Archive:

July 2005, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  Theodore Dalrymple explains why British prisoners convert to Islam.
First, the number of Muslim prisoners has risen sixfold over the past 15 years.  With more than 4,000 such inmates they make up 70 per cent of prisoners from minority groups.
. . .
Secondly, Islamic proselytising is prevalent in our prisons.  An outside observer might conclude from the religious literature that he sees there that Britain is more an Islamic than a Christian country.
. . .
Thirdly, prisoners as a group are susceptible to religious conversion.  Crime is a young man's game, and most criminals give up crime in their thirties at the latest.  The majority give up spontaneously, without outside influence, but some, often the more intelligent, reflective or questioning among them, are seeking a pretext to do so.  Religion provides them with that pretext; and by conversion, they do not feel that they have simply surrendered unconditionally to society, meekly accepting its law-abiding, middle-class norms after years of flouting them.
But why Islam?  Dalrymple explains:
Islam answers more than one of the needs of such people.  Many prisoners prefer life in prison to life outside, which is one motive for recidivism.  Prison imposes boundaries on them that they are unable to impose on themselves, and a life without boundaries is a life of torment, it is without form, a void.  Islam, with its daily rituals and its list of prohibitions, is ideally suited to those who are seeking to contain their own lives.

It has one other great advantage: it is feared by society at large.  By adopting Islam, prisoners are killing two birds with one stone: they are giving themselves boundaries so that they can commit no more crimes — at least of the ordinary kind — and yet do not feel that they have capitulated to the demands of society.
The last argument is quite similar to one I have made before.  It is good to have support from someone with years of experience in British prisons.

You'll want to read the whole thing.
- 1:00 PM, 31 July 2005   [link]


Democrats Deserve Credit, Republicans Don't:  Here's the lead paragraph from a New York Times editorial.

In the wee hours yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement by a sliver of two votes.  Fifteen Democrats joined 202 Republicans in voting to open up trade between the United States and El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.  Anyone who believes, as this page does, that the benefits of free trade outweigh those of protectionism should give a pat on the back to the Democrats who chose principle over politics and defied their party's leaders to vote for the trade pact.

Do the 202 Republicans deserve a "pat on the back"?  No, because, as the Times explains, "they were ensuring for themselves the approval of their party leaders".  Isn't it possible that at least a few of them voted on principle?

The Times then goes on to say that these fifteen Democrats may face stiff challenges in primaries because of their vote for the trade agreement.  They don't list the fifteen, but it would be easy to find one hundred House Democrats with such safe seats that they need not fear challenges in either primaries or general elections.  And the Times article on the vote mentions only Republican Congressmen, when it discusses those who might be endangered.   But the Times has no pat on the back for, for instance, Republican Congressman Charles Taylor, who represents a North Carolina district with many textile workers.

Nor does the editorial have even a word of criticism for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who made the CAFTA vote a party issue and tried hard to defeat the pact.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.
- 1:35 PM, 29 July 2005   [link]


This is mostly sad.
Veteran reporter Helen Thomas, the "dean of the White House press corps," says she would not be able to live if Vice President Cheney were to run for the highest office.

"The day I say Dick Cheney is going to run for president, I'll kill myself," she told The Hill newspaper. "All we need is one more liar."
But it's a little bit funny, too.  After all, Thomas was a staunch supporter of Bill Clinton, and probably still is.  And it does show how silly and partisan you can be and still keep your job as a reporter.

(Dennis of Classical Values reminds us that sometimes what Helen Thomas has said has been not just silly, but filthy, for instance when she accused the administration of wanting to "drop bombs on innocent Iraqis".)
- 8:33 AM, 29 July 2005   [link]


Census Quick Facts And Michael Yon:  In the past two days, I have added two more sites to the blogroll on the left, the US Census Bureau's "Quick Facts" and author Michael Yon.  They may not seem to have much in common, but I think you can learn from both.

