Archive:

March 2004, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



How Do Women Basketball Players Get Better?  By practicing against guys.
Their classmates notice that they are invited to the popular athletes' parties on campus.   They wear exclusive athletic logo apparel, and they hang around the athletic complex.  Once in a while, they even sign an autograph.

So it is natural when a classmate eventually asks: What sport do you play?

"And that's when I tell them I'm a practice player on the women's basketball team," Mike Cofrancesco, a junior at the University of Connecticut, said.  "I get the weirdest looks.   People say: `But you're a guy? Is that allowed?'"

Cofrancesco is one of hundreds of men who have become volunteer practice fodder for women's basketball teams at dozens of universities across the country, a practice condoned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.  At UConn, for example, Cofrancesco is one of six male students who spend afternoons banging under the boards with the stars of Connecticut's two-time defending national champions.  And the all-Americans bang back.
I had seen and read about women players doing this informally, but did not realize that it had become formal.  There's another reason for doing this that the article does not mention.   At every level, women basketball players are more subject to injuries than men.  By using men as practice players, they protect their bench from injuries.  And there's an interesting difference in the article; the Duke coach says that using men for practice protects a team's chemistry, because players don't have to battle each other in practice.  I've never heard a similar argument made about a men's team.

Is there a political lesson is this?  Well, yes, by analogy.  Analysts of both sports and politics often say that a team or a candidate gets better by being challenged.  Some are now saying that John Kerry was not challenged as he should have been for the nomination, and so will have more trouble competing against Bush.

The problem with that argument is that analysts, sometimes the same ones who make the first argument, will also tell you that teams can get hurt in tough practices or preliminary games, and that candidates can be damaged in nomination fights.   So, is there a general rule, and would Kerry have been helped by more competition this time?   In my opinion, primary fights are usually bad for candidates, but previous general election experience is usually helpful.  Kerry, in my opinion, is better off for having a tough fight against William Weld in Massachusetts in 1996, and better off for his easy win in the nomination fight this year.

(There are elections that are exceptions to both generalizations.  Sometimes a candidate that has never run before can be presented effectively as an agent of change, and sometimes a nomination fight allows a candidate to define himself in ways that the public admires.)
- 2:21 PM, 8 March 2004   [link]


Follow Up On Hassan Farah:  Three weeks ago, in this post, I speculated that the murder of the Somali born taxi driver might have a connection to terrorism.  The Seattle police have arrested suspects, and there is now no reason to think that the murder was anything other than a botched robbery.
Two men have been arrested for investigation in the slaying of a Yellow Cab driver, one of them already in jail in an unrelated attempt to rob a jewelry store, police said.

Police also said Wednesday that Hasaan Muse Farah, 39, was killed in the course of a robbery rather than because of his beliefs or immigrant status, as many in the city's Muslim and Somali immigrant communities had feared.
A third man was arrested later.  As you'll notice, some in the Somali community had their own suspicions about motives.

Fans of self defense will be pleased at what led to the captures.
- 1:45 PM, 8 March 2004   [link]


More US Jobs Going To Immigrants:  And in a very traditional business.
Organized crime families have given up on U.S. hitmen as unreliable, and now rely on Sicilian-bred killers, The Times of London said Monday.

Dozens of young Sicilians are believed to have been sent from towns in the Palermo area to the United States to help shore up the ranks of clans such as the DeCavalcante family in New Jersey and the Bonanno family in New York, said Roberto Centaro, the head of the Italian parliament's anti-Mafia commission
Experts see this as another sign of educational failures in the United States.
Antonino Giuffre, a leading Italian Mafia turncoat said the Trapani area of Sicily is the home training ground for the Cosa Nostra's code of honor. "In America, there isn't the same attachment to values -- there's no respect anymore," Giuffre said.
There are a few, mostly libertarians, who favor completely open borders (and many more who favor them in practice).  Do those who favor open borders support the entry of this new group of hard working immigrants?  Many large cities, including Seattle, would since they do not allow their police officers to enforce immigration laws.
- 10:49 AM, 8 March 2004   [link]


Kondracke Catches Up On Turnout:  Columnist Morton Kondracke catches up with the point I have been making here for months; turnout in the Democratic nominating contests have not been impressive.
Although Democrats invariably say their party is "pumped" to beat President Bush, primary election turnout numbers don't confirm it - a factor Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) might consider when he selects his running mate.

Total Democratic turnout in the 30 primaries and caucuses through Super Tuesday was 8,854,490, according to one GOP analysis, well behind the 11,280,625 recorded during 21 Republican contests in 2000, when Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was challenging George W. Bush.
All sorts of reasons why you can't compare those two numbers directly, but his basic point is right.

Kondracke argues that Kerry needs to add some excitement to the ticket with his choice of a vice presidential candidate.  I don't think that would work, since a strong candidate would highlight one of Kerry's big weaknesses, his entirely deserved reputation as a flip-flopper.
I've been trying, really I have. As a charter member of the ABB Society -- Anybody But Bush -- I've tried not to fret over the alarmingly tautological nature of John Kerry's victory.  He was inevitable because voters picked him to win because he had won over earlier voters and therefore must be a winner.
. . .
And I've labored to turn my eyes from his career-long opportunism, the knowledge that Bay State political junkies trade their favorite Kerry flip-flops like baseball cards.  Bush is already having fun with Kerry's zigzags of the past three years alone: Kerry voted for so many of Bush's major initiatives that in order to disown them now he can only argue that they were wrongly or dishonestly "implemented."  This amounts to a confession that his opponent made a chump of him for the past three years.
. . .
I finally lost my grip, though, when I opened my newspaper a few days ago to read of Kerry's latest lunge in the direction of some politically feasible position on gay marriage.  In general, Kerry, like most Democrats, has taken shelter in the mantra that (a) it's a matter that should be decided in the states, and (b) civil unions are the acceptable way to go about conferring equal rights on gays; marriage itself is off the table.
. . .
But I'm trying, I really am.  Cover your eyes, and clap if you believe in Tinkerbell.
Washington Post columnist Marjorie Williams is an upper middle class woman with the extreme views on cultural issues common among journalists.  Alicia Colon, who writes for the New York Sun, is a Hispanic woman from a poor background, with moderate views on cultural issues.  In a recent column at the Sun (not available on line for free), she noted the terrible turnout in working class Hispanic areas in the New York primary.  If Kerry has already repelled both cultural leftists and working class Hispanics, then I have even more confidence in my prediction that Bush will win 59 percent of the two party vote.

(Here's an article with a table giving some of Kerry's biggest flip-flops.  And, here are my posts on turnout, Super Tuesday, Utah, and a summary with links to earlier posts.)
- 9:35 AM, 8 March 2004   [link]


Not Everyone Eats Their Greens:  Or their liver, lentils, and beans.  As a result, some people do not get enough folic acid, one of the B vitamins.   In 1998, the United States began requiring that bread and other grain products be fortified with with folic acid.  As research had predicted, this step sharply reduced the number of babies born with neural tube defects.
Low folate levels early in pregnancy can cause birth defects called neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

The government required folic acid fortification in 1998, after efforts to persuade women of childbearing age to take folic acid supplements had not led to a decrease in the defects.
. . .
Earlier studies that counted neural tube defects among newborns indicated a drop of 19 percent, a smaller change than had been predicted.  But Dr. Evans argued that because the studies could not account for stillbirths or terminated pregnancies, it would be better to measure the change using pregnancy screening tests.

