Archive:

July 2002

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts


Comic Superheroes as Dates:  Meryl Yourish wrote this playful note on superheroes as dates.  (It is probably just coincidence that she wrote this shortly after missing some sleep in a fund raising blogathon for a good cause.)  I would never, of course, quarrel with a lady's choices in these matters, but I do have to mention practical objections to two of her choices.  Uh, Ms. Yourish, Spiderman is married, at least in the current newspaper comic strip.  Superman poses other problems, as Larry Niven explained some years ago.  Since this is a family site, I will not describe them in detail, but Niven's title should be enough of a hint: "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex".  (You can find the essay in Niven's collection, All the Myriad Ways and, most likely, many other places.)
- 7:18 PM, 31 July 2002   [link]


Dahlian?  The Instapundit referred to some views of Robert Bork as "Dahlian", after the noted political scientist, Robert Dahl.  Frankly, I find the connection baffling.   Dahl's most famous book is his 1961 Who Governs?, a study of New Haven politics and a reply to The Power Elite by radical sociologist, C. Wright Mills.  In the book, Dahl concluded that policies were set by elected officials, responding to voters and interest groups, not an unelected power elite.  Perhaps his most important book was his 1956 A Preface to Democratic Theory, in which he compared "Madisonian" and populist theories of democracy, found both wanting, and argued for what he called polyarchal democracy.  My favorite Dahl book is his 1973 Size and Democracy, with Edward Tufte, which discusses a wide variety of scale effects in democracies.   Simplifying outrageously, one could say that the messages of the three books are, in order, that (1) elected officials, not power elites rule, (2) Madisonian and populist theories of democracy are flawed, and (3) in democracies, size matters. (If you are interested in a sketch of Dahl's thinking on democracy, here's a recent speech by him on the subject.)

Now, how does any of this connect to Robert Bork's ideas on constitutional law?   Beats me.  Maybe it has been too long since I studied Dahl in graduate school.   Only the second argument above seems seems relevant, and there Bork and Dahl disagree.  Perhaps the two agree in practice, if not in theory?  Not unless I have missed something big.  Dahl favors proportional representation, and opposes both the electoral college and the inegalitarian American Senate.  To the best of my knowledge, Bork would disagree on all three.

Looking at it from the other side didn't help, either.  I could find no connection in Bork's The Tempting of America, where Dahl rates a single footnote, on an uncontroversial matter.  So, Instapundit, what in the world do you mean when you say Bork is "Dahlian"?

The Instapundit also implies that Dahl's ideas are out of fashion in colleges and universities.  This may be true; as the professoriate has shifted left, followers of Mills may now have more influence than pluralists like Dahl, even though Dahl won the debate.  That Dahl is still immensely influential can be seen in these 1999 Amazon reviews by three noted social scientists.
- 5:49, 31 July 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  Three Washington Post articles, the first on what is publicly known about about Saddam's biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons (scary, with many uncertainties), the second on how Zimbabwe's dictator is starving his people by refusing American biotech corn (strangely sympathetic to the anti-biotech idiots), and the third on how American business scandals compare to those in Europe and Japan (way better here than there).
- 9:00 AM, 31 July 2002   [link]


What Would Mohammed Do?  My article on Mohammed's career and its consequences is now posted under "Articles" to your right.  I think almost everyone will find it interesting.
- 1:02 PM, 30 July 2002   [link]


More on Muslim Criminality:  There is another remarkable statistic on Muslim criminality in Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom.   According to Dalrymple, who does not give his source, in Britain:
. . .the Muslim population has a crime rate six times that of the Hindu and three times that of the Sikh. . .
Dalrymple attributes this to the greater difficulty Muslims have compromising with Western culture, as compared to Hindus and Sikhs.
- 5:03 PM, 29 July 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  Richard Benedetto's USA Today column on Bush's popularity, Howard Feinberg's Tech Central Station article on civilian casualties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, John Leo's USN&WR column on the effect of bloggers on the traditional news media, Collin May's explanation of how UN reports are constructed, Reid Stott's perspective on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and the New York Sun's editorial on how deaths in mines are partly the consequence of policies favored by environmentalists.
- 10:16, AM, 29 July 2002   [link]