The Quick Facts site gives you the basic census data by state, or for counties and cities within a state.  For instance, when I check Seattle, Kirkland (where I live), and Wenatchee (where I was born), I find that their percentages of residents under 18 years old are, respectively, 15.6, 18.5, and 27.4.  Not surprisingly, their percentage growth rates between 1990 and 2000 are in the same order, 9.1, 11.8, 25.1.  And if we were to dig up the vote for Bush in those three cities, we would find that it is also in the same order.  In Washington state, and in the nation as a whole, Republican cities tend to have more children and to be growing faster than Democratic cities.

Author Michael Yon is covering the Iraq war independently — and he has a different view than, for instance, CBS, as you can see from this example:
The enemy in Iraq does not appear to be weakening; if anything, they are becoming smarter, more complicated and deadlier.  But this does not mean they are winning; to imply that getting smarter and deadlier equates to winning, is fallacious.  Most accounts of the situation in Iraq focus on enemy "successes" (if success is re-defined as annihiliation of civility), while redacting the increasing viability and strength of the Iraqi government, which clearly is outpacing the insurgency.
. . .
There is a pattern of cascades in counterguerrilla combat operations. In this kind of warfare, information drives maneuvers, and a single capture of a key person frequently cascades into a shower of raids and captures, each pregnant with the next storm.

That night, Iraqi police took the 4 captured men out to identify targets.  On route, one "tried to escape" and was killed, intensifying the pressure on the remaining three.  The cascade had begun with the snippet of information, but now was fanning open, as police, operating alone, uncovered the original cache in the village northwest of Mosul.  While this catch was merely a depot to Mosul, it led to the giant cache we raided ["The Devil's Foyer," 21 July 05], and from there to yet another large cache uncovered on the same day on the east side of the Tigris River in Mosul.   The cascade fizzled to the end of its run at a fourth cache that rendered only empty munitions containers.
Yon thinks it significant, as do I, that those captured admitted they were accumulating these weapons in order to disrupt the next round of elections.
- 3:43 PM, 28 July 2005   [link]


Another Prison Convert  to Islam:
Muktar Said-Ibrahim, the suspected bomber still on the run is believed to have been radicalised during his 2½ years in young offenders' institutions in south-east England.
. . .
In May this year the independent anti-terrorism watchdog, Lord Carlile, warned ministers of the influence of radical Muslim extremists at one institution.

In the wake of 9/11 the Home Office became alarmed at the recruitment of young Muslims inside prison by extremist organisations and took steps to ensure that moderate imams led prayer meetings.   Three imams working in Feltham, Aylesbury and visiting eight other prisons in south-east England were suspended in the wake of 9/11 for "unprofessional behaviour", making overtly anti-US statements and spreading the views of the extremist cleric Abu Hamza.
This is a start, but there is reason to believe that most converts to Islam are converted by other inmates, not by radical Imans.

The correlation between Islam and criminal behavior, at least in the West, is something I have been worried about for years.  As I have said before, I think that in Europe, being Muslim is more likely to lead a man to criminality, while in the United States, being a criminal is more likely to lead a man to become a Muslim.  But the causality goes both ways in both places.
- 3:01 PM, 28 July 2005   [link]


Progress In Britain:  Police have arrested Yasin Hassan Omar, one of the men they believe tried to bomb the London subway last week.
At 4am yesterday, police officers from the Metropolitan and West Midlands forces swooped on a semi-detached house in Heybarnes Road in the Small Heath area of Birmingham.

Inside was Yasin Hassan Omar, 24, wanted in connection with the attempted bombing at Warren Street Underground station.

It was reported that, after refusing to give himself up, he was cornered in the bathroom and was struck twice by Taser darts fired by two West Midlands firearms officers as he tried to escape.
And they have arrrested a number of others, including three women who are suspected of harboring fugitives.  Naturally, many of the interesting details have not been released, but it sounds as though these raids are being done professionally.  As I have said before, we want to capture these terrorists, and their supporters, because some of them will talk.

