Archive:

May 2004, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Worth A Look:  The chart with statistics on the state of Iraq that accompanies this brief op-ed.  The authors have been providing it to the New York Times every quarter since April 2003, so you can track progress (and the reverse) for the last year.

They divide the chart into three sections, security, economy and quality of life, and Iraqi morale and views of the US.  Almost all the trends in the second section are good, but there is much that is troubling in the first and third.

Oil production is up to 2.5 millions of barrels a day, motor fuel is at 95 percent of estimated requirements, phones are at 130 percent of prewar levels, 2,500 schools have been repaired, 52 health clinics renovated, and 860 judges have been vetted.

The security indicators are grimmer, though there has been a decline in crime rates in Baghdad.   The two numbers that seem most significant to me are the American losses in the quarter (131) and the losses of our enemies, 2000 killed or captured.  Both are sharp increases from the previous three quarters.  This supports my speculation, some weeks ago, that the improved morale of the Baathists explained the greater number of attacks on American troops,

There are three encouraging statistics at the end of the security section.  Iraqis, as I have said, must liberate Iraq.  And the three groups that we have been training to do that are increasing; security personnel are up to 90 percent of the goal, police officers are up to 19 percent, and soldiers are up to 6 percent.  The last is, admittedly, quite low, but it is up from just 1 percent in the previous quarter.

Finally, Iraqis have become less willing to have us there and less happy about the changes.  The hand over of sovereignty should help, as should the defeats of insurgents in Falluja and Najaf.

The authors summarize the state of Iraq, as follows:
While the overall situation is disconcerting, there is still hope — especially if the standard for success is defined realistically as an absence of civil war, a gradually improving economy, and slowly declining rates of political and criminal violence.  The scheduled transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi caretaker government on June 30 may at least begin to defuse the growing anti-American anger that is helping fuel the insurgency.  And most American assistance, tied up in bureaucratic red tape until now, should begin to jump-start Iraq's economy in the coming months, with a likely beneficial effect on security as well.
That seems about right to me, though they might have added that progress is very fast compared to other occupations.
- 8:01 PM, 16 May 2004   [link]


Quotas For Gays And Lesbians:  Many of the state Democratic parties, including the largest, California, are requiring that a certain proportion of their delegates to the national convention be gays or lesbians.
Democratic parties in 15 states and Puerto Rico have set numerical goals for gays and lesbian delegates at the party's national convention this summer, double the number that set a standard in 2000.
. . .
National convention delegates formally choose a party's presidential nominee.  Among Democrats, a DNC panel signs off on a state delegate selection plan, including diversity goals that can range from the number of blacks and Hispanics to age breakdown.

In California, the target is 22 gays and 22 lesbians among the 440-member delegation.  Rhode Island is seeking one gay or lesbian among its 32 delegates.
(The best estimates that I have seen put gays at about 3 percent of the male population and lesbians at about 1 percent of the female population, though the two groups probably vote disproportionately Democratic.  Measuring their numbers is very difficult for many reasons, among them the fact that, judged by life time behavior, most gays and lesbians are bisexuals.)

Party officials claim that these quotas are, of course, just goals, not really quotas at all.   Which is what they must say, considering how distasteful most voters find quotas.

To the best of my knowledge, the party has no quotas for the poor, or for union members, or for a group held in contempt by many Democrats leaders, evangelicals.

If the Democratic party continues to make these kinds of errors, I may have to raise my current estimate for Bush's share of the two party vote by a percent or two.  As usual, Bill Clinton understood the dangers better than most Democrats.  When the subject of quotas came up, he discussed it using the most acceptable term, "affirmative action".  Even then, he promised reform; as you may recall, he wanted to mend it, not end it.  Not that he ever did any mending, but he did promise to.

