June 2004, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Tough Then, tough now.
Sixty years after the D-Day invasion, six U.S. veterans in their 70s and 80s parachuted Monday into Normandy in a re-enactment of their bold wartime jump.And another World War II veteran, who made an unintended parachute jump, is planning to jump again.
Former President George Bush's 80th birthday celebration will go on as planned this weekend following a week of mourning the death of former President Ronald Reagan.Bush will have some good company, the Army's Golden Knights.
In his remarkable World War II career, George Bush was shot down twice, once by American fire and once by Japanese fire. In the the second, he lost both crew members and came close to death or capture. For his heroism in the attack, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross.
His military record in World War II was the most impressive of any candidate since Eisenhower, though there is also much to admire in George McGovern's and Bob Dole's records. John Kennedy, who received great praise for his heroism did not match the achievements of any of those three, in my opinion. Strangely, none of them received much credit, politically, for what they had done in World War II. That isn't necessarily wrong. I think heroism as a low level officer does not tell us much about what a man would do as president. But it does cast an ironic light on John Kerry's constant references to his four months in Vietnam. Very few Kerry supporters thought that Bob Dole's record or George H. W. Bush's heroism made them the obvious choice as president.
(Those who do not remember the 1988 election may be surprised by one theme during the early parts of the campaign. Many reporters thought that Bush, carrier pilot, winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross, independent oil man, Republican in Texas before it was cool, and head of the CIA was a "wimp". A few preppy mannerisms seemed to override his entire career for them. Knowing about his career, I thought he was a warrior, perhaps too much of one.)
- 10:21 AM, 8 June 2004
Correction: Originally, I said that Bush had to jump twice during World War II. The first time he was shot down, he was able to ditch the plane in the water. I've corrected the text above.
- 11:20 AM, 13 June 2004 [link]
Some Things Just Seem Wrong: For example, the city that just won the Stanley Cup.
No, Canada. The Stanley Cup not only isn't headed north, the Tampa Bay Lightning are taking it south. Ruslan Fedotenko scored twice, including the critical first goal just as he did in the conference finals, and the resilient Lightning held off the Calgary Flames 2-1 in Game 7 Monday night to win their first Stanley Cup.Tampa Bay, Florida, as I'm sure you know.
- 9:42 AM, 8 June 2004
More: I may not be the only person who thought it seemed wrong. The Tampa Tribune accidentally ran the wrong editorial, the one they had prepared for a defeat.
An emailer tells me that Tampa Bay attracts many Canadians and so is a more plausible site for a a National Hockey League team than I had thought. Well, I did say it seems wrong, and I still feel uneasy about professional ice hockey in a city that has no ice in the winter, even it it makes commercial sense.
- 5:07 AM, 9 June 2004 [link]
Robina Muqimyar And Friba Razayee will not win any gold medals at the Olympics, but they have already won a first.
Muqimyar is as extroverted and flighty as her teammate, Friba Razayee, is shy and shrewd, but together they will likely make the boldest statement of the Games when they become the first women from Afghanistan to compete in the Olympics.Muqimyar will be running in the 100 meter and Razayee will be competing in judo, a sport one suspects may have some practical applications in Afghanistan.
Read the whole thing for some pictures, an account of the hospitality the Greeks are providing the Afghan team, and the many surprises the team members, especially the two women, are encountering.
- 4:22 PM, 7 June 2004 [link]
Risks And Gains: Incumbent politicians in other nations are more likely than American politicians to argue that they are doing well, comparatively. A Canadian prime minister who can say that conditions are better there than in the United States will often have a winning argument. And British politicians often argue that they are doing better than their European Union counterparts. Although unusual in the United States, it is not a fallacious argument. When, for example, there is a world wide slow down, an incumbent may well be entitled to some praise if his nation has lower unemployment than most others.
In that spirit, I present this table, with data from the May 29th issue of the Economist. (Not available free on line.)
Growth and Unemployment Rates in Seven Nations
A glance at the table will show you that the four nations marked with asterisks are doing better than the three nations in the middle, Canada, France, and Germany. Those who have followed recent history will know that there is another difference between the two groups of nations; those marked with asterisks are members of the "coalition of the willing" and backed Bush and Blair in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The three nations in the middle did not.
Is this a coincidence? Not entirely, in my opinion. To overthrow Saddam, the coalition had to accept some immediate pain for possible long term gain. The same can be true for economic policies. It is a fact that Britain, Japan, and the United States have all gone though difficult periods of economic adjustment in the last two decades, and that Germany and France have not.
