Archive:

March 2005, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Some Fights I Like To Stay Out Of, such as the one going on among women columnists over whether there are enough of them on the op-ed pages.  But after seeing this column by Anne Applebaum, I would like to add this opinion to the discussion: On the average, moderate and conservative women, such as Anne Applebaum, are the best columnists.  The worst, on the average, are leftist women — and you can probably think of your own examples.

I'm not sure why this is so, but I think it may be because the moderate and conservative women have the most hostile environment in newsrooms.  Their ideas get tested more than those of any other group, simply because they are so rare in newsrooms, especially among women journalists.   This idea would also predict that male moderate and conservative columnists would be better, on the average, than their leftist counterparts.  And I think that's true, too.
- 9:31 AM, 16 March 2005   [link]


What Kind Of Person Is Michael Moore?  His former manager has strong opinions on that question.
"Michael Moore makes a substantial living going into peoples' private lives.  Sneaking up on them," [Douglas] Urbanski said.  So Urbanski feels no compunction in talking about the only client he ever fired.  In fact, he fired Moore with a 10-page letter.

"A more dishonest and demented person I have never met," Urbanski wrote me in an e-mail, "and I have known a few!  And he is more money obsessed than any I have known, and that's saying a lot."

Urbanski believes that Moore hates America, hates capitalism and hates any normal concept of freedom and democracy.  This seems odd, considering that if it weren't for America, freedom and capitalism Moore's brand of expression and capitalistic success would be impossible, if not illegal.
I have known people I disliked — for good reasons — who agreed with me politically.  And I have known some fine people who supported causes I consider disgusting.  But I have found that a person who is dishonest in personal matters will almost always be dishonest in political discourse, too.

(Thanks to ¡No-Pasaran for spotting this story.)
- 9:09 AM, 16 March 2005   [link]


Kay Hymnowitz Thinks  New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is one of those nasty alpha girls.   I can't disagree, since I said the same thing in 2002.
- 3:58 PM, 15 March 2005   [link]


The French Connection:  More than one person (all right, more than one man) has noticed that the protestors in Lebanon include some who look like this woman.   Why?  Because Lebanon has a long connection to France, going back to the time of the Crusades.  Lebanon was even directly controlled by France, under a League of Nations mandate, between the two world wars.  So the Lebanese, especially the Christian minority, have been heavily influenced by France.

And that long connection is one of the reasons Jacques Chirac is cooperating with our efforts to remove Syrian troops and influence from Lebanon.  Perhaps there is even a bit chivalry left in the French President.  Like most younger men, he may find it hard to resist the appeal of a beautiful woman, especially a beautiful woman who looks so French.

(There's more on Lebanon here.  The population of the country is usually estimated at about 3.7 or 3.8 million, so if the latest demonstration actually drew a million people, that would mean that more than one in four Lebanese joined it, an extraordinary turnout.)
- 3:29 PM, 15 March 2005
More:  Michael Totten has a whole set of pictures of demonstrators — and a contrasting set of pictures of demonstrators who support their Syrian masters.
- 8:36 AM, 18 March 2005   [link]


Can You See The Mistake  in this argument?

The statistics don't lie.  Projections for federal and state transportation funding between 2004 and 2013 show that King County will get back 84 cents on every dollar it provides for transportation funding, Pierce County will get only 80 cents, Snohomish County 88 cents, and Thurston County a mere 59 cents on the dollar.  Meanwhile, large rural Eastern counties will get significantly more than they pay in: Stevens County will get $1.56 for every dollar they provide, Pend Oreille County, on the northern Idaho border, will get $2.60, and Ferry County will get a whopping $3.52.  A 2001 report for the Senate Judiciary Committee showed that overall, Western Washington provided 82 percent of the state's transportation revenues but received only 78 percent of transportation expenditures; Eastern Washington, providing 18 percent of revenues, received 22 percent of expenditures.

I have seen this same argument for decades, often applied to rural states, rather than rural areas within states.  It has always struck as so obviously bogus that I wonder about those who make it.  Are they simpletons, or are they dishonest?

But maybe I am too hard.  Perhaps some things are easier to see if you grew up, as I did, in a rural area.  So let me start with a simple example.  Suppose that we want a highway that people can use to drive from Chicago to LA.  Let's call it Route 66, since that was (and is) its name.  Where will most of the money for Route 66 be spent?  In rural areas, as you can see with just a glance at the map.  Building highways is, everything else being equal, more expensive per mile in the cities, but nearly all the miles of Route 66 are in rural areas.  Or to take an example from Washington state, let's suppose we want a highway connecting Seattle and Spokane; let's call it Interstate 90, since that's its name.  Again, just a glance at a map will show you that most of the money for I-90 will be spent in rural areas.

Now let's imagine we can look down at the drivers on the rural sections of Route 66 or I-90.   Will all of them be people who live in those rural areas?  Of course not.  Many of them will be long haul truckers moving goods from city to city.  Many others will be tourists from the cities.  So much of the benefit of the roads in these rural areas goes to those who live in the cities and suburbs.

