Archive:

June 2005, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  This New York Sun editorial on Watergate — and its connection to Vietnam.
Certainly the Washington Post and the other papers were within their rights to take on the president, even in the midst of a war.  We do not question the patriotism of the press or any of its reporters or editors.  It was Nixon who made the blunders that cost him his office and that a president of stronger character or greater wisdom might have been able to avoid.  There were honorable, patriotic men and women on both sides of the Vietnam debate.  But neither are we so naive as to think that all of those in the long line of newspapermen - and sources - who put Nixon on the defensive were indifferent to the effect it was having on a war so many of them had come to oppose.

Nor do we think of Nixon as the big loser in Watergate.  He finished out his life with dignity and honor and, for that matter, wealth.  The losers in Watergate were the people of Indochina.   It was they who had looked to America for protection.
Read the whole thing, and then compare it to almost any New York Times editorial.  The Sun probably has less than 1/100 of the Times' resources, but it is already producing far better editorials.
- 2:11 PM, 8 June 2005   [link]


Getting The History Of The Filibuster Right:  By way of Natalie Solent, who got it from Rand Simberg, I learned that ABC News got the history of the filibuster wrong, and then did a stealth correction.

ABC originally said this:
The filibuster has been used historically by the minority party, which can't win with a vote count.   Democrats have opposed the filibuster before — in the 1960s, they accused Republicans of using it to block civil rights legislation.
But then corrected it to this:
The filibuster has been used historically by the minority party, which can't win with a vote count.
In fact, as you probably know, those using the filibuster to block civil rights bills in the 1960s were Southern Democrats (and at least one border Democrat, Robert Byrd).  They were opposed by most Republicans, who joined with Northern Democrats to break some of the filibusters.

But the correction is still wrong!  The most important filibusters have been used not by the "minority party", but by minority factions.  The Democrats were the majority party in the Senate from 1955 to 1981.  Every single filibuster against civil rights bills during that period was mounted by Southern Democrats, a faction of the majority party.

What explains the succession of errors by ABC?  Bias and ignorance, just possibly?

(And it was a faction that mounted another famous filibuster, the 1917 filibuster against Wilson's Armed Ships bill.  The 11 or 12 senators who filibustered and killed the bill were a minority faction, not the minority party.

Forgotten about the Armed Ships bill?  At the beginning of 1917, the German government, after consulting piles of tables and charts, concluded that it could win World War I (not then called that, of course) by unleashing unlimited submarine warfare, which meant attacking neutral ships, including ours, on sight.  President Woodrow Wilson proposed arming our ships to protect them.  He had the executive authority to do this on his own, but asked Congress to ratify the action.  The bill passed easily in the House, but was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate.  Wilson did not take this well, saying:
A little group of wilful men reflecting no opinion but their own have rendered the great Government of the United States helpless and contemptible.
Wilson then went ahead and authorized arming the ships with an executive order.  And when the Senate came back into session, it passed Rule 22 which made it possible to cut off debate with a 2/3 vote, which was lowered to 3/5 in 1975.)
- 9:27 AM, 8 June 2005   [link]


Think Our Border Controls Are Too Lax?  Then you won't find this incident reassuring.
On April 25, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood. U.S. customs agents confiscated the weapons and fingerprinted Despres.

Then they let him into the United States.
Apparently the rules didn't allow the agents to hold him any longer than they did, since he is a naturalized citizen and there were no outstanding charges against him.

Sadly, that may have been blood on the chainsaw.
The following day, a gruesome scene was discovered in Despres' hometown of Minto, New Brunswick: The decapitated body of a 74-year-old country musician named Frederick Fulton was found on Fulton's kitchen floor.  His head was in a pillowcase under a kitchen table.  His common-law wife was discovered stabbed to death in a bedroom.
Despres had clashed with Fulton and his son-in-law.

Given Despres' history of violence, I'd like to know how he became an American citizen in the first place.