The number of women the tests found at high risk fell by 32 percent, and the number at highest risk had dropped by 44 percent, according to the study, in the March issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Dr. Evans wrote that the findings indicated that fortification "represented the biggest single step in the reduction of birth defects to date."
How big a reduction?  Some googling gave me some rough estimates.  About 4,000,000 babies are born in the United States each year.  Of those, one in 1,000, (one estimate I found) or 1 in 2,000 (another estimate) will be affected by spinal bifida, so assuming the fortification prevents one third of the cases, somewhere between 700 and 1,400 cases of spinal bifida alone will be prevented each year.  Adding in other neural tube defects, we may be preventing somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 birth defects each year.

But, and this came as a complete surprise to me, the biggest health effect of the fortification may have been on adults.
Adding the vitamin folate to flour, a practice begun in 1996 to prevent birth defects, also appears to have a striking protective effect against cardiovascular disease, preventing an estimated 48,000 deaths a year from strokes and heart attacks, a government study found.

Many experts hoped from the start that adding folate to food would be good for people's circulatory systems.  The vitamin lowers homocysteine, and high levels of this amino acid have long been linked to heart attacks and strokes.

But the new data, released at an American Heart Association conference yesterday, are the first evidence from a large, population-based study to suggest this is actually happening.  Researchers estimate that folate in food led to 31,000 fewer deaths from stroke and 17,000 from heart disease each year from 1998 to 2001.
(Why does the New York Times say 1998 and the Washington Post say 1996?  Probably just a mistake by the Post, although voluntary fortification may have begun before 1998.)

46,000 is an astonishing number, larger than the number of traffic deaths in the United States each year.  And this advance in our health was cheap.   I found no estimates for the total cost, but the cost of flour is such a small proportion of the price of bread that it could not have been very large.  (Since this happened in 1998, doesn't the Clinton administration deserve some credit for this?  Certainly, although the bureaucrats at the FDA and the USPHS appear to deserve the biggest share.)

Not everyone will agree with this policy.  A pure libertarian will object to the reduction of his freedom to eat whatever he wants, in spite of the risks.  Most of us, however, will think that the gains are worth that small loss of freedom, as they were for similar decisions in the past, like iodizing salt and adding Vitamin D to milk.

This advance illustrates something I have been arguing for some time, against most conventional thinking.  As our understanding of health problems increase, we may be able to improve our health and reduce the costs of health care.  Much of our very best technology for improving health, such as water purification, vaccination, and food fortification, is quite cheap.

(Here are some links with more on the subject, a quite technical nutrition fact sheet on folate, the 1996 FDA fortification proposal, a summary on spinal bifida, and a large set of statistics on spinal bifida.  Finally, one warning.  As FDA proposal notes, large amounts of folate can mask B12 deficiency in older people.)
- 8:18 AM, 8 March 2004   [link]


Osama's Kids Didn't Respect Him:  I don't know whether everything Abdurahman Khadr has been telling us is true, but his stories from inside al Qaeda are amusing.
A disgraced al-Qa'eda insider has revealed that the world's most wanted man struggled to retain authority in his own home.

Osama bin Laden's children mocked their despotic and obsessive father, secretly drinking Coca Cola and requiring bribes to memorise the Koran.
. . .
Abdurahman, 20, the son of a leading Canadian-Egyptian militant, was raised in al-Qa'eda's inner circle.  But he fell into disgrace for drinking, smoking and smuggling banned American films into the bin Laden family compound in Jalalabad, where his family lived for several years.
. . .
Abdurahman told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that bin Laden had "issues with his wife, and he has issues with his kids.  You know, the kids aren't listening, the kids aren't doing this and that."
Not that it was all Life With Father:
Behind such homely, almost comic details, horrors lurked. Abdurahman's father, killed in a shoot-out with Pakistani police last year, tried to persuade his son to be a suicide bomber on three separate occasions.

The young man described celebrations at an al-Qa'eda guest house in Afghanistan when news broke of huge bomb blasts at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.

"The leader of the guest house went outside and bought juice for everybody, jugs and jugs of juice.  People were making jokes that we should do this more often."
Hundreds of Africans, most with no connection to the United States, died, and the leaders of al Qaeda celebrated.

Finally, there's a lesson for our friends up north:
His admissions are an acute embarrassment for Canadian liberals, who adopted the Khadr family as a cause celebre when they were accused of terrorist links in the 1990s.

In 1996, the then prime minister, Jean Chretien, intervened with Pakistani authorities to secure the release of Abdurahman's father, Ahmed Said Khadr.  Mr Khadr strongly denied being a terrorist, saying he was a charity worker.
I seem to recall that Prime Minister Chrétien has helped other terrorists, as well.
- 5:59 PM, 7 March 2004   [link]


Fisking Fisk:  Robert Fisk is a well educated British journalist who has won many awards.
Fisk, a brilliant man who has a Ph.D. in political science from Trinity College in Ireland, thinks he knows all the answers and so he never hesitates to finger-point in stories.
. . .
But Fisk is perhaps Britain's most acclaimed foreign correspondent.  He has won the British Press Awards' International Journalist of the Year honor (the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for foreign reporting) seven times.  Amnesty International and the United Nations have given awards to Fisk, who speaks often at Harvard, Princeton, MIT and other prestigious American universities.
After you read this Fisk column, you may agree with me that Trinity should revoke his degree, the British Press, Amnesty International, and the United Nations should take back their awards, and universities that have invited him to speak should ask for the return of their speaking fees.

Here's Fisk's lead paragraph:
Odd, isn't it?  There never has been a civil war in Iraq.  I have never heard a single word of animosity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq.  Al-Qaida has never uttered a threat against Shias -- even though al-Qaida is a Sunni-only organization. Yet for weeks, the American occupation authorities have been warning us about civil war, have even produced a letter said to have been written by an al-Qaida operative, advocating a Sunni-Shia conflict.  Normally sane journalists enthusiastically have taken up this theme.  Civil war.
Assertion 1: "There has never been a civil war in Iraq."  Which means that he does not consider the Shiite risings against Saddam after the first Gulf war, civil wars.  Nor can the several rounds of conflict between the Kurds and Saddam be civil wars.  Nor was Saddam's brutal repression of the Marsh Arabs a civil war.  If these events were not civil wars, what would be?  (And I could have added some earlier civil wars, including the conflict between the Communists and the Baathists.)

Assertion 2; "I have never heard a single word of animosity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq."   Fisk is being cute here.  He is saying that he has not heard such words, which is possible though extraordinarily improbable, but he wants you to think that such words are uncommon.   In fact, violent conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in what is now Iraq go back to the founding of the Shiite branch of Islam in the seventh century.  The Umayyad dynasty was overthrown in 749 with the help of the Shiites.  The new dynasty, the Abbasids, founded Baghdad as their new capital, partly, one supposes, to be nearer to their Shiite supporters in Persia and what is now southern Iraq.  In the more than a millennium since then, the Shiites have not stopped quarreling with the Sunnis.  Fisk knows this.

