Archive:

March 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The New York Times Censor Is At Work Again:  On Sunday, the New York Times published an absurd editorial, advocating everything except pillow mints for captured terrorists.  (And the Times probably favors that, too, but just didn't have the space to mention it.)

Yesterday, the Times published an equally absurd (and error filled) editorial on the Libby verdict.

On Tuesday, the Times published six letters reacting to the Times' "Terrorist Bill of Rights", as Charles Johnson called it.   Today, the Times published nine letters reacting to the Libby decision editorial.  Of those fifteen letters reacting to these two editorials, how many disagreed with the Times?  Zero.

Last year, I began calling the letters editor at the Times, Thomas Feyer, the New York Times censor, for his unwillingness to publish letters critical of the Times.  It is examples like these two that shows you why I call him that — and why you should, too.

Feyer's policy of suppressing debate in the letters column not only makes the Times a less interesting newspaper, by removing some feedback, it makes the Times a worse newspaper.  If Feyer is unwilling to print letters that say an editorial or a column is wrong — and he generally is — then the columnists and editorial writers lose chances to learn that they have been wrong, as they often are.  Finally, his policy of suppressing dissent suggests intellectual cowardice; those who suppress opposing arguments generally do so because they fear those arguments.

(You can find my earlier posts on Feyer's policies (with more examples) here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I said that the Libby editorial was "error filled".  The Times has been corrected so often on Joseph Wilson's claim that the Bush administration "smeared" him, that I tire of repeating established facts, facts well-known, for instance, to the Times' competitors at the Washington Post.   But for those who want a review of this dispute, I recommend this piece by the nonpartisan FactCheck.Org.

For those who want to know more about Feyer's policies, here's his most recent statement.   I think his policies, as he describes them in the statement, would be bad for the Times, and bad for the nation.  What makes matters even worse is that he does not follow parts of his own policy.  For example, no open-minded person who reads the letters column regularly would agree that Feyer tries to present a "balance of views, pro and con".)
- 3:17 PM, 8 March 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  John Leo has a typically thoughtful column on censorship.
Remember when the Right had a near-monopoly on censorship?  If so, you must be in your sixties, or older.  Now the champions of censorship are mostly on the left.  And they are thickest on the ground in our colleges and universities.  Since the late 1980s, what should be the most open, debate-driven, and tolerant sector of society has been in thrall to the diversity and political correctness that now form the aggressive secular religion of America's elites.

The censors have only grown in power, elevating antidiscrimination rules above "absolutist" free-speech principles, silencing dissent with antiharassment policies, and looking away when students bar or disrupt conservative speakers or steal conservative newspapers.  Operating under the tacit principle that "error has no rights," an ancient Catholic theological rule, the new censors aren't interested in debates or open forums.  They want to shut up dissenters.
And they are often successful.  For examples, you'll want to read the whole column.

And you will want to read the whole column to see just how bad the censorship has gotten in other democracies.

I would differ, slightly, from Leo on one point.  He gives too much blame to Herbert Marcuse for the disgraceful state of affairs on our campuses, and not enough blame to the return of the old left, which never really supported freedom of speech.
- 2:04 PM, 8 March 2007   [link]


Games Change When You Keep Score:  That's true on the playground; that's also true, according to columnist Dave Leonhardt, in hospitals.  When hospital regulators began releasing data on how well hospital performed in some areas, hospitals improved in those areas.  For example, the University of California San Francisco Medical Center looked at its numbers on treating heart attacks and found that patients with blocked arteries "spent almost three hours on average at U.C.S.F. before their arteries were unblocked".  Which was not a good for those patients.
To be fair, U.C.S.F. was faster than most hospitals, but its delays were still almost certainly killing some people and leaving others disabled.  Patients have the best chance of recovery if their arteries are opened within two hours, research has shown.
Patients dying from time to time did not get their attention, but the idea that the government would be posting scores did.  UCSF changed their procedures and now opens those arteries in about 90 minutes, undoubtedly saving lives and preventing disabilities.

