Archive:

July 2003, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Hazards of Reading Molly Ivins: The NDP (socialist) government in Saskatchewan, worried about the loss of beef exports after a case of mad cow disease, decided to organize a petition to President Bush from their citizens.  (They are bypassing the national government because the relations between Bush and Chrétien have been so poor.)  Unfortunately, they chose a transplanted Texan, and fan of Molly Ivins, Bruce Bowen, to write an internal memo organizing support for the petition.  Bowen was not smart enough—he is a Molly Ivins fan, after all—to realize that he should leave insults to Bush, like calling him "Shrub", out of such a memo.  The memo was accidentally sent to the media; naturally the Saskatchewan government is now drawing heavy criticism, especially from the beef producers who rely on exports to the United States.

(Note that Bowen, unless this story left that part out, is not smart enough to realize that he should claim great respect, however insincerely, for President Bush.  Many on the left, here and in other countries, have so much anger toward Bush that they are unable to behave rationally.)
- 10:03 AM, 31 July 2003
Update:  Bowen has resigned, after, according to reports, being asked to by party officials.
- 8:49 AM, 6 August 2003   [link]


Has Canada's Chrétien Government Coddled Terrorists?   That's the charge in this column about the strange case of Maher Aher.  Aher holds dual Syrian-Canadian citizenship.   Canadian intelligence officials notified our government that they suspected him of being an al Qaeda operative.  When he came to the United States, we detained him, and then, after appropriate legal proceedings, deported him to Syria.   The Chrétien government, which may not have approved of the intelligence tip, has been protesting ever since.
Notwithstanding Mr. Powell's information [about the al Qaeda connection], Canada continued to demand Mr. Arar's release.  In March, 2003, Marlene Catterall, the Liberal MP for Ottawa West, travelled to Damascus to see Mr. Arar and to make representations for his release.  The Prime Minister wrote to Monia Mazigh, Mr. Arar's wife, in June of this year promising continuing efforts to get her husband back to Canada.  As if this were not enough, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien also wrote to the President of Syria, Bashar Assad, seeking Mr. Arar's release.   Senator Pierre De Bane delivered the letter last week on the Prime Minister's behalf.  It is doubtful many other Canadians who have found themselves in trouble in a foreign country have received this much attention from our government's highest political representative
We might dismiss this as just one incident if it were not part of a pattern of behavior by the Chrétien government:
Sadly, the Arar case is just one more example of how our government has mismanaged the war against terrorism.  The hesitation before listing as terrorist organizations, Hamas, Hezbollah, the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade and the refusal even today to list the Tamil Tigers is indicative of a government indifferent to terrorism.
As long as it only strikes other nations, that is.  There may not be much we can do to change Chrétien's policies, but this column by the former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia shows that we have friends to the north who do not agree with their current prime minister.

(The ambassador may be right about the indifference the Canadian government shows their citizens who get in trouble with nations other than the United States.  In this post, Damian Penny describes the sad case of Bruce Balfour, who traveled to Lebanon to plant trees for peace and ended up in jail, because his passport had an Israeli stamp.  So far, Mr. Balfour seems to have gotten almost no help from the Chrétien government.)  
- 8:24 AM, 31 July 2003   [link]


Democracy for Iraq, But Not For Other Arab Countries: Amir Taheri draws our attention to some interesting remarks from Arab leaders.   Dictators, or their representatives, are full of criticisms for the new Governing Council in Iraq.
"They are not elected," noted Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League.  "They are not representative," said Syria's Foreign Minister Farouq Shiraa.

"They lack democratic legitimacy," snapped the Libyan "Supreme Guide" Moammar Khadafy.   The Sudanese military junta's verdict:  "We shall have to wait and see if they are accepted by the people."
Taheri finds these remarks "interesting"; I find them astoundingly hypocritical because:
. . . all those who made the comments 1) implicitly accept that, for any regime to have legitimacy, it must reflect the will of its people, yet 2) fail the test that they try to apply to the new Iraqi Governing Council.  Their championing of democracy in this case is a compliment that vice pays to virtue.
Not that astounding hypocrisy is unusual in the Middle East.

Finally, as Taheri notes, many on the Council have far more impressive backgrounds than their critics.  They were battling Saddam long before it was cool.
- 10:29 AM, 30 July 2003   [link]


UW Sociology Professor Paul Burstein says, partly tongue in cheek I suspect, that universities should be run like businesses.   If they actually were, I doubt whether Professor Burstein would like it one bit, as some letter writers reminded him today.  Running almost any large university like a business would mean the dismissal of large numbers of unproductive professors and the closing of many departments.

Consider this well-known example.  There has been a glut of English professors for many years.  We could stop training them for a decade, and still have plenty for our needs.  English departments at major universities continue training new English professors because the departments want graduate students to do the grading, and to take their seminars, even though the job prospects, especially for anyone not in a politically correct category, are dismal.  I don't know of a single university that has stopped this cruel, wasteful farce of training people for jobs that do not exist.

I would go even farther and say that there are entire academic fields that are not just unproductive, but actually detrimental.  The surprise of 9/11 demonstrated for me, at least, that we would have been better off without Middle East studies.  Those who were paid to study the Middle East, more often than not, told us we had little to worry from terrorist attacks, in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary.  And they are not alone in being detrimental.  Though all of them have some true scholars doing important work, nearly every one of the "studies" fields (black, Hispanic, women's, et cetera, et cetera) probably do more harm than good.