Assertion 3: "Al-Qaida has never uttered a threat against Shias -- even though al-Qaida is a Sunni-only organization." In fact, Shiites in Pakistan were attacked at the same time as the Shiites in Iraq, and the Pakistani Shiites blame a group affiliated with al Qaeda.
Shiite leaders suspect that the attack on Tuesday was the work of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Sunni militant group with links to Al Qaeda.  It has carried out many sectarian strikes in the past, and witnesses said the attackers' guns were painted with the group's name.
And it is no secret that Shiites are on the list of groups that al Qaeda wants to eliminate, though they may not be first on the list.

Having contradicted the facts so boldly, Fisk then makes two amazing accusations, for which he admits that he has no evidence at all:
No, I don't believe the Americans were behind Tuesday's carnage in Baghdad and Karbala, despite the screams of accusation by the Iraqi survivors.  But I do worry about the Iraqi exile groups who think that their own actions might produce what the Americans want: a fear of civil war so intense that Iraqis will go along with any plan the United States produces for Mesopotamia.
Accusation 1: Iraqi exile groups may have done the bombings.

Accusation 2. Americans want an intense fear of civil war in Iraq.

It is hard to say which of these accusations is more disgusting.  Ordinarily, before speculating that Iraqi exiles (many of whom are Shiite) may have committed mass murder, some evidence would be required, but not for Fisk.  Nor is there any evidence for the second accusation that the United States wants the fear of civil war to increase.  Again and again, in fact, the United States has worked to defuse tensions between groups.  For example, the Kurds have not been brought into areas outside their homeland, though our forces could often have used their help.

If Fisk speculated that an individual committed mass murder, or encouraged it, then that person could sue.  Groups like the Iraqi exiles, or nations like the United States, can not retaliate for his reckless speculation in a court of law.  That libel laws do not cover Fisk's column does not make it any less libel by ordinary standards, if not by legal ones.

Complete disregard of the facts and reckless accusations.  Makes you wonder about those awards and the organizations that gave them to Fisk, doesn't it?
- 5:25 PM, 6 March 2004   [link]


Know A Student Who Needs Practice In Mathematical Thinking?  Then show them this letter from Saturday's Washington Post:
Only 40 Percent Liberal

In his Feb. 29 "Sundaypolitics" column, Dana Milbank wrote that the National Journal, in its tally of 2003 voting records, said that Sen. John F. Kerry was the most liberal member of Congress with a score of 96.5 of 100 based on 62 votes used in the tally.

It turns out that Kerry missed 37 of the 62 votes, so only 24 of 25 votes could be defined as liberal.  A simple calculation (24/62) shows that his liberal percentage is around 40 percent.

One might be left with the impression that Kerry is more a conservative than a liberal.
I don't think the writer was joking even though he made a mistake that should make a competent grade schooler laugh.  Which is why I omitted the name, though you can find it here, if you are curious.  If your student is young and looks a little puzzled, give them this hint: How conservative would Kerry be, by the writer's argument, if he had never voted at all?

(How liberal is Kerry?  Not quite as liberal as the senior senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy.  Kennedy received scores of 100 in both 2001 and 2002 from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, while Kerry received 85 and 95 those same years.  A conservative organization, the American Conservative Union, has similar ratings, though the scoring is reversed; Kennedy received scores of 0 and 4 in 2001 and 2002, while Kerry received 20 and 4.   The National Journal, a nonpartisan magazine, separates its ratings into three categories, economic, social, and foreign.  By their ratings, Kerry was slightly more liberal than Kennedy on economic issues, identical on social issues, and less liberal on foreign policy, again for 2001 and 2002.

Technical point: Though it is often done, it is almost always wrong to compare numbers in these ratings between years, without qualification.)
- 4:36 AM, 7 March 2004   [link]


Aristide Is From Pluto:  Not the planet, but the voodoo underworld, symbolized by Pluto.  You can see that in this column, which quotes a strange Aristide speech in which he accused his opponents of being from Pluto.
"This is the message I am sending, meanwhile, to all my brothers and sisters in the political opposition.  When there is a sister of mine who is in the political opposition, I am pleased with that, because democracy goes hand-in-hand with opposition.... However, when they ask for coup d'état, it makes me think that it is like somebody who is not living near the sun of peace, the sun of democracy and who is not even living on this Earth, but who is living on another planet such as Pluto.... When they see that I show respect for them, that will encourage them to enter the light of democracy so that together we may talk matters over in a respectful manner.  Then we will not have Haitians living on the faraway planet Pluto, but we will have Haitians living in the land of Haiti in dialogue, love and respect so that democracy may lead us in elections."

His reference to Pluto is apt.  No, the planet isn't named after Mickey's dog.   Pluto is the god of the underworld.  Too many Haitians continue to know too much about hellish conditions.  Yet there he was, talking about love and respect.  This is a guy, remember, who in all probability ordered his thugs to bump off his "brothers and sisters in the political opposition."  So his rendition of What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding? lacks a certain sincerity.
As Jac Wilder VerSteeg says, Aristide is guilty of the same faults as his opponents, so it is fair to say that he, too, is from Pluto.  (For those not familiar with the Palm Beach Post, I should mention that it is one of the most Democratic newspapers in the country, so this column is not written by some right winger.)

VerSteeg goes on to argue that Aristide wanted not to govern democratically, but to be worshiped, which is the best short explanation of Aristide's failure that I have seen.

Voodoo priests and priestesses in Haiti agree.
The rise and fall of Mr Aristide, its first democratically elected leader and an ordained Catholic priest who adopted as his symbol the cockerel, a voodoo icon, illustrates this.  Mr Aristide, whose library contained many books on the national religion, was guilty of the voodoo equivalent of hubris and then struck down by its version of nemesis, several voodoo priests said this week.
. . .
Desperate to cling on to power, he also dabbled in what voodoo priests and priestesses called sorcery and the black arts, very different from the benign voodoo they claim to practise.

The priests and priestesses were still reluctant to mention the president by name, but their disapproval shone through their careful choice of words.  "There are some sacrifices that when you make them you pay for them very fast," said one of Haiti's best known priestesses, Gladys Maitre.
Anyone familiar with Haiti would know about the centrality of voodoo to that nation.  But I watched a long segment on PBS with a New York Times correspondent which never used the word, or mentioned anything close to the subject.  Like many in our "mainstream media", the New York Times correspondent was unable (unwilling?) to discuss something central to the lives of Haitians.  And I suspect, though I haven't watched any network news programs on Haiti, that Jennings, Rather, and company haven't mentioned voodoo either.

Finally, a word on John Kerry.  Aristide has failed and cannot succeed as Haiti's leader, for all the reasons VerSteeg, who formerly supported Aristide, describes.  Kerry believes that we should inflict this man on the suffering people of Haiti once again.  That will help him gain support from the black caucus in the Congress, but would continue the misery in Haiti.  George Bush ran in 2000 as a compassionate conservative; Kerry's position on Aristide is evidence that he may be the opposite.
- 8:53 AM, 7 March 2004   [link]


Club Guantanamo:  Another Afghan teenager released from Guantanamo tells the same story as others.
Asadullah strives to make his point, switching to English lest there be any mistaking him. "I am lucky I went there, and now I miss it.  Cuba was great," said the 14-year-old, knotting his brow in the effort to make sure he is understood.