Princeton Bigotry?  This Nashville Tennessean article on black professor of law and political science Carol Swain had an interesting nugget near the end:
Swain calls herself neither liberal nor conservative, but a ''truth speaker.'' Buoyed by the evangelical Christianity she discovered a few years ago -- and which she says is much more accepted at Vanderbilt than it was at Princeton -- she says she is not afraid of where the truth might lead her.
So, Professor Swain thinks that evangelical Christianity is not accepted at Princeton.   So far I have seen no denials of this charge from Princeton, no claims that evangelical Christians are, in fact, welcome there.  Now, suppose she had said that blacks are much more accepted at Vanderbilt than Princeton.  What do you think the reaction from Princeton would have been then?   As it happens, I am neither black nor an evangelical Christian.  But I don't want to see either group discriminated against.  And, just a reminder for any Princeton legal officials who might be reading this: The civil rights laws include religion as a protected category.
- 8:12 PM, 28 July 2002   [link]


Half of All Newpaper Stories Are Wrong - NPR:  That was the blurb for a story in today's NPR program, "On the Media".  The program described a study done on the Raleigh News-Observer, and published in the winter 2001 Newspaper Research Journal, which is not available on line.  More than half the stories, in the period studied, had errors.   Several experts on the news thought that the Raleigh paper results were probably representative, that most other papers would have similar rates of error.  Perhaps newspapers should adopt new, more honest slogans, like: "Half our news is fit to print".

The astute reader will have noticed a logical problem here.  It seems likely that NPR has at least the same rate of error as the newspapers.  (In my experience, on some subjects, NPR approaches a 100 per cent error rate; that is, all of its stories on those subjects have errors.)  So, what are the odds this NPR story does not have errors?  Roughly, fifty-fifty, I'd say.  You have been warned.
- 7:34 PM, 28 July 2002   [link]


Not a Series Skipper:  Mickey Kaus has, more than once, done readers a great favor by identifying a long newspaper series that can be skipped, that don't have enough in them to be worth reading.  If the next four parts of this Washington Post series on the fall of Enron are as good as the first, this will not be a series to skip.  
- 9:07 AM, 28 July 2002   [link]


Walking Versus Driving:  A well known blogger, whom I will not link to for now, since he is about to be married and doesn't need distractions, posted, with approval, a familiar complaint from a trucker.   The truck driver complained, as many drivers do, that when he wanted to speed, some drivers would not instantly let him through.  I hear and see this complaint often, but, when you think about it, you must conclude that it is strange.

Let me begin with a comparison I find illuminating.  I often walk along Lake Washington, which is a few blocks from where I live.  It's a popular place for walkers and joggers, and so, like our roads, it is sometimes crowded.  Most times I set a fast pace and find myself passing many other pedestrians, especially older people and mothers with children.  Since the walk is narrow in places, I may have to wait a bit for an easy place to pass.  Joggers have the same problem with me; sometimes I am in their way and they have to check their pace before they get a chance to pass.   In several years of doing this regularly, I have never seen anyone getting angry because they had to wait to pass, not myself, not other fast pedestrians, not even a jogger.  All the passers seem to share my attitude and think that it is simply a matter of courtesy to allow for the slower walkers.  And, I should add that most of the slower people try to make it easier for others to pass.

Yet, put these same people in cars and some of them transform from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  The man who waited patiently as he walked along the lake becomes angry if he has to do the same as he drives along Interstate 405.   The woman jogger, who cut her pace to allow for the older people on the walk, becomes angry when she has to do the same thing on her way to the mall.   Somehow, the depersonalization afforded by the car makes some people shift their thinking down to the reptilian part of their brains.  Somehow waiting a minute on the highway is an affront, even though waiting the same minute on the walk is not.   Folks, a minute is a minute, and it is strange to think we no longer owe some courtesy to our neighbors just because we are enclosed in a car.  In fact, it is more than strange, it is bizarre, since the dangers from following too closely, which often accompanies this attitude, are far greater when driving, than when walking or jogging.
- 8:44 AM, 28 July 2002   [link]


Sockeyes in Seattle:  Now for a more pleasant topic.   This is the second day of a three day fishing season for sockeye salmon in Lake Washington.  (The lake, for those not familiar with Seattle geography, forms the eastern boundary of the city. On the other side are many of the largest suburbs, so the lake is about as urban as a lake can be.)  Several hundred thousand sockeye have come through the Ballard locks, enough so that the state Fish and Wildlife department is allowing this short season, just as they did two years ago.  One oddity: Sockeye are often caught, if the newspaper is correct, with small bare hooks.  Supposedly the sockeye mistake them for plankton.

This return of the sockeye shows, in a dramatic way, how much the lake and its tributaries have been cleaned up over the years.   Nor is this the only example.   Canadian geese have prospered so much that they have become pests.  From time to time, you can see bald eagles over the lake and blue herons fishing along the edges.  

