June 2004, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
My Apologies For The Delay: Today is one of the rare days when it is not raining in this area. (Extremely rare if you are from California.) So I am taking advantage of the break in the weather and going down to Mount Rainier to see the late snow and the early flowers. Should have some pictures for you late today or early tomorrow.
The trip will mean that I have to postpone some long promised posts, as you can see on the right.
- 8:33 AM, 16 June 2004 [link]
Juan Williams Agrees With Me: In this post, I predicted that George Bush would win 12-15 percent of the black vote this November. Juan Williams of NPR agrees and even goes a little farther.
But the president has the opportunity to flip the script. With a direct appeal, President Bush could win at least 20 percent of the black vote — and the White House."Miles ahead of any other president, Democrat or Republican." I didn't say that, Juan Williams did. In the New York Times. (Columnist Bob Herbert must be grinding his teeth.)
If Williams and I are right about this shift, it is good news for blacks and for the nation. If blacks are locked into one party, they will be ignored by both parties, which is not good for them or the nation.
- 8:17 AM, 16 June 2004 [link]
Build It And They Will Come: The bureaucrats, that is, telling you that you can't build it there. In "Field of Dreams", a farmer built a baseball field in his cornfield to attract the major leaguers he had dreamed about.
If the farmer had lived in Washington state, he would not have attracted players, but bureaucrats.
About 1,370 children belonging to the North and South Snohomish Little Leagues were scheduled to wrap up their regular season this weekend.(Snohomish county is north of Seattle. The population there is growing rapidly, partly because Snohomish has fewer regulations than King county, which includes Seattle.)
This controversy is yet another example of a serious problem for rural areas in Washington state, and many other states, I suspect. Laws and regulations are made by legislators (or sometimes the voters) living in urban areas, without much regard for the rights of those living in rural areas. Or for the different problems of rural areas. It may make sense to regulate baseball fields, even Little League fields, in urban areas. It does not in most rural areas. And where it does, the local authorities, not the state, should do it.
The damage these regulations do to rural areas, and the poverty they cause, are almost invisible to journalists. And even to politicians, especially Democratic politicians.
The next time you see someone arguing that we should preserve our farmlands — whether the farmers who own them want them preserved or not — or for some other control over land use in rural areas, think about those Little Leaguers in Snohomish, who are about to lose their fields of dreams.
- 5:47 AM, 16 June 2004 [link]
In The United States we have less reason to fear the fanatics of al Qaeda since 9/11 because our law enforcement agencies have pursued them. For that pursuit, they have drawn endless criticism, not just from terrorist sympathizers, or the usual suspects such as the ACLU, but from those on the left who hate Bush. As Attorney General, John Ashcroft has drawn much of that criticism as well — especially from those who dislike his religious beliefs.
For an example, consider Paul Krugman, who was once a respectable economist, but has lost all ability to make reasonable criticisms of the Bush administration because of his unthinking hatred. If he were one of those crackpots on the streets mumbling to themselves, his ideas would not matter, but he is a columnist at the New York Times. Naturally, he has joined in the attack on Bush and Ashcroft. (One suspects the reviving economy is one reason he has switched targets. I think he ought to go back and explain why his economic predictions have been so wrong for so long.)
How bad has Krugman gotten? Michelle Malkin tells us. In a May 11 column, Krugman claimed that Ashcroft has not convicted any actual terrorists. In his latest column, Krugman shifts, weaselly, and now says that Ashcroft has not won any "major" convictions. Malkin gives a long list of successful terrorist convictions, some unquestionably major.
Does Krugman believe what he says, or does he just not care? Is he ignorant, or will he just pick up any handy stick to beat Bush and Ashcroft? The latter explanation seems most likely, when you notice the shift from no terrorist convictions to no major terrorist convictions. I looked through all the Krugman columns since May 11. None contain a correction, even though he has now changed his story significantly.
(There are, I have no doubt, reasonable criticisms to be made of Ashcroft's behavior in the war on terror. When the New York Times gives space to Krugman, it makes it less likely that those criticisms will appear. There is, after all, only so much space in the newspaper.)
- 3:48 PM, 15 June 2004 [link]
Know Your Enemy: MEMRI translated a long interview, done by an al Qaeda journal, with the commander of the attack on Khobar Towers, Fawwaz bin Muhammad Al-Nashami. Below are selections from what Al-Nashami told the interviewer.
As soon as we entered, we encountered the car of a Briton, the investment director of the company, whom Allah had sent to his death. He is the one whose mobile phone on the seat of his car, with the blood on it, they kept showing [on television]. We left him in the street.All this is ghastly, which is my point. This is what our enemies believe, that they should kill those of a different religion, or of no religion at all. Those who think that the answer to Al-Nashami and his fellow cut throats is diplomacy or day care centers are deluded.