Universities run like businesses would have much smaller enrollments, at least in the United States.  Far too many students attend who do not have the skills or the interest to benefit from more academic study.  Many studies by economists show that the return to the investment in higher education is simply not there for many students, as this Forbes column reminds us.   Though university graduates receive higher incomes, it is not mainly because of the training they receive at the universities.
The people in the education business will tell you that college grads have much higher incomes than nongrads.  True, but if you have ever taken a course on logical fallacies, you will see right through this argument.  Correlation is not cause and effect.  As Dan Seligman noted in this magazine a while back, citing research by economist Alan Krueger and others, the higher income of people who attend elite universities is due more to their innate abilities than to the courses they take.  In other words, Bill Gates lost nothing by dropping out of college and joining the work force.
Forbes is also right to argue that many careers are best learned on the job, at least in part.  Often, a combination of courses and apprenticeships would be best for both the students and society.  Some community colleges have programs with this combination.   I think they are a fine idea for many students, though we might do even better by starting them earlier.

Professor Burstein may have been joking in part, but I think he has a good idea.  Our major universities are desperately in need of reform; running them like businesses would not solve all their problems, but it would be a good place to start.  (If you think I go too far about the desperate need for reform at our universities, consider this:   Almost no major university has any idea what its students learn there.  They don't even make an effort to measure it.  (Some departments, especially in engineering schools, may have some idea because they get feedback from employers.)  That's like a car company that doesn't even count its sales.)  Sadly, because universities are so locked in their ways, we are unlikely to see them reform without powerful outside pressure.   Some—Washington's hippy school, Evergreen State, is probably an example—can not be reformed, even with great pressure.  It will be difficult to close them down, but that's the right course.
- 9:52 AM, 30 July 2003   [link]


Mt. St. Helens From Johnston Ridge:  



On Monday, we drove down to see Mt. St. Helens.  The 52 mile drive from Interstate 5 to the Johnston Ridge Observatory begins with small farms and cheap tourist areas that appear not to have been touched by the blast, and ends with this scene, still devastated 23 years later.  You can see the dome growing in the crater; geologists expect it to fill the crater in a few hundred years.  There is also, though it may not be obvious, a glacier growing there, which will compete with the dome for the space.

In between I-5 and Johnston Ridge, you can see varying levels of recovery.  As you get closer to the mountain, you will often see green streaks in the gullies, with the plants growing where there is a little more water.  You will pass a brand new lake, Coldwater, which will be quite pretty soon.  It has already been stocked with fish and has a boat ramp, though we saw only one boat on the lake.  There are many places to stop, including four other visitor centers, two run by the federal government, one by Weyerhauser, and one by a restaurant that offers helicopter tours of the mountain.

(A few notes if you are thinking of visiting:  It is about a three hour drive from Seattle to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, assuming you miss the nasty Seattle rush hour traffic.  Several places you might want to see will require considerable additional driving.  The best views of Spirit Lake are from a road that you reach from the east side of the mountain, not the west.  The Ape Cave, a long lava tube, can be reached only from the south.  The photograph was taken about noon, facing south.   Serious photographers will want to get to Johnston Ridge at a time when the light is better.  The main federal web site for St. Helens is here.)
- 9:53 AM, 29 July 2003   [link]


Nazi Guerrilla fighters, calling themselves "Werewolves", continued to fight long after Germany surrendered in World War II.  Here's a useful summary of their activities from the Command Post, by way of the Instapundit.  Japanese soldiers, especially those in the bypassed islands, continued to fight for years afterwards, too.   Sometimes allied officials were able to convince them to quit by bringing out their old commanders to speak to them over loudspeakers.  I don't recall when the last one gave up, but I know some of them lasted decades.
- 8:24 PM, 27 July 2003   [link]


If You Read my discussion of support for the Vietnam War, you will not be surprised to learn that old people were the most likely to oppose the liberation of Iraq, but those younger, including baby boomers, gave it more support.  That Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia, finds this "baffling" shows how little he knows about the subject.  The young and the middle aged were more likely to support both wars than the old.  Despite the myths, baby boomers were consistently more likely to support the Vietnam war than the elderly.   (This pattern has been known by students of public opinion at least since the Vietnam war, but somehow has not reached most journalism professors or journalists.)
- 2:23 PM, 27 July 2003   [link]


Saddam's Son, Uday, took the theory that all's fair in love and war rather far, as you can see here.   Students of the classics will find his use of lions to help in his "love" affairs of interest.
- 2:02 PM, 27 July 2003   [link]


Was the Original Jessica Lynch Story a case of mistaken identity?   Maybe.  The original story seemed to have too many details simply to be invented, although one always has to be skeptical of eyewitness accounts, especially in wartime.  Now there is reason to believe that the anonymous observer mistook Jessica Lynch for a slender young man, Sergeant Donald Walters.  Walters, who did not survive the firefight, was, like Lynch, a blond.  And, the wounds he suffered were much like those supposedly inflicted on Lynch.
- 1:50 PM, 27 July 2003   [link]