(The issue may have more bite this year because campaign finance "reform" has had the predicted consequence of unleashing party allies.  Will some groups on the Republican side make commercials attacking quotas and, incidentally the party wedded to them?  Very possibly.)
- 3:12 PM, 16 May 2004   [link]


A Week Ago, Seattle Congresman Jim McDermott received the "public official of the year" award from the Seattle branch of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations).  What kind of group is CAIR?  Michelle Malkin has some facts.
CAIR attacks the "hate-filled rhetoric" of conservative talk show hosts, but as Middle East scholars Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer and others have amply demonstrated, several of the group's past and present leaders have refused to criticize the hate-filled rhetoric — and bloody acts of violence — of terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.  Three former CAIR officials have been indicted on charges of terrorism, money laundering or fraud.  Most recently, Ismail Royer — a former CAIR "communications specialist" who "wrote investigative pieces on anti-Muslim organizations" — was sentenced to 20 years in prison for weapons convictions related to his participation in a network of militant jihadists centered in Northern Virginia.
CAIR is, in short, an apologist for Islamic terrorism, and some of its officials have been active supporters of that plague.  (And, as Malkin discusses at more length in her column, they are not exactly big fans of free speech, often trying to suppress any criticism of Islamic terror.)

Lest you think that only conservatives have this opinion of CAIR, here are quotes from two liberal Democrats.
"[CAIR is] unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect." -- Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)

"We know [CAIR] has ties to terrorism." -- Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)
(I found those at Chronwatch, which monitors the errors and bias at the San Francisco Chronicle.)

Now some might conclude that there is more to CAIR than the nice family gathering described in the Seattle Times article.  Some might even think that Congressman McDermott deserves a word or two of criticism for accepting an award from an organization that attacks free speech and supports terror.   The Seattle papers, so far, do not agree.  McDermott's award from CAIR is, apparently, just fine with them.

(Now can we call Congressman McDermott a "Copperhead", after the Northern Democrats who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War?  Perhaps not quite yet, but he has grown a few more scales.

The Seattle Times article, which I linked to above, deserves reading for what it leaves out.   Read through the whole thing and you will not find even a hint about CAIR's ties to terrorism.  Did the reporter, Dominic Gates, leave this out because of ignorance?   Political correctness?  Both?  I don't know, but if I were to read his account of a ball game, I would not believe that he had the score right without independent confirmation.)
- 11:49 AM, 16 May 2004
More:  Seattle PI columnist Joel recycles his criticism of McDermott, describing him as a lazy Congressman who ignores much of his district.  Though the material is recycled, it is still worth reading for its description of McDermott.

(Note to Connelly: Be careful with those historical allusions.  The "phrase "troublesome congressman" suggests Henry II's "troublesome priest", which inspired the murder of Thomas Becket.

And, rather than continue to complain about the lack of opposition to McDermott, why not run yourself?  If you do, I promise a small contribution — or I can denounce you if you think that would be more helpful in Seattle.)
- 7:22 AM, 17 May 2004   [link]


The Third Narrative:  There are, I have been arguing for some time, three narratives about John Kerry and Vietnam.  The first, which you can see in his commercials, depicts him as a selfless and brave volunteer, who turned against the war after he had seen it.   (Both claims are false, by the way.  He opposed the war before he went, and enlisted only when he was about to be drafted.)  The second narrative comes mostly from other Vietnam veterans, especially those who served in the same Swift Boats.  In that narrative, John Kerry was a brave but reckless commander, whose lack of judgment in Vietnam and his slander of the American soldiers who served there make him unfit to be commander in chief.

As I have said when discussing these narratives, it is the third, which describes what he did after he came back from Vietnam, that I find the most interesting.  As I am sure you know, after he lost a bid for a Congressional seat, he became a full time opponent of the war and a leader of an antiwar veterans group (many of whom were not actually veterans, we learned much later).   Kerry and his campaign say very little about this period of his life, though it was much longer and more significant politically than his four months in Vietnam.  In fact — and I find it fascinating that this has not drawn a little attention from the media — Kerry has actually refused to allow the reprinting of his book from that time, The New Soldier.  (Which, naturally has made used copies of the book quite valuable.)

