Archive:

May 2003, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth Reading:  Jonathan Rauch's column explaining how the left in the United States has a new foreign policy agenda: "Contain America".  This explains their reaction of the fall of Saddam, and their general approach to foreign policy:
Why is the Left suddenly unable to support or celebrate the downfall of a fascist tyrant?   Because, just as neocons regard projecting American power as essential for making the world safer, neoleftists regard containing American power as essential for making the world safer.   If containing America means tolerating or even supporting tyranny or terror in particular places -- well, that is a price that must sometimes be paid.

In this neoleftist view, containing American power is important partly because far-right-wingers such as John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, and Bush himself happen to be in charge.  But containing America is also important for its own sake.  As egalitarians, neoleftists are alarmed and angered by America's preponderance of power. America is a bully not just because Bush is a bully but because the United States is simply too big to play fair.
This, like the earlier "Blame America First" theme, will have support from leftists, but is not the best way to win a majority here in the United States, however popular it may be in some foreign countries.  Some Democratic activists have already figured this out, as you can see in this column by Donna Brazile and Timothy Bergreen, who do not think Democrats can win by proposing to "contain America":
As we prepare to mount our challenge in 2004, Democrats need to return to the muscular national security principles of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and the other Democrats who understood that only by confronting threats abroad could our party achieve its other great mission of expanding equality, opportunity and progress here at home.
(After this column appeared, some wondered whether Brazile and Bergreen were making this argument because they believed it, or because they felt it necessary for political success.  I think both are true.)
- 8:21 AM, 23 May 2003   [link]


Every Fall, Monarch Butterflies  fly thousands of miles from all over eastern and midwestern North America to a 30 acre site in Mexico.   Biologists have discovered another part of their navigation system, how they synchronize their internal clocks with the sun.
- 7:58 AM, 23 May 2003   [link]


Kudos to Spinsanity  for this refutation of Maureen Dowd's claim that President Bush had said that Al Qaeda was no longer a problem.  Actually, Bush had said that those members of Al Qaeda we had killed or captured were no longer a problem.   At the very best, Dowd was incredibly careless when she took words out of context.  It is hard to avoid the suspicion that she simply does not care about the truth, when it comes to attacks on the Bush administration.  It would not be the first time that I have had that suspicion.  She once wrote that the Bush administration wanted to spike the water with arsenic, that is to add arsenic to the water.  They were actually deciding whether the last minute change proposed by Clinton, which lowered the allowable level of arsenic in the water, was supported by scientific evidence.   (In my opinion, it was not, but the Bush administration lowered the level anyway.   Even Ralph Nader saw this as a crude political trap by Clinton.)

The Dowd error, as Spinsanity shows, has already spread widely, even though refutations, showing that she had quoted Bush out of context, were available almost immediately.    Will she correct it?   Don't hold your breath.  Dowd seldom corrects her errors, and the New York Times almost never does.

Spinsanity, from my experience, is excellent at corrections.  Though I disagree with them politically, and sometimes disagree with their conclusions, I have seen only one factual error on the site.  When I called it to their attention, they thanked me and corrected it immediately.  If the New York Times wants to improve its error correction, they would do well to take lessons from Spinsanity.
- 7:25 AM, 23 May 2003   [link]


Replacing the Shuttle:  The loss of the shuttle Columbia made a replacement program for the shuttles more urgent.  So far NASA has not chosen a design and may not, instead specifying requirements and leaving the design to the contractors.   They may even go back to the space capsules of the Apollo era.  Here's a sketch of the problem.
- 1:49 PM, 22 May 2003   [link]


This Account  of a "gripe center" in Mosul shows both the progress that is being made:
Safwan Ahmed's brother-in-law stole his car and ran it into a ditch.  Nasser Sadoon had his pistol confiscated and wants it back.  Khalan al-Husseini is a sheep herder looking for a job.

Each is in line at the cracked pink marble reception desk of the Mosul Hotel, once the five-star pride of this city.  Today it's home to the 101st Airborne's Regional Information Center (RIC), otherwise known as the office for public complaints.

