Archive:

June 2006, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Still More Raids:  Kim Gamel mixes in as much bad news into this AP story as she can, but she can't hide the fact that the death of Zarqawi keeps paying off, militarily.
U.S. and Iraqi forces killed 104 insurgents in hundreds of raids since terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was slain last week, and the American death toll in the war in Iraq hit 2,500, the U.S. military said Thursday.
. . .
American and Iraqi forces have carried out 452 raids since the June 7 airstrike on al-Zarqawi, and 104 insurgents were killed in those actions, said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell.

The nationwide raids led to the discovery of 28 significant arms caches, Caldwell said.

He said 255 of the raids were joint operations, while 143 were carried out by Iraqi forces alone.   The raids also resulted in the captures of 759 "anti-Iraqi elements."
The article is badly written, but the success of these raids is still evident, despite Gamel's efforts to hide it.  The documents found in Zarqawi's not-so-safe house led to other terrorists, and I would guess that those raids found more documents, which led to still more terrorists.   As far as one can judge from this muddled reporting, Iraqi and US forces are following up the death of Zarqawi brilliantly.

(How could Gamel fix this mess of an article?  Best, I think would be to separate the different stories, instead of slopping them all together.  You could do that either by separating the stories into different articles, which would be my choice, or by separating them within the article, perhaps using boldface topic headings.)
- 6:19 AM, 16 June 2006   [link]


Another Big Environmental Success For President Bush:  And this one is enormous.
President Bush will create the world's largest protected marine area today, designating as a national monument a 1,200-mile-long chain of small Hawaiian islands and surrounding waters and reefs that are home to a spectacular array of sea life, senior administration officials said last night.
. . .
The chain of largely uninhabited atolls, seamounts, reefs and shoals, which sweeps northwest from the big islands of Hawaii, is called the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and is home to some 7,000 species of marine life, including endangered green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals and millions of breeding seabirds.
The "monument" stretches from Midway to the main Hawaiian islands, and has about the same area as California.  The decision will probably end fishing in the area, but there isn't much fishing there anyway.

Bush's decision even got support from an op-ed in the New York Times.

(Here's the official announcement, the fact sheet, and a set of photos from the announcement.  I like the fact that (Republican) Governor Linda Lingle played such a big part in this decision — and received her share of credit at the ceremony.)
- 5:11 PM, 15 June 2006   [link]


Japanese Hackers Are attacking broadband connections.
Tokyo's futuristic image as the world's most technologically advanced broadband internet-enabled city is under attack from a vicious but decidedly low-tech foe: urban-dwelling jungle crows.

Their destructive and unpredictable behaviour during the annual May to June mating season is always highly problematic for the Japanese capital.  But this year the aggressive ink-black birds have created a new headache by developing a seemingly insatiable taste for fibre-optic internet cable.
That's one of those problems that won't show up in lab tests.

(The article calls them crows, but they look more like common ravens (corvus corax) to me.  You can see pictures of jungle crows here and here.

Some years ago a small bird in England figured out how to open milk bottles.  And then taught other birds the trick.  Within a few years, it had spread all over England.  Milk distributors finally had to redesign the bottle caps.)
- 5:35 AM, 15 June 2006   [link]


Follow Up On Bureaucrats Not Protecting Children:  This post drew a thoughtful email, and many thoughtful comments at Sound Politics.  What I want to do here is to expand a little on the argument made in the first post, and to answer a question raised by some commenters.

First, let me mention an example sent to me by an astute emailer.  When Florida's Department of Children and Families actually lost a foster child, news organizations had no trouble connecting (Republican) Governor Jeb Bush to the failure; for examples, see here and here.  And Governor Bush responded, naming a new head of the department and then, when that man didn't work out, another new head, Luci Hadi, who looks good to me.  (But then I am a sucker for any woman who believes in data and tells her staff, "What you measure is what you treasure.")