Blogger Joshua Sharf has located a copy and has published the most significant part of it, Kerry's closing essay.  Before I give you some quotes from that, in hopes that you will go to the site and read the whole thing, let me give you Sharf's overall impression of the book.
Talk about not judging a book by its cover. I had seen pictures , but only face-on. I was looking for something shaped like Diplomacy, or even No More Vietnams.  Instead, it's like a coffee-table book for people who only drink free-range coffee.  It's over-sized, over-photoed, under-worded. "My Day at the Protest," by John Kerry.
. . .
If Kerry would just admit his "youthful indiscretions," we'd be done with it.  As Lileks has said, I don't care what he did 33 years ago; his record since then is bad enough.  But since he chose to run on his Vietnam service, as his only conceivable foreign policy credential, he has to revise history constantly to make himself look better.

It's the perfect distillation of Kerry himself.  The only possible reason he's worked to keep this book out of the limelight, because intellectually and politically, it's as lightweight as it looks.
Well, actually, there is another reason to prevent reprinting of the book, that closing essay, which, unlike most of the book, is not easily available elsewhere.
We will not quickly join those who march on Veterans' Day waving small flags, calling to memory those thousands who died for the "greater glory of the United States."  We will not accept the rhetoric.  We will not readily join the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars — in fact, we will find it hard to join anything at all and when we do, we will demand relevancy such as other organizations have recently been unable to provide.  We will not take solace from the creation of monuments or the naming of parks after a select few of the thousands of dead Americans and Vietnamese.  We will not uphold traditions which decorously memorialize that which was base and grim.
. . .
We were sent to Vietnam to kill Communism.  But we found instead that we were killing women and children.  We knew the saying "War is hell" and we knew also that wars take their toll in civilian casualties.  In Vietnam, though, the "greatest soldiers in the world," better armed and better equipped than the opposition, unleashed the power of the greatest technology in the world against thatch huts and mud paths.  In the process we created a nation of refugees, bomb craters, amputees, orphans, widows, and prostitutes, and we gave new meaning to the words of the Roman historian Tacitus: "Where they made a desert they called it peace."
Now this would not be worth your time if Kerry would, just once, admit that he may have been wrong in some of his thinking.  He might, for instance, mention the Cambodian genocide and say he is sorry that so many died after our withdrawal.  But he won't.  I have seen no evidence in the last year that Kerry has changed his mind about any of this.  And that, I think, is why, even when challenged to reject these ideas (as, for instance, Russert did on Meet the Press), Kerry does not.  He hedges and ducks, but never quite admits error.  He hides The New Soldier because he knows the book is a political liability, but he will not reject his ideas from that time.

(Thanks to Sharf for digging this up.)
- 10:28 AM, 16 May 2004   [link]


Personnel Is Policy:  Those familiar with government bureaucracies (and business bureaucracies) will recognize the truth in that statement.  Who we choose to head an organization shows what policies we want.  So, what are we to make of John Kerry's strange list of his candidates for Secretary of Defense?
John Kerry could be our next President, so like everyone else we're eager for clues to what his government would look like.  One revealing indication came this week when the Massachusetts Senator floated the names of four possible Defense Secretaries: GOP Senators John McCain and John Warner, Democratic Senator Carl Levin, and former Clinton Defense Secretary Bill Perry.

At the least, the four names do nothing to mar Mr. Kerry's reputation as an agile politician.   His four choices cover the gamut of security opinion in both major parties--from Mr. McCain on the hawkish end of the GOP, to the more moderate Armed Services Committee Chairman Mr. Warner, to the moderately liberal Mr. Perry, to the leftish Mr. Levin.  You could call it an over-the-rainbow coalition.
Let me expand a little on the Wall Street Journal's argument.  Off hand, I can't think of a more hawkish senator than John McCain, and there are very few senators more dovish than Carl Levin.

