May 2003, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Teresa Heinz (Kerry) may not be a political asset to her current husband's presidential run, but she is wonderfully entertaining. You have to like a woman who names her private airplane, "Flying Squirrel", even if you think her (rather traditional) advice to Hillary Clinton goes a little too far.
- 9:11 AM, 7 May 2003 [link]
Worth Reading: This Washington Post column on the increasing risks of nuclear proliferation from pharmaceutical companies and our ally Germany. Seantor Charles Schumer, to his credit, seems to be one of the good guys in this controversy.
Michael Barone's explanation for the American paradox. We perform worse than most major industrial nations in school up to the age of 18, but perform better afterwards.
I would add one point that educators seldom mention. Excellence in scholastic achievement has a surprisingly weak connection to success in many occupations. I have even seen studies that found weak negative correlations between academic and career success. If I recall correctly, for example, I once saw a study that found a weak negative relationship between law school grades and attorney's income. Those who did better in law schools tended to make a little less money.
- 9:11 AM, 7 May 2003 [link]
The Poles don't seem to agree with Ritter. Not only did they provide troops in the war to liberate Iraq, but they will be controlling part of Iraq during the reconstruction. And, perhaps just to be cheeky, they have asked for German troops under their command. The Germans, with more experience giving orders to Poles than taking them, don't know how to react. Sounds like a fine idea. The German government may learn something from the experience.
- 7:06 AM, 7 May 2003 [link]
Scott Ritter now says that the liberation of Iraq was like Hitler's attack on Poland. (If you are wondering what in the world Ritter is talking about, here's a bit of history. Hitler staged a fake Polish attack on a German border post as a justification for his war on Poland. Ritter is saying that our arguments about Saddam's chemical and biological weapons are equivalent to that staged attack.) Will this disgusting analogy lose Ritter any fans? Don't count on it.
- 6:40 AM, 7 May 2003 [link]
Welcome Home, Sailors! Supply ship USS Camden docked in Bremerton yesterday and the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is about to dock in Everett, as I write this. This statue on the Kirkland waterfront, contributed by the Navy League, depicts the right emotions, I think.
If you wonder how they decide which sailors get off first, there's an explanation in this article, along with a mind boggling statistical summary. Among other things, the Lincoln sailed more than 100,000 nautical miles in its cruise, equal to four times around the world. And here's the ship's own web site, with a great picture of the Lincoln.
Finally, more than one of the sailors, who have been gone for ten months, would appreciate this Russian joke from just after World War II. Soviet soldiers in that war got few leaves and might go for years without seeing their wives. One of them was interviewed the day after he had returned, and the interviewer asked him, "Ivan, what was the first thing you did when you got home to your wife?"
Ivan blushed and said, "No, ask me what was the second thing I did."
"All right, what was the second thing you did?"
Ivan replied, "I took off my cross country skis."
- 9:37 AM, 6 May 2003 [link]
Weird: I applaud most efforts to reduce smoking, but this one, directed at criminally insane Canadians, seems strange. Smoking would not seem to be these inmates' biggest problem.
- 6:56 AM, 6 May 2003 [link]
More From the British Boxes: The Telegraph is publishing more of the documents their reporter David Blair found in the Iraqi foreign ministry. The most recent releases reveal secret British efforts to persuade Saddam to accept UN inspectors in return for the lifting of sanctions. Nothing sensational here, since that was the official, open policy of the Blair government at the time. The Telegraph also has an editorial with more details on how the boxes were found, and this tantalizing comment: "Some of those juicy secrets are still emerging." Since Blair found scores of boxes, this should be interesting. And I still wonder what happened to the boxes labeled "France" and "Russia".