(What about the other two countries? Canada's Liberals put their government through the wringer a decade or so ago and the country has benefited since, even though Canada is not doing as well currently as they have been. I am not sure how much the same government did for economic liberalization, though NAFTA (negotiated under the previous Progressive Conservative government) certainly helped break down some barriers. As for Australia, I have to admit ignorance on the subject, though Prime Minister Howard has generally backed free market policies.)
There is nothing novel about the idea that short term pains may be necessary for long term gains. Among other things, it is the basic principle behind investing. It is not even novel in foreign policy; the Marshall Plan cost the United States money in the short term, but was almost certainly worth it in the long run.
And, going back to an earlier period in our history, our suppression of the Barbary pirates benefited both the United States and other nations in the long run. Time will tell whether overthrowing Saddam will also pay off in the long run, though I think that, so far, the evidence suggests that it will. And, though they may not admit it any time soon, it may also benefit those nations that opposed us, including Canada, France, and Germany. If so, let us be generous and limit ourselves to only a few "I told you so's".
(Caveat: As anyone familiar with these statistics can tell you, the unemployment rates are not directly comparable, because different nations use different definitions. And they also have different policies, some of which encourage unemployment. If, for example, Germany had the same laws governing unemployment benefits as the United States does, its unemployment rate would probably be lower. Despite this problem, I think the general argument holds.)
- 2:10 PM, 7 June 2004 [link]
Thirty-Seven Percent: That, according to an unidentified poll, is how many blacks "now have a favorable view of the Republican Party". I have been arguing for some time that Republicans have a good chance to enlarge their share of the black vote in this year's election, but that poll result is more positive than I would have expected. And there are black leaders, though they don't get much publicity, who are working hard to bring blacks back to their first party.
[Frances] Rice is aiming to change that [the allegiance of most blacks to the Democratic party]. She is a lifelong Republican, as were her parents before her. She grew up in Atlanta under Jim Crowe laws and racism that, she is quick to point out, were instituted by Democratic politicians.That history is now unknown to many blacks, but will be a powerful weapon for Republicans as they work to enlarge their share of the black vote.
(For some statistics on the black vote in recent presidential elections, and my own prediction for November, see this post. And I should mention that the Republican governor of Maryland won a larger share of the black vote there in the last election than most expected — partly by choosing a black running mate. And I believe that Jeb Bush took more than ten percent of the black vote in his 2002 victory in Florida.)
- 9:21 AM, 7 June 2004
More: Columnist Rod Thomsom was kind enough to give me answers to two questions I had about his column. The poll was done for the Black America Political Action Committee (BAMPAC), and you can find some of the results here. The Democratic party had a favorable-unfavorable rating of 80-11 and the Republican party had a favorable-unfavorable rating of 37-48. I consider that good news, relatively, for the Republicans. What that says to me is that, in the right circumstances and with the right candidate, the Republicans could win as much as one fourth or even one third of the black vote. That's far higher than most political pundits would guess.
Second, Frances Rice is not related to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Rice is the married name for the first lady, and the maiden name for the second.
- 2:35 PM, 7 June 2004 [link]
Second Amendment Supporters will like Mexico's "Padre Pistolas".
Alfredo Gallegos Lara is 6 feet 4, sings country music, and keeps a 9mm pistol tucked into his belt. No ordinary gunslinger, he may be Mexico's most unusual parish priest.Hard to disagree with him on the last point.
- 8:52 AM, 7 June 2004 [link]
Even In Death, some on the left are not ready to forgive Ronald Reagan. This afternoon, I heard two talk show hosts on KIRO 710, one on the left (Carl Jeffers) and one on the right (Brian Maloney), speak about the outburst of hate they received after the announcement of Reagan's death. Jeffers program was especially interesting, because he began that segment by saying that he had heard too many calls (and perhaps seen too many emails) that had not shown the respect due a president. And then he took call after call from those who hated Reagan. I don't think his screener was selecting for those kind of calls; I think that's what he was getting. Quite remarkable, considering that Reagan died from Alzheimer's which should be punishment enough, I would think, for whatever sins he may have committed.
- 6:54 AM, 6 June 2004
More: From the "Watchmaker" I learn that commenters at leftwing sites were often just as hateful as the callers I heard on the talk shows, though those running the sites were usually decent.
- 7:19 AM, 7 June 2004 [link]
We All Have Our Weaknesses: One of mine is a taste for offbeat studies of voters. In the second part of the column, John Tierney describes an unusual study of voters, which concludes that George Bush is like pizza, and John Kerry like pickles.