"We have never been able to complain as much," says Ziad Hamadi, who has come here to explain about his nephew's bad shoulder and ask for treatment in the US.  "It's marvelous, the American way."
And a large problem:
Few here are used to doing things for themselves, always running to the authorities to lodge even the smallest complaint.  That this lingering mentality of dependence is so strong in Mosul, which had a degree of autonomy under Mr. Hussein, foretells difficulties ahead for bringing self-rule to the new Iraq.
They sound more than a bit like teenagers to me, wanting independence but not quite ready to take charge of their own affairs.  
- 1:42 PM, 22 May 2003   [link]


When Democrats in the Texas Legislature  ran away to Oklahoma to prevent a vote on a Republican redistricting plan, they attracted considerable press attention.  Most focused on the escape of the Democrats, the pursuit by the Republicans, and the odd boundaries of some of the proposed districts.  No article I saw had anything to say about the substantive case.  Are the Republicans getting a fair share of the Congressional seats, given the popular vote in Texas?   As it happens, they are not.  (I am, of course, quite certain that the omission of that point from press accounts has nothing to do with the Democratic leanings of nearly all reporters.)  Here are the official results for elections to the House of Representatives.  Click on 2002 and page down to the section on Texas and you'll see that Republican candidates won 2,290,723 votes, while Democratic candidates won only 1,885,178 votes.  However, with just slightly more than 45 per cent of the popular vote, the Democrats won 17 of the 32 seats, a majority.

This result is even more unfair than you might think.  Plurality systems like ours give bonuses to winning parties; as their vote share rises above 50 per cent, their share of seats usually rises even faster.  There is a rule of thumb sometimes used to describe this relationship, the "cube rule".  By that, the Republicans should have had not their actual 15 seats, or the 18 seats that a proportional two-party representation would give them, but 20 of the 32 seats.   Whatever one may think of their map, or the way they tried to pass it, the Republicans are not getting the number of seats they deserve from their popular vote.

(I should add an important good government point.  Gerrymandering is a growing problem in the United States, as more and more legislators choose their voters, rather than the other way around.  The gerrymandering has also increased the number of safe seats, which makes the House less responsive to changes in public opinion than it should be.  There is a well known solution to this problem, already in effect is at least two states, Iowa and Washington.  Redistricting in these states is done, not by a legislature, but by a citizen commission, with strict standards for their line drawing.  Both Iowa and Washington have many competitive House seats as a result.   All five of the Iowa seats could be won by either party.  Six of the nine House seats in Washington have switched in the last decade.  The 6th and 8th districts, held by Norm Dicks and Jennifer Dunn, respectively, could switch if either retired.   Only the 7th district held by our worst Congressman, Jim McDermott, is completely safe.)

If you are curious about the proposed districts in Texas, see this informative post by Tony Adragna, which has links to them, along with much else.
- 11:54 AM, 22 May 2003   [link]


Strange, if True:  A white boy kept as a slave by blacks in South Africa?  Here's the story.   It is not unprecedented, even in the United States.  Some years ago I recall reading about a case in which black field bosses were keeping Mexican migrant workers in what amounted to slavery.
- 6:42 AM, 22 May 2003   [link]


Dissing Chancellor Schröeder:  This acount, from the German newspaper Der Spiegel, positively admires the ways that the Bush administration has found to insult Chancellor Schröeder, without ever breaking the rules of protocol.  As they say:
There is hardly anything more important than "protocol," the grammar of international diplomacy, which regulates in detail the forms of interaction among states.  For example, 15 motorcycles are required to escort a head of state during a state visit, but only seven during an "official visit."  A head of a government can expect five motorcycles and a foreign minister three.

In the Foreign Office in Berlin, an entire department is dedicated to the business of international conferences, trips, and visits.  Men such as Chief of Protocol Busso von Alvensleben or his speaker and Council to a Legation, First Class, Borusso von Blücher, ensure that visits such as that of the American secretary of state take place without mishaps and, most of all, without anyone being offended. Unless, of course, it is intentional.
Of course.
- 7:16 AM, 22 May 2003   [link]


Earlier, I Laughed at the New York Times  for creating a committee to investigate its procedures for "taking complaints and printing corrections", after the Jayson Blair scandal.  (In this post.)  Now, from this AP story, I see that it is even funnier than I thought.  Not only is the Times using the classic bureaucratic dodge to evade responsibility, a committee of investigation, but one of the committee members, Joann Byrd, the former editorial page editor at the Seattle PI, has a flawed record herself.

Several years ago, Byrd wrote an editorial attacking the Republicans for leaking court information damaging to the Clinton administration.  The editorial was a bit odd, because, though Republicans might have a motivation to release this information, the AP story about the release did not identify the sources.  (As I recall, it was by Pete Yost and was written in way that suggested that Republicans might have leaked the material.  After that, I nicknamed him "Sneaky Pete".)  The editorial was published on a Saturday, even though a news story had come out Friday afternoon that been revealed that the leaker had been a Democratic judge, not a Republican.  (From what I could tell, the judge had no political motive; he had just been careless.  He even, as I recall, came forward to confess that he had been the source of the story.)