- 6:45 AM, 6 May 2003 [link]
If Many Journalists Were Wrong about the looting, were they wrong about other stories as well? Jonathan Foreman says yes, gives examples, and names names. For example, he describes the "love bombing" American troops receive all over Baghdad, and then notes:
But you won't see much of this on TV or read about it in the papers. To an amazing degree, the Baghdad-based press corps avoids writing about or filming the friendly dealings between U.S. forces here and the local population--most likely because to do so would require them to report the extravagant expressions of gratitude that accompany every such encounter.Is he right and most other journalists wrong? Given the systematic and widespread errors on the museum looting story, that would be the way to bet.
- 6:26 AM, 6 May 2003 [link]
My Skepticism on Looting Was Correct: In a series of posts, starting here on April 21st, I argued that the conventional newspaper stories claiming that there had been massive looting of the Baghdad museums, especially the Museum of Antiquities, were premature. I thought that the evidence was not in, and that journalists, many from anti-American newspapers, were putting too much credence in the claims from Saddam's people. Well, the evidence is in, and I was right, and the following news sources, along with many others, were wrong: ABC, the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, and the Times of London. Offhand, I can think of only one newspaper that was skeptical from the beginning, the Wall Street Journal.
Here is the evidence, not complete, but enough for a judgment: This Chicago Tribune story has the essentials:
The vast majority of antiquities feared stolen or broken have been found inside the National Museum in Baghdad, according to American investigators who compiled an inventory over the weekend of the ransacked galleries.Looters did take some boxes of less valuable items from a basement storage area, items that were being held for study, but were not important enough even to be displayed.
The Art Newspaper has a similar story, which I found at the Archaeology magazine web site:
Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper recaps last week's London meeting with information from Iraqi curator Donny George, who said that only about 100 objects, too heavy or too fragile to move, had been left in the public galleries and that most of them had been looted but that some large stone reliefs were relatively unharmed; although it will take months to check, it may be that only a small proportion of the 170,000 objects in the museum's vaults were looted; and the central bank vault was buried in rubble and its contents--including gold jewelry recently found at Nimrud, coins, and other artifacts--are expected to be safe within it.Other institutions also suffered less damage than first reported, again according to the Archaeology site:
Libraries: the 40,000+ collection of Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Kurdish manuscripts from the Saddam Manuscripts Library is safe; as reported earlier, a substantial portion of the National Library collection was also saved. Not so lucky were the 6,500 Islamic manuscripts in the Religious Endowment Library, which were apparently burned. The libraries of Baghdad University and the Science Academy were looted and burned.Workers at the museums continued to claim that major items were stolen by Saddam's people:
Many of the workers, already unhappy at not being able to enter the museum in recent weeks to collect their wages, insisted some of the museum's deputy directors were the only ones with keys and were, therefore, suspect, because the thieves opened a safe without damaging it. The workers also charged that the brother of one of the museum deputy directors was Saddam's minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.The head US investigator, Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, says that:
. . . all sorts of people have been coming forward and telling us that they're turning this over to the U.S. forces for safekeeping for ultimate return to the Iraqi people, and they specifically tell us they are not turning this stuff over to the museum staff. They have told us this time and time again.So, the Iraqis on the scene think that US forces will protect the items. They must not read the Guardian. There are many news organizations, including the Guardian, that have some correcting, explaining, and apologizing to do.
(My other posts on the subject are here, here, and here, if you want to follow my thinking on the subject.)
- 7:40 PM, 5 May 2003 [link]
Crime's Very Long Term Fall and Recent Rise: The argument I am about to make has a conclusion that many on the left, and even some libertarians, will not like. It is a tentative conclusion, as it must be, since the data is tentative. If you disagree with my conclusion, then I hope you will take the time to email me and explain where you think I have erred.