Finally, there is this part, just in case you thought the story couldn't get any weirder:
Fulton's daughter found her father's body two days later.  His car was later found in a gravel pit on a highway leading to the U.S. border.  Despres hitchhiked to the border crossing.
I suppose he may have had his weapons concealed inside a suitcase, but you still have to wonder who picked him up.
- 5:09 PM, 7 June 2005
Even Weirder:  The Ottawa Citizen has a picture of Despres, who is one strange looking dude,  Like me, they express surprise that anyone picked him up, considering his appearance.
His trousers were spattered with blood. Inside his backpack he had a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife and brass knuckles.  He was also packing pepper spray and wearing a bullet-proof vest.

The 22-year-old man with the Mohawk haircut and bugged-out eyes still got rides in friendly New Brunswick.
Still haven't seen an explanation of how he became an American citizen.

(By way of Michelle Malkin.)
- 7:09 AM, 8 June 2005   [link]


Cold Fusion, Again:  Is it for real this time?  Michelle Thaller, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, thinks so.
For the last few years, mentioning cold fusion around scientists (myself included) has been a little like mentioning Bigfoot or UFO sightings.

After the 1989 announcement of fusion in a bottle, so to speak, and the subsequent retraction, the whole idea of cold fusion seemed a bit beyond the pale.  But that's all about to change.

A very reputable, very careful group of scientists at the University of Los Angeles (Brian Naranjo, Jim Gimzewski, Seth Putterman) has initiated a fusion reaction using a laboratory device that's not much bigger than a breadbox, and works at roughly room temperature.  This time, it looks like the real thing.
Here's her description of the experiment:
The new cold fusion experiment went something like this: scientists inserted a small pyroelectric crystal (lithium tantalite) inside a chamber filled with hydrogen.  Warming the crystal by about 100 degrees (from -30 F to 45F) produced a huge electrical field of about 100,000 volts across the small crystal.

The tip of a metal wire was inserted near the crystal, which concentrated the charge to a single, powerful point.  Remember, hydrogen nuclei have a positive charge, so they feel the force of an electric field, and this one packed quite a wallop!  The huge electric field sent the nuclei careening away, smacking into other hydrogen nuclei on their way out.  Instead of using intense heat or pressure to get nuclei close enough together to fuse, this new experiment used a very powerful electric field to slam atoms together.
She warns that we should not expect them in our cars any time soon.  And it isn't clear from the article that the device (or similar devices) can, even in principle, put our more energy than goes in, but it certainly is an interesting development.
- 4:38 PM, 7 June 2005   [link]


Howard Kurtz Asks a good question.
Was Watergate bad for journalism?
But then wanders around without ever coming to a firm conclusion.

My answer?  Of course it was bad for journalism, as last week's self-congratulatory coverage of Mark Felt's revelation that he was Woodward and Bernstein's source, "Deep Throat", showed.   It was embarrassing to read the articles — at least for anyone not a journalist and, I suspect, for many who are.

Journalists need to be skeptical, above all, about their own product.  Since Watergate, few seem to realize that.
- 1:56 PM, 7 June 2005   [link]


Remember Ward Churchill?  The radical college professor who compared the victims in the 9/11 terrorist attack to "little Eichmanns", implying that they deserved to die?  That outrageous statement led, in time, to an investigation of the man by his employer, the University of Colorado.

Churchill is not an ordinary academic at a small school with no reputation.  He was the tenured chairman of his department at a major university.  To gain that position, he had to show a record of scholarship and — there is no doubt about this — that he had some Indian ancestry.

The Rocky Mountain News has been conducting a parallel investigation into Churchill's record and has found a few minor problems.
University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill fabricated historical facts, published the work of others as his own and repeatedly made false claims about two federal Indian laws, a Rocky Mountain News investigation has found.

The two-month News investigation, carried out at the same time Churchill and his work are being carefully examined by the university, also unearthed fresh genealogical information that casts new doubts on the professor's long-held assertion that he is of American Indian ancestry.
One example will show you just how bad his record is:
He accused the U.S. Army of deliberately spreading smallpox among the Mandan Indians of the Upper Missouri River Valley in 1837 — but there's no basis for the assertion in the sources he cited.   In fact, in some instances the books he cited — and their authors — directly contradict his assertions.
None of this will surprise anyone familiar with modern American universities.  Far too many American universities have simply abandoned academic standards (or even ordinary standards of honesty) for their "studies" departments.  Churchill may be an extreme example, but he is hardly unique.   Nearly everyone even slightly familiar with American universities knows this; almost no one is willing to say this, for fear of being called racist or sexist.