I sent an email protesting the editorial to Joann Byrd.  She replied, explaining that, since the news and editorial departments are separated at the PI, she had not known about the information on the leaker when she wrote the editorial.  She seemed genuinely remorseful about the mistake, but she did not print a correction.  She did note, in a subsequent email, that the PI had published a letter that gave the facts.  This was true, but they had also published another letter, a day or two later, supporting the editorial.

Let me summarize.  Joann Byrd wrote an editorial attacking Republicans for a leak made by a Democratic judge.  She agreed that she had the facts wrong, but refused to publish an apology or correction.  She is, I think, a perfect person for the committee if the New York Times intends not to change its procedures for "taking complaints and printing corrections".
- 6:42 AM, 22 May 2003   [link]


More on the Search for Saddam's Weapons:  After I had posted this discussion of the difficulty of finding Saddam's chemical and biological weapons, I saw this post, which argues that those who criticized UN inspector Hans Blix before the war owed him an apology.  I had criticized Blix before the war, and I don't think I owe him an apology.  Given the great difficulty of finding Saddam's weapons, if he hid them carefully, Blix had no chance of finding them.  The inspections were bound to be a sham, as likely to succeed as OJ's search for his wife's killer on golf course after golf course.   Since Blix must have known this, it is hard to have any respect for the man.

Thoughtful people understood this at the time.  Some, notably Jessica Tuchman Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, proposed coercive inspections on a much larger scale, backed by a substantial military force.   That might have succeeded, and I said so before the war, though I thought the odds were against even an effort on that scale.  Coercive inspections were not even seriously considered at the United Nations.  Even if the United Nations had proposed them, it is hard to see Saddam agreeing to what would amount to a military occupation of Iraq.  (As I recall, one proposal wanted the coercive inspections to be backed by a permanent force of 50,000 troops.)

Now, then, let me repeat the challenge in yesterday's post.  If Saddam hid the weapons as I suggested, burying them in the desert and then killing all those involved in the operation, how could they be found?  Remember Seitz's rough calculation for their size, a cube 25 feet on a side.  Or, suppose, as Seitz suggests, the weapons were destroyed during the war.  How could we now find traces of them, especially if Saddam killed any inconvenient witnesses?  And there is another awkward question that those who are now crowing about our slow progress in finding these weapons should consider.  Nearly everyone agrees that the official UN estimate of Saddam's remaining weapons in 1998 was correct, though probably incomplete.  What happened to those weapons?

Finally, I must remind everyone that we have made some discoveries.  The most important is the two trucks that appear to be the mobile biological production facilities described by Colin Powell before the war.  Here's the New York Times story's lead:
United States intelligence agencies have concluded that two mysterious trailers found in Iraq were mobile units to produce germs for weapons, but they have found neither biological agents nor evidence that the equipment was used to make such arms, according to senior administration officials.
(A third truck appears to be a mobile lab, which could have been used for either research on weapons or for legitimate purposes.)   We have also found much protective equipment against both chemical and biological weapons, and some suggestive documents.  I am confident that we will find more evidence in time, though we may never find the weapons themselves.
- 8:37 AM, 21 May 2003   [link]


It is Not Really News  that Saddam was stealing billions from the United Nations oil for food program, but it is good to see that the ABC network has finally covered the story.  Better late, well, very late, than never.  And, you have to chuckle when you see ABC treat this as a scoop.
- 7:34 AM, 21 May 2003   [link]


The Lost Tribe  of Africa is beginning to find a new home.   Where?  Where else, the United States, of course.  (The Guardian is probably wrong about slavery ending in Somalia, by the way.)
- 7:27 AM, 21 May 2003   [link]


Think I Have Been Exaggerating  when I say that the Guardian newspaper often combines prejudice with ignorance in its coverage of the United States?   Then look at these corrections, where you will see an example of prejudice, and two examples of ignorance.  In an earlier story, the Guardian had said that US troops had shot Iraqis; now they correct that to "shot at".  (Most likely the truth is that the troops fired warning shots, since they did not hit the Iraqis.)  One Guardian writer did not understand what impeachment is under the American Constitution (an indictment, not a conviction), and another moved Princeton University from New Jersey to Connecticut.