Roads aren't the whole story, of course, when you are trying to decide whether one part of a state (or nation) is benefitting at the expense of the rest.  But we are so interdependent that it is hard to sort these things out.  And just looking at state budgets doesn't tell the whole story; regulations often hit some areas much harder than others.  I think it nearly certain that Washington state's Growth Management Act damages Eastern Washington proportionately more than it does the urban Puget Sound.  (I think it also damages the urban Puget Sound, but that's an argument for another post.)

So I don't propose to try to decide here which part of the state is the bigger loser by an analysis of dimes and dollars per person in expenditures, or even to make a rough estimate of the costs of regulation.  But I can appeal to general principles, and there the answer is clear.   Cities are fundamentally dependent on rural areas.  In his Plagues and Peoples*, historian William H. McNeill puts it this way:

A civilized pattern of life therefore required rural cultivators not only to produce more food than they themselves consumed in order to feed urban dwellers, but also to produce a surplus of children whose migration into town was needed to sustain urban numbers. (p. 63)

That was true when civilization began in Mesopotamia; it is true now.  If farmers do not produce a surplus of food, there can be no cities.  And the rise of civilization can largely be measured by the ability of farmers to produce larger and larger surpluses.  Everything you see in Seattle (or any other city) depends on the ability of farmers to raise more food than they eat.  (And to a small extent, fishermen.)  Everything.

The second point, that rural areas must produce a surplus of children, may require some explanation.  Until the last century, cities were so disease ridden that they could not replace population losses from diseases without a continuous stream of people from the country side.   Now, although disease does not check the numbers in American cities, very low birth rates do.  If Seattle were to depend on its own food for survival, it would die in a few weeks; if it were to depend on its own children to continue, it would die in a few generations.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*Plagues and Peoples is the single most interesting work of history that I have read.   McNeill argues that much of history can be explained by the diseases that established themselves among civilized people.  These microparasites took a terrible toll on the civilizations, but also gave them a weapon against peoples on their borders who were not exposed to them regularly.  People in the cities, who lived off the rural surplus, were, to use McNeill's term, "macroparasites".  (Libertarians will like that comparison.)  Over time, both the microparasites and the macroparasites evolved so as to be less damaging to their hosts.)   I would say that our government is now symbiotic rather than parasitic, but it is easy to find examples of governments that are almost entirely parasitic.)
- 11:11 AM, 15 March 2005   [link]

Seattle's Planned Sculpture Park  will stop the operation of a big tourist attraction, the waterfront trolley.
Metro's top officials say they have little option but to shut down the waterfront streetcar indefinitely this fall so the Seattle Art Museum can move forward with building its Olympic Sculpture Park — a prospect that angers at least one of the downtown neighborhoods served by the vintage trolley line.

"We would lose an important transportation link from the waterfront to our neighborhood," said Craig Montgomery, executive director of the Pioneer Square Community Association. "It's as if no one is considering the impacts to the districts along the route."

The waterfront streetcar, a popular Seattle tourist attraction, carries 400,000 riders a year, peaking during the summer.  It bears the name of its champion, former City Councilman George Benson, who died last October.  The line, which began in May 1982 and cost $3.3 million to build, has nine stops stretching from the Chinatown International District to Pier 70.
This has already caused considerable controversy, but, as far as I know, only Brian Maloney has made the obvious predictions:
Many tourists and locals alike use the line to get to Pioneer Square and the International District.   Businesses will suffer greatly without it particularly in the summer months.

They claim 600,000 people will visit the sculpture park in the first year.  Anyone familiar with Seattle knows it will quickly turn into another dumping ground for winos, bums and needle-exchange tables. Families will stay away in droves.
That's what has happened to all the other downtown Seattle parks, so the second prediction is not a big leap.  And most other downtown parks have much higher levels of pedestrian traffic around them, which tends to discourage illegal activity, at least during daylight hours.

How to explain this plan, which destroys a moderate success in order to create a mess?  For some, art is their religion, which makes it easy to overlook the actual effects of such projects.

As for the tourist traffic to the sculpture park, I have my doubts,  Kirkland, where I live, has more art galleries per capita than any other suburb on the Eastside.  But when the city imported a set of prize winning sculptures from Europe a few years ago and set them up around downtown, they were widely ignored.

(Kirkland does have popular public works of art, notably the "Puddle Jumpers", which the city bought for $250,000, half of the money coming from private contributions, but the sculptures the public likes are not the ones that would be chosen by art experts.  Tourists visiting Kirkland often pose with the "Puddle Jumpers", but I never saw any posing with the European imports.)
- 8:19 AM, 15 March 2005   [link]


Follow-Up On Orlando Vote Fraud:  I have mentioned this case, and the man at the center of the vote fraud charges, Ezzie Thomas, before.  It is good to hear that Thomas and the officials who paid him to gather votes are being prosecuted.
Mayor Buddy Dyer turned himself in on Friday to face a felony charge of paying someone to collect absentee ballots before his election in a tight race last year.  Gov. Jeb Bush swiftly suspended Mr. Dyer, as required by Florida law, in a case that has roiled this city for months and even caused a brief firestorm in the presidential election.