At some point, parents and taxpayers are going to catch on to these scams.  And I don't use the word "scams" without having seen considerable evidence that the word is a good description of what happens in parts of our campuses.  I believe that many university bureaucrats know these facts far better than I do — and like bureaucrats everywhere, prefer to cover up, rather than clean up, these messes.
- 9:46 AM, 7 June 2005   [link]


Politicians And Media Figures Often get Too Close:  Especially Democratic politicians and media figures.  That's what Brian Maloney concludes, citing a recent local example.
Washington Governor Christine Gregoire's appointment of Seattle Times spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin to be her communications director, is only the latest example of a disturbing pattern.

It's especially common in Washington state, where swapping newspaper or television journalism jobs for spinmeister openings in Olympia, or the other way around, seems to be on the increase.
It's a national problem as well.  ABC had no problem giving former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos their principal opinion show.  CBS had no problem giving former Maria Cuomo aide Tim Russert their principal opinion show.  CNN had no problem giving former Tip O'Neill aide Chris Matthews their principal opinion show.  (Interestingly, Fox News Sunday has used men with partisan backgrounds, Brit Hume and Tony Snow, as hosts, but now uses Chris Wallace, who seems neutral, at least to me.)

There are examples of this on the Republican side, but not nearly so many.

Journalists are quick to see conflicts of interest in other people, but slow to recognize their own.

(It's an old problem.  In Tony Hillerman's murder mystery, The Fly on the Wall, the reporter who begins to uncover corruption in a Democratic administration is offered a PR job to distract him from the story.  Hillerman worked for many years as a reporter before becoming a novelist, so I assume he was drawing on his own experience when he added this incident to the plot.)
- 8:09 AM, 7 June 2005   [link]


That Mao Was A Monster has not been a secret for many years, at least to anyone who was open to evidence.  The Black Book of Communism showed that Mao had millions of victims, and that book was just a compilation of the work that historians had been doing for decades.  (The book was first published in France and triggered a sharp debate in the French parliament, with some on the left unhappy that anyone would reveal what Communists had done around the world.)

But it has been a secret to some on the left, which is the most interesting thing about this Guardian review.
The author of Wild Swans and her historian husband, Jon Halliday, have torn away the many masks and falsehoods with which Mao and the Communist party of China to this day have hidden the true picture of Mao the man and Mao the ruler.  Mao now stands revealed as one of the greatest monsters of the 20th century alongside Hitler and Stalin.  Indeed, in terms of sheer numbers of deaths for which he responsible, Mao, with some 70 million, exceeded both.
. . .
The suffering of the peasants plumbed new depths during Mao's hare-brained scheme to overtake Britain and the United States in the disaster known as the Great Leap Forward, which led to the starvation and premature deaths of 30-40 million people.  To the end of his life Mao continued to sacrifice the Chinese people in his search for superpower status.
. . .
Mao himself comes across as a uniquely self-centred man whose strength was his utter disregard for others, his pitilessness, his single-mindedness, his capacity for intrigue and his ability to exploit weakness.  He neglected his wives, whom he treated cruelly, and had no time for his children.   He loved food and reading and had an infinite supply of young women.
(According to his doctor, Mao infected many of these young women with a nasty disease, but refused to get treated for it.)

The reviewer, Michael Yahuda, should not have been surprised to learn that Mao was a monster.  The Guardian describes him as a "professor emeritus at the London School of Economics and visiting scholar, George Washington University".  So why was Yahuda surprised?  Most likely because so many on the left have disdained evidence when it comes from those on the right.  (And one can find examples of people on the right doing much the same thing.)  Jung Chang was a Red Guard in Maoist China and Jon Halliday has written for the New Left Review.  For some on the left, that gives them a credibility that other critics of Mao did not have.