Let me begin with an article from last Saturday's New York Times, with the misleading title, "Did Knives and Forks Cut Murders?" The author winds through some introductory paragraphs and then presents this remarkable finding:
Although there were no national statistics centuries ago, some historians discovered that the archives of some English counties were intact back to the 13th century. So in the 1970's they began diligently counting indictments and comparing them with estimated population levels to get a rough idea of medieval and early modern crime rates. Historians in Continental Europe followed suit and came up with findings that yielded the same surprising result: that murder was much more common in the Middle Ages than it is now and that it dropped precipitately in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Something very important changed in Western behavior and attitudes, and it stood much prevailing social theory on its head. "It was very surprising because social theory told us that the opposite was supposed to happen: that crime was supposed to go up as family and community bonds in rural society broke up and industrialization and urbanization took hold," said Eric H. Monkkonen, a professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles and the author of several works on the history of criminality. "The notion that crime and cities go together made emotional sense, particularly in America, where at least recently crime is higher in cities."Crime fell in Europe from 1600 to 1900 because the culture changed. Crime fell in spite of increasing urbanization, which most criminologists believe increases crime.
The new data is inconsistent with many widely held theories about the causes of crime:
"With modern computing we may end up with some very good estimates in the homicide rates in many nations right back to the 17th and 16th centuries," said Randall Roth, a historian at Ohio State University who has recalculated murder rates for the 15th and 16th centuries in many countries. "The data we are getting doesn't line up with most theories of either liberals or conservatives about crime. The theory that crime is determined by deterrence and law enforcement, by income inequality, by a high proportion of young men in a population, by the availability of weapons, by cities, most of those theories end up being wrong."This does not come entirely as a surprise to me. Several years ago, I ran across Leonard A. Sagan's The Health of Nations, which makes a parallel argument about life expectancies. Sagan pointed out that much of the improvement in life expectancies came before the causes we usually think made for those improvements. Tuberculosis, for example, became less deadly long before we had antibiotics to treat it. Sagan concluded, from a variety of evidence, that many of the improvements in health, like the decrease in crime found by the historians, were caused by a change in culture, by us becoming more civilized. (Sadly, Sagan's book is out of print, though Amazon has some used copies for sale.)
The historians stopped at 1900, but we don't have to. After falling in the three preceding centuries, crime rates rose sharply in the 20th century in both Britain and the United States. The homicide rate in the United States was 1.2 per 100,000 people in 1900; in 1999 it was 5.8, almost five times as high. (And that after a sharp recent decrease from a peak of nearly 10 per 100,000 in 1980. The rise, fall, rise, and fall of the homicide rate in the United States has a strange overall pattern; it rose sharply from 1900 to 1933, fell from then until about 1960, rose to a plateau from 1970 to 1990, and then fell again in the last decade. Through all this time it was much higher than it had been at the beginning of the century.) Why did the crime rate rise in the 20th century after falling in the three preceding centuries? The simplest explanation would seem to be that, just as a change in culture lowered crime from 1600 to 1900, another change in culture increased it during the 20th century.
Now for the part of my argument that some will not like. If changes in culture have increased crime in the 20th century, have made us in some ways less civilized than our great-grandparents, which cultural changes should we blame? (I don't think it is the use of knives and forks, since we continued to use them in the 20th century.) To answer that question, we could start by asking who the most influential thinkers were when the cultural change occurred. Two men would make nearly everyone's list of most influential, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Did they, and others who made attacks on the foundations of conventional moral views, change our culture in ways that made crime far more prevalent? I think they may have. If you have a better explanation for the long fall and the recent rise in crime, share it with me.
- 11:45 AM, 5 May 2003 [link]
Body Armor reduced US casualties in Iraq, judging from where soldiers were hit.
The vast majority of American soldiers who suffered life-threatening wounds in combat in Iraq were hit in the limbs, not the torso, suggesting that the body armor now worn by all soldiers is remarkably effective.The combination of Kevlar and ceramic plates now used by the infantry can literally stop bullets. Our materials scientists have done some super work in the last ten years.
The article also mentions that the non-combat deaths have been reduced sharply, mostly by making sure that drivers have enough sleep. Sounds simple, but we didn't do it in the first Gulf War.