A grand jury handed up sealed indictments on Thursday for Mr. Dyer and three others: Patricia Beatty Phillips, his campaign manager; Ezzie Thomas, who worked for the Dyer campaign as a get-out-the-vote consultant; and Judge Alan Apte of Orange County Circuit Court, who was charged with illegally paying Mr. Thomas to collect absentee ballots before his own 2002 campaign.
If you have heard about this case anywhere else, it is probably because Democrats played the race card in attacking the investigation.

The Florida law that makes collecting absentee ballots illegal is unusual, but is much needed, as experience has shown.  It is far too easy for those who collect ballots to begin assisting voters and even paying voters.

The questions I raised last year bear repeating:
Now let me ask two questions to show you why this story may have importance beyond Orlando.   Thomas has been collecting absentee ballots for some time, according to the article.  Is it likely, assuming the charges are true, that he used similar tactics in earlier elections, including 2000?   Where there are these kinds of vote manipulation, there are almost always many workers following common practices in election after election.  Is it likely that other workers in Florida during the 2000 election committed vote fraud using the methods described in the article?  I think the answer to both questions is yes.  Not certain, but likely.

If the answer to the two questions is yes, then we have an explanation for some of the strange vote patterns found in Florida during the 2000 election, fraud by Democratic affiliated workers.  We may have barely escaped having a presidential election determined by illegal votes — but just barely.
It is only fair to add that Ezzie Thomas has also worked for Republicans, though not often.
- 1:28 PM, 14 March 2005   [link]


Want To Win An NCAA Pool?  Then be a contrarian and avoid the most popular teams.
"I can tell you right now that Illinois and U.N.C. will be overbet," said Tom Adams, a systems analyst for the federal government who runs poologic.com.  "What you really have to do to get an advantage is to go for a contrarian champion."

Carlin has a handy way of making sense of this.  Imagine that Illinois has a 30 percent chance of winning, roughly what statisticians say the team's odds are.  If 30 people in a 100-person pool pick that team as champion, they essentially have to share that 30 percent.  So each has a 1 percent chance of winning on average.

Now say that Louisville has a 5 percent chance of winning the tournament, and only one person picks Louisville.  That person's odds of victory become 5 percent, too.
Interesting to see that the advice often given to stock market investors applies to these pools, too.

(Local reference:  I'm not sure whether to advise UW football coaches to avoid pools, entirely, or not.  After all, though Rick Neuheisel was fired in part because he entered a very high stakes pool, he did so well in his legal settlement with the NCAA and the UW that one can hardly conclude that he lost because he played the pool.  And I have little doubt that he will be coaching again somewhere, soon.)
- 10:25 AM, 14 March 2005   [link]


Europeans Should Surrender To Muslims:  Mustafa Malik doesn't use the term surrender, but that's the gist of his advice.
Ties to their transnational Islamic community, the umma, are also cushioning Muslims against assimilation.  This solidarity is helping them remake their ethnic communities throughout Europe.   During a 2003 visit to England, my Bangladeshi friend Reaz Ahmed told me about his daughter's wedding: The groom's father was a Pakistani and his mother Indian.  The guests included Muslims of Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi and Arab origins.  European-born Muslims like these people are gathering into new ethnic melting pots of their own.  And once embedded in these communities they show little urge to assimilate into native Christian societies.  Ethnic Muslim communities, not Islam, pose the real challenge to European societies.

The best way to preserve democratic order in Europe, thereby lessening the chance of cross-cultural clash, is to stop trying to expect Muslims to give up their cultural traditions and instead adopt a multicultural policy.
In other words, Europeans should accept cultural traditions such as forced marriages, "honor" killings, high rates of crime, especially rape, anti-Semitism, racism, and even support for Islamic terrorists.   Malik never explains why majorities in democratic countries should not be allowed to make policies, but it is clear that he believes that Muslim minorities should have a veto over public policies in European countries.

I don't think he would be willing to make that a general rule, however.  There are significant non-Muslim minorities in many Muslim countries.  Should those countries give up their cultural traditions to satisfy these minorities?  Should, for example, Saudi Arabia, allow non-Muslims to dress as they prefer?  Mr. Malik never addresses that question.

The arrogance of his position — shared by many Muslims — is breathtaking.
- 9:59 AM, 14 March 2005   [link]


Social Security Caused The Baby Bust?  The post-World War II baby boom collapsed with surprising speed in both the United States and Europe.  In 1957, the fertility rate in the United States was 3.8; by 1976 it was 1.8, below the replacement rate of 2.1.   (It is now about 2.1, so our population would stabilize in time if it were not for massive immigration, legal and illegal.)  There were similar decreases in Western Europe at about the same time.