Here's a description of Senator McCain from the 2004 Almanac of American Politics.
On other defense issues [besides American POWs in Vietnam] McCain has called for more defense spending and insisted military interventions be designed to achieve victory; he criticized the Clinton administration for using air power alone and ruling out ground troops in Bosnia and for not using "all necessary force" in Kosovo.  He strongly supported George Bush in the war on terrorism after September 11.  In October 2001 he urged more ground troops in Afghanistan , and in December 2001 he was one of 10 members of Congress to sign a letter urging that Iraq be the next target.   After North Korea declared it had nuclear weapons in October 2002 he opposed negotiations and warned, "There is scant moral refuge for those accomodationists who believe even today that we can concede our way out of the crisis." (p. 101)
And here's a description of Senator Levin.
Carl Levin was Armed Services Committee chairman from June 2001 to January 2003.  He brought to the Senate the skepticism about defense spending and military involvement common among Democrats in the 1970s, and has built up an impressive expertise in military affairs.  For a time he opposed the B-2, he voted against selling the AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981 and he voted against the Gulf War resolution in 1991—on the advice of Colin Powell, he says now, and adds that he was mistaken.  On taking the chair, he said he would not concentrate on major weapons systems, but on military pay, health care and housing, plus purchasing systems; unlike his predecessor and successor, John Warner, he favored another round of base closings—one issue on which he agreed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but neither prevailed.

Where he disagreed most strongly with Rumsfeld was on missile defense, where he has been the Senate's most persistent critic. (pp. 813-814)
Senator McCain is, of course a big backer of missile defense.

If both McCain and Levin are acceptable to John Kerry as Secretaries of Defense, what can we conclude about Kerry's policies?  What do those two personnel choices show about Kerry's policies?   Anything goes?  That Kerry wants to appear to be on every side of every issue?  I am genuinely puzzled, assuming Kerry was being honest with that list.

The simplest explanation, of course, is that Kerry was not being honest, that no one with McCain's hawkish views would be acceptable as Secretary of Defense in a Kerry administration.  Kerry's views (and votes) on defense are almost indistinguishable from Senator Levin's; it is hard to imagine that he would adopt McCain's positions, should he become president.

(McCain, of course, is partly to blame for Kerry's persistent floating of his name.  The Arizona senator seems to be motivated by a desire for publicity stronger even than that in most senators, and a childish desire to needle President Bush from time to time.

McCain could put a stop to this easily, in a number of ways.  Here's my suggestion:   McCain should say, not for attribution, that he is considering Kerry for a job, too, as an intern on McCain's constituent services staff.  McCain could say that this job would give Kerry what he so obviously lacks, experience in dealing with the problems of ordinary people.)
- 10:15 AM, 15 May 2004   [link]


Biased BBC, Example 4:  Early this morning, listening to the BBC World Service, I heard the announcer describe a Bush policy as "radical".  And what policy was that?  Bush's support for preserving traditional forms of marriage, even if it requires a constitutional amendment.  As those familiar with American opinion could tell the BBC, this same "radical" position is held by most Americans.  Large majorities oppose gay marriages; about half are, even now, in favor of a constitutional amendment to restrict marriages to one man and one woman.  (You can find more on American public opinion in this post, where I argue that the polls may underestimate opposition to gay marriage.)

Bush's views are not unusual.  They can be found now in much of the world, and were nearly universal in the Western world for millennia.  (Those who disagreed were far more likely to be in favor of polygamy than gay marriage, though I imagine one can find a few examples of the latter.)  Now the announcer must know these facts (though she may be unaware of American public opinion), so why did she (or the script writers choose "radical" to describe Bush's views?  As a smear, of course, and to suggest that he is out of step with respectable opinion.

The rest of the piece was, as I am sure you have guessed, a commercial for gay marriage, unbalanced and unfair, even for the BBC.  For instance, the announcer did not mention that, among others, good and bad, who agree with Bush on this issue are the Pope and nearly all Muslim religious leaders.  And, naturally, the announcer ascribed Bush's position to his desire to please the far right, not to his own moral or religious views.

