim, and faces death threats for saying that Islam is "an oppressive, misogynist religion trapped in the 13th century that seemed to be at war with almost all non-followers".  Her courageous stand has made her a political leader in the Netherlands, inheriting some of the support that Pim Fortuyn had before he was assassinated.  The Telegraph has the story.
- 9:19 AM, 13 January 2003   [link]


Condom Effectiveness:  The Medpundit's critique of a Nicholas Kristof column on condoms ends with some sobering estimates of their effectiveness.   When used correctly for birth control, condoms should prevent pregnancies in all but 2 of 100 couples per year.  In practice, 12 to 14 of the couples become pregnant.   Robin Baker, in his R-rated book, Sperm Wars, gives an even higher rate of failure, 20 to 30 per cent.  (The book has neither footnotes nor bibliography, so I can not easily trace his figures back to their sources, though they probably refer to studies done in his home, Britain.)   Baker explains this high rate of failure by men cheating on their partners in the use of the condoms, which he thinks would be far more likely in casual encounters.  The same male practices that would lead to failure to prevent pregnancy would also lead to failure to prevent disease transmission, obviously.

In his column, Kristof attacked people with traditional religious views for their objections to condom promotion.  Baker is about as far from an American evangelical or Catholic in his beliefs as a person can be, but here is what he says about the consequences of this deliberate misuse of condoms:
This could explain why AIDS awareness and the greater use of condoms by adolescents has, in Britain, been associated with an increase in teenage pregnancies in the first half of the 1990s.
And, one suspects, an increase in STDs as well, though other measures may have held them in check.
- 9:03 AM, 13 January 2003   [link]


Health Care Reform  is the most difficult public policy problem in the United States.  The economics are often surprising.  For example, the number of surgical procedures performed varies greatly by area, and seems as much determined by the number of surgeons, as by the needs of patients.  The widespread system of third party payments encourages both health care providers and patients to waste resources, while the intensity of feeling on the issue makes it difficult for insurance companies and politicians to make sensible choices.

This Seattle PI article provides a curious example that illustrates the issue's complexity.  Artist Nancy Schutt likes to paint "colorful, playful pictures of dogs", and is able to earn about $20,000 a year doing so, low enough to qualify her for Washington state's heavily subsidized Basic Health Plan.  But, her low income, the article explains, is her choice.  In the past, she has worked as a carpenter and earned more, and would do so now if her health costs were not subsidized by the taxpayers.  What was intended to help the poor with their medical costs is really, in Schutt's case, a subsidy for a middle class artist.   I am not, in principle, opposed to all subsidies for art, but I do think the taxpayers ought to get a share of Schutt's paintings, in return.  (I will leave it to others to decide, from the sample painting, whether her work is good enough to deserve a subsidy.)  Any system of third party payments, whether they come from taxpayers or through employment, will introduce distortions in people's behavior.  Not all those distortions will be as close to harmless as this subsidy for the dog paintings.
- 7:40 AM, 13 January 2003   [link]


Witchcraft in Greenland:  Not all superstitions are acceptable to Europeans.  In this story, Andrew Osborn tells us how a harmless ceremony, which would not raise an eyebrow in California, caused the cabinet in Greenland, which is ruled by Denmark, to fall.
- 7:44 AM, 12 January 2003   [link]


Should Europeans Keep Agreements With the US?  The European ban on genetically modified American foods is in direct violation of a treaty with the United States.  The ban is against the advice of nearly all scientists, and the experience of American consumers who have been eating this same food, with no ill effects, for years.  It is cynical, because Europeans have been using GM enzymes to process many of their own foods for years, again with no ill effects.  Worst of all, it has encouraged African nations, with millions starving, to reject American GM food.  Right now, people are starving in Africa, in part because of this immoral European policy.

Not everyone agrees with me that this policy is immoral, as this remarkable Guardian column by Andrew Osborn shows.  For Osborn the central problem is not starving Africans, or science based food safety, or honoring trade agreements, or anything else so trivial.  No, for Osborn, what matters is that an American trade negotiator, Robert Zoellick, has called attention to this European mess and hurt the feelings of some European bureaucrats.  (I suspect that Osborn would be unhappy about any other American criticism of Europe, however justified.)  Worst of all, for Osborn, is that we have offered African countries the same food Americans eat:
If anything is "immoral", it is the status quo whereby desperately hungry poor countries are offered GM grain by the US which much of the developed world would not touch with a bargepole.
The food he objects to, let me repeat, is the same food Americans have been eating for years.   And it is similar, in principle, to the food, treated by GM enzymes, that Europeans have been consuming for years.

Let me summarize:  For Osborn, keeping trade agreements, following scientific advice on food safety, and feeding starving Africans are all unimportant, or perhaps even undesirable.  In contrast, flattering European bureaucrats and pandering to Green superstition are of crucial importance.   Even though I am an American, I hope that Mr. Osborn will forgive me if I say that this is not a system of morality that I share.  Strange as it may seem to him, I think the starving people in Africa are more important than the feelings of European bureaucrats.  Unlike him, I also think that the Europeans are obligated to keep their trade agreements, even with the United States.   Again, I hope he will forgive my presumption.
- 7:17 AM, 12 January 2003   [link]