I have never seen a convincing explanation for the decreases, but some researchers believe they were caused by the increase in retirement benefits.
Three University of Minnesota researchers think they've found an unexpected answer.  They blame the baby bust on the Social Security system, 401(k)s and similar government old-age pension and savings plans.  Those programs, they claim, have reduced the need for forward-thinking couples to produce lots of kids who could take care of Mom and Dad in their old age.

Increases in retirement benefits are inevitably followed by a corresponding drop in the birth rate; the bigger the benefit system, the bigger the decline, according to economists Michele Boldrin, Mariacristina De Nardi and Larry E. Jones.
. . .
Drawing from surveys and other data collected by previous researchers in the United States and Europe, including a massive cross-cultural study of 104 countries conducted in 1997, they were able to identify the factors that most directly influenced fertility rates.  They also charted the growth of the old-age pension systems in each country to determine what impact, if any, they had on fertility.   The development of government pension programs accounted for between half and two-thirds of the decline in fertility rates in the United States and developed countries over the last 70 years, they concluded in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
I've seen this argument before, but don't recall whether it came from these authors or not.  One Japanese legislator (a man) suggested solving the problem by linking retirement benefits to children; those that raised children would be treated much more generously than those who didn't.  That seems fair to me — and almost impossible to introduce now.  But if birth rates continue to be as low as they currently are in Japan and Western Europe, you may see something like it.

(*Technical point: By "accounted for", the authors probably mean that they could explain it statistically with their mathematical model.  Or to put it another way, the curve fits the points fairly well.)
- 7:37 AM, 14 March 2005   [link]


They Caught Osama!  Osama the man-eating crocodile, that is.
Osama the crocodile, the terror of Lake Victoria and reputedly the world's most prolific man-eater, is staring blankly at the concrete wall of his new home, his expression suggestive of deep depression.

Only two weeks ago he was feasting on the remains of a 12-year-old boy, the 83rd victim from Luganga village he had dragged to his lair on the papyrus banks of Africa's largest lake.
He managed, over the years, to kill 10 percent of the village's population and was becoming more and more aggressive, attacking boats by jumping into them.  He is old enough to have been an accomplice of Idi Amin, who was fond of feeding his subjects to crocodiles.

Osama's fate is not what I would have chosen.
Despite a fondness for human flesh, Osama, who measures 16ft from snout to tail, and weighs one ton, is to be used for breeding stock.

Alex Mutamba, the proprietor of Uganda Crocs, with nearly 5,000 animals in his care, was delighted when the country's wildlife authority rang him up requesting a home for Osama.
Uganda Crocs produces crocodile leather for handbags, so in a few years you may see one of Osama's descendants on a street in Milan or Seoul, where such handbags are popular.  I would prefer giving him to the villagers who caught him.
- 5:45 AM, 14 March 2005   [link]


Is Your Ballot Sacred?  Not here in Washington state, as we learned in the last election.  Election workers here routinely "enhance" ballots to make them machine readable.  And election workers did the same in the first round of the Los Angeles mayoralty election.
Without informing mayoral challengers, Los Angeles City Clerk Frank Martinez ordered election workers Tuesday night to use blue highlighter pens to re-ink thousands of voters' ballots that had "bubbles" partially or faintly filled in, the Daily News learned Friday.

Martinez, appointed to his post last September by Mayor James Hahn, who narrowly won the second spot for the May 17 runoff election, defended what he did, saying he was following secretary of state-approved procedures to mark over voters' incompletely filled out bubbles to make sure the InkaVote machines counted them.

But election experts say his action raises a number of troubling questions since the new InkaVote system was supposed to pick up even faint markings on the ballots and raised the possibility that ballots could be tampered with or changed.
I have said it before, and I will say it again.  If the machines can't read the ballots, bring in a team with representatives of the candidates to read them.  And record their actions with video.  But leave the ballots alone.

From the timing, I assume that the California Secretary of State who approved these "enhancements" was Kevin Shelley.  He resigned March 5 after a series of scandals.
Shelley, 49, is facing a variety of allegations. Among the most serious is a charge that he channeled up to $500,000 in federal Help America Vote Act funds to political cronies, including a former Shelley campaign manager, his campaign treasurer's law firm, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown's press secretary, and the son of a prominent Los Angeles County supervisor.
If the charges are true, I think I would rather have someone else establish procedures for clean elections.
- 1:07 PM, 13 March 2005   [link]


Sex Discrimination At The University Of Washington:  Professor Erin Pettit learned accidentally (she says) that some things just go better without guys around, so she set up a program that excluded them.  Judging by this sympathetic article, the New York Times approves entirely.

Dr. Pettit, her long hair braided into a mass of tiny plaits, is 33, but looks a good deal younger.   In addition to her research, she has made glaciers into the centerpiece of an unusual educational program.  Since 1999, she has been leading groups of high school girls on glaciology field trips in Washington, her home state.