(The Telegraph has an aerial photograph of the house in which Omar was hiding.  The neighborhood looks rather nice to me, just as David Ignatius would expect, though perhaps not Eleanor Clift.

If you want to read more, this Telegraph "factfile", with many links to their stories, would be a good place to start.)
- 8:29 AM, 28 July 2005   [link]


How Does Howard Dean Come To His Opinions About Republicans?  The Democratic chairman has said some colorful and nasty things about Republicans in the past few years, some of which you can find here.

But what I found most interesting in the article is the following segment, which gives us some insight into the origins of Dean's opinions:
He [Dean] also said the president was partly responsible for a recent Supreme Court decision involving eminent domain.

"The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is 'okay' to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is," Dean said, not mentioning that until he nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court this week, Bush had not appointed anyone to the high court.

Dean's reference to the "right-wing" court was also erroneous.  The four justices who dissented in the Kelo vs. New London case included the three most conservative members of the court - Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.  Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the fourth dissenter.

The court's liberal coalition of Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer combined with Justice Anthony Kennedy to form the majority opinion, allowing the city of New London, Conn., to use eminent domain to seize private properties for commercial development.
So why did Howard Dean get the sides wrong?  He thought the Kelo decision was bad (as do I); he thinks Republicans (especially George Bush) are bad, and so he concluded that Republicans, including Bush, were responsible for this bad decision.  That sounds simplistic, but I can't see any other way Dean could have come to the conclusion he did.  (As far as I know, he has not corrected the record, or apologized for his mistake.)

(As a practical matter, Dean would be wise not to abuse Republicans in general.  That tactic can work in one party areas, but it is foolish nationally since the two parties are so closely balanced.  To win, each must win a few defectors from the other party — and each always does.  For example, in 2000, Bush won 11 percent of the votes of self-identified Democrats, and Gore won 8 percent of the votes of self-identified Republicans.

Candidates from both parties generally understand this and make fairly standard appeals to those in the other party.  For example, both are likely to try to woo defectors by observing, sadly, that the other party has drifted from its traditional principles.)
- 1:30 PM, 27 July 2005   [link]


Mighty Mice:  This doesn't have anything to do with politics, but the story is so weird that I had to pass it along.
Mice three times the size of our house mice are eating sea bird chicks on a British island, a wildlife charity said today.

The mice attack at night, devouring more than one million petrel, shearwater and albatross chicks a year on Gough Island, a World Heritage site and part of the Tristan da Cunha islands, in the South Atlantic.
. . .
Dr Geoff Hilton, an RSPB research biologist, said: "The catastrophe could make many birds extinct within decades.  There are about 700,000 mice, which have learned to eat chicks live.  The albatross chicks weigh up to 10 kgs and the mice weigh 35 grams, it is like a tabby cat attacking a hippopotamus."
I would guess that the mice got there by ship and rather recently, at that.  Given the numbers, mouse traps might not be the answer.  And cats would just add another hazard for the birds.   Could owls keep the mouse population down, without creating other problems?
- 12:43 AM, 27 July 2005   [link]


Should We Address Their Grievances?  That's what Eleanor Clift thinks.   (And many others agree with her, especially on the left.)
Look, two things.  If you look at the pictures that the British are circulating of the young men they are looking for, they don't look like obvious terrorists.  They don't look like Osama bin Laden.  One is, I think, wearing a New York tee-shirt.  And so you have these large Muslim populations with many young men who are aggrieved, and I think it's going to be incumbent upon all of the world to try to address these grievances.  And that's a long-term undertaking.   In the meantime, we're going to be dealing, I think, with this kind of low-grade terrorism, which is enough to scare people on a day-to-day basis.
And what are those grievances?  Mohammed Bouyeri, who murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, was clear enough about his grievances in the letter he pinned to van Gogh's body:
"I surely know that you, O America, will be destroyed ".