After surveying more than 6,000 Americans over the past three months, Howard Moskowitz has some answers. Dr. Moskowitz, an experimental psychologist known both for his scholarship (14 books, more than 300 papers) and for his corporate work, studied the presidential candidates just as he has analyzed products like Prego tomato sauce, Tropicana orange juice and Kellogg's Froot Loops.Pizza, pickles, cats, and dogs. Despite the shift in metaphors, I think I understand his conclusion, and find it at least plausible.
- 5:12 PM, 5 June 2004 [link]
A Year Ago, The New York Times was predicting continued stagnation in the economy. (You'll have to pay for the article.)
But even if tax cuts and carefully chosen words represent a sensible form of insurance, they seem unlikely to accomplish what everybody agrees is the ultimate goal, one in which stocks, wages, and payrolls are rising, without an enormous financial bubble as a main cause.There are some positive statements in the article, but on the whole, the title, "A Sickly Economy, With No Cure in Sight" and the pull quote, "Slow growth may be a fact of American life for some years to come", don't misrepresent its tone.
It was not just reporters at the New York Times who had this opinion. Columnist Paul Krugman, who teaches economics at a school in New Jersey, was even more pessimistic, suggesting that we (along with other major economies) might be in an economic quagmire. (If you don't want to pay for the article, you can also find it here.)
Though talk of deflation fills the air, most of that talk is subtly but significantly off point. The immediate danger isn't deflation per se; it's the risk that the world's major economies will find themselves trapped in an economic quagmire. Deflation can be both a symptom of an economy sinking into the muck, and a reason why it sinks even deeper, but it's usually a lagging indicator. The crucial question is whether we'll stumble into the swamp in the first place — and the risks look uncomfortably high.Since I had noticed that predictions of quagmires at the New York Times (in Afghanistan and Iraq) had been followed almost immediately by victories, I suggested, only partly tongue in cheek, that a boom was coming.
Now I will admit cheerfully that my quagmire reasoning would not pass peer review at an economics journal (though I did point out some other positive factors), but I was right in my prediction, and the New York Times and Paul Krugman were wrong. Growth in the third quarter last year, just after their predictions of stagnation, was spectacular. Even better, the fourth quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year were strong, and this quarter shows every sign of being strong, too. Stock, wages, and payrolls have all been rising. And the most recent estimates of the deficit have been lowered, as the economy improves.
(I'll have to send a letter to the Times, noting that their predictions were just a little off. And I'll risk another prediction: They won't publish it.)
- 4:40 PM, 5 June 2004 [link]
Ronald Reagan has passed away, at the age of 93. Next week, I'll have something to say about his career, and my own thoughts about it at the time.
- 2:33 PM, 5 June 2004 [link]
Reuters Will Never interview these Iraqis.
Mr Mohaned Hossein and his fellow workers watched the announcement of the new Iraqi government on television at their appliance shop.Why do I say the the Reuters "news service" will never interview these Iraqis? Because for months Reuters has been showing Iraqis angry with America, and only Iraqis angry with America.
When the Iraqi governing council announced the appointment of British educated neurologist and anti-Saddam dissident Iyad Allawi as Iraq's new Interim Prime Minister on May 28, you would think that many Iraqis would have approved of the choice, or at least seen Allawi's selection as a sign that the U.S. led occupation was at last starting to wind down.In the article I linked to above, you can see some Iraqis in a Baghdad coffee shop cheering their new leaders. They will never be interviewed by Reuters, either. All this would be funny if Reuters were a small, wacky news service. But it isn't; it may be the most influential news service in the entire world.
- 10:54 AM, 5 June 2004 [link]
Chirac Endorses Bush: Well, not quite, but he did just undermine a key argument that Kerry has been making for months. Compare what President Chirac said in this Tom Brokaw interview:
Now, as ever, and in every family, there might be difficulties, diverging views but unity is something that has never been called into question by France, and I don't think it's been called into question by the U.S. either.To what Kerry told the New York Times a week ago:
I think that this administration is high on rhetoric and high on ideology and low on actual strategic thinking and truth. And the fact is that they have broken alliances across the planet that have served us well for years, they've left our reputation in tatters. There's no one who deals with the global community who doesn't understand the degree to which we've isolated ourselves, and I think we're less safe because of that.President Chirac does not appear to agree with Senator Kerry.