During these demanding trips, the girls, ages 16 to 18, learn the scientific method, not only how to form a hypothesis but how to test it, as well as mountaineering and wilderness skills.  "I wanted to bring these two things together," Dr. Pettit said, "the intellectual challenge of trying to do science in the field and the physical challenge of living outdoors."
. . .
Dr. Pettit started the program, which was originally open to all students, at the University of Washington while she was working on her doctorate.  The first year, however, only girls applied, despite the program's arduous schedule.

Dr. Pettit had chosen to take the group to the South Cascade Glacier, one of two glaciers the United States Geological Survey has been studying continuously for half a century.

Just getting there required a two-day hike on primitive trails; each girl carried her own gear and provisions.  "That single-sex experience was so positive," Dr. Pettit said, "after that I knew I had to find an organization that would let me do it just for them."  As a public institution the university could not offer a program exclusively for one sex.

Perhaps I am too suspicious, but I have my doubts that only girls wanted to be in the program.   Most likely, Pettit discouraged any boys who inquired.

As those who have followed our high schools know, boys and girls had roughly the same level of achievement a few decades ago.  Now, boys are doing much worse than girls.  Professor Pettit wants to widen that gap.  Why she thinks that would be good for society is not discussed in the article.  Nor does anyone explain why the taxpayers of Washington, who outlawed sex discrimination by initiative, should subsidize, however indirectly, such efforts.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:57 AM, 13 March 2005   [link]

Watch Out For Those Pencil Cases!  Another threat to school safety is banned.
The common pencil case has become the latest item to be banned by a school head teacher.

Generations of children have stored their rulers, pens and pencils in the seemingly innocuous educational accessories.

But not any more, at least not at St Anne's primary school, in Denton, Manchester.  Glenys Dyer, the school's head, issued her ban after one of her pupils was accidentally "stabbed" with a letter opener.

The victim suffered what Ms Dyer concedes was only "a minor puncture wound" to his arm.   However, an investigation uncovered the means by which the "weapon" had been brought into school.

The ban on pencil cases was swiftly imposed "to prevent any other potentially harmful instruments being brought into the classroom".  Ms Dyer said yesterday: "We banned pencil cases to make it clear to all pupils that this incident could have been serious, even though it was an accident.   Our pupils don't need to bring in pens and pencils as everything they need is provided by the school."
But does she have any idea what weapons can be concealed in clothes, shoes, and books?  If Dyer is going to follow this to its logical conclusion, she should have the kids stripped when they arrive at school, and then clothed in school certified garments.
- 4:29 PM, 11 March 2005   [link]


Simon Jenkins Is Worried  about the threat from bloggers.   And he should be because he claims that the "mainstream" media is more accurate than bloggers — and then makes a mistake almost every American blogger will spot.

(The mistake?  Oh, all right.  Jenkins describes Ted Rall as "One Yahoo blogger".   Now Rall does have a blog of sorts, but he is better known as one of America's most disgusting political cartoonists, so foul that he was dropped by the New York Times.  Rall also writes a syndicated column, so I think it fair to consider him a member of the "mainstream" media who sometimes blogs, not a blogger.

Jenkins could have discovered that quickly just by searching on Rall's name, by the way.

Wonder if Jenkins will correct his mistake?  Almost always, I have found, "mainstream" journalists do not correct their mistakes when I call them to their attention — even when they agree that they have made a mistake.)
- 4:04 PM, 11 March 2005
More:  I nicked the Jenkins piece; Scott Burgess demolishes it in this post.
- 10:54 AM, 14 March 2004   [link]


Black Death Protects Some Europeans From AIDS?  That's the theory just published in the Journal of Medical Genetics.
Life was nasty, brutish and short when the waves of plague swept through Europe right up to the 18th century.

Scientific research now suggests, however, that the terrible suffering of our forebears means that a significant proportion of modern Europeans is resistant to Aids.

Research by two British biologists published in the Journal of Medical Genetics suggests that around 10 per cent of Europeans enjoy such protection as a direct result of the series of plagues that swept across the Continent from the Middle Ages onwards.
They also believe that the "Black Death" was not bubonic plague, the traditional suspect, but "viral haemorrhagic fever".
- 3:44 PM, 11 March 2005   [link]


Preemptive Ballot Theft:  In Britain, one of those accused of forging postal ballots (absentee ballots in American terminology) has an unusual excuse.
A Labour councillor discovered in a deserted warehouse at midnight with bags of unsealed postal ballots told a hearing into alleged election fraud yesterday that he took a bag full of votes there from the Labour office to stop them being stolen by the Liberal Democrats.

Mohammed Islam, one of three councillors accused of rigging 1,000 votes in last year's local elections, said he was concerned that the party election headquarters was not secure enough.
Just can't trust those Liberal Democrats.