Would Washington state's (roughly) comparable bureaucracy, CPS, be better if local journalists were more willing to blame (Democratic) governors for its failures?  I think so. That's a hint to you, Ms. Balter.  And to you, Ms. Paynter.  Assuming you care more about protecting children than keeping Democrats in the governor's mansion.

On one point, the suitability of Enrique Escayloa Fabregas to be a foster father, I was less clear than I should have been.  Let me put it this way.  I am a single man of (I hope) good character and no criminal record.  I would never have considered applying to be a foster father to adolescent girls, for all sorts of traditional (and very good) reasons.  One hundred years ago, almost every American would have thought such an arrangement too dangerous — and they would have been right.

Several commenters wondered whether orphanages might not be better from some of our children.   As it happens, there are some authorities who think they would be.  Among them is economics professor Richard McKenzie, who was sent to an orphanage at age ten.  He says it wasn't so bad.

In August 1994, I attended a homecoming in North Carolina to collect remembrances for the last chapter of my new book.  I spent a weekend reveling with 500 of my fellow former orphans and their families in the good memories we have of our childhoods at the Barium Springs Home for Children.  With our group, the supposedly unbreakable cycles of poverty, abuse and neglect clearly had been broken.

And being an economics professor, he collected some data:

I redoubled my efforts to find out just how orphans have done, surveying the alumni of nine homes in the South and Midwest that had been supported by Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Jews, Masons, Odd Fellows and private foundations.  I now have responses from more than 1,600 white middle-aged and older orphanage alumni.  Basically, I found that as a group, the orphans in my survey, who went to their homes at an average age of 8 and stayed an average of nine years, have outpaced their counterparts in the general population by significant margins on practically all measures, including education, income and attitude toward life.

The orphans' high school graduation rate is at least 10% higher than their counterparts.  Their college graduation rate is a fourth higher, and they have a higher percentage of advanced and professional degrees than do other white Americans in their age group.

And the orphans don't seem to have been damaged emotionally.  I would like to see more data, but I would certainly be willing to consider orphanages for some of our children.  (You can find more on the subject here and here.  And McKenzie has edited a new book on the subject, which you can look at here.)

But are orphanages politically practical?  Could an elected politician get away with advocating their greater use?  Maybe, though the politician would have to be exceptionally persuasive, and would be wise to wait until after a scandal.  It would probably be easier for a Democrat to make such an argument than a Republican.

Finally, I would like to end by noting that I phrased my first post as a question.  I did that because that I do not know enough about the current system here in Washington state to propose an alternative.  I am convinced that it could be better and that we should hold our elected leaders responsible for its failures, but I would not go farther than those two very general conclusions.   Many thanks to the commenters who helped me come to better understanding of our system, especially those who shared their personal experiences.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(One commenter wondered whether I had any experience dating women with children.  Yes, I have, and he may be amused by my two brushes with the Barbie Wars.

Fabregas has a dual Spanish-American citizenship.  I would guess that means that he immigrated here and somehow gained American citizenship.  It would be interesting to know how he did that, since I had not thought we had a critical shortage of waiters.)
- 3:29 PM, 14 June 2006   [link]


If He Didn't Work For The New York Times, this $column would be funny.

First, some background.  A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone published this article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., claiming that the 2004 election was stolen.  As soon as it came out, it drew informed criticism from all across the political spectrum, including some from leftist publications like Mother Jones and Salon.  Some of the best criticism came from polling expert (and leftist) Mark Blumenthal, who explained in painstaking detail why Kennedy was wrong about the exit polls.  (You can find part 3 of Blumenthal's critique here, along with links to parts 1 and 2.)  I would say that Kennedy's article has been completely discredited; every informed person should know that the article is, at the very least, controversial.

But Times columnist Bob Herbert ignores the controversy.
Republicans, and even a surprising number of Democrats, have been anxious to leave th 2004 Ohio election debacle behind.  But Mr. Kennedy, in his long, heavily footnoted article ("Was the 2004 Election Stolen"), leaves no doubt that the democratic process was trampled and left for dead in the Buckeye state.  Mr. Kerry almost certainly would have won Ohio if all of his votes had been counted and, and if all of the eligible voters who tried to vote for him had been allowed to cast their ballots.
Herbert has "no doubt".  Even though election experts, including many on the left, almost all believe Kennedy is wrong.  He trusts Kennedy because the article is "long" and "heavily footnoted".  But conspiracy theories almost always have both those characteristics.  (And I can't help being amused by the fact that Herbert's column is short, and lacks any footnotes at all.)