What explains Chirac's support for Bush? Several things, I suspect. American tourists are important to France's economy; most French leaders will want to at least pretend friendship for their customers. Chirac is a realist and knows when to cut his losses. Bush prevailed on Iraq and is now remaking the country; Chirac would like to share some of the profits from rebuilding. Foreign leaders tend to prefer incumbent presidents to their challengers; most would rather work with the man they think they have come to understand than try to figure out a new one, even if they might feel closer ideologically to the challenger. Finally, like the Saudis (possibly), Chirac may have concluded that Bush is likely to win and prefers to be on the winning side this November.
- 10:16 AM, 5 June 2004 [link]
Lower Gas Prices Coming? That's what oil analysts are saying.
You've probably already seen it happening here and there around Houston -- gasoline station operators lowering the prices on their pumps.California, and other places that require special gasoline mixes, may not see the drop as soon, naturally.
Is Saudi Arabia betting that Bush will be re-elected? Looks like it.
- 8:37 AM, 5 June 2004 [link]
Did You Say "Quack" Or "Quack"? Ducks have regional accents, at least in Britain.
To the untutored ear it might just sound like a load of quacking, but British researchers have discovered that the country's ducks, much like its people, have distinct regional accents.I have seen other examples of regional differences among birds, and I think that I have read that some whales have regional differences in their songs, as well.
- 8:03 AM, 5 June 2004 [link]
Third Straight Month? This morning, listening to ABC News on the radio, I heard them say that the economy had created jobs for the third straight month. Actually, it was the ninth straight month. This is not an enormous mistake, but it is interesting, especially since they followed it with a very long statement from Kerry criticizing Bush on the economy. And ABC omitted one important piece of the news on unemployment; the estimates of job gains in March and April were both revised upward.
Try this analogy. What would you think of a sportscaster who told you that the visiting baseball team had scored in the last three innings — when they had actually scored in the last nine innings? Would you wonder about the sportscaster's competence? His fairness?
- 1:10 PM, 4 June 2004 [link]
Suppose A Poll gives you answers that you don't like. How do you react? For Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR ombudsman, the answer is simple. He rejects the poll. When Pew Research found, to no one's suprise, that a majority of journalists were liberal, this posed problems for Dvorkin and other journalists on the left.
This poll seems to me to be an example of how to keep journalists on the defensive in an election year. That may not have been the intention of whoever commissioned this study. But it certainly will be an outcome -- unintended or otherwise.You and I might notice that Dvorkin is not bothered by two other possibilities, which seem more likely to me, that the press will be, out of ideological sympathy, too tough on Bush and too easy on Kerry. Biased coverage doesn't bother Dvorkin, but critics of the media — at least critics on the right — do.
Let me give an example, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank has erred again and again in his coverage of the Bush administration, always in the direction one would expect if Milbank were biased against the Bush administration. (For some examples, look through the Ombudsgod site.) For Dvorkin, this consistent pattern of errors is not a problem. What is a problem is that some might use the Pew results to explain Milbank's pattern of errors.
But don't worry, NPR fans. Dvorkin has a solution, too. Pew should do another poll, and get the answers that Dvorkin wants. And he gives us a hint at what those should be.
Are our European colleagues correct when they say that the American media has been cowed? (A British politician recently remarked that it wasn't necessary to muzzle Fleet Street: "You don't have to muzzle sheep.")Until Pew gets those results, Dvorkin will reject the findings. (By the way, wouldn't it be better journalism to identify one or two of those "European colleagues" and the "British politician"?)
Dvorkin ends with a mistake common among journalists.
The media and its management have an obligation to maintain a skeptical and adversarial role to whatever party is in power.Skeptical, yes, adversarial, no. Readers and listeners want the good as well as the bad sides of government actions. We want the whole truth, not just the adversarial portion.
Some of you will have already noticed the double standard. Dvorkin believes that journalists must go beyond skeptical to adversarial (in their coverage of the Bush administration, anyway), but he rejects even skepticism from those who criticize journalists. There are reasons that his profession is more and more despised by the public.
(For a much better discussion of the Pew results, see this John Leo column. Leo includes a telling example from his days at the New York Times.
This was not true a generation ago. When I was at the New York Times, the leadership was full of people who had gone to the wrong schools and fought their way up with brains and talent. Two desks away from mine was McCandlish Phillips, a born-again Christian who read the Bible during every break, no matter how brief. Phillips was a legendary reporter, rightly treated with awe by the staff, but I doubt he would be hired by most news organizations today. He prayed a lot and had no college degree.Could a McCandlish Phillips be hired at NPR? I doubt it, even though the civil rights laws forbid religious discrimination in hiring.)