Leonhardt believes that releasing data can improve care in many areas:
The most encouraging thing about the U.C.S.F. story is that it points out a way to improve health care that avoids many of the thorniest political debates: regulators should force hospitals to report more information.  In 2005-6, about 67 percent of patients across the country had their arteries unblocked within two hours, up from 62 percent a couple of years earlier, according to Medicare, which posts the numbers on the Web.

Releasing data does not solve every problem, of course.  Since its initial burst of progress, U.C.S.F. hasn't gotten any faster at opening arteries; in 2005-6, 77 percent of heart attack patients there received treatment in less than two hours.  With many other kinds of care, it's difficult to come up with the right performance measures and to make adjustments for the mix of incoming patients.

But it's not as difficult as doctors and hospital administrators sometimes suggest.  (Not all of them are keen on accountability.)  In fact, since the early 1990s, New York State has released death rates for heart surgery — and those rates have fallen far faster than the national average during that time.  Pennsylvania now requires its hospitals to disclose how many of their patients acquire hospital infections.
And that may help thousands of patients.

As is true in so many areas, often the first step in solving a problem is measuring it.   And, of course, making the scores public helps, too.

Sometimes, in fact, measurement alone can be enough to cause changes in behavior.  Budget experts often suggest that those who have trouble controlling their spending begin by writing down everything they spend money on, and that's often enough by itself to get people to control their spending.   You can probably think of similar examples without much trouble.

(If you want to make your own comparisons of hospitals, you can start here.

Hint to "mainstream" reporters:  Since this data is publicly available, you can easily measure local hospitals in a variety of ways, and then ask hospital administrators some questions.  For example, just glancing at some numbers for the hospitals near where I live, I got the impression that they are better than average at treating heart attacks, but worse than average at treating pneumonia.   It isn't hard to see how to get a story out of those numbers, and a diligent reporter should be able to find many more numbers that raise questions worth asking.)
- 4:18 PM, 7 March 2007   [link]


Lewis Libby Has Been convicted on 4 of the 5 counts.   The conviction was not a surprise; DC juries have done amazing things, including acquitting murderers they knew were guilty.  That the decision was, in part, political, seems almost certain from the few comments I have seen from the jurors.  A Democrat facing the same charges and the same jury would have been acquitted, I believe.

Patrick Fitzgerald has forever disgraced himself by this prosecution.  In the years to come, the trial will be used in law schools as an example of how a prosecutor can abuse his powers.  And Libby's example will encourage others to lie and say, as Hillary Clinton did so many times, that they can't recall, even when they can.

There is one pleasing result from this investigation.  Fitzgerald stripped away many protections that journalists thought they had.  The Wall Street Journal predicted that result, but the New York Times (and other leftwing newspapers) pressed for the investigation anyway.  They were blinded, I suppose, by some mixture of arrogance and Bush Derangement Syndrome.

For more see this Pajama Media round up and, of course, Tom Maguire's site.
- 1:34 PM, 6 March 2007
The Washington Post thinks Libby was guilty, but has this reaction to the whole affair:
The trial has provided convincing evidence that there was no conspiracy to punish Mr. Wilson by leaking Ms. Plame's identity -- and no evidence that she was, in fact, covert.

It would have been sensible for Mr. Fitzgerald to end his investigation after learning about Mr. Armitage.
. . .
Mr. Wilson's case has besmirched nearly everyone it touched.  The former ambassador will be remembered as a blowhard.  Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were overbearing in their zeal to rebut Mr. Wilson and careless in their handling of classified information. Mr. Libby's subsequent false statements were reprehensible.  And Mr. Fitzgerald has shown again why handing a Washington political case to a federal special prosecutor is a prescription for excess.
I think that Libby is innocent and that the differences between his recollections and those of some reporters have the usual explanation: our memories are fallible.  It is not surprising that Libby and some reporters have different recollections; what would be surprising, in fact, astonishing, would be if they did not.  (See this Washington Post piece on the fallibility of our memories, if you need a review of what researchers have learned about how our memories work — and how they often don't.)