Herbert also ignores substantial evidence of vote fraud by Democrats in states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, both won narrowly by Kerry.  His argument would, as I said, be funny, if he were not a columnist at the New York Times, the world's most influential newspaper.  Since he is, the argument is disgraceful, so bad that both Herbert and the editor who accepted this column should be fired.

Don't expect that to happen any time soon.  Today the Times published three letters on the column — all of them supporting Herbert.  (The published letters to the New York Times read, more and more often, like a print version of Orwell's "two minutes hate", with President Bush being the target of the hate.)  Apparently, those running the editorial pages of the New York Times believe Kennedy's crackpot argument, and will not even publish a letter that disagrees.
- 1:57 PM, 14 June 2006   [link]


Soros Conviction Upheld:  For insider trading.  In France.
George Soros's bid to overturn an insider-trading conviction has been rejected by France's highest appeals court, ending the billionaire's fight to erase a legal stain on his 40-year investing career.

The Court of Cassation, the tribunal of last resort in France, ended its review of a March 2005 judgment that Soros broke insider-trading laws when he bought Societe Generale SA shares in 1988 with the knowledge that the bank might be a takeover target.  The Hungary-born financier has been fighting the case for 17 years,
I first mentioned this case last year, and will only repeat what I said then, that I have no idea whether the verdict in this case is fair, but I am amused.

To be fair, I have to add that Soros is appealing to a European court.

(For amusement, you may want to compare this story to the Associated Press version of the same story.  Here's their second paragraph:
The Court of Cassation upheld the 75-year-old American financier's conviction for buying and selling Societe Generale shares in 1988 after receiving information about a planned corporate raid on the bank.  Apart from this case, Soros' record is unblemished after five decades in finance.
Unblemished?  This may be his first conviction, but I find the idea that his record is unblemished impossible to believe.

And you can find even more chuckles in this New York Times interview, which skips all the hard questions, or even obvious follow-ups.  For instance, the interviewer, Deborah Solomon, does not ask Soros whether he violated the spirit of the very campaign finance laws he had worked to impose on the rest of us.  (He did, big time.)  Nor, after he says that the Swift Boat ads contained "in-your-face distortions", does she ask him for even a single example of a distortion.  Is it too much to ask journalists to commit journalism?  Apparently, it is.)
- 10:29 AM, 14 June 2006   [link]


Have Some More Havarti:  According to Christopher Hitchens, that's what Americans have been doing.
Postscript: A note of cheer to all those Slate readers who either attended the Solidarity With Denmark rally, or sent encouragement, or rallied round to buy Danish goods.  I have today received a note from one of the Copenhagen editors who published the original cartoons, informing me that in the last quarter, Danish exports to the United States have increased by 17 percent and that, overall, the Danish economy has more than compensated for the results of the unjustified Muslim boycott.  Let us keep this example in mind.
Since dairy products are the focus of the boycott, buying Danish cheese is a good way to counteract it.  I like Havarti, and think that almost anyone who likes cheese at all would enjoy it, too.  (The dill version goes well with salmon.)

By way of Tim Blair.
- 7:10 AM, 14 June 2006
More on the surge in Danish exports to the United States here.
- 5:01 AM, 15 June 2006   [link]


Hawking Is right, of course.
The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy the Earth, world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking said Tuesday.

The British astrophysicist told a news conference in Hong Kong that humans could have a permanent base on the moon in 20 years and a colony on Mars in the next 40 years.
. . .
"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said.  "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."
Or an asteroid like the one that got the dinosaurs.

But is now the time to begin putting some of our eggs in other baskets?  Or should we wait?   I don't see any advantage in waiting, and I do see some small risk in doing so.

