March 2005, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Embryonic Stem Cells Could Not Have Restored Terri Schiavo: In this column, Jim Pinkerton makes a serious mistake.
What would happen, for instance, if scientists announced that they could grow a new brain from stem cells for Terri Schiavo? That is, the wizardry of medical technology would allow the unfortunate woman to regain her mental faculties. Such an announcement, admittedly hypothetical at present, would put the "right to life" supporters of Schiavo in an awkward position. On the one hand, they would support her continued existence in a "vegetative" state. But on the other, they would oppose stem-cell-based intervention that would lead to her genuine physical recovery. Which is to say, conservatives might be happy to see Schiavo's near-comatose state forever, but others of different beliefs might demand the true rehabilitation of their loved one.There are two kinds of stem cells, adult and embryonic. Adult stem cells generally come from a person's own body and have been used successfully in therapies for decades. Those that come from other people do not require killing those people. Embryonic stem cells come from a fertilized human egg, which could have become a person had it been implanted. To date, there are no generally accepted cures from embryonic stem cells.
Very few of those who object to embryonic stem cell cures for religious reasons also object to adult stem cell cures.
Now for the scientific point which Pinkerton missed: It is conceivable that Terri Schiavo could have been restored with her own adult stem cells; it is not conceivable that she could have been restored with embryonic stem cells. Why not? Because the embryonic stem cells would not have Terri Schiavo's DNA. There are continuing arguments about how much of our personality and intellect are from our genes and how much from our environment, but almost no one thinks that our genes play no part. If embryonic stem cells were used to regrow parts of Terri Schiavo's brain, you would not have Terri Schiavo, but another person, as if you had done a brain transplant.
Pinkerton intends to attack "right to life" supporters of Terri Schiavo, but just shows his misunderstanding of the scientific facts. And of the positions of religious leaders. Very few "right to life" people would object to the only kind of stem cell therapy that might conceivably restore Terri Schiavo — adult stem cell therapy.
- 9:49 AM, 31 March 2005 [link]
Terri Schiavo Has Died: May she rest in peace.
I'll have more to say about the political effects of this case, but feel I should wait at least a few weeks for that, out of respect for the dead.
- 7:41 AM, 31 March 2005 [link]
NPR Has Already Filled The Niche: Talk show host Brian Maloney points out, as he has before, that liberal talk radio, in particular Air America, has lousy ratings.
This data overall paints a very bleak picture of liberal talk radio's future. There wasn't one sign of growth, not a fraction of ratings point in any city and many were down from already anemic levels.Why should this be so? After all, though there are fewer liberals than conservatives, there are still millions of them. One would think that Air America and similar ventures could draw at least half the audience that their competitors on the right do.
One reason they don't, of course, is that the "mainstream" media is on the left — though many on the left will deny that. In the last campaign, the search for flaws in George W. Bush's military record was mostly done by "mainstream" news organizations; the search for flaws in John Kerry's military record was mostly done by people outside those organizations. And you can find the same pattern in many other news stories. So those on the left do not have the same objections to getting their news from ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post that those on the right do.
But that isn't the complete explanation, because the audience for radio — think of all those stuck in traffic — isn't the same as the audience for TV and newspapers. Even so, Air America and similar ventures have done badly. It's not too hard to see why Air America has not done well in the Seattle area; the NPR station, KUOW, is already filling their niche. And I am reasonably sure that the same is true of most NPR stations.
For some evidence, take a look at KUOW's schedule. I haven't listened to all of their programs, but I have listened to most of them, and every single one that has any political content is on the left. In that group I would include Liane Hansen, A Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered, On the Media, the BBC World Service, Weekday, To the Point, Living on Earth, Alternative Radio, This American Life, Diane Rehm, and Weekend Edition. Please understand that I am not saying that everything on these shows is on the left. For example, Prairie Home Companion mostly broadcasts music and sketches. But the man who runs the show, Garrison Keillor, has been bitterly hostile to George W. Bush and other Republicans for years — and made that abundantly clear during the election campaign last year. The show made no attempt to balance his views.