For reactions from those who believe, as I do, that Libby was innocent, see here, here, here, and here.
- 7:15 AM, 7 March 2007   [link]


In Fighting Terror, Should We Imitate The Europeans?  For example, should we imitate the French?
Consider the powers granted to [investigative magistrate] Mr. [Jean-Louis] Bruguiere and his colleagues.  Warrantless wiretaps?  Not a problem under French law, as long as the Interior Ministry approves.  Court-issued search warrants based on probable cause?  Not needed to conduct a search.  Hearsay evidence?  Admissible in court.  Habeas corpus?   Suspects can be held and questioned by authorities for up to 96 hours without judicial supervision or the notification of third parties.  Profiling?  French officials commonly boast of having a "spy in every mosque."  A wall of separation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies?  France's domestic and foreign intelligence bureaus work hand-in-glove.  Bail?  Authorities can detain suspects in "investigative" detentions for up to a year.  Mr. Bruguiere once held 138 suspects on terrorism-related charges.  The courts eventually cleared 51 of the suspects--some of whom had spent four years in preventive detention--at their 1998 trial.
Or even the British?
Even Britain, which shares America's common law traditions, has been forced by Irish and now Islamist terrorism to resort to administrative detentions, trials without jury (the famous Diplock courts) and ubiquitous public surveillance.  Wiretapping is authorized by the Home Secretary--that is, a member of the government--rather than an independent judge.  In the early days of the Northern Irish "troubles," the government of Edward Heath placed some 2,000 suspects, without charge, in internment camps.  Ironically, it was the decision to treat terrorists as ordinary criminals that led to the famous hunger strikes of Bobby Sands and his IRA crew.
Other European governments have similar laws; Spanish law, for example, allows terrorism suspects to be detained for as long as four years before their trial.

Bret Stephens wrote this column to criticize American civil libertarians, who have been so savage in their criticism of Bush administration anti-terrorism policies, and Europeans, who are, he thinks, being hypocritical when they criticize the United States for violating the rights of terrorists.

What the French experience shows is that we could treat terrorism as a crime problem — if we were willing to amend the Constitution and throw out most protections for suspects.  If we are not, and I certainly am not, then we can either accept a certain level of losses from terrorism or take the battle to the terrorists, fight them over there instead of here.  The 9/11 attack showed the problem with just accepting a certain level of losses, as we had been doing.  So President Bush chose the second strategy, fighting them over there.  And given our constitutional limits, you can conclude, as Stephens does, that he had no other choice.  Unless, as I said, we are willing to simply accept a certain level of losses from terrorism.
- 7:20 AM, 6 March 2007   [link]


While I Am Catching Up, I should mention this article on bubble fusion.
A few small companies and maverick university laboratories, including this one at U.C.L.A. run by Seth Putterman, a professor of physics, are pursuing quixotic solutions for future energy, trying to tap the power of the Sun — hot nuclear fusion — in devices that fit on a tabletop.

Dr. Putterman's approach is to use sound waves, called sonofusion or bubble fusion, to expand and collapse tiny bubbles, generating ultrahot temperatures.  At temperatures hot enough, atoms can literally fuse and release even more energy than when they split in nuclear fission, now used in nuclear power plants and weapons.  Furthermore, fusion is clean in that it does not produce long-lived nuclear waste.

Dr. Putterman has not achieved fusion in his experiments.  He and other scientists form a small but devoted cadre interested in turning small-scale desktop fusion into usable systems.  Although success is far away, the principles seem sound.
Wouldn't have thought that bubbles were so violent, but, as the article says, "the principles seem sound".  And there are other desktop fusion possibilities described in the rest of the article, including one that has been around for quite some time, the Farnsworth Fusor.  (Which you can build in your garage, if you want to.  But you shouldn't count on getting enough power from it so that you can drop off the grid.)