Not that Asadullah saw much of the Caribbean island.  During his 14-month stay, he went to the beach only a couple of times - a shame, as he loved to snorkel.  And though he learned a few words of Spanish, Asadullah had zero contact with the locals.

He spent a typical day watching movies, going to class and playing football.  He was fascinated to learn about the solar system, and now enjoys reciting the names of the planets, starting with Earth.
. . .
Asadullah is even more sure of this [than another Afghan boy, Naqibullah].  "Americans are great people, better than anyone else," he said, when found at his elder brother's tiny fruit and nut shop in a muddy backstreet of Kabul.  "Americans are polite and friendly when you speak to them.  They are not rude like Afghans.  If I could be anywhere, I would be in America.   I would like to be a doctor, an engineer — or an American soldier."

This might seem to jar with the prevailing opinion of Guantanamo among human rights groups.   An American jail on foreign soil, Guantanamo was designed, according to Amnesty International, to deny prisoners "many of their most basic rights", which in America would include special provision for the "speedy trial" of juveniles.
(Actually prisoners of war do not have those rights under American law, especially not illegal combatants.)  And this evidence will make no difference at all to Amnesty International and other leftist organizations.  They begin by assuming that the United States is guilty, and go from there.
- 2:04 PM, 6 March 2004   [link]


Hastertland Versus Pelosiville:  On Thursday, while bicycling at the fitness club, I took one more look at a January article from the Economist comparing the Congressional districts of Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, an article I find both fascinating and annoying.  (You can see the article here, but you'll have to pay for it.)  Pelosi's 8th district is most of San Francisco; Hastert's 14th district combines Republican suburbs of Chicago with Republican rural areas farther west.

The two districts, the Economist believes, illustrate the differences between the two parties.
  1. San Francisco is vertical, the 14th district horizontal.
  2. San Francisco is filled with unusual people, the 14th district with ordinary people.
  3. San Francisco is beautiful and cultured, the 14th district flat and boring.

  4. San Francisco is hostile to families; the 14th district is centered on them.
  5. San Francisco is irreligious; the 14th district is filled with Christian churches.
  6. San Francisco is filled with political activists; the 14th district is not.

  7. San Francisco's public schools are terrible; those in the 14th district are good.
  8. San Francisco is filthy and disorderly, the 14th district clean and orderly.
  9. San Francisco is stagnating, the 14th district growing.
That should be enough to show you why I found the article fascinating.  Now here's why I found it annoying.  If we look at the first three points, we see that San Francisco has great advantages over the 14th district.  And, though the article does not mention it, the two districts have about the same financial resources; although the median family income in Pelosi's district ($52,322) is about $4,000 less than that in Hastert's district, she represents far more of the very wealthy, so the the mean family income is probably higher in her district than Hastert's.

The middle three points show that the two districts have very different sets of values, and the last three show that, in spite of its advantages, San Francisco has failed compared to the 14th district.  (And there are many other San Francisco failures I could mention, including vote fraud and corruption.)  An anthropologist from Alpha Centauri, or some other unbiased observer, would suspect that the different values in points 4, 5, and 6 might explain the different outcomes in points 7, 8, and 9.  But the Economist does not want to go there, and they give a hint at why:
Most foreigners are at ease in Ms Pelosi's America.  They know San Francisco from films or even personal experience; tourism has been the city's biggest industry since the early 1960s.   Europeans, in particular, feel at home with the city's compact structure, leftish politics, and permissive atmosphere.  Hastert's America, on the other hand, is a mystery.
So, the familiarity keeps the Economist from reaching the obvious conclusion; the values found in Pelosi's district lead to governmental failure, those in Hastert's district lead to governmental success.  Hastert's ideas work, Pelosi's ideas don't.  I'll say what the Economist will only hint at.

(Don't let my annoyance at this article lead you to avoid the Economist.  This post, by Michael of the "Two Blowhards", will show you just how fascinating the magazine can be.)
- 7:57 AM, 6 March 2004   [link]


The Media Kerfuffle Over Bush's Ads was something I was planning to ignore.  Luckily, others didn't feel the same way and have pretty much covered the controversy.

Charles Johnson, of Little Green Footballs collects some of the headlines to show silly they are.  The "Hindrocket" at Powerline explains the technique behind those headlines:
The principal technique used by most newspapers was to dredge up two or three relatives of Sept. 11 victims to criticize the President's ads (nearly always sight unseen).  Given that the 3,000 victims had at least 25,000 to 50,000 close relatives, finding two or three devoted Democrats among them is not much of a feat.
And he goes on to give some background on those you see quoted.   "Citizen Smash" adds details on some of the people objecting to the ads, and has this to say about them:
If President Bush is "politicizing" the events of September 11, 2001, he isn't the first person to do so.
Finally, the neoliberal columnist for USA Today, Walter Shapiro says this:
But it is hard to get overwrought about the Bush commercials.  They are pretty mild fare, especially compared with a TV ad aired by the Republican National Committee in Iowa last November.   That spot, which targeted the Democratic presidential contenders, hyperbolically claimed, "Some are attacking the president for attacking the terrorists." That kind of attack ad, with its implication that the Democrats are soft on national security, is a reminder of how easily politics can become down-and-dirty in an age of terrorism.

In politics, negative ads are normally the ones that prompt cries of unfairness.  That is why it is such a worrisome sign that so much partisan energy is being squandered in squabbling over these gauzy, positive Bush ads.  Compared with the invective that is likely to flow from both campaigns, we are still well within smile-button territory.
What Shapiro means, as the rest makes clear, is not that is "hard to get overwrought" about the ads, since many have, but that it is foolish to do so.  With that, I entirely agree.
- 7:54 AM, 5 March 2004   [link]


Cover The Words And Look At The Numbers:  That's the advice I give to anyone who wants to learn to think statistically.  This press release from Gallup shows the advantages of that approach.  Let me start with the second question in the release.
Do you, yourself, feel that our national defense is stronger now than it needs to be, not strong enough, or about right at the present time?
If we look at the most recent numbers, we see that just 10 percent think our armed forces are too strong, while 34 percent think they should be stronger.  We don't know how the 54 percent who think our forces are about right would divide if they were forced to choose between too strong and not strong enough, but it seems likely that they would split in favor of the second, given the numbers who do favor a stronger military.  If I were to make a guess, I would say that at least 60 percent would prefer a stronger military to a weaker one, if those were the only choices.

Now, back to the words.  Here's how Gallup headlined the press release.
More Americans Say U.S. Spending Too Much on Defense
This is literally true, as you can see in the answers to the first question in the release; 31 percent now think that we are spending too much, less than a majority but higher than it has been in some time.  (And 22 percent think we are spending too little.)

We can make more sense of this if we consider the two questions together.  At least 21 percent want less money spent on defense, but do not want a weaker military.  There is nothing necessarily irrational about that.  We have all heard and seen many stories of waste in the Defense Department, some of them true.  As canny consumers, this group wants to get the same (or a stronger) military for less money.