And, yes, there is another error in this column of "Corrections and clarifications":
It is the policy of the Guardian to correct significant errors as soon as possible.
No, it's not.  In my experience, they are nearly always unwilling to correct errors, and may be as arrogant about it as the New York Times.
- 6:57 AM, 21 May 2003   [link]


What Happened to Saddam's Chemical and Biological Weapons?   Before the war in Iraq, the British and American governments presented a variety of evidence showing that Saddam had not kept his agreement to destroy his biological, chemical, and nuclear weapon programs.  Although there were flaws in some of the evidence, every reasonable person agreed that Saddam had not kept his agreement, and most reasonable people agreed that he still had some chemical and biological weapons.  Since the end of the war, although we have found indirect evidence on Saddam's weapons programs, like the three mobile biological warfare trucks, we have not found the weapons themselves.  People who hate President Bush, or opposed the liberation of Iraq, or both, have begun to charge that Bush (and Prime Minister Blair) were misled by their intelligence agencies, perhaps after pushing them too hard for evidence, or even that Bush and Blair lied.  Even a few people who backed the liberation of Iraq are beginning to get nervous, as you can see in this rather odd piece by Jim Lacey, which argues that Saddam's minions might have destroyed the weapons and lied to Saddam.  All these arguments that the weapons did not exist because we have yet to find them are incredibly premature, to say the very least.

Let's start with what we know for sure.  Saddam accumulated chemical and biological weapons through most of his career, and used them more than once.  He had a large arsenal at the beginning of the first Gulf War.  Some of it was destroyed then, and even more of it was destroyed during the inspections, which ended in 1998.  At that time, by the UN's own estimates, Saddam still had significant amounts of both chemical and biological weapons.  Since then, he had time to build even more, unmolested by the inspectors.  He also had, at the time of the Gulf war, a nuclear weapons program that was getting close to developing a bomb; public estimates usually say that he would have had one in 6 to 18 months, if the war had not stopped the program.

With this history in mind, we can think of three main hypotheses to explain why we have not found Saddam's weapons.  (1) Saddam hid the weapons too well for us to find them quickly, if at all.  (2) Saddam destroyed the weapons during the war.  (3) Saddam destroyed the weapons after the inspectors left, but lied about having them as a bluff. (I don't regard Lacey's idea as plausible.  Given the fear generated by Saddam, I can believe a few people might have defied him, but not all the personnel in entire programs.)  The hypotheses do not necessarily conflict; all three could have happened, with different weapons.

People have rejected the first hypothesis far too quickly.  As Russell Seitz points out, in this informative discussion, the 500 tons of chemical weapons that we estimated that Saddam possessed would make a cube roughly 25 feet on a side.  That's not a very big thing to hide, if you have all of Iraq in which to hide it.  It is easy to think of nearly foolproof ways to hide the chemicals.  It took me just a few minutes to think of one way to make them almost impossible to find, and I am sure that there are others.  Saddam could have simply selected a place in Iraq's desert, trucked the materials out there at night, or under the cover of clouds, buried them, and then had all the people shot who had any knowledge of their location.  If he chose a sandy place, the tracks would be erased within a few days by the winds.  If Saddam did hide them by this method, or something similar, then I do not see a practical way to find them.  The argument is even stronger for biological weapons, since they take up so little space.

There is one common objection to this hypotheses.  Many argue that, if Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, he surely would have used them against us during the war.  I do not regard this objection as significant.  Saddam may not have had time to get the weapons from where they are hidden, or he may have been disabled during the first attack and been unable to order their use.  Or, he may simply have realized that he would lose the war whether he used the weapons or not, but could inflict a political defeat on Bush and Blair by keeping them hidden.  This last possibility seems quite likely to me, since Saddam outplayed Bush and Blair politically (with much help from Jacques Chirac) in the run up to the war.

The second hypothesis may seem a bit strange, but the same political argument applies.   If Saddam wanted to inflict political losses on Bush and Blair, destroying the weapons, rather than letting them be found, would be one of the best ways to do that.  Seitz seems to think this the most likely hypothesis.  It fits with the curious orders from Saddam to destroy biological cultures that were not intended for weapons.

The third hypothesis seems quite unlikely to me.  Having gotten rid of the inspectors in 1998, Saddam had much to gain by proving that he no longer had the weapons.  He could even have gotten rid of them ostentatiously, ended the sanctions entirely, and then, a few years later, restarted his weapons programs surreptitiously.  That he, and his regime, never provided the evidence that the weapons had been destroyed before the war, is one of the better reasons to believe that he still had them.