"I surely know that you O Europe, will be destroyed"

"I surely know that you O Holland will be destroyed"

"I surely know that you, O Hirshi Ali will be destroyed"

"I surely know that you, O unbelieving fundamentalists, will be destroyed"
But it is not clear how we could address his grievances and survive.

Bouyeri killed van Gogh, as I am sure you know, because the filmmaker had made a film attacking the oppression of women, something all too common among Dutch Muslims.  Hirshi Ali, herself a Muslim, has criticized the same thing as a member of the Dutch parliament — and has drawn death threats for that criticism.  I would like to think that Clift does not believe that we should address Bouyeri's grievances.

But perhaps other terrorists do have grievances we can address?  David Ignatius disagrees and thinks the problem is not their grievances but their privileges.
When you read reports that the Muslim terrorists who bombed the London Underground may have gotten together for a pre-attack whitewater rafting trip in Wales, you realize that this is a very particular enemy -- and one that is recognizable to students of history.

This is the revolt of the privileged, Islamic version.  They have risen so far, so fast in the dizzying culture of the West that they have become enraged, disoriented and vulnerable to manipulation.   Their spiritual leader is a Saudi billionaire's son who grew up with big ideas and too much money.
. . .
This is not Patty Hearst or the Weather Underground -- it's a far more deadly revolt of privilege.   But people who were students in the 1960s will remember the phenomenon: the idealistic kids from elite public and private schools who went to college, felt guilty about their comfort amid a brutal world and joined the Progressive Labor Party to ally with oppressed Third World workers.  There is a cult aspect to this jihad -- an extreme version of the logic that has always drawn disaffected kids to self-destructive behavior.
(Many less privileged Muslims, such as the Egyptians who died in the bombings at Sharm el-Sheikh, do have legitimate grievances — but with the Islamic extremists, not us.)

Why do so many think like Clift?  Perhaps because they know few, if any, people who have these kinds of religious beliefs.  They assume that others are fundamentally like themselves.  And they do not look at the evidence with an open mind.  I am sure Clift has read about the motives of van Gogh's murderer and I suspect she knows some of the same facts Ignatius recounts.  But she is not willing to think about those facts.

(Daniel Pipes thinks that some us, perhaps including Clift, will only give up such beliefs after we are educated by more murders.)
- 9:44 AM, 27 July 2005   [link]


Will Air America discuss this scandal?
What happens when the mainstream media, after years of seething over conservative talk radio's success, discover its alternative got diverted public funds, earmarked instead for inner-city youth and seniors?

The answer, with one key exception: they pretend it didn't happen.

Yes, only because of a New York Daily News tidbit do we know that Bronx-based Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club nearly shut down major programs recently, because almost $500,000 in governmental grant money was instead diverted to Air America's liberal radio network.
The money was supposed to be a loan, but it is not clear, at least to me, whether it has been repaid.

Kudos to Brian Maloney for digging up this story.  (Wonder if the New York Times would be interested if the culprits were Republicans?  And, no, I don't expect Air America to give it much attention.)
- 7:41 AM, 27 July 2005   [link]


Worth Reading:  A report on Muslims in Bradford, England, which I found through this Laban Tall post.   (Americans may need to know that Bradford is an industrial city in northern England with a large Muslim minority and some similarities to Leeds, the city that produced the first set of London bombers.)

The report is a Microsoft doc file, which you can download here.  (Or most likely read there if you have a plug-in that supports the format.   I briefly forgot that few of you use Linux, as I do.)  I should warn you that the first half is mostly a recounting of Bradford's problems and the local government's responses to them that I found a bit dull.  But the last half includes some powerful descriptions and some warnings, for example:
Some responsibility for the present situation has to lie with the communities concerned.  The Sikh and Hindu communities are doing relatively well.  Overall, their children are performing above average in educational terms.  They tend to be better housed and are more likely to be in employment than are those of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origins.  This can be explained mainly in class terms.  Most of the Sikhs and Hindus come from the middle strata of their societies and are relatively well educated.  Most of the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, predominantly Muslim, come from rural, or more correctly, peasant societies.  Many have relatively little education and hold traditionalist views on religion.  This, coupled with complex family relationships often identified with land ownership in Pakistan and Bangladesh, leads to a predominance of first cousin marriages which include one spouse from the country of origin.  It is estimated these constitute 60% of marriages.  This has a significant impact.