Environmentalists often oppose our efforts to go into space.  They might have second thoughts if they were to think about the extent of the damage to the environment that a large asteroid would cause.  (Or maybe not.  There are a few environmentalists so extreme that they would favor eliminating humans, even if that meant the loss of millions of other species.)

(For the US, the key will be to reverse the mistake made by JFK.)
- 6:45 AM, 14 June 2006   [link]


Bush Visits Baghdad:  And shows that, sometimes, it is good that his administration can keep secrets.
President Bush arrived in Iraq today on an unannounced visit intended to chart the best way forward after the formation of the unity government there and after the killing last week of the most-wanted terrorist in the country.

Heavy security was deployed in the Green Zone with forces stationed in armored combat vehicles as Mr. Bush arrived at the blue-domed Republican Palace.  There, he had his first face-to-face meeting with Iraq's new prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The White House said that they had been planning this visit for some time, but were waiting for the filling of the two key ministries, interior and defense.  Those appointments, which got less coverage than they deserved, finally complete the cabinet.

(There is a real risk in all such trips, no matter how secret.  I would assume that some of the Baathist remnants still have access to anti-aircraft weapons.

And there are real risks in political careers, after a certain level, just because the politicians have to travel so much, often in small planes.  I have met two US senators who died, soon after, in airplane crashes.  Presidents may travel in safer ways, but face significant chances of assassination.)
- 8:58 AM, 13 June 2006   [link]


This Will Break some Democratic hearts.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has told White House aide Karl Rove that he does not expect to seek charges against him in connection with the CIA leak case, Rove's lawyer said today.

In a statement this morning, Robert Luskin, Rove's attorney, said that Fitzgerald "has formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges" against Rove.

"In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation," Luskin said in the statement.  "We believe that the Special Counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct."
Should, but won't.

For years, I have thought this whole investigation was absurd.  This decision makes the investigation slightly less absurd, but only slightly.

(For examples of broken hearts, see the comments to this post. Warning: The language is not always suitable for polite company.)
- 7:53 AM, 13 June 2006   [link]


You've Heard About Gay Marriage:  (Maybe more than you wanted to.)   But what about tree marriage?
. . . symbolic marital union of a person with a tree that is said to be infused with supernatural life.  Tree marriage may also be a form of proxy marriage.  In one such practice, between a bachelor and a tree, the tree was afterward felled, thereby endowing the man with the widower status required to marry a widow.  Tree marriage was once widespread in India.
And in some parts of Africa, according to my 1945 Britannica.  Different groups "married" different trees, with mangos and figs being common choices.

The 1945 Britannica article ends with this odd statement:
Tree marriage is part of a series of rites by means of which the continuity of the group life is secured.
What I understand by that statement is something like the following: Tree marriage may look like superstition to us, but it has important functions for the groups that practice it.  Which imples, at least to me, that we should be careful about tampering with rites of marriage, since we may not understand what we are doing.
- 4:26 PM, 12 June 2006   [link]


Patrolling Our Borders Adequately Will Take New Tricks:  And some old ones.
After parking his unmarked Chevy Tahoe in a grove of pine trees about a mile south of the Canadian border, Capt. Gary Roman slipped a set of spurs over his boots.

A few minutes later, a local rancher drove up.  He was hauling a trailer full of the U.S. Border Patrol's new, semistealth drug-smuggling and terrorist detection weapons: horses.  Hap, Jack, Buster, Lurch and Mack would transport Roman and a small team of agents on a daylong patrol last week through the region's steep, thickly forested backcountry.