(Those younger than I may not realize just how widespread the Mao worship was in much of the West some decades ago.  And the worshipers were not just silly people like actress Shirley MacLaine, but included serious scholars like historian John King Fairbank, who once wrote that "the Maoist revolution is, on the whole, the best thing that has happened to the Chinese people in many centuries".  If you want to see just how far the worship went, I would suggest Simon Leys' elegant little book, Chinese Shadows.)
- 7:11 AM, 7 June 2005   [link]


First Thoughts On Judge Bridges' Decision:  Those who have read my posts since the election know that I am nearly certain that fraudulent votes gave Christine Gregoire her narrow margin in our governor's race.  But I also said, in this post, that I was not sure that Dino Rossi should go to court.  And I worried that, if Rossi did go to court, he would lose in the battle for public opinion.  I am happy to say that, at least according to the most recent polls, Rossi won the battle for public opinion — and would have to be rated the favorite in a 2008 rematch.

That's the bright side.  The dark side is that my worst fears about distributed vote fraud* have proven true.  Our current laws (and administrative practices in King County) encourage individuals to commit vote fraud — and make it extraordinarily difficult to prove their fraudulent votes changed the results of any given election.  Before the trial, I tried to think of a way that the Republicans could prove their case to a judge who is, unless I missed something, not an expert in statistics or vote patterns.  Nothing that I could think of was feasible, given the time and money available.

And that's the most infuriating thing about distributed vote fraud.  That it has changed the results of some elections is certain, but it is almost impossible to prove that it did so in any given election.  By disconnecting the people who commit the fraud (mostly individual voters) from those who benefit from it, distributed vote fraud makes it almost risk free to both groups.  For that reason, I expect it to increase in future elections, unless we change our laws and our election officials — beginning with King County executive Ron Sims.

(*As always when I mention distributed vote fraud, I urge you to read my disclaimer on the subject, if you have not already done so.

Cross posted Sound Politics)
- 1:02 PM, 6 June 2005   [link]


Countries Irene Khan Didn't Mention:  Amnesty International received enormous coverage for the remarks that their director, Irene Khan made about the United States, especially our treatment of the terrorist prisoners at Guantánamo.  Mitch Townsend of the "Chicago Boys" looks at ten countries she didn't mention and finds an interesting contrast.

Some of us think that North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Zaire (Congo), Zimbabwe, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Cuba deserve more criticism than the United States — by Amnesty International's own standards.  Irene Khan and Amnesty International do not agree.

You'll want to read the entire post.
- 5:34 AM, 6 June 2005   [link]


Monkey See, Monkey Buy And Sell:  Behavioral economist Keith Chen wondered how universal markets are.  So he introduced markets, including a kind of money, to Capuchin monkeys.   The results sound, well, familiar.
But these facts remain: When taught to use money, a group of capuchin monkeys responded quite rationally to simple incentives; responded irrationally to risky gambles; failed to save; stole when they could; used money for food and, on occasion, sex.  In other words, they behaved a good bit like the creature that most of Chen's more traditional colleagues study: Homo sapiens.
As far as I could tell from the article, none of the monkeys used their "money" for political contributions, so there are some differences between us and them.

(Not familiar with Capuchin monkeys?  Here's a site for those who may want one as a pet, and here's another site with scientific descriptions of the different Capuchin species.)
- 6:21 PM, 5 June 2005   [link]


Firing Offense:  Some blunders are so bad that they justify immediate firing.  If a cook's sloppiness causes a restaurant's customers to get food poisoning, if a cashier lets theft go undetected, or if a scientist falsifies their lab results, most of us would have no objection to firing the culprit.  For similar reasons, the New York Times should fire whoever wrote this editorial.  And given the consistent low quality of the editorials at that newspaper, the editorial page editor, Gail Collins, should go as well.  Call in a couple of security people, Mr. Sulzberger, and clean house.

What do I find in the editorial worthy of firing?  Here are some samples:

Now that the Bush administration has made clear how offended it is at Amnesty International's word choice in characterizing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp "the gulag of our times," we hope it will soon get around to dealing with the substantive problems that the Amnesty report is only the latest to identify.
. . .
Our colleague Thomas L. Friedman offered just the right solution a few days back.  The best thing Washington can now do about this national shame is to shut it down.
. . .
If legitimate legal cases can be made under American law against any of the more than 500 remaining Guantánamo detainees, they should be made in American courts, as they should have been all along.
. . .
What makes Amnesty's gulag metaphor apt is that Guantánamo is merely one of a chain of shadowy detention camps that also includes Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the military prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and other, secret locations run by the intelligence agencies.