There are three other points in the interview to which I would draw your attention. Al-Nashami claims that he and his fellow killers punctuated their murders with prayers and preaching to the Muslims they met as they went about their slaughter. As he describes going through the compound and offices killing defenseless people, he boasts, again and again, about how brave he and the other killers are. Finally, he called al Jazeera twice, expecting the network to support his murders.
In the brutal history of the last century, there are many movements with mass murderers. The worst, most think, were the Communists and the Nazis. Al Qaeda has not, fortunately, matched either movement for numbers of deaths and may never. But al Qaeda has shown that, for sheer brutality and savagery, they have nothing to learn from either the Nazis or the Communists.
The interview is one long boast. They are delighted by the murders of helpless foreigners and expect their supporters to be as well.
They give us no choice, something far too many still refuse to recognize.
- 2:46 PM, 15 June 2004 [link]
Technicality Or The Law? Most accounts of the Supreme Court decision tossing out Michael Newdow's attempt to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance said the decision was based on a "technicality". This Washington Post article is typical.
The Supreme Court ruled today that a California atheist did not have the legal standing to challenge the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, dismissing on procedural grounds a lower court's ruling in his favor but sidestepping the broader question of whether the pledge itself is constitutional.Sufficient custody? I have heard of custody and joint custody, but never sufficient custody. The simple fact is that the girl's mother, not Newdow, now has custody, though that struggle is also dragging through the courts.
(It is a separate matter, but I think this suit over the pledge is reason enough to deny Newdow custody. Can it possibly be in the best interests of the girl?)
A person must have standing to sue. Newdow does not have standing since he is not the custodial parent. He has no more right to sue for his daughter than he has for a completely unrelated child. Standing is about as fundamental principle of law as there is, not a technicality. That the 9th Circuit Court ignored it shows just how indifferent they are to the law.
- 1:42 PM, 15 June 2004 [link]
In The Last Year, The Los Angeles Times won 5 Pulitzer prizes, lost first circulation, and now enough advertising to force substantial staff cuts.
Late last month, John S. Carroll, the editor of The Los Angeles Times, traveled to New York for a luncheon to celebrate the five Pulitzer Prizes that his paper won this year, one of the high points of his nearly 40-year journalistic career.Journalists, as the Pulitzer prizes show, like what the Los Angeles Times is doing. As circulation figures show, the public does not. (And don't forget that population is still growing rapidly in their main circulation area.) Advertisers don't like what the Los Angeles Times is doing either. One very large auto dealer in Southern California has stopped advertising in paper completely and instead advertises on the (conservative) Hugh Hewitt talk show.
I have argued before that leftists were willing to lose money and even jobs rather than adopt more moderate policies. These job cuts at the Los Angeles Times (which will probably not hit the guilty) are evidence for that argument.
(There is an even more potent example. As a sharp emailer reminded me when I made this point earlier, Hollywood has not released a movie since 9/11 with Muslim terrorists as villians, even though they must know that such a movie would have great profit potential. Maybe I'll write a letter to one of the studio heads asking for a movie with Muslim terrorists, just to see what kind of reply I get.)
- 8:02 AM, 15 June 2004 [link]
Clinton's Use Of Religion: George W. Bush has drawn much criticism for his open discussion of his religious faith. In Washington, D. C. and in most newsrooms, it is acceptable to have a religion — only if you don't believe in it. I noticed that during the first Gulf War, when the first President Bush said that he had been praying. This shocked, one could tell, many journalists. They could understand him belonging to a church for practical reasons, but that he might believe came as an unpleasant surprise to them.
I have long thought that the widespread belief in Clinton's cynicism protected him from similar criticism. Journalists were not bothered by his church attendance and his use of the Bible to make political points because they thought it hypocrisy, but an acceptable kind of hypocrisy. Now, this Geitner Simmons post reminds me just how extensively Clinton practiced (or pretended to practice) religion while governor of Arkansas.
The case of Bill Clinton ought to be noted, too. Clinton said the other day that "Politics is not religion, and we should govern on the basis of evidence, not theology." I'm not exactly sure what he meant, but I couldn't help but remember how early in his presidency, Clinton himself used biblically related language that evangical Christians would recognize.Imagine the reaction if President Bush were to spend part of this summer attending revivals.
(Does Clinton have any real religious beliefs? I honestly don't know, but suspect that he has some, though they may not be the kind that would meet the approval of the Southern Baptists. I have always thought that Hillary Clinton has real beliefs, those of the religious left.)
- 7:14 AM, 15 June 2004 [link]
Construct Your Own Conspiracy Theory: Most conspiracy theories annoy me. Some amuse me. (And a very few, I think, may have some truth to them.) When I read this article, an amusing conspiracy theory immediately occurred to me.
Sunday breakfast in a family home in suburban Auckland, New Zealand, was delayed yesterday when a meteorite crashed through the living-room ceiling.What was the conspiracy theory? Well, I was intrigued by the fact that the meteorite just missed the computer.