Putting all this together, the right headline to describe public opinion on this subject might be something like this:
Large Majority Backs Stronger Military, Growing Minority Wants Tighter Controls On Military Spending
You wouldn't get that impression from Gallup's headline or their text, would you?
- 7:07 AM, 5 March 2004   [link]


Miss The Far Side Cartoons?  If so, you may want to look at the entries in a Photoshopped Far Side contest.  The constestants try, with varying degrees of success, to recreate some of Larson's many cartoons.

(I used to begin every business day by looking at the daily Far Side cartoon calendar.   Now that Larson is no longer allowing it to be published, I have had to switch to the New Yorker daily calendar, which has many good and a few great cartoons, but is not as consistently funny.)
- 6:19 AM, 5 March 2004   [link]


Secret American Weapons Against Terror:  From the beginning, I have argued that we would need all kinds of weapons against terror and today's news provides two contrasting examples of that point.  Thanks to our friends and allies, we have been able to track al Qaeda movements around the world with Swiss cellphone chips.
For two years, investigators now say, they were able to track the conversations and movements of several Qaeda leaders and dozens of operatives after determining that the suspects favored a particular brand of cellphone chip.  The chips carry prepaid minutes and allow phone use around the world.

Investigators said they believed that the chips, made by Swisscom of Switzerland, were popular with terrorists because they could buy the chips without giving their names.
The whole article is worth reading, both for the discussion of the technology and for evidence of the cooperation in the war on terror.  The article says that more than a dozen countries have worked with us, including "Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Britain and Italy".  Thanks to all of them, especially Switzerland.

On a less serious note, an American commander in Afghanistan has found that he can win the favor of local leaders with Claxton fruitcakes.
Claxton fruitcakes have now contributed to world peace, or at least they've made Lieutenant Colonel Glenn Bramhall of Spartanburg a popular American in Afghanistan.
. . .
The US commander shared his "Southern delicacy" during teatime with an Afghan general, who devoured it and demanded to know which "secret" bakery in Kabul baked the cakes, because his people had never had such a delicacy.
Colonel Bramhall, with the help of his wife, has now supplied his Afghan friends with six cases of the fruitcakes.

Whatever it takes, cellphone technology or fruitcakes.
- 11:07 AM, 4 March 2004   [link]


Green Superstition Kills Africans:  In the past, I have noted that Green fear of genetically modified (or as Joanne Jacobs suggests, "genetically enhanced") food blocked food aid to starving Africans.  Another Green superstition, the fear of DDT, is hindering the fight against malaria.
African health campaigners have accused western countries of deliberately ignoring an effective weapon against malaria.

They say the chemical DDT could help fight the disease, which kills about a million people each year - 90% of them in Africa.
But western donors often refuse to support projects that use DDT, which is very effective in controlling malaria when used on mosquito nets and walls inside houses.  The African health campaigners accuse the West of double standards and say that, if we had their malaria problems, we would use DDT to fight the disease.  I think they are right.

(There's an interesting bit of history about the banning of DDT in the United States.  The EPA, then under William Ruckelshaus, collected scientific evidence from a distinguished panel which concluded that DDT should be limited in use, but not banned.  Ruckelshaus, who had no scientific training, overruled the panel and banned DDT, against the advice of most scientists.  Africans are still dying because of his error.  You can see an account of the banning here and EPA's lame defense here.)
- 8:27 AM, 4 March 2004   [link]


The Leftist Guardian Endorses John Kerry:  And they do so for an interesting reason.
The free world has never had a stronger interest in the result of a US election than it has in the defeat of Mr Bush.  Senator Kerry carries the hopes not just of millions of Americans but of millions of British well-wishers, not to mention those of nations throughout Europe and the world.
The Guardian is shy about naming some of Senator Kerry's more prominent well-wishers abroad, so I will fill in for them.  Among those who wish President Bush defeated are al Qaeda, the remnants of the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the terrorist organization Hezbollah, Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe, and the Iranian mullahocracy.

Do these dictators and terrorist organizations wish the free world well?  Not as far as I know.  So the Guardian must think that all of them are confused about their own self interest.

(The editorial illustrates a point made by many, notably John Podhoretz in his latest book, Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane.   George W. Bush has a gift for driving his opponents nuts.  It may not be insane to say that the free world has a stronger interest in this election than any other, but it is terribly silly.  Anyone familiar with US history can think of counter examples, starting with 1860 and 1940.)
- 7:30 AM, 4 March 2004   [link]


Election Test For Gay Marriage:  In this post, I argued that opposition to gay marriage may be underestimated with standard polls.  Yesterday, we had the first election testing that idea and the candidate opposed to gay marriage won.  In some conservative rural state like Idaho?  No, in Massachusetts.   Perhaps in some heavily Republican part of Massachusetts?  No, the district had been Democratic.  Maybe it was a place heavily bigoted against gays?  Not judging by the previous state senator.
The race was seen on Beacon Hill as a gauge of Romney's clout and the strength of the gay marriage issue.  [Republican Scott P.] Brown opposes legalizing gay marriage; [Democrat Angus] McQuilken supports it.

They were vying to replace [Cheryl] Jacques, who stepped down in January for a position with a gay advocacy group.  The state Senate district includes Needham, Norfolk, Sherborn, Millis, Plainville, Wrentham, Wayland, North Attleborough, and parts of Attleboro, Natick, Franklin, and Wellesley.
I am not familiar with the district, but I have trouble picturing Wellesley as filled with rednecks.

One last excuse.  Was this election at a time favoring the Republican?  No, it held on the day of the Democratic primary.  Folks, that's an upset, and it is hard not to think that the issue of gay marriage made the difference.  (The race was close enough so that there may be a recount, but unless there was some error in the count, the margin of 291 should hold up.)

(For my own mixed feelings on gay marriage, see the posts here and here.)
- 7:05 PM, 3 March 2004   [link]


Tiny Bubbles may be a way to produce nuclear fusion.
The controversial claim that bubbles popping in a simple desktop experiment can produce nuclear fusion - the same process that powers the Sun - has been re-asserted by scientists.

In 2002, Rusi Taleyarkhan's team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, US caused a storm, when it announced it could make heavy hydrogen nuclei fuse by forcing tiny bubbles in acetone to implode when blasted with sound waves - a process called sonofusion.
Others disagreed, but Taleyarkhan is back with new evidence, good enough to be accepted by Physical Review E.

Those of us who are not physicists will have to wait for them to decide whether this is real.   Meanwhile, we should all show a little more respect to those bubbles in everything from Coke to champagne.
- 5:28 PM, 3 March 2004   [link]


Compared To What:  That's not just the punch line to a bad joke, it's something to remember when evaluating presidents.  It is easy to make any president look like a failure by comparing him (or sometime in the future, her) to an impossible ideal.  It is much more sensible to compare presidents to each other (or, in some cases, to foreign leaders).  Economist J. Edward Carter has compared the first three years of George W. Bush to the first three years of Bill Clinton, and gives Bush the edge in most categories.
  • lower inflation
  • lower unemployment
  • faster productivity growth
  • faster labor compensation growth (i.e., wages and benefits)
  • 29.4 percent ($6.9 trillion) more economic output
  • 45 percent ($960 billion) more exports; and
  • an economic growth rate 81.2 percent as fast as that under Clinton
(The fifth and sixth comparisons aren't really appropriate, since you should compare rates, not absolute values.)