(As always, when I discuss this gay marriage, I have to mention my own mixed feelings, which I discussed at more length here.  I am genuinely undecided about the issue.  If someone can show me that gay marriage would be good for children or would not hurt them, I would favor it;if it is harmful, I would be opposed.)
- 9:06 AM, 15 May 2004   [link]


David Horsey's most recent (5/13) cartoon reveals a dangerous ignorance in the Seattle PI's cartoonist.  Horsey captioned a drawing of the murder of Nick Berg, "Allah weeps".   I don't doubt Horsey feels that way, but Muhammad had other ideas.
Reactions to the grotesque jihadist decapitation of yet another "infidel Jew," Mr. Berg, make clear that our intelligentsia are either dangerously uninformed, or simply unwilling to come to terms with this ugly reality: such murders are consistent with sacred jihad practices, as well as Islamic attitudes toward all non-Muslim infidels, in particular, Jews, which date back to the 7th century, and the Prophet Muhammad's own example.

According to Muhammad's sacralized biography by Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad himself sanctioned the massacre of the Qurayza, a vanquished Jewish tribe.  He appointed an "arbiter" who soon rendered this concise verdict: the men were to be put to death, the women and children sold into slavery, the spoils to be divided among the Muslims.  Muhammad ratified this judgment stating that it was a decree of God pronounced from above the Seven Heavens.  Thus some 600 to 900 men from the Qurayza were lead on Muhammad's order to the Market of Medina.  Trenches were dug and the men were beheaded, and their decapitated corpses buried in the trenches while Muhammad watched in attendance.  Women and children were sold into slavery, a number of them being distributed as gifts among Muhammad's companions, and Muhammad chose one of the Qurayza women (Rayhana) for himself.  The Qurayza's property and other possessions (including weapons) were also divided up as additional "booty" among the Muslims, to support further jihad campaigns.
Now one would like to think that mass decapitations by Islamists are a thing of the past.   Bostom gives some examples to show that they continue, and Amir Taheri has even more.  For example, in Algeria:
Throughout the 1990s, head-chopping was routinely carried out by the Army for Islamic Salvation (AIS), the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), the Salafi Group for Preaching and Armed Jihad (GSPAJ) and other Islamist terror outfits.

One Algerian specialist in slitting throats and cutting off heads was known as Momo le Nain (Muhammad the Midget).  He was a 20-plus-year-old butcher's apprentice recruited by the GIA for the purpose of cutting off people's heads.  In 1996 in Ben-Talha, a suburb of the capital Algiers, Momo cut off a record 86 heads in one night, including the heads of more than a dozen children.

In recognition of his exemplary act of piety, the GIA sent him to Mecca for pilgrimage.  Last time we checked, Momo was still at large somewhere in Algeria.
More than a dozen children.  In one night.  For which he was honored.

It is comforting to think that our enemies share our values, as Horsey seems to believe.  Often, they do not.  Some in the Western world wanted to believe that Stalin was in a hurry and that Hitler was just another nationalist German, but that they shared most of our values.  Those false beliefs made it harder to oppose them, and similar false beliefs make it harder to oppose the radical Islamists.

(Although I usually disagree with Horsey, I do not consider him equivalent to Ted Rall (also published in the PI) in his moral views.  Horsey is, like many journalists, partisan, often misinformed, and intellectually lazy, but he is not vile.  I must add, though, that Horsey has been slipping in recent years, enough so that he was recently reprimanded with a Pulitzer.  In the past, his cartoons were often funny and fresh, now many are bitter and stale.  Like many others on the left, he has not accepted the election defeats of 2000 and 2002 with good grace.)
- 3:57 PM, 14 May 2004   [link]


Abu Ghraib And Rwanda:  When I see the "mainstream" media's full scale campaign to make the minor scandal of Abu Ghraib as large as possible, and keep it going as long as possible, I am reminded of their past neglect of far more serious stories.   Some have noted that the Waco deaths, where Janet Reno was directly responsible, drew nothing like this coverage.  And I don't recall seeing any of the pictures of the badly burned victims then.