See the answer yet? If not, maybe you haven't heard of SETI@home, a project that uses home computers to analyze signals from radio telescopes, in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, or space aliens, if you prefer a shorter term. Now suppose that the Archers' computer was one of the many engaged in that search and that it was working on some interesting data just when the meteorite hit. Wouldn't you wonder, if only for a moment, whether that was a coincidence?
(SETI@home is one of a number of projects that take advantage of the considerable power of personal computers and the fact that home systems spend most of their time twiddling their thumbs, so to speak. If you want to help with this problem, or another charity, you sign up and they send you a program which works in the background while the computer is idle. After it completes work on a little chunk of data, it sends the results back and gets another chunk. I haven't seen a catalog of similar projects; one, I know, does work on protein folding. Knowing the shape of proteins is very important in developing new drugs.)
- 5:02 PM, 14 June 2004
More: As an astute reader pointed out, the reporter botched the description of the crash. If the meteorite had really been traveling at 300 feet per second when it hit the leather sofa, it would have done more than bounce. Three hundred feet per second is about 200 miles per hour. Most likely the expert said that it hit the house at 300 feet per second, not the couch.
Puzzle: Some years ago, I read about a search for an extra-solar meteorite that had hit Greenland. If it really was from outside the solar system, it would be of tremendous scientific importance and so an expedition had searched for it, without success, on the Greenland ice cap.
The article I read did not explain why the scientists thought the meteorite was from outside the solar system, just from the radar track, but, after some thought, I came up with an explanation that satisfied me. Do you have one?
- 4:30 PM, 17 June 2004 [link]
More From Tierney: Yesterday I said that you should read everything by Tierney, the best journalist at the New York Times — and I missed his Political Points column from the same day. (Feature? Article? Whatever.) The first part is a touching account of what happened to Solzhenitsyn's sons when Reagan won his first term as president.
In 1980, Ignat was an 8-year-old transplanted to Vermont by his father, the famous chronicler of Siberia's gulags. As Ignat tells the story, on the morning after the presidential election he got a taste of American political re-education at the progressive private school he and his brothers attended.And the sons did not escape punishment for their unorthodox views. (Quibble: Solzhenitsyn uses Gulag to refer to the entire system of camps, way stations, et cetera, not for individual camps in Siberia, or elsewhere in the Soviet Union.)
The second part begins with an interesting discussion of the opposition of some neoconservatives to Reagan in the early 1980s. (Others, notably Jeanne Kirkpatrick, joined his administration.) It finishes with an unanswerable, but interesting question: What would Reagan have done about Iraq?
(One puzzle: Why has Tierney, with his unorthodox views, been able to continue working for the New York Times? The simplest answer is that he's just too darn good, but I don't find that compelling, since they have hired so many who are just plain awful.)
- 4:12 PM, 14 June 2004 [link]
Seattle Nasty: Seattle has long been famous for the pleasant manners of its citizens, so much so that they are often summed up in the phrase, "Seattle nice". Some thought them superficial; some thought them genuine, but most agreed that the manners were better in Seattle than in most large cities.
Now Seattle PI columnist and host of the NPR program, Rewind, Bill Radke, says that Seattle does not deserve to be called nice.
Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau called Seattle America's most educated city and a Post-Intelligencer editorial boasted about our braininess, saying: "As if 'Frasier' could have been set in Milwaukee."I am not sure whether Radke realizes that these unfriendly and even rude attitudes are a change from the fairly recent past. In the last two decades, I have noticed the change, even though I don't spend a lot of time in Seattle.
For some, Seattle is still too friendly; see this post by Matt Rosenberg, who complains about too friendly checkers at the grocery stores.
You come to the grocery store checkout, and unload your stuff. The checker starts tallying it all up, but feels compelled to ask: "Did you find everything OK?" What???? They're gonna stop in the middle of the ring-up, call someone over, and take you down the aisle for that marshmellow fluff, saffron and cornstarch you couldn't find???? Suuuure. Help me Rhonda. Managers tell them to ask this: it's an empty gesture of caring, written in the handbook, right alongside, "inquire after the families of customers." I hate that, too! Get me through the line ASAP, and get me outta there. If I've gotta depend on a grocery checker for warmth, validation, and a community vibe, then damn, I really am a loser! And if I can't find something, you really think I'll wait 'till checkout to ask?This reminded me of an opposite experience when I was a graduate student, living in Rochester, New York, a famously (infamously?) cold city. A neighbor woman, who had grown up in California, found the checkers so cold that she would come back from the local supermarkets almost in tears. That interested me, and so I began paying attention to these mismatches of expectations and behavior. Two women who had grown up in the Northeast and spent summers in California found the manners there disconcerting, too friendly. As I paid attention to the subject, I noticed two patterns, and suspect there may be others. As you go west (and probably south) in the United States, people become more friendly in routine transactions. The same happens as you go from large cities to small towns.