- 7:29 AM, 4 June 2004 [link]
Profit Is Good: Who said that? Many people, but the latest to come to that conclusion, Kim Jong-il, the Communist dictator of North Korea, is a bit of a surprise.
Apparently Kim has been taking lessons from the Chinese. He has introduced some modest reforms and has this to say to a group of factory workers.
"It is very gratifying that this plant has abided by the principle of profitability," KCNA quoted Kim as telling workers.(KCNA is the official North Korean news agency.)
- 6:07 AM, 4 June 2004 [link]
Another Soldier Says The Media Have Iraq All Wrong: And Dr. Richard J. Leidinger says something else striking, too.
He believes the war is "absolutely worthwhile," and that the continuing violence is a result of "the growing pains of a free society." Adding that "freedom is not free," Leidinger believes that if the U.S. and its allies can establish a democratic Iraq, it will stabilize the Middle East.Evidence of WMDs? Think CBS will send a reporter to Maine to interview Dr. Leidinger about that? Neither do I.
Dr. Leidinger volunteered to go to Iraq. And not because he had nothing else to do. He left behind his wife and children, and a position at Penobscot Bay Urology.
- 3:54 PM, 3 June 2004 [link]
The Mixture Of Bigotry in Julian Bond's speech to the "Take Back America" conference is so weird, it's funny.
"Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side by side," Bond told a cheering audience. "They've written a new constitution for Iraq and ignore the Constitution here at home. They draw their most rabid supporters from the Taliban wing of American politics. Now they want to write bigotry back into the Constitution."Confederate swastika? Taliban wing? Rabid?
This idiocy would not matter much were Bond not a former Democratic congressman and current head of the NAACP, the nation's most important civil rights organization. Bond still claims, by the way, that the organization is non-partisan.
(Bond has, as most of you probably know, his history badly confused. He says that the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights acts were great achievements and that they "marked the beginning of the dependence of the Republican Party on the politics of racial division to win elections and gain power". Which is strange since the Republicans in Congress provided more support, proportionately, for the two acts than the Democrats did. It is also a fact that George H. W. Bush proposed and signed a civil rights bill (two, if you account the Americans with Disability Act), and Bill Clinton did not.)
- 3:24 PM, 3 June 2004
More: For contrast, you may want to look at this Washington Post article. Note that the reporter completely ignores the slurs from Bond (and others who spoke at the conference). And that she says that: "Even [Hillary] Clinton was brazenly partisan." Even?
- 1:28 PM, 4 June 2004 [link]
Mending Relations: This morning's lead headline in the Seattle Times is: "Bush heads to Europe, hoping to mend relations with allies". And the bulk of the article follows the standard media line. Bush erred by going to war against the wishes of wiser European leaders, and now must beg for their help, which he may not get because they almost all despise him. (It is, I am sure, only a coincidence that this media line is so close to John Kerry's campaign speeches.)
"There is a common recognition that they have to pull together and salvage this mess," said William Drozdiak, the director of the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Center in Brussels. "But there is also a fine line. They [European allies] don't want to be part of a campaign brochure disputing [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry's claims that Bush doesn't reach out to allies.Let us note that the standard media line leaves out a trifle or two. Bush actually had and has the support of the majority of the NATO leaders, including those in Great Britain and Italy. And it leaves out what may fairly be called outrageous tactics by Schroeder and Chirac. Schroeder, hoping to win a close election, made attacks on Bush a theme of his election campaign. Chirac's government, according to no less than Colin Powell, deceived the United States in the run up to the war, promising support that they never intended to deliver. (Or perhaps changing their minds when they saw the opportunity to grandstand.) There were legitimate ways to oppose Bush on Iraq; neither Schroeder nor Chirac stuck to them before the war.
The damage to the relations between allies was done, in short, more by Schroeder and Chirac than by Bush. So it is fair to say that they have more responsibility than Bush for repairing relations, and it seems to me that both men agree with that assessment. The German government has made a number of efforts to reduce tension since the election, with some success. And so does Chirac, as this Financial Times article makes clear.
Demonstrations have been banned in central Paris throughout this week to ensure no hostile protests are in evidence to disturb President George W. Bush's brief presence in the French capital on Saturday, where he will be dining with President Jacques Chirac.Now the article goes on to relay the hopes of the French government. But just consider this question, if you wonder which man is apologizing: Who is offering dinner to whom? Chirac is offering dinner to Bush, right? That should settle the question for anyone with an open mind.