There's a serious point in this farcical story.  Although I doubt that the Liberal Democrats were plotting to steal the ballots in this case, it is true that fraud by one side encourages fraud by the other side, especially if it goes unpunished.  Journalists such as Mark Trahant of the Seattle PI or E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post who have argued that we should tolerate a certain level of vote fraud (without ever mentioning that the fraud almost always helps their party, the Democrats), do not seem to understand that tolerating Democratic fraud will encourage Republican fraud. And in Britain, tolerating fraud by the Labour Party will encourage fraud by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.
- 3:25 PM, 11 March 2005   [link]


We Support Some Of The Troops:  That's the new position of the United Auto Workers.
The words that have some U.S. Marines in shock came from the man in charge of security at the UAW Solidarity House, on Jefferson in Detroit.  For a number of years now, dozens of Marine reservists have been thankful to park in the UAW's lot for weekend training with no problem at all — until now.

Marines at nearby Marine Corps Reserve Center say on Tuesday morning, the director of security at the UAW told them that while they support the troops, Marines driving foreign vehicles or sporting a President George Bush bumper sticker were no longer welcome to park there.
Don't want to take that patriotism stuff too far, after all.  (I don't know the details of the UAW rules, but I suspect that cars made in Canada — by UAW members — are acceptable in their parking lots.)

(There is a practical solution for the Bush bumper stickers.  Some people have begun to cover up partisan stickers with generic magnetic stickers, when they have to go where their political views are not welcome.  I'm sure the Marines are good at camouflage, so they have probably thought of this already.)
- 6:09 AM, 11 March 2005
More:  The UAW surrendered, but the Marines refused to accept the surrender.
The United Auto Workers union waved a white flag Monday in its parking skirmish with neighboring reservists, but the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines are not accepting surrender.

Facing intense criticism, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger reversed his decision to ban Marine Corps reservists driving foreign cars or displaying pro-President Bush bumper stickers from parking at the union's Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit.

"I made the wrong call on the parking issue, and I have notified the Marine Corps that all reservists are welcome to park at Solidarity House as they have for the past 10 years," Gettelfinger said in a statement.

Wounded by what they consider an unpatriotic ambush, the Marines rejected the union's olive branch and secured an alternative parking lot.
The UAW should have looked at the Marines' record before taking them on.
- 10:24 AM, 16 March 2005   [link]


Frank Rich  of the New York Times made a prediction before the Oscar awards:
This is why the people bringing you the Oscars have done everything possible to imply that Sunday's show will be so indecent that even the winner of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award may let loose with a Dick Cheney expletive.  Rather than chase away MTV and its fans from the festivities as the National Football League did after the Jackson fracas, the academy hired as its host Chris Rock, a three-time MTV Music Video Awards M.C. Mr. Rock, as brilliant at P.R. as he is at comedy, ran around giving cheeky interviews making the outrageous charge that the Oscars might have a gay following.   Matt Drudge took the bait and assailed the comedian for indecency.  Mr. Rock was soiling "the classiest night in Hollywood," he said on Fox News, by taking "a lewd route ... to the gutter."

The motion picture academy's marketers couldn't have said it better themselves.  They know a lewd route is the yellow brick road to Nielsen nirvana.
In short, the way to a large audience is to be lewd and crude.

Chris Rock tried; he was certainly crude and as lewd as he could get away with.  So was Rich correct in his prediction?  No.
More than 41 million people watched Sunday's Oscars telecast in the US - two million fewer than 2004's ceremony.

The three-hour broadcast averaged 41.5 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.

The figures were 5% down from last year's show, when the average viewer tally of 43.5 million ranked as the largest Oscar audience in four years.
Nor did the show score especially well among young adults.

Those familiar with Frank Rich will not expect him to explain why he was wrong in his prediction.   After all, this is part of a larger argument that he has made many times before, in spite of evidence that refutes it.

There is a large audience for the lewd and crude in the United States.  With a population of nearly 300 million people, it is not hard to find find millions who like the same fare that Frank Rich does.  But that audience is smaller than the audience for family fare.  Consider, for example, Playboy's circulation; the magazine sells about 3 million copies per month in the United States.  That's impressive, but way lower than the circulation of the Reader's Digest or the National Geographic.

With movies, you find the same pattern.  Film critic and talk show host Michael Medved's 1992 book, Hollywood vs. America, showed that Hollywood's shift away from family fare has cost the studios large amounts of money.  (The argument wasn't new; as Medved explained in the book, old line studio executives had figured out, decades ago, that you could make more money by selling four tickets to a movie than by selling two.)  Since then, several economists have tackled the problem and come up with findings that support Medved's argument.

It isn't that you can't make money with "adult" films; it's that you can make way more money with family films.

I won't go into Medved's explanation of Hollywood's perverse behavior or try to explain why Frank Rich can't handle the evidence.  (Perhaps it is just another example of the failure of journalists to be good at arithmetic, something the public editor at the New York Times, Daniel Okrent, has warned us about.)  But I would like to say something about the consequences of the belief that crude and violent entertainment is the way to financial success.

We get more crude and violent entertainment than we want.  Does that make us a a cruder and more violent nation than we would be otherwise?  I think so.  It can even spread racism as La Shawn Barber's comments on Chris Rock remind us:
Under Hollywood's de facto affirmative action policy, this is what they come up with.  Such behavior would be unacceptable for anyone else, but when a black big-mouth does it, people snicker.   They're not really laughing with him; they're laughing at him, but hes too busy clowning to the know the difference.