It has a major impact on population growth.  About 1,000 Bradfordian Muslims marry each year.   If most of those marriages were internal to this country, it would lead to 500 new households which would be likely to average 4 children per household.  (This is based on experience from other immigrant groups where family size usually halves that of the first generation by the second generation.)   With 60% of marriages involving a spouse from overseas, the number of households goes up to 800 and, with many of the spouses being first generation, family size is likely to be significantly larger.   So whereas 500 internal marriages might be expected to produce 2,000 offspring, the 800 marriages are likely to produce 4,000 offspring.  This leads to very rapid population growth.  In the eighties the Council estimated that the Muslim population would reach 130,000 by 2030 and then level.   Now the projection is for 130,000 by 2020 and rising.  The number of separate households is predicted to rise from 16,000 now to 40,000 in 2020.  This rate of growth concentrated in particular areas puts severe demands on the public services.  It has other ramifications.   Many of the children arrive at school with little or no English.  Many of those who come from overseas have little education and do not possess skills which are transferable to a Western economy.   The high family size means overcrowding will be a persistent problem.
Bradford, as I understand it, is what Americans might call a "Rust Belt" city, an old industrial town that has little need for unskilled workers who speak little or no English — and often have a chip on their shoulders.  What will these young unemployed Muslims do?  At best they will subsist peacefully on welfare payments from the British government.  At worst, they will provide recruits for the radical Islamist movements.

The report is more tentative about three other trends, which are less easy to measure.
There are three other areas for concern.  They cannot be definitely proven but there are growing indications that they are real.  They are the desire for Muslim only areas, the change in attitude from immigrant to colonist and the apparent collapse of family control over their young men.
The second may require some explanation.  When Muslims first came to Britain, most accepted that they would have to adapt, at least in part, to their new country.  They saw themselves as immigrants.  Now, many see themselves as colonists and think that Britain should adapt to them.

G. V. Mahoney, who was Bradford's "Principal Race Relations Officer from 1984-90" wrote this report as a private citizen in January 2001.  I do not think he (she?) would be terribly surprised that Leeds, a city similar to Bradford, produced some of the London bombers.
- 3:13 PM, 26 July 2005   [link]


Another Poll Of British Muslims:  And another set of disturbing answers.   The Guardian is most disturbed by the answers to Question 16.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have thought about leaving Britain after the London bombings, according to a new Guardian/ICM poll.
. . .
Nearly two-thirds of Muslims told pollsters that they had thought about their future in Britain after the attacks, with 63% saying they had considered whether they wanted to remain in the UK.
I think that is a positive result (assuming the right 63 percent want to leave).  If, as seems certain, a large fraction of British Muslims despise Britain, then it would be best that they leave.

But there were many other answers in the ICM poll which I did find disturbing.  First, the big question, on whether the 7/7 attacks were justified.  ICM got almost the same answer as YouGov did, in its poll for the Telegraph, which I discussed here.  Six percent of the respondents in the YouGov poll said the attacks were justified; five percent of the respondents in the ICM poll agreed.   YouGov also allowed their respondents to say that the attacks were "on balance not justified" and 11 percent chose that option.  ICM did not provide an intermediate option, which probably explains why 13 percent chose "don't know".  Given the likelihood that some of the respondents are concealing their true beliefs on this question I would conclude that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of British Muslims think the attacks were justified.