There are similar revivals of some wild mammals.  Coyotes are common enough to be hazards for cats and small dogs in parts of my suburb, Kirkland, and black bears are sometimes seen in parts of Bellevue to the south and east of here.  Some more distant suburbs have even been visited by mountain lions, which pose a big enough danger to people to worry me.  Experts say that we are seeing the cats here because their population has grown enough to force some of them nearer to heavily populated areas.  Oddly, with all this evidence of an improving environment before their eyes, the Seattle area is full of people who are entirely convinced that the environment is degrading and we are headed for disaster.
- 1:30 PM, 27 July 2002   [link]


Israel, the Enemy:  By way of Tim Blair, I found this appalling commentary in the Guardian.  As Blair notes, Woollacott approves of the brutal attacks on Israeli civilians, or would approve of them, except that he thinks they help Ariel Sharon.   He calls the terrorists "heroic", including, I suppose, the attacker who shot a five year old girl hiding under her bed, the sniper who shot teenage boys playing basketball, the bomber who blew up retired men playing chess, the bomber who targeted a group of teenagers waiting outside a disco, and the bomber who blew up a family gathering for a Passover dinner.  Although appalling, this kind of thinking is familiar.  And, no, one does not have to drag out Hitler or Stalin for examples, though they would agree with Woollacott.  This is the thinking common to total war, where anything that hurts the enemy becomes acceptable, so long as it is militarily successful.  Woollacott has the same pathological hatred toward Israel that many, even in Britain and the United States, had toward their enemies during World War II.  

What is the source of this pathological hatred toward Israel among the British left, and, increasingly, the American left?  It is not from any injuries Israel has done to Britain.   Nor is it because Israel's policies are notably bad, as another writer in the Guardian, Ian Buruma, noted just a few days earlier. It is easy to find far worse oppression of Muslims in Kashmir or Chechnya.  Why do Woollacott and his editors at the Guardian not see this?  Would they approve the United States killing bin Laden's family?  Of course not.  So why does Woollacott take such uncivilized pleasure in the deaths of innocent Israeli civilians?

This being the Guardian, one is not surprised to find a casual indifference to historical facts, as well as the hatred.  Woollacott claims that the first Bush administration was the only American government that came close "to causing an Israeli government real pain".  This leaves out such events as the Clinton administration's successful effort to drive Likud from power, and the Eisenhower administration's sharp reaction when Israel joined the British and French in the 1956 attack on the Suez Canal.  
- 12:01 PM, 27 July 2002   [link]


Hypocrisy Squared:  Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist, attacked George W. Bush for a common, but dubious, practice.  While heading the Texas Rangers, Bush took advantage of eminent domain laws to gain control of private property in the area of the new stadium.  Can you guess which large newspaper has used the same tactic?  If you can't guess, or want to know more details, you can find the answer here.
- 3:49 PM, 26 July 2002   [link]


Voters, Selfish or Knowledgeable?  In this column, the Seattle PI's Joel Connelly argues that voters here have become selfish, that they are less willing to support public investments than they were forty years ago.  He may be right, though Washington voters recently passed two initiatives that will greatly increase spending on public schools.   This will result in higher taxes, less spending in other areas, or both.

Connelly does not consider another possibility, that times have changed and that voters now have good reason to oppose higher taxes, since they will be spent to no effect.  Rather than being selfish, they are knowledgeable.   Education in Washington state illustrates this point.   When Connelly (and I) were in high school, the local school boards had considerable control over hiring and wages.  Now, after a brief trial period, Washington's teachers have tenure and can not be fired.   Wages, too, are set state wide, and the rules do not allow extra pay for hard to find science and math teachers, or cost of living differences for the more expensive suburbs.  The power to control the schools has largely moved from locally elected school boards to the state teacher's union, the Washington Education Association.  As long as that is true, it is hard to see how some of the necessary reforms can be made.

Connelly's paper is part of the problem.  In general, the PI is not willing to take on liberal special interest groups like the WEA, regardless of how much damage they do.  Nor is it willing to campaign against the (mostly) Democratic politicians that cater to these same groups.   It is not even willing to give up on cargo cult projects like the Sound Transit light rail proposal.  (For those not in this area, the project now proposes a light rail system that will not go to the SeaTac airport, the University of Washington, or anywhere else in the north half of the city.  Proponents admit that it would make no perceptible difference in our severe traffic problems.)