Although the Border Patrol is increasingly looking to high technology — remote cameras, delicate motion sensors, even flying drones — to protect the country from terrorists, drug smugglers and illegal aliens, the agency is also going back to its roots by deploying some decidedly low-tech tools.   Since April, the Spokane sector of the Border Patrol has been using horse patrols along the entire 309-mile stretch of border it oversees between Montana's Rocky Mountains and the east slopes of Washington's Cascade Range.
Having seen some of that area, I would say that using mounted men there is a fine idea.
- 3:13 PM, 12 June 2006
More:  There's a detail in this article that deserves mention.  In September 2001, the border patrol was so short of people that some stretches of this part of the border were not even patrolled regularly.  To put it in partisan terms, when President Bush came into office, the border patrol was far too small for its duties.  He has been building it up, but it is a slow process.
- 7:13 AM, 13 June 2006   [link]


Why Are The Bureaucrats Charged With Protecting Children So Bad At That Job?   That's something I have wondered about for years, and this latest scandal gives me one more reason to wonder.

The foster father arrested in Redmond on suspicion of child rape and molestation was investigated dozens of times by Child Protective Services for possible sexual or physical abuse or neglect of children in his care.

All of the 26 investigations were closed as unfounded, unsubstantiated or inconclusive due to lack of evidence.  The information on Enrique Escayloa Fabregas comes from court filings made available Friday.

What happened, again and again, is that a foster daughter would make an accusation — and then retract it, saying she didn't want to hurt the man.  And then CPS would close the complaint.   This finally ended when one of the girls went to the local police, rather than to CPS.

It is somewhat surprising that he was ever allowed to become a foster father given his history.

Despite a long history of drug and weapons charges in the 1970s and '80s, Fabregas was allowed to become a foster father for the three children — and adopt the youngest — in 1998 after a King County judge issued him a certificate of rehabilitation, according to [spokeswoman Kathy] Spears and court documents.

The newspaper articles are not as clear on the point one would like, but Fabregas appears to have been involved with their mother — which should be a giant red flag, since child predators often target single women with daughters (or sometimes, sons).

In the roughly ten years since I moved back to Washington state, I seen similar stories of blunders by CPS again and again.  And I have seen the same kind of stories wherever I have lived; again and again state agencies charged with protecting children fail to do that.  (And sometimes persecute perfectly decent families who are doing nothing wrong.)

And there is one more troubling point:  The elected officials in charge of these bureaucracies rarely seem to suffer for these blunders.  I doubt that it will even occur to the reporters in this area to ask our current governor, Christine Gregoire, or her predecessor, Gary Locke, how something like this could have occurred on their watch.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's the CPS web site, if you are curious about the organization.)
- 10:57 AM, 12 June 2006   [link]

Tinfoil Hat Contest:  By way of Michelle Malkin, I learned that the Kos conventioneers had a tinfoil hat contest.  That shows, I suppose, some sense of humor, but not much feeling for public relations.

(Malkin's picture was a little hard to see, so I used Picasa to do some automatic fixes.

Vague on the tinfoil hat business?  Here's an explanation from, naturally, Wikipedia.  Bottom line: A tinfoil hat might not work, but a full tinfoil suit might.)
- 8:29 AM, 12 June 2006   [link]


Michael Barone Thinks That The Angry Left is helping the Republicans.
It comes down to this: A substantial part of the Democratic Party, some of its politicians and many of its loudest supporters do not want America to succeed in Iraq. So vitriolic and all-consuming is their hatred for George W. Bush that they skip right over the worthy goals we have been, with some considerable success, seeking there -- a democratic government, with guaranteed liberties for all, a vibrant free economy, respect for women -- and call this a war for oil, or for Halliburton.
. . .
All of this does not go unnoticed by America's voters. The persistence of violence in Iraq has done grave damage to George W. Bush's job rating, and polls show that his fellow Republicans are in trouble.   Yet when people actually vote, those numbers don't seem to translate into gains for the Democrats.   In 2004, John Kerry got 44 percent of the votes in the 50th district of California.  In the April 2006 special primary, Democrat Francine Busby got 44 percent of the votes there.  In the runoff last week, she got 45 percent and lost to Republican Brian Bilbray.
That's the same conclusion I have come to.  There are many precedents for this kind of reaction.  For example, there is good reason to believe that Vietnam war protestors alienated more people than they convinced.
- 7:36 AM, 12 June 2006   [link]


Tim Blair Puts The Kos Convention in Las Vegas in perspective.   In spite of lavish press coverage, just 1,000 attended.  In contrast, the Western States Roofing Contractors Association drew 4,000, and the International Esthetics Cosmetics & Spa Conference drew 33,000.  Another way to put it is that there weren't enough Kos conventioneers to fill a respectable megachurch.