There is the separate question of whether Bush should seek better relations with Chirac, considering the treachery of the French government. I would say yes, since the two nations do have strong interests in working together to fight the terrorism that threatens both countries. Work together? Yes. Trust them? Of course not.
(There is a common mistake in the Seattle Times article. They claim that Europeans have grown distrustful of Bush and the United States since the Iraq war. Actually, the distrust started long before the war, increased sharply in the run up to the war, decreased somewhat immediately afterwards, and has stayed roughly constant since. For more, see this post.
And a simply amazing error for anyone who knows even a little about European politics and history. The newspaper claims that "most European analysts say the antipathy has nothing to do with anti-Americanism and everything to do with the administration as personified by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld". Nothing to do with anti-Americanism? If most European analysts actually claim that, they are fools or liars. Anti-Americanism in Europe has long, long history, beginning, in fact, before 1776 in some places. Much of it now is caused, as the former Spanish President Jose Aznar pointed out recently, by the fact that United States is now the dominant nation, and draws the resentment once directed toward Britain and, earlier, Spain.)
- 10:29 AM, 3 June 2004 [link]
The Continuing Costs Of Communism: What was once East Germany is still troubled, economically, as this New York Times article recounts. And some attempts (most attempts?) to help by the unified German government just made things worse.
Since the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, eastern Germany has shrunk by 3.1 million residents, reducing the population from 16.7 million to 13.6 million, according to the German Federal Statistical Office. Most leave to find work. In April, unemployment in the former East Germany was 18.8 percent, versus 8.5 percent in the west.They are leaving because so many East German enterprises were uncompetitive.
Nowhere is the population flight more visible than in Hoyerswerda, Germany's fastest-shrinking city, according to a study by the nonprofit Berlin Institute for World Population and Global Development. Since the Berlin Wall fell, Hoyerswerda has lost 39 percent of its residents, falling from 72,400 in December 1988 to 44,163 now. In the 12 months through February, the population fell by 1,352. The city's unemployment rate in April was 23.5 percent.For what it is worth, official CIA estimates put the economies of the two Germanies quite close together in the late 1980s. Another small mistake by our analysts.
Germany might have done better by accepting more pain in the short run for a faster adjustment in the long. Even now, allowing lower standards and pay in the eastern part of the country might speed a recovery. But even the best policies can not quickly make up for two generations of Communist damage.
(The German reunification experience has made the South Koreans less eager for their own reunification. Although selfish, this change in attitude is understandable, since the North Koreans are so much poorer than their southern kin.)
- 8:49 AM, 3 June 2004 [link]
Bang! A big meteor passed over this area, at about 2:40 AM. According to this early report, it was seen as far east as Idaho. The local TV stations are saying that it was seen as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia and as far south as Vancouver, Washington. I slept through the whole thing, as did most people.
(One of the persistent problems of air defense and now missile defense is distinguishing, quickly, between a meteor and an attack. I would guess that NORAD tracked the meteor, but I have yet to hear a comment from them.)
- 6:47 AM, 3 June 2004 [link]
The Wisdom Of Crowds: Two ideas are widely held in this country, and in many others. First, that crowds or mobs are usually wrong, that people collectively are less intelligent than they are individually. Second, that we should make many decisions collectively through markets or elections, that we should rely on the wisdom of crowds to set our prices, choose our leaders, and much else.
There is much historical evidence for the first idea; the single most famous investment book is probably Charles MacKay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, which recounts a whole series of crazes, from the Mississippi bubble to tulipomania in Holland. (If you have not read this book and are even a passive investor, you should go out and get it right now. There is, by the way, a free version available on line.)
But there is also considerable historical and experimental evidence that crowds can sometimes be smarter collectively than anyone in the crowd. Markets can sometimes be fine predictors. My favorite example is weather and orange juice futures. At one time, the price of orange juice depended largely on freezes in Florida. During this time, one researcher found that the futures market in orange juice was a better predictor of freezes in Florida than the National Weather Service. And, many of us have come to believe that Churchill was right in both parts of his statement on democracy, that it was the "worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time". Despite the all too obvious defects in our elected leaders, they still seem to do better over time than leaders chosen by other methods.
A new book is out, with the provocative title, The Wisdom of Crowds, and a long subtitle: "Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Societies, and Nations". The author, James Surowiecki, supports the second idea.
Surowiecki argues, "groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them."Because crowds have a bad reputation and because businesses are "enthralled with the idea of expertise".
Crowds work better under three conditions:
As counterintuitive as it sounds, however, the mathematics work so long as Surowiecki's three key criteria — independence, diversity, and decentralization - are satisfied.(None of which would seem counterintuitive to a statistician.)