Let me explain this as simply as I can, so that even editorial writers at the New York Times can understand it.  First, the prisoners at Guantánamo are not there because they have committed offenses under our criminal code.  They are, for the most part, men captured fighting against American forces.  They are, in short, prisoners of war.  Except that, since most of them did not belong to regular forces, did not, for example, wear identifying uniforms, they have no rights under the usual rules of war.  (Nor have any of the terrorist organizations that they belong to agreed to abide by the Geneva conventions.)

What can we do with them?  According to the usual laws of war, anything we want, including shooting them on the spot.  The reasons for this harsh policy are simple: Fighters who do not wear uniforms encourage the other army to retaliate blindly against civilians.  And groups that do not abide by the Geneva conventions themselves have no right to expect their opponents to do so, since that handicaps them in making war.

Though the Geneva conventions do not require it, we have treated the prisoners at Guantánamo as prisoners of war.  And, from everything I have read, we have treated them far better than we treated POWs in most past wars.  For that, we have been vilified by our enemies and their allies — at least on this subject — in the "mainstream" media.

Second, anyone who thinks that Amnesty's "gulag" metaphor is apt knows nothing about the gulag or Guantánamo.  That Amnesty chose to use this metaphor demonstrates, sadly, that once valuable organization has lost its way.  I am not the only one who thinks that; the Washington Post, nearly as liberal as the New York Times, but more rational, had this to say, in its own editorial:

It's always sad when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings and joins in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse.  It's particularly sad when the institution is Amnesty International, which for more than 40 years has been a tough, single-minded defender of political prisoners around the world and a scourge of left- and right-wing dictators alike.

(The Post calls it a "partisan fracas".  It may be relevant at least one member of the John Kerry campaign team recently joined Amnesty.)

Finally, the Times calls the metaphor "apt".  I would say it is about as "apt" as calling Gail Collins the Joseph Goebbels of our time.  But feel free to propose your own absurd comparison if you want to try to match the one in the Times editorial for absurdity.

(If you need to clear your head after that terrible editorial, try this Charles Krauthammer column.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.)
- 2:46 PM, 5 June 2005
Never Mind:  Executive Director of Amnesty International USA William Schulz now says he doesn't know whether the charges are true.

Despite highly publicized charges of U.S. mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, the head of the Amnesty International USA said on Sunday the group doesn't "know for sure" that the military is running a "gulag."

Executive Director William Schulz said Amnesty, often cited worldwide for documenting human rights abuses, also did not know whether Secretary Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved severe torture methods such as beatings and starvation.

This would be funny, if it weren't so disgusting.  Wonder if the editorial page of the New York Times will take note of this confession?
- 5:54 AM, 6 June 2005   [link]

Big, Mean Mother?  Here's the story.
For the second time in two months, a Tyrannosaurus rex recently excavated in Montana has surprised scientists.

Among its rock-hard fossils, the scientists had already isolated soft tissues, including blood vessels and cells lining them - a most improbable discovery after 70 million years.

The same paleontologists may now have topped that.  They are reporting today that the same T. rex has yielded unusual bone tissue that shows that the animal was an ovulating female.
. . .
When she first examined the marrow cavities of the dinosaur leg bones, Dr. [Mary H.] Schweitzer said, "I knew right away there was special bone tissue, and it had all the characteristics of medullary bone tissue."

Medullary tissue, previously associated just with female birds, is formed by an increase in estrogen levels during a bird's egg-laying cycle and is deposited on the interior walls of the leg bones.   The tissue serves as a reservoir of calcium for eggshells.  After the last egg is laid, the tissue is completely reabsorbed into the bird's body.
Imagine, for a moment, getting between her and her nest.  Doesn't sound like a good idea to me.   On the other hand, if these carnivorous dinosaurs are that closely related to birds, we can also imagine eating Kentucky Fried T. rex.  One drumstick would feed a very, very large family.