When Seattle was "nice", the citizens acted like the people in small towns in the West; now they act more like the people in large cities in the East.
What caused this change in Seattle manners? Radke tries several explanations, beginning with the flattering idea that Seattleites are too smart to be nice, and then going through the usual suspects, rainy weather, lattes, and competitiveness.
All four of these hypotheses fail when you compare Seattle to suburbs like the one I live in, Kirkland. Residents of Kirkland are better educated (and perhaps smarter) than residents of Seattle, have the same weather, drink as many lattes, and are even more competitive. But they are much nicer to strangers, on average, than people who live in Seattle. If you walk along the Kirkland waterfront, as so many do, most people will smile as they pass, and many will say hello. If you point out some interesting sight, nearly all will thank you. Yesterday afternoon, I saw a young woman explaining one of the art objects at Kirkland's Marina Park to some Italian tourists. She ended by wishing them a very pleasant visit as most Kirkland residents would do — in spite of our intelligence, weather, lattes, and competitiveness.
So, now we have two questions. Why did Seattle change from nice to nasty, and why did most Seattle suburbs stay nice? I have a simple answer to both questions: Unlike the suburbs, Seattle has too few Republicans. That may be too simple for some readers, but I think I can justify a more complex version: Seattle has too few of the people who keep society pleasant, and those same people tend to be Republicans.
Compared to Democrats, Republicans are less likely to be felons, more educated (on the average), more religious, and more likely to be married. All four of these differences are likely to lead to more civilized behavior.
Why did Seattle change from nice to nasty? Mostly because married and religious families were replaced with unmarried, irreligious singles. They left for the usual reasons that people moved to the suburbs, but they were also impelled to leave by the damage done to Seattle schools by busing for racial balance.
Seattle had always had integrated schools, but felt it necessary to bring in busing anyway. It was a solution (to an nonexistent problem) peculiarly difficult because of Seattle's geography. If you glance at the map below, you can see that Seattle has a narrow "waist" at the main business area and that there are few routes between north and south. The southwest part of the city, called "West Seattle", which had many families with children, is even more cut off than the map suggests, with very few routes to the rest of the city.
Married people with school age children had been leaving Seattle before busing; after it was instituted, they left in droves. The city became less Republican and, in time, less nice than it once was. Busing didn't cause all these changes, but it certainly accelerated them. If Radke wants to see Seattle become nicer, as he says he does, he should think about attracting Republicans to Seattle. Perhaps he could invite them on his show from time to time. He could even, as he has not done, say that it was wrong for him to allow his frequent guest, Knute Berger, to call the Bush administration "fascists". If, that is, he really wants Seattle to be more civilized.
(School vouchers might help bring back married families with school age childrem, one of the many reasons to support vouchers.)
- 11:17 AM, 14 June 2004 [link]
Self Cleaning Clothes? Maybe. Though you will have to take them out in the sunshine to make the titanium dioxide catalyst work.
Scientists have invented an efficient way to coat cotton cloth with tiny particles of titanium dioxide. These nanoparticles are catalysts that help to break down carbon-based molecules, and require only sunlight to trigger the reaction. The inventors believe that these fabrics could be made into self-cleaning clothes that tackle dirt, environmental pollutants and harmful microorganisms.I think mothers, especially mothers of small boys, would love clothes made of such fabrics. In a few years, you may hear a young mother saying, "Your clothes are so dirty, Johnny. Go outside and play for a while."
- 8:35 AM, 14 June 2004 [link]
John Kerry And President Carter: In 1980, President Carter had changed our foreign policy to meet two challenges. The radical Islamist regime in Iran was holding American diplomats hostage, and the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. The two challenges posed a threat to the Middle East and the oil supplies there. In his 1980 State of the Union speech, Carter described these challenges and promised to resist Soviet advances.
The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world's exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world's oil must flow. The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.In 1980, John Kerry was a lawyer, planning to run for another political office. Here's his reaction to Carter's speech.
John Kerry, now a State Street attorney but during the Vietnam war the man who organized Vietnam veterans opposed to the war, said he agreed that Carter "has to make a statement about American interests in that area (the Persian Gulf), but I would like to see a greater effort made to bring our allies into that declaration."There may be a pattern here. I would suggest that it is something like this: Faced with aggression, Kerry always favors softer rhetoric and more effort to gain allies. I know of no exceptions to that in Kerry's political career.
Kerry is often accused — with some justice — of flip-flopping on issues. I agree that he often switches for tactical reasons, but I also see a stubborn adherence to some ideas about foreign policy, regardless of the facts. In the past, I have speculated that Kerry was adhering to the ideas of his father, a career diplomat. Diplomats have characteristic faults; they tend to believe that quiet diplomacy can solve almost any problem, just as surgeons tend to think they can cut out any disease.