We should not push these comparisons too far.  Many things affect the economy that presidents have little control over, and many of their decisions have effects that last long after they have left office.  Still, it is fair to say that the simple comparison above shows that Bush may have done as well or better at managing the economy than Clinton.

He hasn't got much credit for that from the news media, as you may have noticed.  Tim Blair went back and looked at how CNN reported the US unemployment in 1996.  Then, CNN thought the unemployment level of 5.6 percent was "already low".  Now the same level of unemployment is treated as a major problem for Bush.

Ryan Pitts of the Dead Parrots site responded to Blair's argument with this post, arguing that nearly everyone (in the United States, anyway) now has higher expectations for employment levels, that we now know we can do better and expect more of the economy.   There's considerable truth to what he says, but he goes too far when he absolves the media entirely.  For instance, the United States is growing faster and has much lower unemployment than most of the European nations.  I may be wrong, but I don't think that Peter Jennings or Dan Rather make that point very often when they discuss the Bush economic record.

The recent coverage of our unemployment rate probably reflects both higher standards and media bias.  If you want evidence for the latter, look for the studies that Media Research did comparing the treatment the networks gave to Bush 41 in 1992 to the treatment they gave Clinton in 1993.  The switch from almost unrelieved pessimism to mostly optimism was so strong as to be laughable — even though it may have determined the 1992 election.
- 2:56 PM, 3 March 2004   [link]


Super Tuesday, So-So Turnout:  One last set of numbers on turnout, unless something extraordinary happens.  (And I may go back and take another look at New Hampshire, to see if the turnout there was really as remarkable as claimed.)   The closest parallels to the latest set of contests were in 2000.  By this point in the races, Bradley had little hope, and McCain's hopes were fading.  So, everything else being equal, I would expect turnout in this year's Democratic contest to be between the Democratic and Republican turnouts in 2000.

Total Votes in Presidential Primaries, 2000 and 2004

stateRep 2000Dem 2000Dem 2004
California4,119,4583,253,6042,597,153
Connecticut179,061179,056126,734
Georgia639,166284,431602,497
Maryland372,440502,952441,402
Massachusetts501,951570,074601,700
Minnesota * * **50,068
New York2,161,518965,455648,564
Ohio1,382,425978,5121,163,684
Rhode Island36,12046,84433,163
Vermont81,35549,28373,851

*Minnesota held primaries in 2000, but caucuses this year.
**These results are incomplete, with just 87 percent of the precincts reporting.



The 2004 election results were taken from CNN, the 2000 results from the 2004 Almanac of American Politics.

In just four states, Ohio (Kucinich's home), Georgia, Massachusetts (Kerry's home), and Vermont (Dean's home) did more Democrats turn out than in 2000.  In just two states, Maryland and Massachusetts, did the Democrats poll more votes this year than the Republicans did in 2000.   (Both are very Democratic states, giving Gore 57 and 60 percent of the vote, respectively, in the 2000 general election.)  The fall off is especially striking in California and New York, our largest and third largest states.  McCain received 937,655 votes in New York in 2000, while losing to Bush.  That's more votes than all the Democrats received together in 2004.  Democratic voters may be energized, as so many have claimed, but the numbers on turnout support the opposite conclusion.

(As always, let me remind you that comparing turnouts in nomination contests is tricky; you can find a description of some of the problems in my disclaimer.)
- 1:12 PM, 3 March 2004
More:  An emailer reminds me that Californians also voted on three big ballot measures, which must have increased the turnout there.  The total for the Democratic candidates in California would have been much lower without those measures.
- 7:43 AM, 4 March 2003   [link]


Congratulations To Howard Dean, who finally won a primary, in his home state, Vermont.   He won without any campaigning at all, which suggests that he might have done better in Iowa and New Hampshire by doing less.  In both states, after he became known, the more he campaigned, the more votes he lost.

In this column, Howard Kurtz provides one more explanation for Dean's crash.
The feuding and backbiting that plagued the Howard Dean campaign had turned utterly poisonous.   Behind the facade of a successful political operation, senior officials plotted against each other, complained about the candidate and developed one searing doubt.

Dean, they concluded, did not really want to be president.

In different conversations and in different ways, according to several people who worked with him, Dean said at the peak of his popularity late last year that he never expected to rise so high, that he didn't like the intense scrutiny, that he had just wanted to make a difference. "I don't care about being president," he said.  Months earlier, as his candidacy was taking off, he told a colleague: "The problem is, I'm now afraid I might win."
It is no secret that Dean's wife opposed his run, but I had not realized that Dean himself was not entirely serious about his run.  Being afraid he might win explains some of his strange behavior after he took the lead.

As a Washington insider, Kurtz is most interested in the infighting, but I have a larger point to make.  People who believed that Dean was a genuine candidate sent him millions of dollars and contributed thousands of hours of their time.  Would they have done so if they had known his heart wasn't completely in the fight?  Some would because they, like Dean, wanted to send a message, not elect Dean.  Many would not have.  If he did not really want to be president, then Dean lied to and betrayed those supporters who believed he did.

There is a media failure here, too.  If Dean was not entirely a genuine candidate, should voters not have known that before they cast their ballots?  Given the level of infighting in the Dean campaign, it is hard to believe that no reporters heard that Dean did not really want to be president.  But I don't recall any stories saying that — before he withdrew.
- 7:33 AM, 3 March 2004   [link]


Democratic Smears:  In the previous post, I noted that the Democrats had been attacking Bush to reduce his personal advantage over most Democratic candidates.  Mort Kondracke, a moderate Democrat and a respected commentator, agrees; in fact he goes farther than I did.
It's conventional wisdom now that this may be one of the nastiest presidential campaigns ever.  But those keeping score should observe that, right now, the muddy epithets thrown at President Bush outweigh those thrown at Democrats by tons.
. . .
But for months now, Democrats have accused Bush of being a "liar" who "misled" or "deceived" the nation into the Iraq war; a "usurper" who "stole" the 2000 election in Florida; "a right-wing extremist" on tax, social and foreign policy; and a "menace to the nation's basic liberties," owing to his employment of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Kondracke makes two other points worth remembering.  The media has not criticized the Democrats for all this slime.  And, it is not a smear to criticize a candidate's record, even though candidates with flawed records — for example, John Kerry — often make that claim in order to deflect legitimate criticism.
- 5:35 AM, 3 March 2004   [link]


First Election Prediction:  Unless the polls are all wrong, John Kerry will win enough delegates today to almost ensure his nomination.  It is also the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March, exactly eight months from the November election.  So, it is a good time to make my first election prediction, which I will update at least monthly until the election.