(If bubble fusion seems familiar, that may be because you have heard some earlier claims of success with the method, claims discussed here.

Incidentally, it is not quite true that fusion power plants produce no "long-lived nuclear waste".  The fusion reactions do not produce the waste directly, but they do produce neutrons, which would produce some waste indirectly when they struck the walls of the container.  Which kinds would depend on what the container was made of.  This is not something to worry about; as I have mentioned before, nuclear waste from fission is not a serious health problem, though it is a serious political problem.)
- 1:43 PM, 5 March 2007   [link]


There Are Honest, Informed Environmentalists:  There are even honest, informed environmentalists who believe in human caused global warming.  For example, Stewart Brand:
Stewart Brand has become a heretic to environmentalism, a movement he helped found, but he doesn't plan to be isolated for long.  He expects that environmentalists will soon share his affection for nuclear power.  They'll lose their fear of population growth and start appreciating sprawling megacities.  They'll stop worrying about "frankenfoods" and embrace genetic engineering.
. . .
He divides environmentalists into romantics and scientists, the two cultures he's been straddling and blending since the 1960s.
And he is now mostly on the side of the scientists.

You'll want to read the whole thing, but you will have to hurry if you want to read it free on line, since it will probably go behind the pay curtain at the end of today.
- 12:55 PM, 5 March 2007   [link]


Chuckle:  Mark Steyn came in late on Al Gore's energy use, but he makes up for it with his writing.
So in the Reverend Al's case it doesn't matter that he's lit up like Times Square on V-E Day.   Because he's paid for his extravagant emissions.  He has a carbon-offset trader in an environmentally friendly carbon-credits office suite who buys "carbon offsets" for Al from, say, a terrorist mastermind in a cave in the Pakistani tribal lands who's dramatically reduced his energy usage mainly because every time he powers up his cell phone or laptop a light goes on in Washington and an unmanned drone starts heading his way.  So, aside from a basic cable subscription to cheer himself up watching U.S. senators talking about "exit strategies" on CNN 24/7, the terrorist mastermind doesn't deplete a lot of resources.  Which means Tipper can watch Al give a speech on a widescreen plasma TV, where Al looks almost as wide as in life, and she doesn't have to feel guilty because it all comes out . . . carbon-neutral!

And, in fact, in the Reverend Al's case it's even better than that.  Al buys his carbon offsets from Generation Investment Management LLP, which is "an independent, private, owner-managed partnership established in 2004 and with offices in London and Washington, D.C.," that, for a fee, will invest your money in "high-quality companies at attractive prices that will deliver superior long-term investment returns."  Generation is a tax-exempt U.S. 501(c)3. And who's the chairman and founding partner?  Al Gore.
And I must admit that I had not known, until quite recently, that Al Gore was buying those credits from himself.

Strangely, Al Gore apparently did not realize how bad all this would make him look, and may still not realize it.

(Two stray thoughts:  First, Gore owns at least one other residence, an apartment in San Francisco, so the bill for his Nashville palace is not Gore's entire energy bill.  I can't recall having seen a criticism of second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) homes from those who worry about saving the planet, even those these homes are, almost invariably, great energy wasters.

Second, if Gore and company want to save the planet, they might want to start with being "methane neutral", rather than being carbon neutral.  Methane, according to the accounts I have read, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide — and human activity does put a lot of it into the atmosphere.
- 9:49 AM, 5 March 2007   [link]


Bill O'Reilly calls our attention to a significant case.
In case you don't know, child pornography features children from infants on up being raped in a variety of ways by adults.  It is expensive to purchase and, because of the Internet, the distribution of this evil material has become easy.  Have a credit card, you can get it.