I think Kerry inherited the diplomatic way of thinking from his father, and that we can understand his persistent errors on foreign policy if we remember that.
(Another consequence is that Kerry will gain considerable support from those who share that way of thinking, especially retired diplomats. I have already seen examples of that and expect to see more during the campaign.
Orrin Judd found this on the Free Republic site. Thanks to both for bringing it to my attention.)
- 7:38 AM, 14 June 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: Think the nation is more polarized than ever before? Then you should read John Tierney's article. (You should probably read everything by Tierney, but that's a subject for another time.)
Briefly, the two parties are polarized more than they once were, but the voters are not.
"If the two presidential candidates this year were John McCain and Joe Lieberman, you'd see a lot more crossover and less polarization," said Professor [Morris P.] Fiorina, mentioning the moderate Republican and Democratic senators. He is the co-author, along with Samuel J. Abrams of Harvard and Jeremy C. Pope of Stanford, of the forthcoming book, "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America."Abortion is a good example; for decades, voters have wanted more restrictions on abortion that we currently have, but not a complete ban. The Democratic party has been so rigid on this issue that opposing views can not even be presented at their conventions. And since 1980, the Republican party has taken an almost equally extreme position.
(Be sure to look at the pop-up chart when you read the article.)
- 4:05 PM, 13 June 2004 [link]
Daniel Drezner Has A Novel Reason to support gay marriage. It would let him needle his gay friends about the subject.
The ability to ask my gay friends and colleagues when they're planning to get hitched and watch them squirm with discomfort answering the question -- that's going to be enjoyable.The Onion was his inspiration, just as it was mine for a more serious post about the subject.
- 3:46 PM, 13 June 2004 [link]
Correction: In this post (now corrected), I said that former President Bush had made two unintended parachute jumps in World War II. It was just one; the first time he was shot down, he was able to ditch the plane in the water. (The plane was hit by "battle debris" and lost oil pressure so fast that there was not enough time to land the "Barbara" on a carrier.)
Today, celebrating his birthday, Bush will make two more jumps, one of them solo. Barbara has her own views, as you might expect.
Former president George H.W. Bush planned to celebrate his 80th birthday this weekend by taking his fourth parachute jump. Then he discovered that, on his fifth skydive, he'd get a pin from the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army Parachute Team.But they agree on what's important.
Bush, in a videotaped interview shown on huge screens at the "Birthday Celebration & Star-Studded Concert," explained his new charitable focus by saying he does not feel he or Barbara Bush "have adequately given back."A former president feeling guilty at 80 because he hasn't contributed enough. What a classy guy.
- 1:15 AM, 13 June 2004 [link]
What Do Journalists Know? Not as much as they should. That's not a new conclusion, but I have two new examples from rather different parts of the profession.
Yesterday, I was out driving in the country, hoping for some good views of the Cascades when I stopped to pick up some newspapers. I was unable to resist buying the Monroe Monitor, which devoted half its front page to an explanation of high milk prices, illustrated with a large cow, and a fourth of the front page to the kids who won a local fishing derby.
Inside was a column by the publisher, Ken Robinson, advocating still another wilderness area, this one called "Wild Sky". At the end of the column, Robinson attacks George Nethercutt.
The latest wrinkle in the Wild Sky proposal is the meddling of George Nethercutt, a carpetbagger from Spokane who wants the congressional seat being vacated by Jennifer Dunn. Dunn has support [sic] the bill. Nethercutt wants to muddle the water with his own, unnecessary version of the bill.If you have followed Washington politics at all, you will be picking your jaw from the floor after reading that. Nethercutt is running for senate against incumbent Patty Murry, not for Dunn's congressional seat. He has had his own safe seat, ever since 1994 when he defeated Speaker Tom Foley, in one of the great upsets of our modern era. As for introducing his own version of the bill, this is a common way for congressmen of both parties to show their support for some measure. (The newspaper has a web site, but the latest issue on it is from April. The issue I quoted is dated June 9.)
Now you might say that Robinson is not at the top of his profession, which is true enough. But, what about Peter Jennings, who must be one of the best paid journalists in the country? While covering the Reagan services in Washington, D. C., Jennings made this nasty crack.
ABC managed to get in the occasional tart reminder that the admiration due Reagan as president did not necessarily cover everything Republican in glory.That may be "tart", but it is also idiotic. Anyone familiar with the attacks made by Democrats, who sometimes accused the Republicans of starving children, poisoning the water, and being like Nazis, and who rigged the rules against the Republican minority in the House for many decades before Gingrich was elected, will know that Gingrich did not bring a "less civil" style to Washington. He did follow a leader, Robert Michel of Illinois, who had been less confrontational, but it is not hard to find earlier Republican leaders who had sharper styles than Michel.