- 10:42 AM, 5 May 2003 [link]
One Thousand Posts: You set a new monthly record for visitors to this site in April. Thanks to all who have come by, especially those from other nations. By the way, I get an extra kick when I get visitors from some of the smaller nations like Anguilla, Brunei, and Vanuatu, since they get so little coverage from our press. Often, I think, we Americans have something to learn from them, precisely because their problems are so different from our own.
If you are new to this site, you may find some of these older posts of interest:
- 8:07 AM, 5 May 2003 [link]
The British Conservatives gained 566 council seats in local elections and won the highest proportion of vote, beating both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Their gains were better than most predicted. This result was: (1) a solid victory, according to the Telegraph, (2) an indecisive result according to the Times of London, or (3) a crushing defeat, according to Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian. Bloggers Chris Bertram and Iain Murray followed the party lines, as you can see here and here. Freedland's argument that the gains were really a defeat requires some explanation. In Britain, as in the United States, the opposition party usually gains seats in off year elections. The gains made by the Conservatives, Freedland claims, were too small by historical standards. On that point, Murray has the better of the argument, showing that the Conservative gains bring them back to about where they were in 1991. On the other hand, Freedland is right to point to the continuing weakness of the Conservatives in national polls. If that doesn't change, they will be able to win low turnout local elections, but not control of the national government.
All of these arguments, except that in the Times, leave out one factor that seems decisive to me, the rise of the Liberal Democrat party. The union of the old Liberal remnant and a breakaway faction of the Labour party has made substantial gains in the last two decades, mostly at the expense of the Conservatives. (What exactly they stand for nationally, other than a trendy adherence to Europe, is unclear to me. That their ideas are fashionable does not prove they are bad, but it is not an encouraging sign.) Many of their gains have come from tactical alliances with Labour. If my casual reading on British politics is correct, this represents something of a shift from the old Liberal party, which was as likely to make tactical alliances with the Conservatives as with Labour. The rise of the Liberal Democrats creates serious problems for Britain. It makes governments without majority popular support far more likely. It makes it harder for many voters to grasp the essentials of the political argument, since they no longer have a simple choice between the ins and the outs. And not just for Britain. Americans can take no pleasure in the rise of a party that is so consistently anti-American.
My own analysis, which is less informed than all those cited above, is that the Times is closest to the mark. The gains were real, but the national position of the Conservative party is still weak. To regain something of their old position with the public, they will have to do something about the threat from the Liberal Democrats.
- 9:19 AM, 4 May 2003 [link]
Iraq Tried to Bribe former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter. Did they succeed? Ritter says no. The documents found by the Telegraph aren't conclusive. Many will think that Ritter's actions, specifically his 180 degree turn on whether Iraq had banned weapons, say yes. (Bribery would be less plausible as an explanation if Ritter had ever produced an explanation for his turnabout. He never did. Or, if the bribery failed, blackmail may have worked. Ritter's two arrests for soliciting sex from minors on the Internet suggest some possibilities.)
To me, the most disturbing thing about the Ritter affair is that his credibility never suffered among those who wanted to believe his story. The Guardian, just a few weeks ago, gave him a column to defend George Galloway. Locally, left wing talk show host Dave Ross of KIRO has continued to invite Ritter on his program and treat him as an authority. Nationally, you can find many similar examples.
The documents also provide evidence that Ritter's associate, Shakir al-Khafaj, was working for Iraqi intelligence, and that the film Ritter and al-Khafaj created, "Shifting Sands", was, as many charged, propaganda paid for by Saddam's regime.
- 6:58 AM, 4 May 2003 [link]
If Madonna is not your favorite performer, then you'll like this column by Julie Burchill. (Confession: I have maintained almost complete, and entirely rational, ignorance on the subject of Madonna, though my ignorance was interrupted by a piece on, of all places, Jim Lehrer's news program on PBS. In the piece, Anne "Pompous" Taylor Fleming went on at some length about the importance of Madonna to feminism and other great issues, while ignoring what seemed obvious from the clips she showed—that Madonna can't sing.)