One of the worst media failures was the coverage, or rather lack of coverage, of the genocide in Rwanda.  The terrifying facts about Rwanda are, even now, not as well known as they should be.   In 1994, over a period of months, Hutu extremists killed, according to a common estimate, 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates.  Most were killed with machetes, so to understand the catastrophe, just imagine the death of Nick Berg, multiplied 800,000 times.

During this time, the Clinton administration, though aware of the facts, blocked some news from getting out and refused to describe what was happening as genocide.  They blocked early United Nations efforts to stop the massacres, and did little to help the African nations that offered, tardily, to send troops to stop the killing.

And what were the media doing all this time?  Almost nothing,  There was very little coverage of the killings, which were not hidden and which went on for months.  I don't know if any of the major networks did a story on the killings while they were going on.  And I know that the New York Times, which often leads the media pack, had little to say about these deaths of poor blacks in Africa.

Afterward, when it became clear that Clinton might easily have stopped the genocide, few in the media saw any reason to blame him, even though he has admitted his failure.  (The force required to stop the massacres would have been, military experts agree, quite small, since the Hutu extremists were poorly armed and organized.)

I have been wondering, again, what would have happened if the New York Times had given the genocide in Rwanda the same attention they are giving the old story, not even news any more, of the abuses at Abu Ghraib.  Could they have galvanized opinion and forced to Clinton administration to act?   Possibly.  Clinton, after all, was not opposed to acting, he was opposed to acting if it hurt his "political viability".  It is, I think, possible that a few editors at the New York Times could have saved hundreds of thousands, if they were not so willing to give a pass to a Democratic president.

(To be complete, I must add that almost no American politician did much during the massacres, in either party.  If anything, Republicans were even less willing to act, especially while Clinton was commander in chief.)

Is there anything similar to the Rwanda genocide happening now?  Maybe.  The few reports I have seen about the massacres now happening in the Darfur region of Sudan suggest that another humanitarian catastrophe may be developing there.  Will the "mainstream" media get interested in that story?  I am almost, but not quite, ready to say, "Only if they think it would hurt George Bush."
- 10:28 AM, 14 May 2004   [link]


Election Odds In Washington:  Tomorrow, I will be attending a fund raising breakfast for Congressman George Nethercutt, who is running against Patty Murray for the Senate.  I think he has a solid chance to win, though he is currently the underdog.  I am not alone in that opinion.  Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns and Elections and an oddsmaker with a good track record, also thinks Nethercutt can win.

Currently, he gives Murray a 57.1 percent chance to retain her seat.  So, allowing for the small possibility of an upset in the primary, Nethercutt would have about a 40 percent chance to win, according to Faucheux.

(Some think that Murray is on the far left, like Senator Boxer of California.  More than a year ago, I argued, in this post, that Murray does not think abstractly enough to have an ideology.  She is, from everything I know, a nice person, but not up to being a senator.  To understand her, just remember that she is a consistent winner of the "not a rocket scientist" award.  She probably never should have been president of the Shoreline School Board, much less a senator.)

Faucheux gives the Republican candidate, most likely Dino Rossi, an even better chance to win the governorship.  Right now, he gives the slightest of edges to the Democrats, a 52.9 percent chance to keep it.

Right now, he gives the edge to the incumbent party in all nine House races.

Odds on Washington House Seats

incumbentchance of winning
Jay Inslee (D)66.6
Rick Larsen (D)60.0
Brian Baird (D)70.0
"Doc" Hastings (R)90.0
open (R)52.6
Norm Dicks (D)80.0
Jim McDermott (D)80.0
open (R)52.6
Adam Smith (D)70.0


The 5th and 8th districts are open because George Nethercutt and Jennifer Dunn, respectively, are not running for re-election.  (Dunn is retiring.)