That Jennings does not know this shows how little he knows about recent Congresses. Though less blatant, it is a mistake as foolish as that of Ken Robinson. (And that Kay McFadden, the Seattle Times TV critic, apparently does not know that it is a mistake either, suggests that Jennings' error may be quite common among journalists.)
Americans have become less and less trusting of journalists in the last two decades. They are right to do so.
- 7:36 AM, 13 June 2004 [link]
Tank McNamara On Kerry: Friday's Seattle PI had a devastating attack on John Kerry in, of all places, the Tank McNamara comic strip. When a comic strip that ordinarily doesn't touch on politics, other than the politics of sports, calls you "evasive", you're in trouble.
(Don't want to wait for the strip to load? Here's the gist: McNamara is playing dodgeball and trying, with two other players, to hit an opponent. When he dodges all three of their balls, Tank says, "I have never seen anyone that evasive playing dodgeball."
And his team mate replies, "I've heard he works in the Kerry campaign.")
- 6:48 AM, 13 June 2004 [link]
Iraqi WMDs Found By UN Inspectors: That's not the headline on this New York Times article or this AP story, but it could be. Instead the Times uses the deceptively mild "Suspect Items From Iraq Shipped Abroad, U.N. Says".
And what were those suspect items? Exactly what one would expect if Rolf Ekeus's theory about Saddam's weapons programs is correct. Ekeus (whom I think of as the good Swedish UN inspector, Hans Blix being the bad) argues that Saddam had programs, not stockpiles. Saddam was developing a capability, rather than building actual weapons. Instead of building artillery shells containing nerve gas, for example, he was building facilities that could quickly create the nerve gas to fill those shells, at the appropriate time. This would be even more dangerous in the long run, and much harder to detect in the short run.
There is one significant problem with the strategy. For a nation, though not terrorists, the best way to deliver chemical, biological, and nuclear warheads is with ballistic missiles. (By best, I mean the best military tactic.) Missiles, unlike chemical and biological warheads, cannot be created quickly and so Saddam would have to build the actual missiles and take his chances with the inspectors. Banned missiles and missile parts have been found by both coalition and UN inspectors.
Now, with that background, what did the UN inspector tell the UN?
Equipment and material that could have been used to produce banned weapons and long-range missiles have been emptied from Iraqi sites since the war started and shipped abroad, the head of the United Nations inspectors office told the Security Council on Wednesday.A missile site with fermenters, a freeze drier, distillation columns, and a reactor vessel. Doesn't sound like they were planning to fill those missiles with high explosives, does it? (I am not an expert on these technologies, but I believe that a freeze drier might be used for one step in weaponizing anthrax.)
Will this UN report get much attention from the media? Probably not. A search of the Seattle Times failed to find it, and I suspect it will never appear on one of the major TV networks.
(For more on the Ekeus theory, see this post. For what David Kay found — and how it was misrepresented by the media — see this post.)
- 6:23 AM, 12 June 2004 [link]
Thoughts On Ronald Reagan: In 1979, I was musing over the next year's election and came to two conclusions, so surprising that I began laughing, partly at myself. I had just realized (1) that Ronald Reagan would probably be elected president, and (2) that I would probably vote for him. That should tell you that I was not a supporter or even an admirer of his from the beginning of his career.
Even now, there are many things that I would criticize in his record, but looking back, I can see that Reagan, for all his faults, was right on the essentials of our two largest problems when he took office. One was Communism, of course. The other problem does not have a simple name. It does have a diagnosis, Mancur Olson's brilliant book, The Rise and Decline of Nations.
Economist Olson concluded, from much historical evidence, that democracies were likely to stagnate. Over time, he thought, special interests would accumulate privileges that would slow the economy like barnacles on a ship. There were two nations that he thought showed this problem most strongly, Britain and the United States, the two nations that had the longest period of democratic self government. Both were showing slower growth than their competitors, such as Japan and Germany, and both were facing more and more severe problems with inflation.
When Olson's book was published in 1982, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had already taken office, but few would have argued then that their policies were curing the problem that he described. Or alleviating it, anyway. I agree with Olson that what economist call "rent seeking" by special interests is no more curable than weeds. But both can be cleared away and reduced. And Reagan and Thatcher cleared away many of the weeds, as did their successors. (And, in the American case, some of their predecessors. Jimmy Carter did important work on deregulation, especially of natural gas.) The success of their policies has been so complete that it has almost ended debate for much of the political class.
Consider just part of the problem, inflation. Richard Nixon, who was a Republican, tried wage and price controls, which were very popular — for a time, until it became obvious that they were making matters worse. Reagan supported Paul Volker, whose policies were very unpopular — for a time, until it became obvious that they were working. (For those too young to remember this triumph over inflation, I recommend Robert Samuelson's column. You may be astonished to learn just how high inflation was in 1980 and how much damage it was doing to the economy.) Have you heard any major politician call for wage and price controls recently, even for gasoline? I haven't. And that silence shows how completely Thatcher and Reagan won the argument.