According to ICE agents, one of those who used a credit card to purchase child porn is attorney Charles Rust-Tierney, the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia.  Tierney was arrested and charged on Feb. 23.
. . .
On Dec. 1, 1998, Tierney issued this statement: "Recognizing that individuals will continue to behave responsibly and appropriately while in the library, the default should be maximum, unrestricted access to the valuable resources of the Internet."

And included among those "resources" is child porn.  The ACLU in Virginia successfully blocked any filtering of objectionable material in Loudon County libraries.
. . .
The only major liberal news organization to cover the story was The Washington Post.  It ran a small mention of it in the second section of the paper, essentially burying the situation.  The New York Times ignored the story entirely.  So did NBC News, CBS News and CNN. ABC News mentioned it on its website.
So, an official of the ACLU, who had worked to make porn available in our public libraries — and there is no doubt that the lawsuit (or threat of a lawsuit) had that effect — is also a purchaser of illegal child porn.  But this received almost no attention from the "mainstream" media.

O'Reilly thinks this case shows that "the committed left press in America is no longer interested in reporting the news".  I would put it a little differently, and say that they have become ideologically selective in reporting the news.  They are interested in some stories, roughly those that help the left wing of the Democratic party, but not stories that do not.
- 9:28 AM, 5 March 2007   [link]


Profanity, Obscenity, And The Left:  Last year, I observed that opponents of President Bush on the net were far more likely to use profanity and obscenity than supporters of Bush.

Now, Patrick Ishmael has measured that difference:
And this is what I found, using what I deemed -- through a mix of TTLB and 2006's Weblog Award lists -- to be the 18 biggest Lefty blogs, and 22 biggest Righty blogs.  I couldn't account for the 6-month time period, and I even gave the Lefty blogs a 4 blog advantage. But it didn't make much of a difference.

So how much more does the Left use [comedian George] Carlin's "seven words" versus the Right?   According to my calculations, try somewhere in the range of 18-to-1.
Which is higher than I would have guessed, though not surprisingly so.

And I see no reason to change my conclusion about what that difference shows us:
I don't think there is a single reason for that difference, but I do think that one reason is that conservatives are more likely to appeal to reason than leftists.  Those who use profanity in political debates are often trying to end an argument by shocking their opponents.
Often, when a person uses obscenity and profanity in an argument, they are tacitly admitting that they do not have an appeal to reason.  (Or, occasionally, can't be bothered to make one.)
- 1:28 PM, 4 March 2007   [link]


It's Ubuntu!  After some experimentation, I have decided to change Linux distributions from SUSE to Ubuntu, specifically, the "Dapper Drake" version.  Later I may have more to say about the choice, for those few who are interested; for the moment I'll just say that I think Ubuntu is better than some of its competitors (for my needs) because it has fewer features.

Most of the switch has already been done, so it shouldn't affect my posting much.
- 11:10 AM, 4 March 2007   [link]


Half Of The Story:  As part of the effort to find ancestral sins, a researcher found this.
Many people know that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas.

But an intriguing sliver of his family history has received almost no attention until now: It appears that forebears of his white mother owned slaves, according to genealogical research and census records.
Now this should matter not at all in assessing Obama, unless you believe in inherited guilt.  But it did remind me that researchers would, almost certainly, find something similar if they looked on the other side of Obama's family.

His father was, as you almost certainly know, a Muslim, part of a significant Muslim minority in Kenya.  (About 7 percent, if my Britannica almanac is correct.)  And why is there a Muslim minority in Kenya?  Mostly because of the East African slave trade.  For centuries, Arab slave traders carried off millions of East Africans into slavery.  They enlisted local allies, some slaves themselves, and so Islam got a foothold in East Africa.  Given this history, it is quite likely that Obama is descended, either from an Arab slave trader, or from one of his native allies, or both.  And, of course, if you were to go back far enough, you would certainly find ancestors of his who held slaves, since slavery was so common in much of Africa.

Put broadly, it is simply a fact that most of those with sub-Saharan ancestors are descended from slave holders.  And so are almost everyone with European ancestors.  I don't doubt that some of my ancestors were serfs — and some owned serfs — back in the Middle Ages.