We must recognize that we may never know what happened to the weapons nearly all agree that Saddam had in 1998.  They may have been hidden too well for us ever to find, or they may have been destroyed.  Some of those who are attacking Bush and Blair on this subject understand this, I suspect.  It is so important to them to discredit Bush and Blair that they do not care what the facts are.

(For more on this subject, see this summary of Saddam's history of defying UN weapons controls.  For some spooky, and possibly relevant history, see this description of Japan's efforts to develop nuclear weapons in World War II.)
- 3:50 PM, 20 May 2003   [link]


Education Spending Has Increased; Education Achievement Has Declined:   This relationship was vividly captured some years ago by a graph published in Forbes, showing the declining achievement and the increasing expenditures on the same time scale.   Since the artist selected scales so that the lines crossed, the graph looked a little like a bow tie.  There has been an immense argument over what caused the bow tie.   Did the higher expenditures actually cause the decline in performance?  (In some instances, they may have.  Much of the money spent by schools for computers has not just been wasted, it has hurt education.)

Peter Brimelow thinks that the rise of the teachers unions caused both the increase in costs and the decline in performance.  This John O'Sullivan column gives the essentials of Brimelow's argument; the full argument can be found in Brimelow's book, Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education.   The argument seems plausible to me, though I think that school bureaucracies and education schools share the blame.  It is striking that two states that have shown large recent gains in education, North Carolina and Texas, have weak unions.  I know of no states with strong unions that have had similar gains.
- 10:00 AM, 20 May 2003   [link]


Worth Reading:  This Iain Murray column on who killed the Kyoto agreement.  President Bush is blamed almost universally for the death of the Kyoto agreement, but it was dead before he even was sworn in.   Informed Americans know that Clinton never submitted it to the Senate and that the Senate voted unanimously to ask him not to submit it without changes.  After this, the United States began searching for changes in Kyoto that would make it both more effective and politically palatable.  Along with Britain, we worked out compromise proposals.   They were defeated by the usual suspects:
By refusing to countenance any compromise on Kyoto at The Hague, the French and their allies essentially killed the treaty, two months before President Bush took office.
Those who killed the compromise suffered no political consequences at all, while Bush, who did no more than announce its death, has taken all the blame. As President Kennedy said, "Life is not fair."

Murray also mentions something that should be better known.  North America, unlike Europe, is a net carbon dioxide sink; that is, the continent absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits.  (Murray is not quite as clear as he should be on this point, perhaps because of the space limits of a column.  Some European nations probably are carbon sinks, even though the continent as a whole is not.)
- 9:34 AM, 20 May 2003   [link]


These Two Guardian Columns  neatly show the contrast between the ideal and the real United Nations.  Jonathan Steele still believes in the ideal UN, which must be supported, especially against the United States, no matter what the results.   Patrick Smith writes from an African perspective and describes the real UN, an organization that failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda and is failing to stop the slaughter in the Congo.  For Steele, the important thing is that the United States (and, most likely, Israel) must be defeated in United Nations resolutions and checks put on our power.   For Smith, the important thing is that the killing stop.

Not surprisingly, since this is the Guardian, Steele omits some facts and gets others wrong.   Clinton used force without UN authorization more than three times.  Among the cases Steele leaves out are missile attacks on the Sudan and Afghanistan.  None of the cases he cites as examples of unilateralism, whether under Clinton or Bush, fit the dictionary definition of the word, since we were joined by at least one other country in every case.   One can find many examples of nations acting unilaterally to overthrow an oppressive government in another nation.  Among them would be the overthrow of Idi Amin in Uganda by Tanzania and the otherthrow of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia by Vietnam.  (This post describes these and some other recent examples of true unilateralism.)  Since Steele thinks such liberations are illegitimate without a license from the UN, I trust he will follow his principles and explain to the Ugandans, Cambodians, and others why they must take their dictators back.
- 8:51 AM, 20 May 2003   [link]


The Guantanamo Prisoners  are, most politically correct people believe, being mistreated by their brutal American captors.  To hold this view, the politically correct must ignore what the prisoners themselves say.  When they are interviewed, the prisoners nearly always disagree and say they are being treated well.   (That a few say they have been mistreated is no suprise; both terrorists and ordinary prisoners often lie in these matters.)  This information appeared in the conservative Telegraph; it will not appear in the Guardian.  It may not even appear in the BBC, which sometimes acts like the Guardian's broadcast subsidiary.
- 8:12 AM, 20 May 2003   [link]