The idea of relying on groups for wisdom, rather than individual experts, is not new. Decades ago, there were many experiments done on what was labeled the "Delphi effect", the curious way in which a group could sometimes make a collective prediction that was better than any single person's prediction. There's a famous early example:
In 1906, English scientist Francis Galton visited a country livestock fair and stumbled upon an intriguing contest. An ox was about to be slaughtered, and the villagers in attendance were invited to guess the animal's weight after being slaughtered and dressed. Nearly 800 gave it a go, and not surprisingly, no one hit the exact mark: 1,198 pounds. Astonishingly, however, the average of those 800 guesses came close — very close indeed.These ideas could have a remarkable impact on business; for example, corporations might often be better off polling their employees than hiring expensive consultants. And elsewhere. Curiously, the reviewer does not notice that elections, like markets, are a form of collective decision making — and may, as I believe, yield better results than decisions by experts.
- 8:13 AM, 2 June 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: One set of stories on Iraq has been missed, inexplicably, by the major networks, the stories of our heroes. Kate O'Beirne begins by noting that:
Not one of the heroes decorated for bravery in Iraq has received a minute of coverage from ABC, CBS, or NBC. National newspapers have run hundreds of stories on the scandalous service of the Abu Ghraib seven, but have made no mention of another seven whose stories of service could be recounted with Steven Seagal cast in the lead.And then tells us what those seven, Marine Captain Brian Chontosh, Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Perez, Marine Sergeant Marco Martinez, Army Sergeant Gerald Wolford, Army Sergeant Major Michael Stack, Marine Staff Sergeant Adam Sikes, and Marine Corporal Armand McCormick, did to earn the Navy Cross or the Silver Star.
O'Beirne has beaten ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and PBS to these seven, but if the networks ever get interested in similar stories, there are many men they could interview. Altogether, 127 Silver Stars have been awarded.
Over the weekend, I saw a PBS program on the Battle of Britain. While it was going on, the British press showed the fighter pilots as heroes, and they drew the worship from small boys that now most often goes to sports stars. We have new heroes, and it would not hurt for the press to tell the public about them, from time to time.
- 6:17 AM, 2 June 2004 [link]
The Abu Ghraib Channel: As I mentioned in this post, polls show that the public has much less interest in the scandal than journalists. A CBS poll taken about three weeks ago found that 6 percent of the public wanted more stories on Abu Ghraib, 41 percent said that they had seen enough, and 49 percent said that they had seen too many. As you may have noticed, journalists have not taken this subtle hint and continue to churn out stories on a months-old scandal.
I think we can expect to see these stories at least until November 3, the day after the election. If Bush wins, then we can expect to see at least four more years of the stories, with fond retrospectives for years after that, as with Watergate. This infatuation with the scandal is not in the interests of the public (obviously), or in the interests of the news organizations, which will lose readers and audience as long as it continues. I don't expect the news organizations to give it up, but I have a compromise for them. Rather than continue to put the same stories on night after night, ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and the others should set up a TV channel devoted to the Abu Ghraib scandal, full time. That small number still interested in the scandal can turn to the channel for the latest pictures, the latest rumors, the developments in the trials, and so on. The major networks can then now go back to covering news — to the extent that they ever did.
For newspapers, a similar compromise is possible. They have long separated the different types of news into sections, sports, business, and so forth. Those newspapers obsessed with this scandal should recognize that few of their readers share their interest and put all the stories into an Abu Ghraib section, so that most of us can discard it, unread.
- 4:58 AM, 2 June 2004 [link]
Car Search Ended: On Sunday, I put down a deposit on a car, so my search is ended. Now I have to wait for the dealer to get the car from another dealer and for the money I have transferred to an account to actually get here.
While searching for a car, I found two resources that I would recommend. Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that, as part of my search, I went looking for a book to help. The local Barnes and Noble had at least a dozen books on the subject; after leafing through a number, I chose this one, by Jim McPherson, from AAA, and found it very helpful.
Two suggestions were particularly helpful. McPherson suggests, if you are buying a new car, to make a list of all those that you might consider. (I just went through the yearly Consumer Reports car issue and circled those that fit my needs.) On your first visit to the dealer, McPherson suggests just trying the car on for size, sitting in it, checking the comfort and visibility and so forth, but not taking a test ride. Often you can eliminate a car immediately and save both yourself and the salesman time. I was looking at small sedans and hatchbacks; more than one failed my "rear seat" test. I would sit in the driver's seat, adjust to where it would be when I was driving, and then try to get into the rear seat behind the driver. More often than not, only a child would have fit there comfortably. Not a problem for a family with children, (or maybe a driver with shorter legs), but it is for me.