There is a final point on which the voters and Connelly disagree.   Voters believe that much tax money is being wasted.  This is not true in every locality or for every program, but it is true in general.  Studies consistently show that there are surprisingly weak relationships between public spending levels and outcomes, or, to put it more plainly, you often don't get what your tax money pays for.  Voters may not know about these academic studies, but they are right to suspect that more taxes may not improve services.  Although few voters can match Connelly's knowledge of state politics, in this, their suspicions are better founded than his belief in the benefits of more spending.
- 3:24 PM, 26 July 2002   [link]


Islam and Rape:  This is not a pleasant subject, but facts, even unpleasant ones, should be faced.  In a sobering article on Islam in Europe by Bruce Bawer, I found this astonishing claim:
Then, in September 2001 (only five days, in fact, before the destruction of the World Trade Center), the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that 65 percent of rapes of Norwegian women were performed by "non-Western" immigrants-a category that, in Norway, consists mostly of Muslims.
Norway, like many European countries, registers people by their religions.  From the 2001 State Department Human Rights Report, I learned that there were 49,633 people registered as belonging to the Islamic religion.   Norway's population is about 4.5 million, so about 1 per cent of the population is responsible for 65 per cent of the rapes!  This statistic is so astonishing that I would like to see confirmation, though I think that the central claim, that Muslim immigrants are far more likely to be rapists, is absolutely true.  There are similar reports from Australia, Denmark, and the Netherlands.  (It may not be true of Muslim immigrants to the United States, who are more educated and assimilated.  Still, if I were a woman, I would be exceedingly cautious in Islamic neighborhoods.)

Almost as astonishing was the remedy suggested by a Norwegian sociologist.  The sociologist urged Norwegian women to give up their freedoms and behave more like women in Muslim countries, because, after all, they now lived in a multicultural society.   There have been similar reactions in Australia, where they have a similar problem.   Here's a thought for the sociologist and those with similar beliefs: If multiculturalism leads you to defend rapists, there is something fatally wrong with the doctrine.   Civilized people need not adopt the customs of barbarians.
- 1:54 PM, 26 July 2002   [link]


Killer Asteroids:  They're a real threat, even if they have been in some bad movies.  Jim Pinkerton gives a good summary of the problem, and what we are doing about it (not enough) here.

Articles on this subject always raise this question in my mind:  What about comets?   There are ways to divert asteroids that sound practical; we could, for example, explode a nuclear weapon next to one to change its course.  But these methods would not seem to apply to comets, since they are far less solid.  Wonder if anyone at NASA, or elsewhere, has a plan for them?
- 12:05 PM, 25 July 2002
Update:   Rand Simberg tells me, in reply to my email on the question, that he thinks that nukes would work about as well with comets as with asteroids.  For both, he prefers mounting a small engine on the body, and using its own mass as propellant.   And, he reminds me that some asteroids are not that strong, either.  Though he has certainly studied this question more than I have, I remain skeptical.  The core of a comet is often described as being similar to a snow bank, which is not the easiest place to attach a small rocket.  Comets are so fragile that they sometimes break apart on their own.
- 10:04 AM, 5 August 2002   [link]


Market Fall, Bad or Good?  Often, seeing an argument I disagree with crystallizes my own thinking on a subject.  This post by Matthew Yglesias made me realize that the fall of the stock market, in the last few weeks, is good for the country, and the rise yesterday may have been bad.   (Full disclosure: For me, personally, the fall has been bad; I have had some paper losses over the period.  And, it has probably hurt the political fortunes of George W. Bush, whom I support.)  

As everyone knows, there are individual winners and losers in the stock market, regardless of the direction.   If some sellers in the last few weeks lost by selling for less than they had hoped, some buyers gained by picking up bargains.  But, what about the nation as a whole?   In the long run, I would argue, we are best off if the market is at a level that encourages good investments and discourages bad ones.  (There is probably a nice Economics 101 way to say that, but it doesn't occur to me at the moment.)  One can see, in the suburb just south of me, Bellevue, Washington, why it is important to discourage bad investments.   During the dot com boom, there was a shortage of office space there and investors responded by building or beginning to build office buildings.  There is now a tremendous surplus.   Building projects are being delayed.  Some firms will go bankrupt.  All of this will be tremendously wasteful.  If there had not been the bubble in internet stocks, this would not have happened.  The opposite can happen as well.  If the market is too low, companies will find it difficult to raise money for good projects and cause another kind of waste.