First, my assumptions.  I am going to assume that the consensus among economists is correct and that the next 8 months will show solid economic growth and gains in employment.  I am also going to assume that there will not be anything dramatic like another massive terrorist attack on the United States or a war somewhere that involves the United States.  To some extent these two assumptions balance each other.  If the economy does not perform well, Bush will be hurt; if something dramatic happens, Bush will probably be helped.  (Almost all dramatic foreign events, even disasters like the Bay of Pigs invasion, help the president at least in the short term.)

Second, the partisan balance.  To have lived in the United States when the Republican party was the majority party, you would have to have been collecting social security for several years.  In 1932, Roosevelt swept into office; by 1934 or 1936 at the latest, enough voters had switched to the Democrats to give them a majority that lasted until the present.  During most of those seven decades, the margin was more than a few percentage points.  In 1972, with the McGovern takeover of the Democratic party, that began to change.  By now, the two parties have roughly equal numbers of identifiers.  (That may not show up in current polls, which have been affected by the constant stream of Democratic arguments in the nomination contests.)  The number of independents has also grown, so that each group now has about one third of the electorate.

But raw numbers don't tell the whole story.  In most elections, Republicans are more likely to vote and more likely to be loyal to their party.  If we include those factors, then an election fought purely on partisan loyalty would give the Republicans a narrow win, with 51 or 52 percent of the two party vote.  (The latter was close to the popular vote for the House in 2002, the best Republican showing in decades.)  So, for the first time since 1936, a Republican candidate begins with an advantage from partisanship.

Third, Bush's incumbency, which is worth another percent or two.  I think it will be worth a little more this time, because it will be difficult to make the criticism so often made in 2000 (with some justice) that Bush was too inexperienced to be president.  So, allowing for just partisanship and incumbency, Bush should win by 53-47 or 54-46.

Fourth, the issues.  Of these, in most elections, the most important is economic prosperity.  That was true in 1840 when Van Buren was defeated; it will probably be true this year, too.  If the economists are right and the economy goes well during the next eight months, Bush should pick up another percent or two from that.  National security issues, especially the war on terrorism, will also help Bush.  (The war with Iraq will, if anything, hurt Bush a little, but other national security issues will more than make up for it.)   Cultural issues, gay marriage, gun control, abortion, racial preferences, capital punishment, and the like will help Bush significantly, probably about 2 percent, net.  There are two areas, education and the environment, where Democrats usually have large advantages over the Republicans.  I think that Bush has largely neutralized the education advantage and that the environment will be less salient this year than in 2000.  Even so, we probably should subtract a point for the environment.  Bribes to the elderly also used to be an area where the Democrats had an advantage, but I think Bush has neutralized that, too.  So, allowing for partisanship, incumbency, and issues, Bush should win by about 58-42.

(Bush's record on the environment is actually quite good, certainly better than Clinton's.   If you find that completely implausible, please take a close look at "Green Republicans", which should be out in a few weeks.  Making that case to the voters, given the preconceptions of the news media, is probably impossible.)

Fifth and last, the candidates.  In 2000, Bush won in part because many voters found him easier to take than Al Gore.  I think that Bush will have an edge over Kerry for similar reasons, though not as large an edge as he had over Gore.  Democrats have been attacking Bush personally to reduce that edge, just as they attacked Reagan in the 1980s.   The attacks have had some effect on Bush's image, but not enough, in my opinion, to take away all of Bush's advantage.  It is striking how little enthusiasm there is for Kerry in Massachusetts, or even among journalists, two groups who know him well.  He does not wear well, and I think you will see that as the campaign goes on.  Adding in a percent for Bush's personality edge, I come to my final estimate for now: Bush will defeat Kerry in November by about 59-41.

(Like to see some other predictions?  Here's the most recent from Ray Fair's economic model; Bush will win 58.7 percent of the two party vote, which is essentially the same as my prediction, though arrived at differently.  The Tradesports betters gave Bush a 63.7 percent chance of winning, when I checked this morning.  That doesn't translate directly into a vote margin, but I would guess that 54-46 would not be too far off.   (It is only fair to add that the betters, unlike Professor Fair and myself, are not assuming that the economy will go well.)  Ron Faucheux of Campaigns and Elections currently gives Bush a 54.5 percent chance to win, which might translate into a 52-48 margin.   The options market run by the University of Iowa has the worst odds of all for Bush; as of this morning, Kerry has a 47 percent chance to win, if the buyers and sellers there are correct.  With the odds that close, the expected Bush margin might be just 51-49.  (The difference between Tradesports and the Iowa markets is so large that arbitrage might be possible.  I have no idea if the rules in the two markets would allow it.  Probably not, or someone would have done it already.)

Finally, Scott Elliot has been doing an election projection, not a prediction but a measurement of where we are currently. His latest actually puts Bush slightly behind, though he expects Bush to win, as you can see in his "Twenty-one Reasons Why Bush Will Win".  I'll be adding my own guesses about states as we go along, though I probably will use a simpler system than Elliot does.  And may not have as pretty maps.)
- 1:13 PM, 2 March 2004   [link]


The Observer Gets It Wrong, Wrong, Wrong:  In this article, the Observer tells its readers that a secret Pentagon report predicts disaster from climate change.  Not much wrong with that, the "Watchmaker" observes, except that the report was not secret and does not predict disaster.  And he finds another trifling error or two, as you can see when you read his entire post.

(Some will be reminded of Voltaire's famous quip about the Holy Roman Empire:
Ce corps qui s'appelait et qui s'appelle encore le saint empire roman n'était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire.

This agglomeration which was called and still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. (from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 3rd edition, p. 561)
My French is poor, but wouldn't "body" be a better translation than "agglomeration"?)

The article was published a week ago Sunday, but drew no substantive corrections in the latest edition of the Observer.  There was one minor correction of a careless mistake in the writing.

By the way, can one of my British readers explain the exact relationship between the Guardian and the Observer.  Division?   Subsidiary?  Partner?  Sunday edition?   None of those seem exactly right.
- 8:16 AM, 2 March 2004   [link]


Water On Mars:  Today NASA will, almost certainly, make the official announcement.
NASA will hold a press conference Tuesday to announce "significant findings" about water on Mars based on evidence from its Opportunity Mars rover.

"It's going to be the most significant science results that we've had from the rovers, and it's bearing on their primary mission," NASA spokesperson Don Savage told SPACE.com.  That mission is to find signs of water that might support life.
Why do I say almost certainly?  Because of NASA's hints, and because of the preliminary evidence they have released.

The next big question is whether there is or was life on Mars.  Bacterial life appeared on earth almost as soon as conditions permitted, though it took billions of years before complex life appeared.  If the example of earth is typical — and it's the only example we now have — then we should expect that Mars once had life and may still have it, most likely under the surface.
- 6:55 AM, 2 March 2004   [link]


The Gang Behind The Counter At Wendy's loved the picture that illustrates this New York Times article.   They all concluded from the expressions that John Edwards is telling John Kerry (before the debate), "I'm gonna get you, sucker", or something similar.  (Edwards was a little more critical this time, but not much.)

The New York Times, a newspaper I criticize from time to time as you may have noticed, often has great news photos.  My all time favorite is probably the one I saw some years ago illustrating a Bill Clinton appearance in New York.  Mario Cuomo (then governor) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (then senator) are standing behind Clinton on a stage.   The photo editor selected a shot that showed both Cuomo and Moynihan holding their hands by their noses, as if they smelled something bad.  Nasty and unfair, but terribly funny.