Two of the shows I listed, Weekend Edition and Alternative Radio, show the range of opinions allowed on KUOW. I actually like Scott Simon and Weekend Edition. Simon seems like a decent man who is open to new ideas and tolerant of those who do not share his views. (But the show is ill served by having leftist Daniel Schorr as the only analyst. It would be better if, like Fox News, it employed analysts with a range of ideas.) Weekend Edition presents the news from a moderate left viewpoint; Alternative Radio gives the extremist views of the Chomsky cult. And nothing outside that range appears on KUOW, no conservative shows, no moderate shows, no libertarian shows, no religious shows, nothing that would offend a politically correct professor at a major university.
The talk shows on KUOW, such as Steve Scher's Weekday, show how a program can be consistently biased without the host presenting his own opinions. The typical Weekday program will have a guest on the left being interviewed by Scher, who asks the questions that those on the left would want asked, and takes phone calls from listeners, nearly all on the left. For example, a few weeks ago, King County Executive Ron Sims was on the show. Scher said that he would ask Sims about the election mess in King County (for which Sims is at least partly responsible) — but ran out of time before he got to that unpleasant subject. At the end, Sims said that he always enjoyed being on the program. I thought, "I'll bet you do." (Did Scher realize that Sims had, in effect, called him a patsy. I don't think so.) As far as I know, Scher has never interviewed Stefan Sharkansky, the best informed critic of the King County election mess.
Finally, let me note that some at NPR share my viewpoint. Last fall, I heard one of their personalities make this same argument, that they were competing with Air America. No one in the studio disagreed. If I were running Air America, I would be lobbying for an end to NPR, or at least an end to its public subsidy.
(NPR has a substantial audience, about what one would predict from the number of people who call themselves liberals — not that all those who listen to NPR are liberals. NPR stations are not included in the usual surveys of audience share, because they don't, officially, have advertisements.)
- 7:24 AM, 31 March 2005 [link]
Medal Of Honor For Paul R. Smith.
Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, killed nearly two years ago defending his vastly outnumbered Army unit in a fierce battle with elite Iraqi troops for control of Baghdad's airport, will receive the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, administration officials said Tuesday.Jon Singleton has a link-filled post on the award here. (Via Tom Maguire.)
And here's my own post on another amazing man, Private Beharry Johnson, who received the Victoria Cross for his heroism in Iraq.
- 2:07 PM, 30 March 2005 [link]
City Kids: There aren't as many of them as there once were. Timothy Egan of the New York Times finds this puzzling.
The Pearl District in the heart of this perpetually self-improving city seems to have everything in new urban design and comfort, from the Whole Foods store where fresh-buffed bell peppers are displayed like runway models to the converted lofts that face sidewalk gardens.That's three, not three percent.
Similar cities have similar problems.
It is a problem unlike the urban woes of cities like Detroit and Baltimore, where families have fled decaying neighborhoods, business areas and schools. Portland is one of the nation's top draws for the kind of educated, self-starting urbanites that midsize cities are competing to attract. But as these cities are remodeled to match the tastes of people living well in neighborhoods that were nearly abandoned a generation ago, they are struggling to hold on to enough children to keep schools running and parks alive with young voices.What else do these cities have in common? With the possible exception of Miami, all of them have been governed by Democrats and often fairly leftist Democrats at that. Is it possible that leftist policies drove out families with children? I think that's not only possible, but likely. For example, San Francisco has been tolerant, even encouraging, toward its large homeless population. That parents see such people as threats to their children is no secret — at least to those who do not work for the New York Times.
Seattle offers an even more dramatic example. Although the city had never had segregated schools, it instituted busing for racial balance and continued it for years and years. Busing is even more difficult in Seattle, for reasons of geography, than it is in most cities, as I explained in this post. As soon as it was started, families with children began leaving the city in droves. That was not secret, but it was something that could not be discussed publicly in polite Democratic circles, except to deplore it. Egan quotes Charles Royer, who tried to attract kids back to Seattle in the early 1980s, at length, but neither Egan nor Royer even mention busing.
I suspect those more familiar with the history of the other cities on the list can identify similar programs that drove parents with children from those cities. Which leads me to this question: Why do so many on the left favor policies that offend families with children? (I should add that many on the left do not seem to realize that their policies are anti-family.) I honestly don't know the answer to that question. (Except, of course, for extreme environmentalists who oppose children in general.)