By traditional earnings standards, the market is still rather high.  So, though I benefitted personally, and it may help Bush's political fortunes, it is not obvious that yesterday's rise was good for the country, or that further rises are desirable.   It is desirable that projected profits and market levels come into harmony.  The best way for that to happen is through increased productivity and profits.  The productivity numbers from the last few quarters have been very promising, so we may work our way out of the mess caused by the collapse of the bubble without too much more damage.
- 9:50 AM, 25 July 2002   [link]


Media Bias, Yet Again:  The Media Research Center found this astonishing example of bias by CBS reporter Joie Chen.  If I had a higher estimate of the intelligence at the network, I'd think they were doing this just to provoke us.
- 8:21 PM, 23 July 2002   [link]


Organic Carcinogens:  In 1986, California voters passed Proposition 65, which requires that all carcinogens in food products be listed on the product's label.  According to Lowell Ponte, Jeff Stiers of the American Council on Science and Health plans to sue organic food companies for their failure to list the carcinogens in their products.  Thousands of carcinogens can be found in "organic" foods, and their levels may actually be higher than in foods produced with chemical pesticides.  Why the higher levels in organics?  Because many of these carcinogens are natural pesticides.  When a plant is attacked by insects or other pests, it often responds by producing more of them.   Other carcinogens, notably the very dangerous aflatoxins, are produced by molds.  One would expect these, too, to be more common in organic foods.   In theory, Mr Stiers could find these suits very profitable.  The proposition provides for bounties of up to $3,000 for each day a product lacks the proper label.
- 7:56 PM, 24 July 2002   [link]


Thank You:  Thanks to Natalie Solent for her nice mention of this site.  The "fiddly" Web address was assigned to me by my Web provider, Seanet.  So far, I have been too cheap and too lazy to get a different one.
- 11:12 AM, 23 July 2002   [link]


Right Wing Versus Left Wing:  Buried deep in a July 22nd Wall Street Journal article (not available free, unfortunately) on the success of the United States in selling the Joint Strike Fighter is this nugget, describing the production of its competitor, the Eurofighter.
Work on the aircraft is split among the companies in the four funding countries.   Rome-based Alenia, for example, makes the left wings, while a division of European Aeronautic Defense &  Space Co.  makes the right wings in Spain.  Each country plans to do its own final assembly of its aircraft.
Amazing.  No wonder the JSF is cheaper, in spite of our own bureaucratic problems.
- 10:05 AM, 23 July 2002   [link]


Seattle Robs Businessman:  Kudos to the Seattle Times editorialists for spotting this ripoff.  It is just as wrong for a government to cheat an individual as the other way around, to state what should be obvious.  (I should add that the programs, as described in the editorial, look crazy to me.  It is no wonder that Seattle, like many cities, has a shortage of low cost housing.)
- 9:49 AM, 23 July 2002   [link]


Scoping for Dollars:  Last year, American surgeons did about 300,000 arthroscopic operations to relieve arthritis in knees.  It now appears that the operation is ineffective for arthritis, and that nearly all these operations should not have been performed.  This Washington Post article describes the unusual study that came to this unpleasant conclusion.  Since this operation is most often done on the elderly, that is, those covered by Medicare, billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this one operation over the years.

And, it is not just a matter of waste.  Every surgical procedure, no matter how simple and routine, has some risks, from infections and reactions to the anesthesia, if nothing else.  With this number of operations, it is certain that, every year, some of the 300,000 were made seriously sick, and likely that a few died.

Not everyone lost.  The medpundit reports that, although some of the surgeons she knew did not do the procedure, thinking it ineffective, others referred to it as "scoping for dollars".  She seems less disturbed by this attitude than I am.
- 9:03 PM, 22 July 2002
Update:  The medpundit was kind enough to email me, explaining that she thought most surgeons performing the procedure thought that it helped their patients.  I think that's almost certainly true, and, for what it is worth, their patients generally agreed, thinking that they did feel better.   But, I think there were some surgeons, as the cynical "scoping for dollars" indicates, who did the surgery even though they did not think that it would help their patients.  These surgeons deserve the same criticism that the medpundit would give a drug company that knowingly sold a useless medicine.  The surgeons who did believe that the procedure benefitted patients deserve another sort of criticism; they were insufficiently skeptical, showing, in this instance, bad medical judgement.
- 9:47 AM, 31 July 2002   [link]


Staying Sober:  While some commentators got tipsy over TIPS, the proposal to ask the public to watch for terrorists, Professor Volokh kept sober and covered the subject sensibly, here.   Orrin Judd also stayed sober, noting that the capture of the suspected killer of Samantha Runnion was made possible, by, excuse me for using the word, tips.  His take is here, after you scroll down a bit.   By the way, although some have claimed that the program has been killed by Dick Armey, this is not necessarily true.  If it passes in the Senate, it could be restored in the conference committee.  