Second, McPherson suggests this procedure for getting through the bargaining process over price: Once you have selected a car, go the the dealer who gave you the test ride and ask them to give you a bid — after you tell them that you will be asking for competitive bids from other dealers. Promise that you will keep the bids to yourself, which actually gives them more reason to give you their best price, or close to it, on the first round. This procedure lets you take advantage of the fact that the dealers will almost always know better what the price should be than you do, without creating antagonism that might cause problems if you need service later. (You might need to use a different procedure in areas that have few competing dealers.)
McPherson also refutes some common ideas. For example, he says that the last day of the month is not the best time to buy a car, but a few days before the end of the month. And he has some interesting tidbits that I hadn't known. The service station owner who tells you to buy a car from a particular salesman? He may be getting a kickback for these tips.
The book has chapters on leasing a car, buying a used car, choosing a car for a beginning driver, and check lists for most of the steps.
The other resource is better known, the Edmunds site. Though navigation is awkward at times, the site has so much information that almost anyone buying a car should spend some time there. I found the consumer reviews especially helpful, giving a good picture of what people liked about their cars. (One minor point: Edmunds will give you their estimate for the dealer's invoice, which you can also buy from Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports was more up to date, including an additional $500 rebate that Edmunds did not have. But they were slightly different from each other, and from the actual dealer's invoice.)
(So what car did you pick? Nothing fancy. The Ford Focus ZX5, base model. It's a four door hatchback with responsive handling, a reasonable interior layout, and the few extras I want, air conditioning and a combined CD player and radio. One minor feature is a big plus for me, a small crank that lets you adjust the height of the front seat.
The styling is interesting. The ZX5 reminds me, especially in the silver that I chose, or one of the available yellows or reds, of a giant Easter egg. The sedan and wagon versions are more conventional. I think the sedan looks cute, though not quite as clean as the Honda Civic sedan, another car I checked out. The wagon looks, to me, like every other small wagon.
The ZX5 has one major drawback, poorer visibility in some spots than I would like. Unfortunately, that seems to be quite common among hatchbacks currently, as anyone who has looked at a Toyota Matrix can tell you. The sedan and wagon versions have better visibility, but neither had the other features I wanted in the base models.)
- 8:48 AM, 1 June 2004 [link]
Bush And Kerry, Bicyclists: Both George Bush and John Kerry are serious bicycle riders, especially for their ages. But they have rather different tastes, which may show something about the two men. This New York Times sketch is a light-hearted examination of the differences, with no great surprises.
Kerry prefers riding on roads, like Europeans, especially — one must add — the French. Bush prefers the more American mountain biking. Both are serious riders, but Bush appears to work harder on his rides.
But the Secret Service agents who ran with Mr. Bush in his 6:45-mile days are now busily training on stationary bikes in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building gym, and complaining of sore muscles after their intense workouts with Mr. Bush.Bush rides an ordinary bicycle that any middle class American might; Kerry prefers something fancier.
Mr. Bush keeps a Trek Fuel 90 at his Texas ranch, the site of his tumble on May 22. The Fuel 90, one of the snazzier of Trek's mountain bikes, retails for more than $1,500. At Camp David, Mr. Bush also rides a Trek, but picks it out from the fleet of more ordinary $250 models available to guests.Bush is, hints Ms. Bumiller, a much better sport than John Kerry, seeing no reason to make a crack after Kerry fell, unlike Kerry when Bush fell. (One wonders. Is the dislike of Kerry so common at the Boston Globe spreading to other news organizations, now that they are getting to know him?)
- 7:47 AM, 1 June 2004 [link]
How Do Wars End? Messily, more often than not, as historian John Keegan reminds us.
I have been a dedicated history boy for 50 years but these past few months I have begun to wonder if history is any use at all. Britain and the United States have got into a difficult situation in Iraq and the entire Western media are reacting as if an unprecedented disaster is about to overwhelm their armed forces and governments.As did both World War I and World War II in much of the world. So journalists, or some of them, anyway, should know better. American journalists are, I believe, less likely to be "history boys or girls" than British journalists, but learning the facts about past wars should not be beyond them. They could start, for example, with the insurrection in the Philippines, which continued for years after the end of the Spanish-American War.
- 7:13 AM, 1 June 2004 [link]