(Egan is misleading when he says that "Nationally, the birthrate has been dropping, . . ". That's true if you measure from the height of the baby boom; it is not true if you measure from the late 1970s. In 1976, there about 15 births per 1,000, almost exactly the same as in 2001. Since the population had grown considerably in that period, the total number of births was much higher in 2001 than in 1976.
And I should add that, when discussing long term population trends, demographers usually prefer fertility rates to birth rates, because they take into consideration the age structure of the population. You can find links to two charts and a brief explanation of the differences between the two measures here.)
- 7:37 AM, 30 March 2005
Clarification And Correction: I have re-written the material in parentheses to include links to an explanation of the difference between the fertility rate and the birth rate. In the original version of the post, I criticized Egan for using birth rates, but in fact they are appropriate for his argument. He is still misleading on the trend, no matter which statistic you use.
- 8:23 AM, 30 March 2005 [link]
What Kind Of People Don't Watch TV? People with a certain kind of smarts.
"If you are thinking that very, very few people do not watch television, you are right—that also has been our experience. But almost every household we have known that does not have a television is presided over by at least one Ph. D.—and invariably the doctorate is in a field that requires hard, skilled mental work in mastering languages other than one's own, like the languages of math, physics, or ancient Mesopotamia. Not all doctor's degrees are like this, you know."Read the whole post to see who said this, to whom it was said, and why it was said.
(My own TV habits? I don't have a PhD, so perhaps I can be forgiven for owning a TV. But it does embarrass me. So why do I have one? Because I like to watch movies and the simplest way to do that is with a television set. And because I like to watch some sports programs, which is why last week I bought a set to replace the one that had just died. I bought it just in time to see the basketball game between the University of Washington and Louisville. As sports fans will know, the UW lost the game, which left me feeling a little bit silly.)
- 1:35 PM, 29 March 2005 [link]
Never Mind: That's what the New York Times now says about its decades long opposition to filibusters.
The Senate will return from Easter vacation with nuclear options on its mind. Republicans seem determined to change the rules so Democrats will no longer be able to stop judicial nominations with the threat of a filibuster. If they're acting out of frustration, it's understandable. In the past we've been frustrated when legislators tried to stop important bills from passing by resorting to the same tactic.
By "nuclear option", the Times means that a majority of the Senate would be able to confirm a judge — as intended by those who wrote the American Constitution.
Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, the Times does not mention the most famous use of the filibuster, to obstruct the passage of civil rights bills. If they need a review of that history, they can always call Democratic Senator (and former member of the KKK) Robert Byrd, who participated in those filibusters.
Is there anyone who does not think that the Times will not shift its position on the filibuster once again if, ten years from now, the Democrats control the Senate?Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.
- 8:42 AM, 29 March 2005 [link]
Yesterday Was Easter: When I stopped by a local drugstore yesterday morning, a clerk wished me a Happy Easter. As if happens, he is Jewish. I am not, and so he thought it appropriate to wish me a Happy Easter. That action exemplifies the kind of pragmatic compromise we have arrived at in the United States; we (mostly) respect each other's religious beliefs enough to wish each other well on the appropriate holidays. (And I hope I'll remember, next Christmas, to wish the clerk only a Happy New Year.)
Our pragmatic compromise is not perfect. Religions too far from the mainstream fit in it awkwardly. It often makes no sense theologically. But it mostly works well in practice. Groups that warred against each other for centuries elsewhere have been able to learn a wary tolerance here.
That tolerance requires a certain level of respect for those who do not share our religious beliefs. Sadly, some at the New York Times do not have that respect for those with other religious beliefs. This Sunday, the New York Times celebrated, though that isn't the right word, Easter with two terrible columns, one by Maureen Dowd and one by Frank Rich. Dowd describes herself as a Catholic, though I am not sure that all who belong to the Catholic church would agree. So she must know that Easter is inappropriate day for launching into an attack on the Catholic church for, of all things, its position on The Da Vinci Code. (The church considers it heretical for what appear to be good reasons.)
It's a free country and so Dowd has every right to make this argument. But I think a decent respect for those with different religious beliefs than hers would have led Dowd to choose another day for this column.
Maureen Dowd was superficial and nasty in her Easter column; Frank Rich was deeply hostile to all those with traditional Christian beliefs in his.