Coonsidering the extent of the coverage, one would almost think that our unbiased "mainstream" media was trying to promote this group.
- 7:11 AM, 12 June 2006
More:  Byron York argues that, as the supporters of Daily Kos get more scrutiny, their reckless statements will come back to haunt them.
- 3:00 PM, 12 June 2006   [link]


Viva Mexico!  For beating Ahmadinejad's team.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he won't attend one of his country's World Cup matches unless it reaches the second round.  Given Iran's performance Sunday, it appears Ahmadinejad will be staying home.

Iran started strong and played to a tie in the first half, but succumbed completely to a Mexican onslaught in the second half and suffered a 3-1 defeat.
They take the game seriously in Iran, so this defeat will not go down well.

(I watched a little of the game, but was unable to stay interested.  Soccer looks as though it would be fun to play, but I don't know enough about it to watch an entire game.  And I am not very good at watching TV, regardless of what is on.)
- 3:21 PM, 11 June 2006   [link]


More Doubts About The Haditha "Massacre":  In this Washington Post article.
A sergeant who led a squad of Marines during the incident in Haditha, Iraq, that left as many as 24 civilians dead said his unit did not intentionally target any civilians, followed military rules of engagement and never tried to cover up the shootings, his attorney said.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, 26, told his attorney that several civilians were killed Nov. 19 when his squad went after insurgents who were firing at them from inside a house.  The Marine said there was no vengeful massacre, but he described a house-to-house hunt that went tragically awry in the middle of a chaotic battlefield.
And from Rick Moran.
This much is clear more than two weeks after the story broke that Marines in Haditha allegedly massacred 24 civilians "in cold blood," a descriptive used by Representative John Murtha who supposedly has seen excerpts of the military report on the incident.

One side or the other is lying in spectacular fashion.

And not just little inconsistencies in eyewitness testimony that one would expect in a war zone either.  There are extremely disturbing indications that press reports detailing eyewitness accounts have failed to reconcile what Iraqis in Haditha were telling them with other known facts that were either conveniently left out or ignored altogether.  There are also clear and unambiguous cases where Iraqi eyewitnesses have changed their stories 2, 3, and even more times.
Which does not lead one to trust their accounts.

And another tidbit from Clarice Feldman.

Perhaps Congressman Murtha was jumping to conclusions.  If so, he is going to owe our military an enormous apology — and should consider resigning from the House of Representatives.
- 3:03 PM, 11 June 2006   [link]


Congressman Inslee Responds.  Sort Of:  In this post I published an open letter to my own Congressman, Jay Inslee, asking him why he thought that the Democratic House leader, Nancy Pelosi, was fit to be speaker, and possibly president.  After three weeks, not having received a reply, I wrote this follow-up post, giving more reasons to doubt Congresswoman Pelosi's fitness for either job.

Shortly after that post appeared, I finally received a reply from Congressman Inslee.  Here's my original question:

What, in your opinion, makes Congresswoman Pelosi fit to be speaker, and possibly president?

And here's what Congressman Inslee (or, more likely, one of his staffers) wrote in reply:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns about members of the House leadership.  I appreciate hearing from you.

I applaud your interest in federal issues and will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.  It is great that we have people in this country who are so actively engaged in helping make public policy.

He then continued with a laundry list of what he considers his own accomplishments in Congress.

He did not mention Pelosi by name anywhere in the entire reply.  From this incident, I draw the following conclusion:  It may be possible to argue that Congresswoman Pelosi is fit to be speaker, and perhaps president, but it is not easy.  But the House Democratic caucus picked Pelosi for their leader anyway.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you would like to know more about Pelosi, let me recommend these two posts, one describing her district, and the other describing her machine politics background.)
- 9:32 AM, 11 June 2006   [link]


This Cat has nerves.
Who needs a guard dog when Jack the elderly suburban housecat is on duty?