(If you read the whole article, you'll find that some scientist want replications of the work before they accept the findings.  That's reasonable.)
- 12:56 PM, 3 June 2005   [link]


EU Election Observers Are Unhappy With Jimmy Carter:  In past elections, the former president did the world a service.  He was genuinely helpful during the first Bush administration as an election observer in Panama and Nicaragua.  But in the last few years, he has been all too willing to certify dubious results, in Palestine, in Venezuela, and now in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia (AP) -- Ethiopia's electoral board appears to have lost control of the vote counting for the May 15 legislative polls, European Union election observers said in a report obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The confidential report went on to say the EU might have to make a public denunciation of developments to distance itself from "the lack of transparency, and assumed rigging" of the vote.
. . .
The EU report also said former U.S. President Carter, who led a team of 50 election observers, undermined the electoral process and EU criticism with "his premature blessing of the elections and early positive assessment of the results."

Unless there is a "drastic reverse toward good democratic practice" the observer team and EU "will have to publicly denounce the situation."

"Otherwise, the EU jointly with ex-President Carter will be held largely responsible for the lack of transparency, and assumed rigging, of the elections."
Those are observers from the European Union saying that, not some nasty Republicans.  And from the few details given in the article, I would say they have very good reasons to be worried about the election.
- 8:33 AM, 3 June 2005   [link]


If You Sup With The Devil:  You should use a long spoon.  Some Western companies forgot that when they made deals with Castro.
Western companies welcomed in Cuba as heroes a decade ago for bucking the U.S. embargo are packing up and leaving as the Communist government rolls back market reforms and squeezes out intermediaries.

Embittered by the change in attitude, small and medium-sized foreign businesses complained this week that they no longer feel welcome and worried they would not recover money owed to them by Cuban partners.
. . .
"I don't think they ever wanted us here," said the manager of a major European company that is pulling out after 10 years.

"They always tried to get the most money, machinery and knowledge they could out of us while giving little in return.  They owe us millions, but we are leaving mainly because of their attitude, the way they treated us," he said.
Cuban emigres could have told him that, and so, for that matter, could John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for UN ambassador.
- 8:15 AM, 3 June 2005   [link]


It Looks Like A Spoof:  But it isn't.  An American, used to our fights over gun control, might read this article recommending that certain kinds of kitchen knives be banned and conclude that it was a spoof from a supporter of the National Rifle Association.  But it isn't; it's a real editorial from the British Medical Journal.

Here's my thought for the authors: A century ago, murder rates were far lower in Britain (and in the United States).  At that time the ordinary citizen could buy guns and other weapons in Britain without problems.  As weapons have become less available — legally — the murder rate has gone up.  If I were trying to lower the murder rate in Britain, I think I would first try to understand how society was different then, not advocate knife control.
- 4:41 PM, 2 June 2005   [link]


Stealing Ideas Is Perfectly OK:  If, that is, the idea is a good one and the thief is a political party.  Our most successful politicians routinely steal, or if you prefer, copy the better ideas of their opponents.  This is good for the party that does the copying and, more important, good for the country, just as it is good for consumers when companies copy their competitors' better ideas.

Mathematicians have been critical of math education in the United States for decades.  Most dislike the faddish new approaches which have a variety of names, including my favorite, "fuzzy math".   Most believe that our children should learn mathematics in fairly traditional ways, that they should, for example, memorize multiplication tables at an early age, and should learn proofs in high geometry.

Mathematician Barry Garelick took a temporary job as a congressional staffer in hopes of improving our math education.  He had no trouble getting support from other mathematicians for his cause.
I compiled a list of questions that I sent by e-mail to various mathematicians involved with the math education issue.  The questions focused on the quality of textbooks and teaching, with emphasis on algebra and geometry.  I also wanted to know whether K—6 texts taught arithmetic well enough to prepare students to learn algebra.