There is so much that is awful in his column that will not suggest you read it all, but I will give you some samples:
Either way, it's clear that one principle, so firmly upheld by DeMille, has remained inviolate no matter what the courts have to say: American moguls, snake-oil salesmen and politicians looking to score riches or power will stop at little if they feel it is in their interests to exploit God to achieve those ends.I won't go through these item by item, but will only ask you to think about the very last. A "full-scale jihad"! And what is he referring to? This: Congress passed a law asking the federal courts to review the evidence in the case of a woman who is dying because water and food are being withheld from her. You can write things that absurd about your political opponents only when you when you despise them, only when you lack that respect for them that our pragmatic compromise requires.
Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich could learn much from that drugstore clerk. And so could the management at the New York Times, which approved these two hate-filled columns for publication — on Easter.
(How many people did Dowd and Rich insult? The Seattle Times has some numbers.
Today, some 159 million Christians in the United States, and about 1.9 billion worldwide, will celebrate Easter, marking the day they believe Jesus was resurrected. (Orthodox Christians use a different calendar and will celebrate Easter on May 1.)That's about two billion all together.)
- 5:14 PM, 28 March 2005 [link]
Science Bits: I didn't get around to posting these links last week, but the articles are so interesting that I don't you to miss them. (You'll have to look at the ones from the New York Times today, unless you want to pay for them.)
Newborn babies look like their fathers, but not their mothers.
It's one of the first questions to cross a new parent's mind. Does the baby look like me? Studies suggest that, for fathers, the answer is usually yes.And they weren't very good at all matching either parent with 20-year-olds.
The Mars Rovers are still going strong, with some help from Martian dust devils.
Nearly a year past its planned three-month lifetime, the Mars rover Spirit has found itself rejuvenated and is now making some of its most significant discoveries about Mars' waterlogged past.As if they weren't scary enough already, vampire bats can run. And the New York Times has a link to a movie if you want to see for yourself.
The Washington Post has the same story on the vampire bats in this collection of stories, but adds this:
Equally surprising, the researchers said in interviews, was how clever the animals proved to be. When placed in a new cage, the bats would instantly figure out where the hidden door was and casually lurk nearby -- then leap out when it was opened. And all the scientists had to do was move their hand toward the switch that turned the treadmill on and the bats would start walking.Great. They suck your blood and sometimes carry rabies. Now we learn that they can run after you, and are smart. (The Post article also mentions a study showing that living in the mountains is healthier (because you get more exercise) and a camera shy Sumatran tiger.)
- 11:05 AM, 28 March 2005 [link]
When Even The Leftist Guardian notices, I think we can conclude that the trend is positive in Iraq.
The Iraqi resistance has peaked and is 'turning in on itself', according to recent intelligence reports from Baghdad received by Middle Eastern intelligence agencies.(The Guardian does not even mention President Bush in this good news article, so you can see that they haven't dropped their standards for what is fit to print completely.)
In a much-linked-to article, the Financial Times gave one reason for the positive trend; the Baathists now expect to lose.
Many of Iraq's predominantly Sunni Arab insurgents would lay down their arms and join the political process in exchange for guarantees of their safety and that of their co-religionists, according to a prominent Sunni politician.You don't need guarantees of safety if you are going to win. (These negotiations shows one of the common difficulties in getting rid of a regime that has committed crimes against its own people: Those who have committed the crimes fear, rightly, that they will be imprisoned or executed if they surrender.)
I remain, as I have been for the last two years, cautiously optimistic, perhaps a little more so now than I was two years ago.
(Analysts at the Pentagon have come to similar conclusions. For examples of progress, you'll want to read Arthur Chrenkoff's "Good news from Iraq, Part 24". And a milblogger makes an interesting point about some of the suicide bombers.
The dirty little secret of the Islamo-fascists is that many of these car bombs are not the suicide sacrifice that they tell of in their recruiting propaganda. All too frequently, the driver of many of these vehicles is unaware that he is doing anything more than smuggling supplies through a checkpoint or planting a car bomb for later detonation.According to "Major K." the suicide bombers who wear vests or carry backpacks are usually true volunteers, often from outside Iraq.)