They couldn't find a dignified black person, one who exuded grace and charm, for the occasion?   Or one who wouldn't dream of playing to the stereotype of the ignorant Negro in a monkey suit, loud and obnoxious, profanity spewing out of his mouth?
I think she's right; a white comic could not have gotten away with such comedic gems as his opening line: "Sit your asses down!"  If applying lower standards to blacks isn't racism, I don't know what is.

The decline in audience for the Oscars this year is one more bit of evidence that Frank Rich's theory about how to attract the largest audiences is wrong.  I doubt that he will ever admit that he is wrong.  But the Hollywood studios will, eventually — or they will be displaced by companies that do.
- 4:26 PM, 10 March 2005   [link]


One Girl Policy:  Officials in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh want to cut population growth and keep the number of men and women roughly even.  And they are offering strong financial incentives to couples in order to achieve those goals.
Families having a single girl child in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh will be given 100,000 rupees ($2,300) in an attempt to boost the female population.

The money will be given to the child when she turns 20 and both parents would have to undergo verified birth control operations.

The state government says it is concerned at the falling female-to-male ratio — in 2001 it was 943 to 1,000.
That ratio is caused mostly, as I understand it, by the deliberate abortion of girls.

My 2003 Almanac gives the per capita income in India at $440 as of 1999; the comparable figure for the United States was about $35,000, so a proportional reward in the US would be, very roughly, about $180,000.  (Adjusting for recent growth in both countries might lower that to $150,000, or so.)  So I think we can say that the government of Andhra Pradesh is serious about this problem.
- 2:53 PM, 10 March 2005   [link]


Need A Quick Review Of French Sins?  Elvatoloko has it for you in the form of "Ten Questions", or to give the full title of the post, "Ten Questions which would instill terror in a French history teacher".  My favorite?  This one:
8) Why did France help the bloodthirsty Hutus in Rwanda??
It is a sad fact that the United States and the UN minimized the genocide while it occurred; it is a disgusting fact that the French government aided the killers before and after the slaughters.

I am not an expert on French politics, but as far as I can tell the French complicity in the Rwandan genocide has not drawn as much attention in France as the case of Mumia, the cold-blooded Philadelphia cop killer.  Why the deaths of perhaps 800,000 innocents is less important to many in France than the possible execution of a single guilty man is something I genuinely do not understand.
- 2:27 PM, 10 March 2005   [link]


Another Michael Moore Fan?  Could be.  And I must say that Nathan Winkler doesn't sound entirely tolerant.
Nathan Winkler, 31, was arrested overnight and charged with aggravated stalking for allegedly terrorizing a mother and her two children.

According to police, Winkler pulled up alongside Michelle Fernandez as she was headed south on Armenia and began beeping his horn and flailing his arms, pointing at her.  Fernandez, meanwhile, could not see Winkler's face because of a handmade sign in his window that read, "Never forget Bush's illegal oil war murdered thousands in Iraq."

"Apparently, this starts over political views or bumper stickers. She had a Bush/Cheney sticker on the back of her car.  There's just no excuse for it to escalate to what it did," observed Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.
You can find idiots of all political persuasions, but I do think we see more of this behavior on the left, at least in recent years.
- 8:33 AM, 10 March 2005   [link]


Journalists Who Cover TV Have Punishment Enough, I figure, so I don't usually pick on them.  But this time I can't resist.  Kay McFadden covers TV for the Seattle Times and did this piece on our favorite anchor, Dan Rather.  Not everything in it is wrong, but she does miss on some rather large points.

Let's start with this paragraph:
The story claimed President Bush got favorable treatment while in the Texas Air National Guard and rested its case on documents ultimately deemed unverifiable.  Bloggers such as freerepublic.com and powerline.com were first to expose the shoddy journalism.
The story did claim that Bush got favorable treatment.  But Rather and company rested their case on shoddy interviews as well as documents.  Nor were the documents "ultimately deemed unverifiable"; they were deemed crude forgeries by those with expertise in type technology.   Free Republic is not a blogger, but a conservative discussion site that predates blogging.  Nor is Power Line a blogger; instead it is a group site run by several bloggers.

In its own way, that paragraph is a good introduction to the problems of Dan Rather.  But if you were expecting McFadden to use her own errors to explain how Rather had gone wrong so many times, you would be disappointed.  In her long discussion of Rather's career, she omits any mention of what some would consider a fatal flaw in a journalist, Rather's indifference to inconvenient facts.  I mentioned a particularly nasty example in this post; you can find many more in this profile.