(I'm still unsure what John Edwards is running for.  Vice President this year?   President in 2008?  I understand why he might not simply run for reelection to the Senate; polls in North Carolina show that he could have been defeated, or had such a close election that he was tarnished for future presidential bids, but the rest of his strategy is still a mystery to me.   Like nearly every other political analyst, I expected him to attack Kerry before now if he wanted to win.)
- 1:12 PM, 1 March 2004   [link]


Aristide's Destination says something interesting about the former Haitian leader, though I am not sure just what.  Aristide was offered exile in Costa Rica, a nation with an admirable history of democracy, and Panama, a crossroads for the world, but chose to go first to the Central African Republic.

Why did Aristide choose the CAR for his destination, at least initially?  I don't know, but the nation does share some characteristics with Haiti.  Both are former French colonies, both are predominately black, both have histories of corruption and violent coups, and both have been ruled recently by men widely accused of using witchcraft, "Papa Doc" Duvalier (and perhaps Aristide as well) in Haiti, and "emperor" Jean-Bedel Bokassa in the CAR.

If you have not heard of Bokassa, be grateful.  Africa has produced many horrific leaders since independence, and he ranks with the worst, with men like Uganda's Idi Amin.  One section of Alex Shoumatoff's book, African Madness, is on Bokassa and has the title: "The Emperor Who Ate His People".  Shoumatoff has this to say about one of Bokassa's many crimes, cannibalism.
No Central African whom I asked was particularly surprised that Bokassa should have been a cannibal; the idea of eating human flesh is not as strange and repellent in Africa as it is in Europe.   Idi Amin was overthrown in the same year as Bokassa, and it emerged that he, too, was into cannibalism, and that he derived his power from eating people.  When I asked why Bokassa had eaten people, Central Africans invariably said, as the guard at Kolongo did, "pour renforcer son pouvoir." [to reinforce his power] (p. 110)
You can see why I find Aristide's destination interesting.  Is he hoping to find a new power base in the CAR?  I wouldn't rule it out, and if he stays there, I would bet on it.

It will be another problem for the French if he does.  They supported Bokassa for years, but finally overthrew him when his scandals (including bribes to French officials) became too great for them to ignore.  Even now, the world expects them to maintain standards of some sort in their former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa.
- 9:39 AM, 1 March 2004   [link]


Howard Kurtz And Bill O'Reilly Agree:  Liberal journalist Howard Kurtz says that newspapers are being hypocritical in their treatment of San Francisco Mayor Newsom's lawlessness.
When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied state law by allowing same-sex marriage licenses, a New York Times profile reported him sporting "a wide grin," "describing his motives as pure and principled," and cited his "business acumen, money, good looks and friends in the right places."

But when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore also defied the law -- by installing a Ten Commandments display in his public building -- a Times profile said that "civil liberties groups accused Justice Moore of turning a courthouse into a church," while allowing that he had also become "an Alabama folk hero."

On the editorial page, the Times criticized Moore, likening him to George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, but supports Newsom's protest and gay marriage.

The paper has plenty of company. Hundreds of news accounts have provided an upbeat portrayal of Newsom as a pioneer and the San Francisco weddings as a happy occasion, even as partisan rhetoric hardened last week over President Bush's endorsement of a constitutional amendment to ban such marriages.  While those opposed to gay marriage and Newsom's maneuver are certainly quoted, the media spotlight has shone most brightly on the mayor and those (including Rosie O'Donnell) tying the legally disputed knot.
Bill O'Reilly, who likes to call himself a populist, agrees.
The rule of law, it's what America is based on.  We have very specific rules in this country designed to promote the general welfare and protect the citizenry, and if we don't obey those laws, we are punished.  That's the way it's supposed to work.

Judge Roy Moore did not obey the law.  He defied a federal court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments he had placed in the courthouse where he worked as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.  So his fellow justices fired him, as they should have.  Hundreds of newspapers across the country applauded that action on their editorial pages.
. . .
But wait a minute.  In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom has decided that California's law defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, a law that was voted on directly by the citizens of the Golden State in a proposition, is not worthy of being obeyed.  Newsom took a hard look at that marriage law and not only gave it a thumbs down, he gave it a middle finger up.
. . .
So I fully expected to see those tough "rule of law" editorials reprised in The Washington Post, the Orlando Sentinel, and the San Antonio Express-News vis-a-vis Newsom.  But, alas, they did not appear in those publications or in most other newspapers.  Apparently, the law rules in Alabama but not in San Francisco.
Or, to borrow from Orwell, some laws are more equal than others.

These almost universal double standards in the newspapers may be why Seattle Times executive editor Michael Fancher reprinted these two warnings to his staff.
  • It is understandable that individual staff members may feel that an issue is so central to their personal beliefs that they cannot attempt to be neutral in doing their job.  Someone feeling that way would have no choice but to withdraw from any role in the newspaper's coverage.

  • The responsibility of the newspaper to be neutral is paramount.  It may not be right for an individual staff member to remain neutral, but the newspaper's obligation is to serve the interests of the community with reporting that is complete, fair, balanced and accurate.  Those who participate in the coverage must leave value judgments to readers.
Now I applaud Fancher's efforts, but am skeptical about his chances of success.  Like any newspaper, the Seattle Times must rely on other sources of news.  I don't think that they have the time, and I doubt very much that they have the will, to rewrite all those slanted stories from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the wire services.

However, if Fancher is interested in balance, let me point him toward two stories that have received very little attention.  Gavin Newsom may be staging this stunt to shift attention from charges of vote fraud, which you can find more about here and here.   Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago is also backing gay marriage.  Why?  Columnist Thomas Roeser of the Chicago Sun-Times has this explanation.
Today, another politician named Rich opposes his church canons to court favor with a secular public for two reasons.  First, a constituency that is powerful and highly placed -- most notably the media -- favors gay marriage.  Choosing them over his church, this Rich is eager to placate the civil society in order to shore up support in the topmost pinnacle in city politics: the mayoralty.  Second, corruption and Outfit politics have so marred his administration that this Rich needs to change the subject.
Are vote fraud and corruption part of the reason these two Democratic mayors are now backing gay marriage?  Maybe.  Certainly, some reporters should follow those leads.

(Obligatory disclaimer: As I have said before, I am undecided about gay marriage.   You can see my thinking on the subject here and here.)
- 8:10 AM, 1 March 2004   [link]


Mondays Can Be Gloomy, but the beautiful pictures of Saturn you can find here should cheer you up.   Just pick the one that's the best size for your monitor.

The article with the pictures says that some of the ring features seen in the Voyager flyby 23 years, the "spokes", seem to have disappeared.  I have seen claims that Saturn's ring system must be relatively recent astronomically speaking, just a few hundred thousand years old.   As I understand it, those making that argument believe that the rings are unstable and will disappear over time.  So, enjoy them while you can.  A million years from now, they may not be nearly as magnificent.  But they should last long enough so that the Cassini spacecraft can send us many more of these beautiful pictures.
- 5:48 AM, 1 March 2004   [link]