The nice thing about working on the Hill is that you almost always get responses to e-mails and phone calls.  Fifteen minutes after I sent an e-mail to Harvard mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid, he called.  I found out that his initiation into the world of K—12 math education was similar to mine—through his daughter.  He explained how she was not being taught her multiplication tables.  He was shocked at the math instruction she was receiving in the 3rd grade.  Its substance was shallow, memorization was discouraged, students were kept dependent on mental crutches (her teacher made her work with blocks or count on her fingers), and the intellectual level was well below the capability of most of the kids in his daughter's class.

Schmid's reaction to the problems of math texts and teaching was similar to that of other mathematicians I talked to in the course of my Capitol Hill assignment, particularly those with children.
But, after doing much research and getting support from many mathematicans, Garelick was stymied in his efforts, and was not allowed even to brief his Senator.
I recall meeting with Senator X's deputy chief of staff and two other staffers not long after completing my research on math curricula and the battles that had shaped—often, misshaped—them.  "So what are your ideas on how math and science education can be enhanced?" they asked.  My answer was something like, "You can enhance a car by painting it, but if the car has no engine, it's not going to do much good."  This was not what they were expecting to hear.  Nor were they expecting to hear that Lynne Cheney had also taken up the cause of anti—fuzzy math.  At that point, the discussion took a decidedly troubling turn.  These staffers—Democrats—now worried that they could not support policies that were also advocated by the wife of a powerful Republican.
. . .
I had discussions and sent e-mails in the hopes that I would at least get a chance to brief Senator X on the issue and, perhaps, persuade him to ask some tough questions of NSF when it came time to fund their programs.  But I felt that at any moment everything was going to be whisked away.

And one day it was.  The staffers in my office talked with other Democratic staffers on the Hill, who told them that it would be wise to stay away from the "fuzzy math/Lynne Cheney/Bush agenda" issue.  Ultimately the staffers I was working with told me they couldn't take a chance on having Senator X "come off like Lynne Cheney."
Even if Lynne Cheney is right.  Consider the thinking behind that decision.  What Garelick says is that Democratic staffers rejected an important reform because a Republican had campaigned for it — not because it was a bad idea.  (Garelick is a Democrat, by the way, if you were wondering.)

Here's my advice to Senator X and his staff: If a Republican has a good idea, feel free to copy it.  And although it is not entirely fair, no one will be greatly surprised if you don't give your Republican opponents credit when you do steal their ideas.

(There's much more in Garelick's article, including an interesting discussion of the "new math" taught in our schools after the shock of Sputnik.  (Garelick gives it mixed grades.)

Garelick believes two bureaucracies are blocking educational reform and hurting math education.   Those who are familiar with education reform will not be surprised that one is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  But I was a bit surprised to see just how much he blames the National Science Foundation, which seems, at least on this subject, to be most unscientific in its approach.

Thanks to Stuart Buck for spotting this article.)
- 3:14 PM, 2 June 2005   [link]


Give Jobs To Your Base:  That has been standard procedure for politicians since the beginning of history (and probably before then).  Senator John McCain has an unusual base for a Republican politician.
So why did the Bob Jones University appearance [during the 2000 campaign] become such a major issue in the media?  Because, a top McCain aide confided to the Wall Street Journal, the McCain campaign used their "base" -- the news media -- to make it into one.

In a February 25 editorial, the Journal admired how the McCain team "turned a potentially fatal defeat in South Carolina into a pyrrhic victory for George W. Bush."  The editorial explained: "The way they did it was to spin a story line that made their candidate the victim of a vicious, negative, horrifying right-wing hit job.  This week we called Mike Murphy, Mr. McCain's megawatt strategist, to congratulate him on this megaspin, and he appreciated it, adding, 'They used their base, the Christian Right. So we had every right to use ours, which is the media.'"
McCain's base may be unusual, but he is rewarding it in the traditional way, as Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times confesses.
(Full disclosure: My wife recently took a job as an aide to Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.], one of the judicial deal's architects.  Marriages that span the divide between the media and politics are common in Washington.  They require both parties to draw a firm line between their personal attachments and professional responsibilities.  I do not intend to treat McCain any differently as a result of my marriage, and my wife does not expect favored treatment for her boss.  I certainly don't expect any special treatment from McCain or his aides.  Readers, of course, will have to make their own judgments, but I am confident that her new job will not affect my judgments, pro and con, about McCain and his initiatives.)
Brownstein may be telling the truth when he says that he does not intend to treat McCain differently; his coverage of McCain may already be so favorable that no change is needed.  But I must add that, unlike Brownstein, I am not confident that his wife's new job will not affect his judgments.