- 10:06 AM, 28 March 2005 [link]
Need A Chuckle To Start Your Work Week? It has been my practice, for many years, to start my work day with a cartoon from a daily calendar. For years I used the "Far Side" calendar, but that has been discontinued. This year the best substitute I could find was the New Yorker's dog cartoons calendar.
Last Friday's cartoon showed a mother dog with her half grown puppies. She is telling how to start their careers: "The time has come for each of you to find a little boy to follow home."
I haven't been a little boy for a long time, but I would still be tempted to keep a puppy that followed me home.
- 9:15 AM, 28 March 2005 [link]
That's Harsh: The Seattle PI's Thomas Shapley adds a little dig at the end of this paragraph.
It's been known for some time that hopes for expanding [Washington] state civil rights law protection to include gays and lesbians could hinge on the resistance of a single Democratic legislator, Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup. Kastama describes himself as a conservative Democrat but is hardly a knuckle-dragger.
Now I think that goes too far. It is true that the Democratic party, which once generated new ideas at a remarkable rate, has almost nothing new to contribute to the solution of our problems. (Consider, for example, the debate over the reform of social security. Have you seen any Democratic plans, any alternatives to what Bush is proposing? Neither have I. As I understand it, that's a matter of deliberate policy; the Democrats have decided that they can gain the most political advantage by sitting back and sniping.)
The Democrats have even lost much of their enthusiasm for their old ideas, perhaps because so many of them failed, sometimes spectacularly. (Need an example? Just think of all those high rise buildings, built with the promise that they would end slums, that have been dynamited in recent years. With, as I am sure you know, the approval of their inhabitants.)
Despite all that, I think it is unfair to imply that being a Democrat makes a politician a "knuckle-dragger". Even "reactionary" goes a little too far for my taste, though I can see why others would disagree. I do think it fair to say that the Democratic party is stuck in the mud. (And their dependence on public employee unions, that is to say bureaucrats, is likely to keep them stuck there for some time.) I regret that, though I can see the advantages it gives to the Republican party. Shapley is right to draw attention to the problems of the Democratic party, but goes too far with his dig.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:42 AM, 28 March 2005 [link]
More On Vote Fraud In Wisconsin: That there were thousands of fraudulent votes cast last November in Wisconsin is not in doubt. Here's the latest story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The results of the Nov. 2 election in Milwaukee, now the subject of an investigation into possible voter fraud, were certified without any double-checking of the totals by the city or county panels charged with oversight, the Journal Sentinel has determined.It is simply amazing — or I should say would be amazing had I not seen similar problems here in Washington state — that Milwaukee ignored both law and common sense in administering their elections. One would almost think that some election officials there wanted to facilitate fraud.
And all this happened in a state with a reputation for honest elections.
What is still unclear is whether fraudulent votes tipped the state to John Kerry, since he won the state by about 11,000 votes. It seems entirely possible that fraudulent votes did provide Kerry's margin, since we can be almost certain that not all of the fraudulent votes have been identified.
- 4:24 PM, 25 March 2005 [link]
Dinosaur Blood Vessels: Here's the New York Times story on a remarkable discovery.
A 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex recently discovered in Montana, scientists reported today, has apparently yielded the improbable: soft tissues, including blood vessels and possibly cells, that "retain some of their original flexibility, elasticity and resilience."And from a T. rex at that. (Fewer than 20 T. rex fossils have have been found all together, as I recall.)
The article mentions the possible recovery of the dinosaur's DNA. Before you get visions of Jurassic Park (or in this case Cretaceous Park), I should mention that DNA decays over time through a process called "racemization", in which the amino acids change into their mirror images. As I understand it, that doesn't mean that the DNA can't be studied, but it does mean that you shouldn't expect to see a T. rex in your local zoo any time soon.
- 7:41 AM, 25 March 2005
More: The New York Times article omitted an important point: Schweitzer has already found soft tissues in other fossils.
The finding certainly shows fossilization does not proceed as science had assumed, Schweitzer said. Since the discovery, she has found similar samples of soft tissue in two other Tyrannosaur fossils and a hadrosaur.I am almost certain that some paleontologists saw this soft tissue before Schweitzer — but did not recognize it because their theories told them it could not be there.
- 6:50 AM, 29 March 2005 [link]