- 8:31 AM, 3 May 2003 [link]
Castro Cracked Down on Cuban dissidents, executing three men who had hijacked a ferry in an attempt to escape from Cuba, and jailing dozens of others whose only crime to work for democracy and human rights. Some intellectual figures, even on the left, have condemned this repression; others are, in effect, supporting it by backing Castro with a declaration. Here are some of the names that will be posted on a wall of shame in Cuba, some time in the future: Harry Belafonte, Aldolfo Perez Esquivel, Danny Glover, Pablo Gonzalez, Nadine Gordimer, Garcia Marquez, and Rigoberta Menchu. All would claim to be supporters of human rights. None are.
- 7:42 AM, 2 May 2003 [link]
BBC Baghdad Correspondent Rageh Omaar "developed a close and potentially embarrassing relationship with the director of Iraq's Ministry of Information", according to this story from the Times of London. More documents found in Iraq, more embarrassments for those too sympathetic to Saddam's regime. As yet, to my knowledge, no one has lost their job for being too close to the butcher of Baghdad.
- 7:24 AM, 2 May 2003
Update:  Except, of course, Peter Arnett, who lost his job after a strange interview on Baghdad TV—and immediately found a new one at a newspaper that did not think closeness to Saddam Hussein discredited a reporter.
- 7:21 AM, 4 May 2003 [link]
Being Able to Drive a Car does not mean freedom, claims this wealthy Saudi woman, in a piece that is both funny and sad. Oddly enough she thinks that "most Saudi women have drivers". Wealthy Saudi women do, but most Saudi women are not wealthy. Despite (Because of?) this ignorance, she is a "member of the Saudi media".
- 7:09 AM, 2 May 2003 [link]
When Labour MP George Galloway was objecting to the war on Iraq, it was news. When he was being charged with accepting bribes from Saddam, it was not news, at least not for the American television networks. Media Research has the whole story.
This indifference to Saddam's bribery extends to other politicians. So far as I can tell, neither Seattle newspaper has even asked Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott to explain why he accepted thousands of dollars for his legal defense fund from a man closely linked to Saddam.
- 6:45 AM, 2 May 2003 [link]
De-Baathification with extreme prejudice. American and Iraqi representatives agree that the Baath party must be removed from its control of Iraq. This New York Times story describes a man who, for reasons of personal revenge, has been working on that problem for years, with some success. We should, I suppose, stop this kind of revenge killing where we can, but it won't be easy. After France was liberated in World War II, thousands of French collaborators were killed, often without even the pretense of a trial. And many others suffered in other ways. French women who had associated with German soldiers often had their heads shaved.
- 5:20 PM, 1 May 2003 [link]
Bashing the French? In this column, Matt Welch asks whether French bashing has gone too far. Some of it has, and he cites some appalling examples. Most of the French bashing has the same spirit as the chronic America bashing indulged in for years in France, though less seriousness. Though I agree with him on the French bashing, I think he misses the heart of the problem, which is not the French, but the policies of the French government. (He may agree with me; at his web site, he linked to the column with this half apology.)
Let's review. The French government worked for years to protect Saddam, first sabotaging the sanctions, and then preventing the adoption of a serious effort to disarm Saddam last fall. Labour MP Ann Clywd believes, that the French government also sabotaged the efforts of Iraqi exiles. Colin Powell believes that the French government deceived him in the negotiations over UN Resolution 1441. There is documentary evidence that the French government was helping Saddam with intelligence briefings. There is some reason to think that the French government has been supplying Saddam with both weapons, and the materials to build chemical weapons, in spite of the sanctions.
Chirac's motives in all this are no mystery. I think he genuinely believes in the old principle, often dated to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, that what a nation does internally never justifies military action by other nations. Though the French government went along, finally, with the actions in Bosnia and Kososvo, it was with great reluctance. Far more important than this legalistic reason, however, is his balance of power view of the world. He and his government think that the United States is too powerful and must be counterbalanced somehow. He wants to combine with others against us just as he would combine with others to weaken the leading player in a game of Risk or Diplomacy. This is the same view of the world that Times of London columnist Matthew Parris has, with the same defects that I described here. (For evidence that Chirac holds this view, see, for example, today's lead editorial in Le Monde.)