Would more conventional politicians, even from the conservative parties in Britain and the United State and Britain, have stuck to these policies, in spite of the short term pain? I am not sure that they would have. And these ideas were not even respectable in the leftwing parties at the time.
As for the fall of the Soviet Union and the decline of Communism, I am inclined to give Reagan somewhat less credit. In his policies toward the Soviet Union, Reagan was much more in the mainstream of American politics. Most of his actions had the support of moderate Democrats such as Senator Henry M. ("Scoop") Jackson and Senator Sam Nunn. And there was little disagreement over policy toward the Soviet Union among the Republican candidates in 1980. Nearly all of them wanted a military build up and a tougher stand.
As did President Carter, though that is sometimes forgotten. He came into office rejecting the "inordinate fear of Communism". After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he realized he was wrong, took a tougher stand, and began the military build up that continued under Reagan. (I have sometimes thought that Carter came into office thinking that the picture of the world one would get from the New York Times was reasonably accurate, was forced by events to admit that it was wrong, and then forgot that shortly after he left office.)
Did Reagan hurry the fall of the Soviet Union? Almost certainly, as we know from the testimony of the Soviet officials themselves. And the much derided "Star Wars" missile defense played a central part in their thinking. They did not know whether we could make such a system, but they knew that the Soviet Union could not. There was a wonderful cartoon at the time, illustrating the point. It showed Reagan pointing a flag gun, labeled "Star Wars" at Gorbachev. On the flag is not "Bang!", but "To be filled in later". Gorbachev has his hands up and Reagan is smiling and thinking, "It works already!" And it did, and the world is far better for it.
Those two great achievements far outweigh his failures, though those were real, but a matter for another time and a separate post.
(For different a view see these two condescending pieces by Paul Reynolds of the BBC and R. W. Apple of the New York Times. For a collection of earlier condescending statements, see this Andrew Sullivan post. For what Reagan meant to those behind the Iron Curtain, see this column by Lech Walesa, shipyard worker, Polish dissident, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and former president of Poland. For more on Reagan's strength and some lessons for the present, see this Michael Barone column.)
- 2:03 PM, 11 June 2004 [link]
Trees Cause Pollution: That Reagan comment is often, even now, taken as proof of his ignorance. In its simplest form, as I stated it in my headline, it is incontestably true, established by literally hundreds of scientific studies and known for decades. So, Reagan was on to something, but you should not take his argument too far.
Like to see some evidence? Here are some examples:
Coniferous forests around the world may be emitting more smog-causing nitrogen oxides than traffic and industry combined, suggests a report in the prestigious journal Nature. (Globe and Mail)If you have walked through a pine forest, you have experienced these pollutants directly. The characteristic smell of pines comes from compounds called "terpenes", from which turpentine is made. And yes, in high concentrations, terpenes are not good for you.
Plants, including trees, also absorb and neutralize pollutants. Spider plants, I have read, are great at removing formaldehyde from the air. A tree that is emitting terpenes may also be absorbing carbon monoxide. As the last article mentions, we can often do better by planting the right species of trees, especially in urban areas.
I said you should not take Reagan's argument too far. It is true that trees emit more organic pollutants than cars and sometimes make the pollution from cars much worse, but it is not true that they are a larger health problem. There is an old, old principle in pharmacology that the dose makes the poison. The same is true for most pollutants; in small amounts they do no damage and may even be helpful. The organic compounds from trees are, usually, spread out and diluted, unlike a factory's smokestack or the cars on a freeway in Los Angeles. So trees do cause more pollution of some kinds than man, but they are less of a problem for us than our own pollution because their doses are smaller.
Finally, I have said that the scientific evidence that trees sometimes cause pollution is decades old. But, as you can see in this article, it has just reached the BBC, which seems to think the findings are new.
- 7:46 AM, 11 June 2004 [link]
Ray Charles, RIP: There's a tribute to him here and a frank Associated Press autobiography here.
His first big hit was, "What'd I Say", which AP calls "suggestive" and I would call "explicit". In recent years, his version of "America" has become, if not the standard version, one of them. In between, he sang everything from "Hit the Road Jack" to "I Can't Stop Loving You" to "Eleanor Rigby" to "Busted", a song I like to put on when I am doing my income taxes.
He's been one of my favorites for decades, and I will miss him.
- 6:20 AM, 11 June 2004 [link]
The Transit Of Venus: We are too far west to see it in this area, but much of the world could and made their pictures available. The New York Times took a different approach and published mostly pictures of watchers, rather than Venus and the sun. I particularly liked their photograph of the Jordanian Bedouins, who seem to have had a fine view, judging by the sunshine in the picture.
There's a set of more conventional photos from much of the world here, an account of his own viewing from Jay Manifold, some history of the observations here, and an explanation of what astronomers hope to learn from the transit here.