I am agnostic about the value of TIPS.  It is likely that there will be a very high rate of "false positives", tips that waste the time and resources of the police, the INS, and the FBI.  Bad tips were terribly wasteful after Pearl Harbor, and during the Battle of the Bulge.  It may seem strange, but sometimes you are better off having no tips, rather than one true tip among a million false.
- 8:28 PM, 22 July 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  One of the great unsolved puzzles about the 9/11 attack is whether the anthrax letters, sent shortly afterwards, were part of the same attack.  The FBI apparently believes that they are not, that an American scientist sent the letters on his own, for his own reasons.  For another possibility, supported by some intriguing circumstantial evidence, see this article by David Tell.
- 4:20 PM, 18 July 2002   [link]


Before You Click Send . . .  Check, think, and check again.  Natalie Solent posted an interesting punctuation puzzle, and I responded to it with an email, which she quoted extensively here.   In my short email, I managed to get a fact wrong, leave out an important complication, and completely miss the best solution.  As Ms. Solent mentions in her second post, I missed the fact that her title with a question mark was a hypothetical; the actual title did not have it.

Now for the complication.  The rules for the use of quotation marks are confusing because there is no single accepted system, and practice differs between the United States and Britain.  In the United States, the "conventional" system is still standard, in spite of its considerable defects.   Borrowing an example from Eric Raymond's New Hacker's Dictionary, in the United States one would write:
To remove a single line, type: "dd."
In Britain, where the "logical" system is more common, one would write:
To remove a single line, type: "dd".
Since, in this example from the vi editor, you do not want to type the period, the logical system is clearer.  In fact, as Raymond points out, in vi, the period causes the last command to be repeated, so, if you typed the period, you would delete two lines.

I suspect the disagreement on quotation marks between the United States and Britain goes beyond this difference.  When looking at this question for a second time, I learned that a 1957 American reference,The Harper Handbook, and a 1965 British reference, Fowler's Modern Usage, disagree on how to treat a quotation within a quotation.   Harper says to put the double quotes on the outside and Fowler says to put the single quotes there.  I am not sure I want to dig farther into this mess.

Finally, let me give what I think is the best solution to the original problem.  The article title should be set off, not with quotation marks, but italics, for example:
Can this be the same man who wrote Why I Don't Care About the Palestinians?
Well, I did say that I was not a grammarian.
- 3:31 PM, 18 July 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  If you have wondered why Enron was thought to be a star company, and why it collapsed so quickly and completely, Malcom Gladwell has the answer to both questions in this satisfying article.   There are larger lessons in the article, as well, that apply to all large organizations.
- 1:18 PM, 17 July 2002   [link]


Blame Canada:  The Seattle PI lead political writer, Joel Connelly, calls for punishing the profiteers from the California energy crisis.  I wonder just how he intends to do that to one of the biggest, Canadian utility BC Hydro.  According to their latest annual report, they earned 1.6 billion dollars (Canadian) more during the crisis than in the last fiscal year, so we might estimate that they "profiteered" to that extent.   (At current exchange rates, that's about 1 billion in US dollars.)  BC Hydro earned so much from these sales that they were actually sending, not bills, but refunds, to at least some of their customers.  I don't think that Connelly wants California governor Gray Davis to send National Guard units to British Columbia, but it is hard to think of any other way to recover these BC Hydro profits.

There is a more general point that Connelly misses.  The California legislature set up a system that enabled the price surge.  California governor Davis prolonged the crisis by a series of foolish decisions.  If California voters want to avoid future energy crises, shouldn't they replace the leaders who allowed this financial disaster?
- 11:04 AM, 16 July 2002   [link]


Space Elevators, Paper Airplanes, and JFK's Mistake:   The Seattle Times printed this article on one of the most interesting concepts for making access to space cheaper, a space elevator.   The first step, hundreds of miles into orbit, is the most costly part of space travel.  Reduce that cost and all kinds of projects become practical that now are not.   There is still considerable argument about whether a space elevator is physically possible.  Propelling a space ship with a ground based laser is physically possible and would also reduce those first costs.  Recently, scientists demonstrated the principle with a paper airplane, propelling it across the room with a laser.   You can find out more at this site.  For a time lapse picture of the paper airplane, click on the link to Professor Yage.