We're Winning  the war on terrorism, says expert Amir Taheri.   Here's the bottom line:
Acts of international terrorism fell by almost half from 2001 to 2002—to the lowest figure since 1969.
And here's a fact I should have known, but didn't.
There were 199 "acts of global terrorism" in 2002.  There were no acts of terror in the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia, designated as special targets by al-Qaeda.
I don't think that's because the terrorists have decided they like us after all.
- 5:28 PM, 19 May 2003   [link]


Walking to Create a Hazard is a misdemeanor in Washington, D. C., at least if you are Steven J. Hatfill, a "person of interest" in the anthrax attack.   Here's the curious story of how he was hit by an SUV driven by an FBI agent, and then charged with that odd offense.
- 5:16 PM, 19 May 2003   [link]


And, I Saw this hilarious column on the Blair scandal by Jonathan Alter, who argues that:   "When The New York Times loses power, the U.S. government gains it."  Uh, excuse me, Mr. Alter, but the U.S. government is elected, so we can re-phrase your argument like this:  When a corporation run by a small and very wealthy family loses power, elected officials gain power.  What's not to like about that?  Especially when we consider that the corporation is losing power because it lied and abused its position.

(Years ago I argued, jokingly, that the party that lost the presidency should get the Washington Post so that they could be better at opposition.  I can't imagine that Alter heard that argument, but if he did, let me tell him now.  It was just a joke.)
- 5:05 PM, 19 May 2003   [link]


Even More Arrogant Than I Thought:  The New York Times, that is.  I had not planned to say more about the Jayson Blair fraud and plagiarism scandal, but then I saw this Los Angeles Times article.   (As usual, I must warn you that the paper require an unpleasant registration process.)   In this post, quoting journalism professor Alex Jones, I said that no readers had tried to correct Jayson Blair's errors.  In fact, several tried and had no success.  Both the athletic director and the assistant athletic director at Kent State tried repeatedly to get a Blair story corrected.  No one besides Blair even replied to their phone calls.  A federal prosecutor denounced Blair's sniper coverage in a news conference.  He had no luck getting a correction either, even though the Washington bureau of the Times agreed with him.  These experiences are similar to those I have had.  Journalists seldom even acknowledge efforts at correction.  When they do acknowledge errors, they often refuse to correct them.

The incident that finally got the attention of the Times is significant, too.  When another newspaper complained about plagiarism, then and only then, did the Times pay attention to the critics.  (I would guess that a threat to sue would also get their attention, but after this scandal, am not entirely sure about even that.)  The New York Times is taking strong action to make sure complaints are taken seriously; the paper has "formed a committee to review its policy for taking complaints and printing corrections".  That should fix the problem.

(If you want even more details on Blair, see this Newsweek article on the scandal.  Nearly everyone who worked with Blair, starting from his time at the University of Maryland, knew that he had problems telling the truth.)
- 4:24 PM, 19 May 2003   [link]


Not Every British Journalist gets the United States wrong.   In this essay, William Rees-Mogg describes his visits to Boston and New York, winds through a discussion of gay themes, but then comes out with this conclusion:
Too many of us in Europe have a picture of a bellicose United States, keen to go to war, determined to build an empire, inspired by brash neoconservative views, itching to try out its advanced weapons, and now triumphalist in victory.

That is almost entirely false.  There may be a few people in Washington who feel like that, or who felt like it for about 48 hours.

It is indeed better to win wars than to lose them.  But the American mood is far more sober, indeed far closer to the British one, than this caricature would suggest.  Most take the view that the war was necessary; Saddam Hussein's massacres, which have been revealed, justify that view.  But most Americans want to attend to their own business.  They do not want an empire.
I doubt that Rees-Mogg reads American blogs like this one, but he could have seen this very argument in them for months.
- 7:22 AM, 19 May 2003   [link]


The Poor Are More Dispersed now than they were ten years ago.   That's the conclusion of an important new study, reported briefly here.  This is great news for the poor.  Neighborhoods with successful people set higher standards for everyone.  They will not tolerate the crime that often hits poor neighborhoods usually have the political clout to stop it.  Schools dominated by middle class kids achieve more than schools dominated by lower class kids.  (That, by the way, was one of the original reasons for busing.  The underlying idea was correct, even if busing was foolish and counterproductive.)  Not only do the successful people set higher standards in their neighborhoods and schools, they often provide practical help to their poorer neighbors.  The Times article credits welfare reform—which executive editor Howell Raines opposed vociferously—for this dispersal.