Finally, one curious bit. In 1882, the last time Venus crossed the sun, John Phillips Sousa wrote the "Venus Transit March" to commemorate the event.
- 10:56 AM, 10 June 2004
More: You can find the score of the march here and recordings of it in Real Player and MP3 formats.
- 4:30 AM, 11 June 2004 [link]
Why So Many Attacks On The Patriot Act? One reason is that those attacks help raise funds and attract members to leftwing groups.
If the numbers are any indication, thousands of others feel similarly. With more than 400,000 dues-paying members nationwide, the ACLU -- a network of lawyers and organizers dedicated to defending personal privacy, due process and political freedom -- is at an all-time high, and no state has seen a greater rate of increase than Washington, which jumped from 10,000 to nearly 20,000 members between 2001 and 2004.Now suppose that you were a staffer at the ACLU or some similar organization and you have been asked to write a fund raising letter or a position statement. Your job — which your probably enjoy and want to keep — depends on people fearing the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and President George Bush. Will what you write be entirely fair? Probably not. (The same thing happens with groups on the right, of course.)
That would matter less if journalists were not inclined to treat some organizations, especially environmental organizations, but also the ACLU, with less skepticism than others, such as the National Rifle Association. You can see the problem in this almost entirely uncritical piece by Seattle PI reporter Claudia Rowe. Perhaps I am too cynical, but I can not imagine her giving the NRA, or a Christian group opposing gay marriage, the same positive treatment.
- 7:33 AM, 10 June 2004 [link]
In Britain, Ads For Thongs are not to be placed near mosques. No word on whether they may be placed near churches or schools, which I find interesting. And I suspect that the same objections from American evangelicals or Catholics would be treated less respectfully.
(Editor - Admit it, you just wrote this post just so readers could see the, uh, Brazilian styles on the four models. Well, no, but I won't claim that I found them hard to look at.)
- 7:05 AM, 10 June 2004 [link]
High Profits attract competitors and inspire expansion. That's a simple observation, but one often forgotten. In Washington state, for example, rules on health insurance led many private insurers to stop offering coverage here. But you could still find critics complaining about the outrageous insurance industry profits. As far as I could tell, the exodus of the insurance companies from the market almost never caused the critics to rethink their positions.
Oil companies have, thanks to some, let's say, interesting history, a particularly nasty reputation for price gouging and obscene profits. For one part of that industry, the oil refiners in the United States, that reputation would appear to be undeserved; in the last few decades, their profits have been so low as to discourage the building of new refineries.
Sure, oil refiners are making a lot of money now. But there's no rush to build any more.Existing refineries have been expanded significantly, though.
The shortage of refinery capacity is one reason for the recent price spike in the United States. But I have not heard a single elected leader say that he or she would make it easier to build a new refinery. And I have hear many, especially on the left, call for even stricter environmental controls. That would not bother me if the same politicians would admit that those controls would mean higher gas prices.
- 6:46 AM, 10 June 2004 [link]
What's Going On At Guantanamo? Philadelphia talk show host Dom Giordano, about whom I know nothing, says patient and positive interrogations.
But I was in Guantanamo for three days last week, and I saw something very different [from Abu Ghraib]. I concluded that, at Gitmo, we extract information from prisoners not by torture but by developing rapport with them. It involves amenities. Full rolls of toilet paper. Fruit baskets. A field trip barbecue. I talked to prisoners, visited cell blocks, surveyed their medical care, interviewed the base commander and chief interrogator on my show, and allowed callers to probe them with questions. My research extended to the officers who escorted me to breakfast and lunch — even to times when all parties were well lubricated at the Tiki Bar.As I said, I don't know anything about Dom Giordano, but it sounds like he did his homework, and I found nothing implausible in his account. And I have many reasons to believe that he is right when he says that: "This picture of humane treatment isn't being widely disseminated by other media sources."
- 6:17 AM, 9 June 2004 [link]
Yesterday, I Picked Up my new car and now should be able to cover more events for you. (A silver Ford Focus ZX5, if you are curious. And the car passed its first test. The two nice ladies at the insurance agency pronounced it "cute".) And, more important, I should be able to start catching up on some of the posts I have promised you.
(I would like to say that Stefan Sharkansky's fine coverage of the Sound Transit fiasco influenced me to choose more practical transportation, but I had opposed the system from the beginning. The simple fact is that light rail does not pass cost/benefit tests. I noticed this; Stefan is doing something about it. Here's a recent post that attracted some attention from Sound Transit employees.)
- 5:26 AM, 9 June 2004
More: One part of the transaction will not be finished for another six weeks. You can probably guess which, if you think about it for a moment. It's the part controlled by a government bureaucracy. It will be six weeks before I get my regular license plate. And even then, I will have to go back to the dealer to get it installed.
- 11:05 AM, 10 June 2004 [link]