We are in this search for a better launch system in part because of a mistake JFK made forty years ago.  After our first successes in orbiting satellites and manned capsules, Kennedy made our main goal in space putting a man on the moon in ten years.   NASA succeeded in that ambitious project, but it was the wrong goal.  It would have been far better if Kennedy had proposed that we build a space faring capability.  This would have required, as any systems analyst worth his pay can tell you, developing less expensive ways to put things in orbit.  With that capability, we would have achieved far more in space than we have, and we could still have gone to the moon, a few years later and at a much lower cost.
- 5:23 PM, 15 July 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  Teddy Roosevelt is much on our minds.   There's a best selling biography of him by Edmund Morris, and Senator McCain and his supporters often invoke TR as a model.  For a good overview of the man, including his dark side, see the article by Jean Yarbrough in the current issue of the Public Interest.
- 4:37 PM, 15 July 2002   [link]


Government Employees Beg for Work:  This Chicago Sun-Times story describes a group of federal employees who have had no job assignments for months, even though they have asked for work, again and again.  The reason they have nothing to do, blatant discrimination, is even more offensive than their idleness.  I am not a lawyer, but it seems likely that their supervisors are breaking a number of civil rights laws.
- 3:12 PM, 14 July 2002   [link]


Black and White Together:   Mickey Kaus links to an Atlantic Journal Constitution article on the increase in black women dating, and eventually marrying white men.  He adds perspective on the causes and consequences of this rise, which he definitely sees as a good thing.  One thing both he and the AJC miss: Republican politicians have been leading the way in interracial marriages.  Among elected Republican white men who have married non-white women are Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, married to a Chinese-American, Senator Phil Gramm, married to a Korean-American, former Senator and Defense Secretary William Cohen, married to an African-American, and Governor Jeb Bush, married to a Hispanic-American.  I don't know of any similar marriages among equally prominent white Democratic men.
- 9:46 AM, 14 July 2002   [link]


Parallel Religious and Secular Worlds:   The most recent news in the Newbow case shows how little the religious and secular worlds touch each other.  Within a few days after the 9th Circuit Court declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, Christian news organizations had revealed that Mr. Newbow's daughter was a Christian, attended church regularly, and did not object to saying "under God".  Even more important, legally, Newbow does not have legal custody of his daughter.  She lives with her mother, Sandra Banning, who has full custody, and who did not authorize the suit.  It took more than a week for the Associated Press and similar mainstream news organizations to catch up, showing just how out of touch they are with religious groups.

The invisibility of religious groups to these mainstream news organizations often leads them to miss important stories.  For example, there has been a surge in evangelical Christianity in South Korea, much of Latin America, and many parts of Africa.  These new Christians seem to be playing a role similar to the Methodists in Britain during the 19th century, both reforming individuals and supporting political reforms.  Despite the importance of this development, I can not imagine ABC, CBS, CNN or NBC doing a series on it.
- 2:57 PM, 12 July 2002   [link]


Indians and Chief Seattle:  The Seattle School board just voted, unanimously, to ban the use of native American names for teams.  So far as I can tell, this affects only one high school, West Seattle, which has used "Indians" for its team name for most of a century.  What makes the decision truly silly is this: Seattle, as nearly everyone knows, is named after an Indian chief.  The board has not called for a change in its own name, so presumably they think using "Seattle" is acceptable, even though "Indians" is not.  The principle the board is following must be something like this: It is an honor for a city or a school to be named after a specific Indian, but it is offensive for them to be named after a group of Indians.  This is bad news for the many places in Washington state named after tribes.  As yet, the board has not called for changes in names like Yakima or Spokane, but, given the moral imperialism so common among Seattle's leftists, I am sure it is only a matter of time.
- 2:09 PM, 11 July 2002   [link]


Failed Artists:  Glenn Reynolds is in good company when he suggests a connection between artists and dictators, since Simon Leys made the same point in a 1976 essay on Mao.
The phenomenon of the failed artist as statesman, of political leadership as self-expression, ought some day to be properly analysed; in the course of such a study, Mao would provide one of the most exemplary cases.  The kind of idealism, subjectivism and voluntarism that inspired his most daring initiatives betrays the aesthete's typical approach.  Even some of his basic political utterances rest on artistic metaphors—like his famous observation about China's "poverty and blankness", which make her more easily available, like a blank page for the free improvisation of a great artist's brush. . . . Like a sculptor who submits the yielding clay to his inspiration, shapes it in accordance with an inner vision, the artist-statesman, using history and nations for material, attempts to project in them the images from his mind.  This visionary quality accounts for most of the unexpected, dazzling victories of Mao's maturity; unfortunately, it was also at the root of the increasingly erratic, capricious and catastrophic initiatives of his late years when, increasingly divorced from reality, ever more absorbed in his lonely dream, he repeatedly brought the very régime he himself had created to the brink of chaos and destruction.
(The quotation is from "Aspects of Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976)", an essay originally published in the Daily Australian, 13 September, 1976, but more available in his collection, Broken Images.  For those not familiar with the author, "Simon Leys" is the pen name used by Belgian Sinologist Pierre Ryckmans to write brilliant critiques of Maoist China.  His most important work, Chinese Shadows, helped break the spell of Maoist propaganda on Western journalists.)
- 8:08 AM, 9 July 2002   [link]


The Cleaning Lady and the Entrepeneur:  This touching story is a nice change from the war on terror.
-9:03 PM, 8 July 2002   [link]


Worth a Look:  Patrick Ruffini's map showing the changes between the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections is the second best map on the 2000 election I've seen.  (The best is a New York Times map showing the percentage results by county, which gives a more subtle picture than most.)