Whoever designed the poll for ICM wanted to show that British Muslims were angry with Tony Blair over Iraq and that they would take it out on the Labour Party at the polls.  And the respondents went along with the pollster, as they often will.  In Question 8, ICM asked the respondents who was responsible for the London bombings, and gave six options, the bombers, the handlers, Muslim Imans, Muslim community, non-Muslim Britain (because of racism), and "Tony Blair, for his decision to invade Iraq".  (Sadly, they did not include my favorite, "the bicyclists"*.)

Just 70 percent gave a lot of the blame to the bombers (and another 15 percent gave them a little blame), while 58 percent gave a lot of blame to Tony Blair (and another 21 percent gave him a little blame).

How seriously should we take those answers on Blair?  Not very.  Of the respondents who intend to vote in the next election, 48 percent plan to vote for Labour and another 11 percent plan to vote for the Conservatives.  So, together, the two parties that generally supported removing Saddam Hussein from power would get the votes of 59 percent of British Muslims.  I am not saying that the Iraq war had no effect on the opinions of British Muslims, but that its effects should not be exaggerated.

On the other hand, we should worry about the answers to questions 11 and 12.  In Question 11, the respondents were asked whether Muslims should do more to integrate into Britain.  Fully 18 percent said there was too much integration already and another 32 percent said the current level is about right.  In Question 12, the respondents were asked whether "foreign Muslims who incite hatred should be excluded or deported from the UK".  Only 52 percent agreed.

Finally, the radicalism of many British Muslims is not caused by their abject poverty.  Eighteen percent own their own homes, without a mortgage, and another 43 percent own their homes with a mortgage.   Just 15 percent live in public housing.

(How good is the poll technically?  Not very, in my opinion.  The number of respondents, 500, is smaller than I would like and may not be a good sample of British Muslims, since it is difficult in a country such as Britain to identify Muslims in the population.  (Note that there were 238 men and 262 women in the respondents.  That is a big enough difference so that I think it likely that Muslim men were more likely to refuse to participate in the poll.)

Most important, there is strong reason to think that many Muslims would not give their true feelings in such a poll, especially after the 7/7 attacks.

The poll does not include any questions on the religious beliefs and practices of the respondents, not even something as simple as: "How often do you attend mosque?"

The wording in some of the questions bothered me, notably Question 8, which urges the respondents to blame Tony Blair and the Iraq bombings for the London attacks.

*Why the bicyclists?  It's a punch line to an old joke.  A man is ranting about how the Jews are responsible for the ills of the world.  Another man interupts him and says, "No, it's the Jews and the bicyclists."

The first man stops his rant and asks, "Why the bicyclists?"

The second replies, "Why the Jews?")
- 1:31 PM, 26 July 2005   [link]


The Army We Need For The War We Are Fighting:  Professor David Kennedy claims that we now have a mercenary army.
The United States now has a mercenary army.  To be sure, our soldiers are hired from within the citizenry, unlike the hated Hessians whom George III recruited to fight against the American Revolutionaries.  But like those Hessians, today's volunteers sign up for some mighty dangerous work largely for wages and benefits - a compensation package that may not always be commensurate with the dangers in store, as current recruiting problems testify.

Neither the idealism nor the patriotism of those who serve is in question here.  The profession of arms is a noble calling, and there is no shame in wage labor.  But the fact remains that the United States today has a military force that is extraordinarily lean and lethal, even while it is increasingly separated from the civil society on whose behalf it fights.  This is worrisome - for reasons that go well beyond unmet recruiting targets.
In fact, the United States now has a professional army, not a mercenary army.  Mercenary armies are almost always professional, but professional armies need not be mercenary.  Our soldiers are never put up for sale to the highest bidder, as mercenary soldiers sometimes are.

For most of our history we have had a professional army*.  The exceptions are during the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and much of the Cold War when the need for numbers was so great that we resorted to the draft to match our adversaries.  We have had a professional army because that matched our resources and our military needs.  The wars that we fought against Mexico, Spain, and the Indian tribes did not require large numbers, so the advantage that professional soldiers will almost always have over mass armies, man for man, counted more than the extra numbers.