And other journalists knew about his flaws:
The style of journalism that has characterized Rather's career was soon evident. "Rather would go with an item even if he didn't have it completely nailed down with verifiable facts," wrote Timothy Crouse in his best-seller about presidential campaign coverage in the Nixon era The Boys on the Bus. "If a rumor sounded solid to him, if he believed in his gut or had gotten it from a man who struck him as honest, he would let it rip.  The other White House reporters hated Rather for this.   They knew exactly why he got away with it: being handsome as a cowboy, Rather was a star at CBS News, and that gave him the clout he needed.  They could quote all his lapses from fact."
(Crouse is not a conservative, if you are wondering.)

Some of us would consider "lapses from fact" undesirable in a journalist; McFadden either does not know about them, or does not consider them worth mentioning.  Either is worrying.  If she does not know about them, why is she writing a profile of Rather?  if she does not consider them worth mentioning, why should we believe the rest of what she writes?

I suppose that the first is most likely, and that the rest of the article can best be explained by the guild loyalty among journalists that I have criticized before.

She ends with this speculation:
But others think "Memogate" is no more than a well deserved shake-up. That view, surprisingly, was taken by a number of eminent bloggers who attended the Heritage Foundation panel and predicted a fruitful embrace between the blogosphere and — guess what? — the traditional media.
I'll skip any comment on the metaphor and say that a "fruitful embrace" depends entirely on whether those in the traditional media are willing to raise their standards.  For instance, I identified several factual errors in her piece.  Will McFadden correct them?  My experience with other journalists leads me to suspect that she will not — but I would be pleased if she does.

(If you didn't follow the story closely, you may be wondering just what did happen with Rather and the documents.  Briefly, a poster (not a blogger) at Free Republic noted that the documents did not look authentic for a number of reasons.  This came to the attention of one of the Power Line bloggers who wrote a post raising the possibility that the documents were fakes.  Soon after, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs showed that you could reproduce the document exactly using default settings in Microsoft Word.  Other bloggers joined in, some with expertise in type or access to experts in the subject.  Within a few days it was clear to all that the documents were crude forgeries, which I suppose does make them "unverifiable".

Speaking of verification, McFadden could have avoided some of the mistakes in the article simply by going to the Free Republic and Power Line sites, or even making a call or two.)
- 4:55 PM, 9 March 2005
More:  Here's a much more detailed description of the events and here's an article that suggests that Mary Mapes (and others at CBS) still believe the bogus story.  Dan Rather isn't the only one at the network who has problems telling fact from fiction.
- 10:32 AM, 10 March 2005   [link]


Mt. St. Helens Surprised Everyone with a significant ash eruption yesterday.
Mount St. Helens spewed a gray plume of ash miles into the air yesterday, surprising scientists and enthralling onlookers with its largest show of force in months.

The eruption, which began at 5:25 p.m., lasted about 30 minutes and sent a billowing cloud about 36,000 feet into the air.
. . .
The ash plume drifted northeast, prompting the National Weather Service to issue ash advisories for areas including the Yakima Valley and Lower Columbia Basin in Eastern Washington.  Light ashfall was reported as far east as Yakima just a few hours after the explosion.
The Seattle Times has a longer article and a small gallery of photographs.  The first is dramatic enough to save and print.  The local TV stations have video, as well as still photographs; here's KOMO and King 5.  And, finally, here's the St. Helens webcam, though I should warn you that it missed most of the eruption.

(You can find more, I am sure, at the Portland TV stations and perhaps the Portland Oregonian.)
- 8:59 AM, 9 March 2005   [link]


Iraq's Great Marshes Begin To Recover:  Some of the ecological destruction caused by Saddam is being repaired by nature, by the Marsh Arabs, by the Iraqi government, and by the international community.  Here's a progress report from the New York Times which mixes hope and caution.
But when Mr. Hussein's government fell in April 2003, villagers went to the dike and gouged holes in it using shovels, their bare hands and at least one piece of heavy equipment, a floating backhoe.   Since then, something miraculous has occurred: reeds and cattails have sprouted up again; fish, snails and shrimp have returned to the waters; egrets and storks perch on the jagged remains of the walls, coolly surveying the territory as if they had never left.

As Mr. Hashim walked down a short muddy embankment to his boat, the air filled with a cacophony of frogs croaking in full-throated appeal to their potential mates.  The re-emergence of life from the bleak Iraqi desert, said Ali Messen, another marsh Arab, from the town of Chabaysh, has made him feel "like a person detained in prison who is set free."

In certain places, and with a fraction of their former bounty, the marshes have started to come back from the dead.
. . .
"Surely the marshes can be recovered as they were before," said Dr. Malik H. Ali, director general of the marine science center at the University of Basra, where some of the marshland research is being carried out.

When asked how much of the original marshlands could be restored, Dr. Ali replied, "Eighty percent, that will be acceptable."  But others have suggested that no more than a third of the marshes can reasonably be restored, and Dr. Ali added, in what many here would regard as a vast understatement, "Certainly, it needs a lot of political involvement."
As control of water has in the Middle East for many millenia.

This partial recovery from an ecological catastrophe provides a fine metaphor for the political changes in Iraq.  We can enjoy the return of life without underestimating how much still must be done.
- 7:56 AM, 9 March 2005   [link]