The 10-year-old New Jersey tabby defended his neighbourhood turf earlier this week by chasing a wandering black bear up a tree — twice.
Though not necessarily good judgment.
- 6:33 AM, 11 June 2006   [link]


Back To Simplicity:  For video games, and perhaps for personal computers.  Video games led, quite directly, to the personal computer.  And now it is likely that Nintendo will improve video games by going back to simplicity, and just possible that this will persuade others to improve PCs

This New York Times article describes Nintendo's new system, beginning, as I would, with a review of the history.
Think about video games.  Once upon a time, call it the 1980's, video games were simple.   Facing one joystick and at most a couple of buttons, most anyone could simply drop a quarter into a Galaga or Ms. Pac-Man machine and have some cheap thrills.  And because the games were simple, they were practically ubiquitous in bars, waiting rooms and other public places.  Remember arcades?

Inevitably progress got in the way.  As game machines have become cheaper over the years, they have mostly disappeared from public spaces and burrowed into bedrooms and dens.  And as the machines have gotten more powerful, the games have gotten more complicated.  Both avid gamers and the industry have come to fixate on the ever more impressive graphics and ever more complex scenarios that faster chips can create.

The results can be downright intimidating.  People now in their 40's who might have just walked up to a Centipede machine and started playing when they were in college now might look at a Sony PlayStation 2 (which has 17 buttons and joysticks) and think, "I'll never figure that thing out."
So how does Nintendo plan to escape from this trap?  By going back to simple games with mass appeal, and by introducing an elegant new controller for their new game machine, Wii.  (The Times says that's pronounced "we", not "why".)
Playing a video game may require looking at a screen, but the primary interface between a human and a game is the player's hands.  So to play tennis with the Wii, you watch the screen, and when the ball comes, you simply swing your arm to make your on-screen avatar swing.  (If you're good, you can get spin on the ball).  To throw a football, you mimic throwing a football.  To swing a sword — well, you get the idea.
I think most of us would get the idea very quickly, judging by the description.

If Nintendo is successful, then I would expect to see similar controllers for PCs — and when there are enough of them out there, some radical software designers might even decide to use them for something other than games.

Much of our software could be simpler, and far easier to use.  But it is terribly difficult to get software people to design for people who are not like themselves, and even when you have convinced them to try, they often do not succeed.  Achieving simplicity, many have learned the hard way, is an extraordinarily complex task.

But I remain an optimist, and see reason for hope in this new Nintendo controller, and the design thinking behind it.
- 4:10 PM, 10 June 2006   [link]


Haditha?  Clarice Feldman, relying on material gathered by Sweetness & Light, raises some questions.
Evidence accumulates of a hoax in Haditha. The weblog Sweetness & Light has done an estimable service gathering together the articles which cast substantial doubt on the charge of a massacre of civilians at Haditha.  Because the blog is too busy gathering and fisking the news, I offered and the publisher accepted my offer to put what he has uncovered in a narrative form.

Having done so, I can tell you that the story has a whiff of yet another mediagenic scandal like the TANG memos or the Plame "outing."  While the Marines quite correctly will not comment on the case pending the outcome of their investigation, I am not bound by those rules, and I will sum up the story for you.
I am not familiar with Sweetness & Light, but I have been reading her posts at American Thinker, and her comments elsewhere, and have come to respect her.

You'll want to read the whole post.  I think you will agree that, though she has not proved that there was a hoax, she has raised serious questions about the public evidence.