(Sly thought.  When we are looking for other policies to help the poor, we might begin by looking at measures that Raines opposes.  Negative indicators are just as useful as positive ones.  If Howell opposes it, it is probably good for the poor.)
- 7:05 AM, 19 May 2003   [link]


Vaccinations and Votes:  Here's a curious correlation.   Medical professionals in states Bush carried in 2000 were far more likely to get smallpox vaccinations than medical professionals in states Gore carried.  This New York Times article explores some possible explanations, without coming to a conclusion.
- 6:40 AM, 19 May 2003   [link]


Routine European Union Corruption:  This story about two cases of corruption in the European Union is not unusual.  In fact, it is so routine that the Times of London grouped two separate stories together, the way an American newspaper might summarize several minor traffic accidents.  Some European countries, like some American states, have relatively clean governments.  Other European countries could give lessons in corruption even to Louisiana and Rhode Island.  The European Union appears to have taken its standards from the latter group of nations.
- 9:35 AM, 18 May 2003   [link]


When a Four Year Old Israeli Girl was brutally killed by a Palestinian terrorist, the Arab and Muslim world did not care.  Some, in fact, approved then and approve now of the murder of Israeli children and even babies.   The mother of little Einat, who died so early and so brutally, tells the sad story.
- 9:25 AM, 18 May 2003   [link]


When a Twelve Year Old Palestinian Boy was shot while his father tried to protect him during a fire fight between Palestinians and Israelis, he became a symbol of Israel's brutality for much of the Arab and Muslim world.  Mohammed al-Dura has streets and parks named for him.  Several Arab nations have issued stamps with his picture.  At first, nearly everyone, including the Israeli military, agreed that the boy had been shot by Israeli soldiers.  The only debate was over whether he had been shot deliberately or accidentally.  A number of investigators, most unofficial, have established that the original story was wrong.  James Fallows, in this article from the Atlantic, puts it this way:
It now appears that the boy cannot have died in the way reported by most of the world's media and fervently believed throughout the Islamic world. Whatever happened to him, he was not shot by the Israeli soldiers who were known to be involved in the day's fighting—or so I am convinced, after spending a week in Israel talking with those examining the case.
The most important evidence is simple.  There was a large piece of concrete pipe between the Israeli soldiers and Mohammed.  They could not have shot him without shooting through the pipe, and their rifles were not powerful enough to penetrate the concrete.  This central piece of evidence is supported by other pieces showing that earlier shots, which missed, did not come from the Israeli soldiers' direction.  They came, in fact, from the direction of an area with Palestinian shooters.

Excluding the Israeli soldiers leaves two main theories to explain Mohammed's death.  He was killed by accidental shots from the Palestinians, or the whole affair was staged.  Fallows wanders around in the article more than he should, but he does agree that there is evidence to support the second theory.  That theory seems the most likely, in my judgment, though I agree with Fallows that we may never know for sure.
- 9:11 AM, 18 May 2003   [link]


Not All Frenchmen Are Hostile:  This speech by a member of the French parliament and former cabinet minister, Alain Madelin, reminds us that still we have many friends there.  We can have even more if we make our case to the French people without replying to the crude anti-Americanism so common in France, with crude French bashing.  We want to persuade them, not insult them, however tempting it is to reply in kind.
- 2:20 PM, 17 May 2003   [link]


CNN Executive Eason Jordan admitted last month that the network had slanted its news from Baghdad for years, to keep its bureau there.  Those who have followed the CNN's coverage of Castro's Cuba have long suspected that the network could make a similar confession about that country.  John J. Miller of the National Review summarizes the evidence against what some call the Castro News Network.   Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, is far too close to Castro, calling him a "hell of a guy" and claiming that: "Everyone in Cuba likes him".  Those attitudes have been reflected in CNN's coverage of Cuba, with the country and its dictator receiving far less criticism than they deserve.

(One interesting detail.  As Mickey Kaus has noted, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post has published little criticism of Castro, perhaps because he, too, wanted a bureau in Cuba.  I'm guessing that editors at the Post saw that criticism and decided to do the right thing by publishing this analysis.  Of course, it wouldn't hurt that they also get to take a lick at one of Murdoch's rivals, Ted Turner.)
- 2:08 PM, 17 May 2003   [link]