The most interesting parts of Ruffini's map are the counties that go against the trend, counties that supported Gore more strongly than they had Clinton in 1996.  One set, in Kansas, shows the decline after favorite son Dole was no longer on the ballot.  The others do not have an obvious explanation.  A few look like university towns, for example, Madison, Wisconsin.  The others mostly seem to be urban counties; on the West coast, for example, we see King (Seattle), Multnomah (Portland), San Francisco, and Los Angeles all swinging against George Bush.  I do not have an explanation for this swing by university towns and urban areas.  One possibility is the brutal attacks on Bush by environmental organizations like the Sierra Club.

Kudos to Ruffini for getting the colors right; it makes more sense to associate blue with the party on the right, and red with the party on the left than the other way around.
- 2:21 PM, 7 July 2002   [link]


Angélisme:   Sasha Volokh mentioned this useful French word and piqued my curiosity about its exact meaning.   My 1994 Petit Larousse gives this definition:
Refus des realités charnelles, matérielles, par désir de pureté extrême.
Or, in my rough translation:
Refusal of carnal and material realities because of a desire for extreme purity.
So, someone guilty of angélisme is not, as one might think from the word, trying to behave like an angel, but someone who falsely believes that men can be treated as angels.  Though we do not have the word in English, we have the concept; in Federalist Number 51, Madison famously concluded that: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

Neither English nor French appears to have the logical antonym; in English, it would be "devilism", and, in French, "diablisme", I imagine.  Again, the concept is familiar.  We all have met people who think that everyone acts only from the basest of motives.  Both Machiavelli and Hobbes, if they did not quite see men as devils, certainly saw them as closer to devils than angels.

Both angélisme and "diablisme" can lead to disasters. The first makes you an easy prey for evil men; the second makes you see enemies where none exist.  Much of the genius of the American Constitution is that the designers found the right balance between the two.  Different jobs require different balances; I would rather see policemen (and foreign policy makers) err toward "diablisme", but I think the best primary teachers err toward angélisme and see their pupils as better than they are.
- 2:47 PM, 6 July 2002   [link]


Hinduism Underneath Islam?   There was one odd aspect of the horrific story of tribal punishment by rape that came out of Pakistan.   (If you have not heard the story, here is a brief summary.  A boy, eleven years old, belonging to a lower ranking tribe was seen walking, unchaperoned, with an older girl from a higher ranking tribe.  This was such a terrible crime in the eyes of the tribal leaders that they arranged for the boy's eighteen year old sister to be gang raped by men from the higher ranking tribe.  The Pakistani government, to their credit, have arrested some of those involved and have promised compensation to the victim.)

The odd aspect of the story is the tribal rankings.  As far as men are concerned, Islam is a radically egalitarian religion, so there is no space in its theology for rankings by tribe.  So where did that idea come from?  My guess is that it is a survival from earlier beliefs, possibly Hindu.  Pakistan, before the Arab conquest, was largely Hindu and Buddhist.  For Hindus, the idea of different rankings for different castes is central, and a woman of a higher caste can be polluted by contact with a man from a lower caste.

This survival leads me to a more general question about Islamic countries.   In all of them, there are large penalties for not being Moslem, at the very least social, but often much worse.  Even in Egypt, with its large and ancient population of Coptic Christians, there is some physical danger to not following Islam.  From time to time, Coptic villages and churches are attacked by mobs.  Given these dangers, it seems certain that, in every Islamic country, there is a hidden population who hold different religions.   There must be another large group who would consider other beliefs, if it were not for the risk.  How large are these populations?   I have no idea, and, in present circumstances, can't even think of a way to find out.
- 4:10 PM, 3 July 2002
Update:  More recent reports make the crimes even worse, without affecting my commentary.  Now, authorities are saying that members of the higher ranking tribe actually raped the boy, first.  They then invented the story of his contact with the girl as part of a cover up scheme.
- 10:19 AM, 15 July 2002   [link]