(TANG = the forged Texas Air National Guard memos, if you have forgotten.)
- 10:54 AM, 10 June 2006   [link]


PETA Won't like this, either.
Security forces thwarted a bombing in a southern Afghan town by capturing a donkey laden with explosives and a man who was plotting to blow up the animal in a rebel attack, a government spokesman said Thursday.
(I said either, because when Palestinian terrorists used a donkey in a similar attack, PETA protested — on behalf of the donkey.  Humans, they explained, are not in their department.  Donkeys are.)
- 1:18 AM, 9 June 2006   [link]


The New York Times keeps running this argument, though the authors change.   This time the author is economist Robert Frank.   (Who does not seem aware that he is not being entirely original, even for the New York Times.  But that's all right.  I don't read everything in the New York Times, either.)
Gasoline prices are rising because the world's appetite for oil has been outstripping dwindling supplies.  Legislatures cannot repeal the law of supply and demand.  To escape the burden of widespread energy shortages, we must consume less energy.  And to achieve that goal, gasoline prices need to be higher, not lower.

The most efficient means to that end is thus precisely the opposite of what Senator Thune proposes.   In my Feb. 16 column, I suggested an additional gasoline tax of $2 a gallon.  All revenue would go into a common pool, which would then be returned on an approximately equal per capita basis by reducing payroll taxes.
Let me begin by noting that supplies are not "dwindling", something Professor Frank can verify without difficulty.  Currently the world is producing more oil and gasoline than it ever has, and, at least in the short run, those supplies can be expanded, as Frank more or less admits when he says that OPEC controls the supply of oil.

As these authors in the New York Times almost always are, Frank is imprecise in his argument.  We need, he says, to "consume less energy".  To do that we should increase the taxes on gasoline, rebating the money through some scheme that Frank is still working out.  You'll notice that Frank slipped from saying we must consume less energy to arguing that we should tax a single use of energy, gasoline, with no explanation.  Yet a barrel of crude oil is made into many things besides gasoline, notably fuel oil and kerosene, which Frank does not mention.  If we need to consume less energy, then we should be just as willing to tax those uses as we are to tax gasoline.  (For that matter, we should be willing to tax wind power and solar power, by Frank's argument.)

But Frank, like the others who keep making this argument in the New York Times, must think that there is something especially wrong with gasoline.  What might that be?  Here's my answer from last November.
But there is one problem for which a gas tax is the best solution, or at least the best solution that has any chance of being enacted by Congress.  A higher gas tax would reduce the number of poor and working class people on our highways.  If that is your goal, then a higher gas tax is probably the best way to achieve it.

Is the desire to remove poor and working class people from our highways the reason that so many at the New York Times and elsewhere favor higher gasoline taxes?  No, but for many of them it is a reason, though they are unlikely ever to admit that publicly.
If Professor Frank thinks we should consume less energy, then he should favor a general tax on energy, not a gasoline tax.  (And he might consider explaining why he thinks we should consume less energy, something not obvious from his columns.)  Why an economist doesn't realize this, I have no idea.  Maybe it is the vision of all those highways without those poor folks on them.

As for me, I do not see the justice in making, for example, a Wyoming nurse pay more to get to her work, while Professor Frank does not pay more to get to his vacations in Europe.  Or the justice in taxing the gas a migrant farm worker uses as he goes from one poor paying job to another, while not taxing the fuel oil used to heat luxury homes.  But then I am not an Ivy League professor, so perhaps I am missing some subtle point.
- 12:43 PM, 9 June 2006   [link]


More Raids:  Looks like our forces are following up Zarqawi's death brilliantly.
U.S. troops conducted nearly 40 raids Friday in Iraq, taking advantage of information gleaned from searches following Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, a military spokesman said, also revealing new information about the man believed poised to take the terror leader's place.
. . .
Hours after the bombing, U.S. troops carried out 17 simultaneous raids Wednesday near Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province.  The region is in the heartland of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency and has seen a recent rise in sectarian violence. Baqouba is 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Those raids provided the information leading to the searches overnight Thursday.

In the 39 raids, troops "picked up things like memory sticks, some hard drives" that would allow American forces to begin dismantling al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq, [Maj. Gen. William] Caldwell told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Excellent.

(These raids do make me wonder whether Zarqawi encrypted his files.  I certainly hope not.)
- 10:46 AM, 9 June 2006   [link]