What kind of army do we need now for the fight against terror?  I have said that I expect that this war will last a century — and I am trying to make a reasonable estimate from my reading of history, not trying to scare you.  The number of our opponents will be small, for the most part, so we do not need numbers to match them.  We do need specialized skills, many of them not commonly found in civilian life.  For instance, I am sure that Army recruiters would be delighted to have recruits who can speak Arabic well — but such men (and women) are rare in the United States.  If we were to draft soldiers for a few years and train them in Arabic, they would be ready to leave just about the time they became useful.  In short, a professional army is what we need for the kind of war we can expect to fight for the next century.

And a professional army is what we can afford.  Professor Kennedy may be nostalgic for the mass army of World War II, when we put 16 million in uniform.  (Our population is now about twice as large so the equivalent would be about 32 million.)  But any society, including one as rich as ours, can only sustain that kind of effort for a few years.  Professor Kennedy says we can put our army into the field and scarcely break a sweat.  But that's exactly what we want for a conflict that will last as long as I expect this one to.  This is not a sprint; this is not even a marathon, though it may be an ultramarathon.

(*Professor Kennedy surely knows that we have had a professional army for most of our existence as a nation.  So why does he try to deceive the readers on this point?  I do not know, but it is dismaying to see this kind of argument from a man with his credentials.  And it is equally dismaying to see the New York Times print his argument on its op-ed page.  Is there no one at the Times who knows the basics of our military history?  Or do they not care?

Professor Kennedy is not wrong to worry about the gap between the military and parts of our society.   And given his position, he may be able to do something about it.  He should campaign to return ROTC to campuses, especially elite campuses such as his own.  And he should work vigorously against all the blocks to recruitment put in our schools.

Would more numbers help in Iraq? Perhaps, though I think, as I have said before, that we mostly need more Iraqis, not more Americans, at least in the long run.)
- 4:50 PM, 25 July 2005
Oops!  The author is David Kennedy, not Donald, as I originally wrote.  Thanks to a sharp emailer for catching my mistake, which I have corrected above.
- 12:22 PM, 27 July 2005   [link]


Can You Spot the Mistake?  This Seattle Times article makes a common mistake.

Historically, urban areas of the state, with their dense populations, have subsidized road work in more rural areas with smaller tax bases.

The article backs that up with a chart (not available on line), with these numbers:

Return per dollar by county, 1984-2003

county or countiesratio
King, Pierce, and Snohomish.98
Kitsap and Thurston1.08
Spokane0.74
Clark (Vancouver)0.74
Yakima0.74
Benton and Franklin (Tri-Cities)0.89
Whatcom (Bellingham)0.61
rest of state1.52


The Times defines the ratio as follows: "the amount of federal and state transportation money allocated for every dollar paid in transportation-related taxes".  So, for every dollar raised in transportation taxes (mostly gas taxes) in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, 98 cents is "allocated" (not sure if "allocated" is different from "spent") to those three counties.  The data comes from the state department of transportation.  (I have no idea whether they, or Aldo Chan of the Seattle Times, who prepared the chart, is responsible for grouping King, Pierce, and Snohomish together.  Those not from Washington may need to know that King county includes Seattle and most of its suburbs, Pierce county, just to the south of King, is centered on Tacoma, and Snohomish county, just to the north of King, is centered on Everett.  Whoever grouped them together may be trying to conceal something.)

It is that 1.52 ratio at the end of the table that causes the Seattle Times to conclude that rural areas are subsidized by urban areas, since the rest of the state is mostly rural.  Can you see why their conclusion does not follow from the data?

Need some hints?  Let's start with this example:  Adams county, in eastern Washington, has a population of about 16,600.   The county also has a section of Interstate 90, which carries more traffic and costs more than all the rest of the roads in Adams put together, I am reasonably certain.  Now, suppose we were to look down on that section of I-90 to see who was using the road.  Would all of them be from Adams county?  Would most of them?  Obviously not, considering the population there.