Brigitte Bardot, after her career as an actress, gave much support to animal rights causes.  This was thought, by most, to be commendable, even if she did go farther than they might.  Along the way, she noticed that some Muslim practices are not entirely humane toward animals.  This was thought, by most, to show that she was getting a little dotty in her old age.  From that, she was led to a more general criticism of the effects of immigrants on French society.  This was thought, by nearly all respectable people, to show that she had gone over the edge.  Now, her latest book, in which she criticizes, among other things, the lowering of the quality of French prostitutes by immigrants, will probably end any serious attention to her arguments:
"Our lovely, kind street-walkers have been replaced by girls from the East, Nigerians, travelers, transsexuals, drag queens, bearers of AIDS and other friendly gifts," Bardot writes.
I have always thought that her looks, rather than her mind, was her best asset.  And, though I have visited Paris, I have no evidence at all on her latest claim.  (Via Bill Quick.)
- 9:27 AM, 16 May 2003   [link]


Sidney Blumenthal has been a journalist at respected publications like the New Yorker and The New Republic.  He was an aide in the Clinton administration and worked hard to keep Clinton from being removed from office.  He is also a very great liar.
After testifying during the Starr investigation in closed session before a grand jury, he stepped before the media's cameras and microphones to tell the world that Kenneth Starr's prosecutors had asked him questions of a shocking and inappropriate nature.  Subsequently published transcripts showed he had lied.  The prosecutors had asked him none of the shocking questions he claimed.  He then deceived New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis into writing that prosecutors had actually asked Blumenthal such embarrassing questions as "Does the President's religion include sexual intercourse?"  Four months later the grand jury transcripts were made public and showed that Lewis had published lies.
Blumenthal lies about small matters too, as Christopher Hitchens shows in this point-by-point rebuttal of those portions of Blumenthal's book that Hitchens knows about personally.

Blumenthal tried to intimidate Clinton critics by suing Matt Drudge for publishing a report that Blumenthal was being accused of being a wife beater.  (I saw the original report and can tell you that Blumenthal had no legitimate basis for a lawsuit.  Drudge reported that a nasty Republican operative was passing around a story about Blumenthal's wife beating.  That was true, and Blumenthal knew it.  He could have sued the operative, but he chose to sue Drudge instead to get back at him for publishing so much that the Clinton administration wanted kept secret.)

In sum, we have a man who has lied to journalists, has planted false stories, and has tried to intimidate an independent journalist with a bogus lawsuit.  And, he has been a journalist at respected publications, as I said at the beginning.  Think about that for a minute.  The New York Times is not the only news organization with problems.

Andrew Sullivan provides the best explanation I have seen for Blumenthal's behavior in this review of Blumenthal's book, The Clinton Wars.  For Blumenthal, the Democratic party is his religion and Bill Clinton is a saint.  This faith justified any tactics against the evil Republicans.  Sullivan is right to call this crazy, and to say that Blumenthal is "deeply contemptuous of civil discourse".  This is a very old mistake.  Long ago, we were advised not to put our faith in princes.  Good advice then and good advice now.

Sullivan errs, I think, in part of his review.  He recognizes that Blumenthal smeared journalists like Christopher Hitchens, the late Michael Kelly, Michael Isikoff, and Susan Schmidt.  These are people Sullivan probably knows, and certainly identifies with.   But, he is willing to accept as accurate Blumenthal's portraits of conservative activists, especially religious ones.  These are people Sullivan probably does not know, and certainly does not identify with.  Given Blumenthal's record, it seems more likely that he smears all his enemies.  For some reason, that never bothered the prestigious publications he worked for.
- 9:09 AM, 16 May 2003   [link]


The Chretien Government in Canada has a long history of toleration, or even support, for the terrorist group, Hezbollah.   Only after much pressure did the Canadian Foreign Ministry agree to classify Hezbollah as what they are, a terrorist organization.  (The Chretien government is not alone.  Many in the Canadian media have shown similar attitudes to this gang of killers whose slogan remains "Death to America!")  Now, the Canadian government has gone even farther.
Yesterday, the National Post reported that an asylum applicant who had helped Israel fight Hezbollah in southern Lebanon has been branded a "war criminal" by Canadian immigration authorities.  The Lebanese man, identified only as "Mr. X" by the Immigration and Refugee Board, is not accused of harming Hezbollah members directly.  But he did supply Israeli intelligence with names and other information about Hezbollah during the period when the Israeli army occupied part of Lebanon to prevent attacks on northern Israel.
For Chretien's government, Hezbollah is fine, but those who fight against them are "war criminals".  If "Mr. X" is returned to Lebanon, he will almost certainly be killed.   In fact, he may already be another victim of the Hezbollah terrorists since the records retrieved by the National Post do not make it clear where he is now.
- 8:13 AM, 16 May 2003   [link]