None of this sad history is obscure, at least to historians, but our journalists seem either not to to know about it, or to prefer that we not know.
- 10:29 AM, 2 March 2007   [link]


Professor Of Jihad:  Mike Adams has an inflammatory column on Julio Pino, an associate professor of history at Kente State.
Yesterday afternoon, I logged on to the "Global War" blog (global-war.bloghi.com) of Associate Professor Julio Pino — a Muslim convert who teaches at Kent State University.  The heading for the site used to read "The Worldwide Web of Jihad: Daily News from the Most Dangerous Muslim in America."  Now it reads "Are You Prepared for Jihad?" IN THE NAME OF OBL. 2007: THE YEAR OF ISLAMIC VICTORY!"
. . .
But, just in case you were curious about the purpose of this site, it is provided in the upper right corner: "We are a jihadist news service, and provide battle dispatches, training manuals, and jihad videos to our brothers worldwide.
There's some debate over whether Professor Pino owns the site, contributes to it, or just holds views compatible with those expressed on the site.  (If you are interested in that debate, you can find more by reading through the many comments here and here.)   But there is no debate over the central point: Pino is a declared enemy of the United States, and has been for years.

In fact, and this is intriguing, Pino was an enemy of the United States before he became a Muslim.
A 2000 convert to Islam--Pino's Muslim name is Assad Jibril Pino--he has embraced the most extreme interpretation of his adoptive religion.  Thus, in an April 2002 guest column for the Kent State campus newspaper, Pino penned an effusive tribute to Ayat al-Akras, the 18-year-old Palestinian female suicide bomber who murdered an Israeli teen and a security guard at a Jerusalem supermarket on March 29, 2002.  In the column, titled "Singing out prayer for a youth martyr," Pino insisted that Akras was no terrorist but had "died a martyr's death . . . in occupied Jerusalem, Palestine." Pino also excoriated President Bush as a "numbskull," and called for boycotts of all Israeli and American product.
. . .
Pino has said that his worldview is animated by his "unfulfilled need to bring social justice to the world."  In the classes he teaches at Kent State, Pino compels his students to approach the study of Latin American history from the perspective of leftist "Third World" politics, which he identifies with such revolutionaries as Fidel Castro and the Sandinista regimes of Central America.
Did this left-wing extremist become a Muslim in order to more effectively fight against the United States?  Could be.  That does explain what is, after all, a rather bizarre switch.

(I said that Adams' column was inflammatory.  The main reason I said that is that Adams calls, at the end of the column, for Professor Pino to be tortured.  I am nearly certain, from the language, that Adams is joking, but, if so, he errs by not making that clear.)
- 11:11 AM, 1 March 2007
More:  Mike Adams has written a follow-up column.   Little Green Footballs points to this link-filled post, with much information.  The Akron Beacon Journal ran a story with non-denial denials (Pino contributed to the site but did not own it, according to his department chairman).  The Kent State student paper ran an interview with Pino, in which he complains but does not deny the essential charge, that he supports our enemies during a time of war.  (He refused to answer a great many questions.)
- 8:04 AM, 2 March 2007   [link]


Chuckle:  Really, I'm not making this up.
Some Seattle school children are being told to be skeptical of private property rights.  This lesson is being taught by banning Legos.

A ban was initiated at the Hilltop Children's Center in Seattle.  According to an article in the winter 2006-07 issue of "Rethinking Schools" magazine, the teachers at the private school wanted their students to learn that private property ownership is evil.
But they let the kids have the Legos back, after they had been indoctrinated.

(Wonder if any of those teachers have nice cars that I could borrow for my next long trip?  If owning a few Legos is wrong, owning a car must be even worse.)
- 6:45 AM, 1 March 2007
For more, see this funny post by Chris Mazur.
- 4:51 PM, 5 March 2007   [link]