Need another hint?  This time, let's look down at a market in Seattle where a barista, who does not drive and despises cars, has just bought some wheat flour in order to make bread.   How did that flour get to her?  At least part of the way, it came on trucks over roads, and she pays less because we have a relatively modern transportation network.  She benefits from the roads in rural areas even though she pays no gas taxes directly and may never even drive in rural areas.

Those two examples should be enough to show you that those ratios do not show what the Seattle Times says they do.  You can not determine who benefits from roads simply by looking at the allocation of transportation money by county.

Why do politicians and activists keep making this kind of argument?  Because it works.   In this state, it is being used to try to rally urban voters against I-912, an initiative to repeal a recently passed increase in gas taxes.  (For an unintentionally hilarious example of such appeals, see this article from a Seattle alternative paper, the Stranger.)

Do those making the argument believe it?  Some do, I suppose, perhaps including Andrew Garber and Aldo Chan of the Seattle Times.  But others, certainly including most professionals at Washington's Department of Transportation, must know that it is false.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(People in this area will be struck by the different ratios for the central Puget Sound counties (King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, and Kitsap) and the other urban counties (Spokane, Clark, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, and Whatcom).  If we were to take those ratios seriously — and I don't — we would conclude that it is the urban areas outside central Puget Sound that are being cheated.  I don't conclude that from the data, for the reason I explained above, but it does seem like a question worth investigating, especially for the counties that are growing rapidly, such as Clark.)
- 9:34 AM, 25 July 2005
Just To Be Clear:  I see from the comments over at Sound Politics that not everyone followed my indirect argument, so let me be a little more direct.  First, the numerator in the ratio does not measure benefits to a particular county because federal and state roads are not used just by those who live in that county.  The denominator does not measure the transportation taxes paid by residents of a particular county for much the same reason.   So the ratio is meaningless.  And I am certain that some of the professionals at the state's Department of Transportation know that it is meaningless.  The ratio is a propaganda tool used by those who want to pit one group of voters against another.

Second, it is simply wrong even to try to apportion road benefits by county because even those who never use roads in a particular county often benefit from those roads.  If this point is still not obvious, imagine how high the food prices in Seattle would be if there were no roads from Seattle to rural areas.  Or how much manufactured goods would cost in rural areas under the same scenario.
- 7:24 AM, 26 July 2005   [link]


Was Lance Armstrong Born To Ride?  Not entirely.  This article on his remarkable physiology tells us that he does have the right genes for his sport, but that he added to his advantages by intelligent training.
His oversized heart can beat over 200 times a minute and thus pump an extraordinarily large volume of blood and oxygen to his legs.  His VO2 max—the maximum amount of oxygen his lungs can take in, an important measurement for an endurance athlete—is extremely high.

But other elite athletes have similarly powerful hearts and lungs.  Instead, [Ed] Coyle says, smarter training may have contributed to giving Armstrong an edge over his competitors.

Early in his career Armstrong showed only average muscle efficiency—the percentage of chemical energy that the muscles are able to harness to produce power.  Higher muscle efficiency means greater production of power.

From 1992 to 1999, the year of his first Tour de France win, Armstrong was able to increase his muscle efficiency by 8 percent through hard and dedicated training.  Coyle says Armstrong is the only human who has been shown to change his muscle efficiency.
(And, according to another article I ran across recently, early in his career Armstrong got some advantages from improvements in technology that came from the American mountain bicycle manufacturers.)

Is Armstrong the greatest athlete in the world?  I think that the question is meaningless, since the specializations required for different sports are so different.  Armstrong gained his extra efficiency by converting fast twitch muscles into slow twitch muscles.  But that very conversion would make Armstrong worse at any kind of sprinting — which would handicap him fatally in many sports.
- 7:05 AM, 25 July 2005   [link]