Brownstein is right when he says that political jobs for media spouses are common inside the Beltway.   The conflicts of interest these cause are one of the many reasons those of us outside the Beltway distrust the insiders.

(Brownstein column by way of Hugh Hewitt.

David Plotz explained, way back in 1998, why the press loves McCain (lots of reasons) — and why McCain would make a lousy president (mostly the same reasons).)
- 8:00 AM, 2 June 2005   [link]


Congratulations to the Arrowsmiths.
A British husband and wife revealed the secrets of the longest marriage of any living couple on Wednesday as they celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary — don't sleep on an argument, always share a kiss and hold hands before going to bed.

Percy Arrowsmith, 105, and his 100-year-old wife Florence, were married on June 1, 1925, after meeting at their local church in Hereford, western England, where he sang in the choir and she was a Sunday school teacher.
Sounds like good advice.  And you can't argue with their record.

Wondering what to get the happy couple?  According to this anniversary list, a diamond or a pearl would be fine.  And I was intrigued to see that the list goes all the way up to the 100th anniversary.
- 5:22 AM, 2 June 2005   [link]


A Dutch "Nee" May Follow The French "Non":  If the polls are right, the Dutch are right now voting to reject the EU constitution, just as the French did on Sunday.
The 'nee'-sayers of the Netherlands were expected to drive another nail into the coffin of the draft European Union constitution today as the Dutch voted in their first ever national referendum.

With opinion polls predicting that a majority approaching 60 per cent would reject the EU constitutional charter, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, made a last-minute plea for voters to back the constitution.
This referendum is advisory, not binding, but the politicians have agreed to accept a no vote — if the turnout is at least 30 percent.  And that, in itself, says something striking about how little popular support the constitution has in the Netherlands.  Those pushing it are not sure that they can convince even 15 percent of the voters to take a few minutes to vote for it.  (As of 2 PM, Dutch time, turnout is reported to be 24 percent, so they should make the 30 percent easily, but I still wouldn't call the turnout "brisk", though the New York Times does.)

Seven nations, Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, Lithuania, and Slovenia, have approved the EU constitution.  Of those seven, only Spain submitted it to a popular vote; the other six just ratified it in their parliaments.
- 10:15 AM, 1 June 2005
More:  The polls underestimated the "nee" vote:
Dutch citizens voted by a margin of almost two to one today to reject the draft constitution of the European Union, all but killing off the EU's charter to bind its 25 member states more closely together.
And the turnout was a respectable 62 percent.  (The articles I have seen on EU elections usually report much lower turnout, by the way.  At a guess, I would say about twice as many voted in this referendum as usually vote in the EU elections.)
- 4:47 AM, 2 June 2005   [link]


Worth Reading:  Ben Stein, who worked in the Nixon White House, defends his old boss.
Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible? He ended the war in Vietnam, brought home the POW's, ended the war in the Mideast, opened relations with China, started the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty, saved Eretz Israel's life, started the Environmental Protection Administration.  Does anyone remember what he did that was bad?
. . .
That is his legacy.  He was a peacemaker.  He was a lying, conniving, covering up peacemaker.  He was not a lying, conniving drug addict like JFK, a lying, conniving war starter like LBJ, a lying conniving seducer like Clinton -- a lying conniving peacemaker.  That is Nixon's kharma.
(Some, including some in the Nixon administration, would have some harsh things to say about his economic policies, especially wage and price controls.)

Stein is right to compare Nixon to his Democratic predecessors.  Nearly every crime committed by his administration was also committed by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  As Victor Lasky put it, It Didn't Start With Watergate.

And Stein raises a terrible question: If Nixon had not been overthrown, would we have prevented the Cambodian genocide?  We can never know for sure, but Stein is not the only person to think that we might have.
- 8:45 AM, 1 June 2005   [link]