The price for counterbalancing, or trying to counterbalance, the United States in this way is large, as I explained at some length in my post criticizing Parris. A nation taking this course must choose some very dirty allies, and must give up many principles, especially support for human rights. We can see this clearly in the French government's relationships with Saddam. To keep the ties strong, the French government had to ignore, or perhaps even help suppress, criticism of Saddam's ghastly human rights abuses.
I see no reason to think that we can change Chirac's mind on something as fundamental as his balance of power view of the world, so we will have to cope with his actions instead. How then, should we react? That depends. Sometimes an open snub, like reserving invitations for more friendly leaders, will be a nice symbolic touch. Other times we will want to "confound his knavish tricks" in other ways. Revealing the complicity of the French government in Saddam's crimes is an obvious step, and something we should begin to do at once. Most of all, since France is, after all, a democracy, we will want to undermine Chirac with his own people. We can do that by showing that his policies will fail, as some of the French have already begun to think. Even better,we should appeal to principles that we share with at least some of the French. Those who might agree with us are more likely to listen if we tone down the French bashing. In the end, it is in our own interests, not to insult the French, but to persuade them of the correctness of our views.
- 4:55 PM, 1 May 2003 [link]
Still More Reason for Skepticism about the original stories of museum looting. In earlier posts, here and here, I expressed my skepticism about the claims in the original stories about the looting of the Baghdad museums. More and more evidence is appearing to support my skepticism. The Times of London agreed that it was unlikely that American troops had allowed the looting as was first charged. Now, this New York Times article supports my contention that the amount of looting was greatly exaggerated:
Even though many irreplaceable antiquities were looted from the National Museum of Iraq during the chaotic fall of Baghdad last month, museum officials and American investigators now say the losses seem to be less severe than originally thought.Many objects had been taken away for safe keeping. Hundreds have already been returned.
And it is still unclear who the thieves were, and when many of the objects were stolen. This article, originally from the Los Angeles Times, says that many experts now believe that Sadam's regime was responsible for the worst losses.
The mystery of who looted Iraq's archaeological treasures is rich with suspects and clues, such as the belly dancer who many believe became Saddam Hussein's mistress or the skeleton of a man who was thrown down a well almost 3,000 years ago.And the looting began long before the war.
"The gang started in the early 1990s, with the support of Saddam Hussein himself," says Iraqi archaeologist Junayd Fakhri, who in 1990 claimed he found a royal Assyrian treasure—dating perhaps to the eighth century B.C.—buried in a palace well at Nimrud, about 20 miles southeast of the northern city of Mosul.Somehow I doubt that these stories will get much space in anti-American papers like the Guardian.
- 10:42 AM, 1 May 2003 [link]
Most German leftists were just as wrong in their predictions about the Iraq war as most American leftists. To their credit, German journalists are now "having a field day with the wildly inaccurate pronouncements". The German television networks, ARD and ZDF, were especially bad and did great damage to the United States.
Television's role in molding public opinion was underscored by a recent survey of youngsters at a Meunster high school who had taken part in anti-American peace marches.None knew where Iraq is located. Amazing.
Don't know whether the journalists are taking the next obvious step, examining whether the leftists are wrong about other matters, as well.
- 8:15 AM, 1 May 2003 [link]
Strange: This Seattle Times headline on funerals for our war dead at Arlington: "War funerals fray hallowed lawns". If you read it, you'll see that the headline is appropriate. This front page article on our war dead is more about the trouble the funerals are causing the groundskeepers than about the losses. I am no longer surprised by those who think trees more important than humans, but lawns? The article was not the lead that day but did get more front page space than any other.
- 7:53 AM, 1 May 2003 [link]