I don't see anything terribly wrong with those odds, except that, sadly, Faucheux underestimates the chances that Jim McDermott will win re-election, which I would make at least 90 percent.
- 4:37 PM, 13 May 2004
More:  The Seattle Times rates Nethercutt a longshot, because he comes from Eastern Washington.  I don't know whether the reporter, Jim Brunner, has as good a record at predictions as Ron Faucheux, who claims 98 percent accuracy for his picks.  I do know that the Seattle Times has simply been shameless in its efforts to protect Patty Murray, whom they must know is unqualified to be a senator.
- 5:18 AM, 14 May 2004   [link]


The Boy Scouts may be in trouble in San Francisco and even in more moderate San Diego.  The Girl Scouts may have become too trendy.  But, in Iraq, the scouts survived Saddam.
Often meeting furtively, with no communication with fellow councils throughout the country, Iraqi scouts (search) remained active despite oppression under Saddam Hussein's regime and subsequent war with Iraq — a miracle say Arab scouting representatives.

"The (scouting) movement never died in Iraq, and that is something no one knew," said Malek Gabr, deputy secretary of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (search), based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Now, scouts in Iraq are facing a resurrection with the help of an American, who has sparked a scout reunion of sorts while at the same time putting together an organization of about 350 former scouts among U.S. coalition members based in the "Green Zone" in Baghdad.
This story, I think it safe to say, will never make CBS News or the front page of the New York Times, despite its human interest and (probably) great pictures.  More evidence that we need Fox News for balance.
- 8:03 AM, 13 May 2004   [link]


California, Here We Come?  Most political analysts believe that Bush has no chance to carry California, just as most analysts 16 years ago thought that California would usually go Republican.  (For an example of the current conventional wisdom, see this meandering New York Times article by Adam Nagourney.)

The 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections refuted the previous conventional wisdom; the 2004 election may refute the current conventional wisdom.  Nagourney puts California in the "not in play" category, judging it safe for Kerry.  If that's true, why does the latest poll of likely voters give Kerry a mere one point edge?

Now one can say — and I wouldn't disagree — that just one poll, though the most recent, puts the race that close, that the sample size is small, and that SUSA does not have Gallup's reputation.   All true.  But it is also true that the two Republican candidates won a solid combined victory in the recall election to replace Governor Gray Davis, and that Governor Schwarzenegger is wildly popular in California.  And, if you look at the Los Angeles Times poll, which has a reputation for leaning Democratic, Bush trails there by just 10 points.  If that poll is accurate, then Bush would have to move just 5 percent of the voters from Kerry (plus 1) to win.  That isn't a big shift, considering how long it is until the election.

If my own current prediction, that Bush will win 58 percent of the two party vote, comes true, then Bush will almost certainly win California.  Let me add immediately, as I always do, that my prediction is conditional on two things, no great shocks overseas and continuing economic growth.

(If you look at the New York Times article, be sure to click on the "Mapping the Campaign Graphic", which illustrates the article.  If you are like me, you may want to click on the graphic, and then, possibly, the article.)
- 7:25 AM, 13 May 2004   [link]


Brain Surgeons For Bush:  You don't have to be very smart to back President Bush, but it doesn't hurt.
The American Neurological Surgery Political Action Committee said it is endorsing a presidential candidate for the first time ever -- and that candidate is George W. Bush.

ANSPAC said it decided to endorse Bush after analyzing the healthcare policies of both President Bush and his presumed Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry.

"ANSPAC is bi-partisan and has never endorsed a presidential candidate before," said the group's chairman, Philip W. Tally, MD, a neurosurgeon who practices in Bradenton, Fla.  "However, this year the policies and basic fundamentals are so different, we could not just stand by and do nothing," Tally added in a press release.

According to ANSPAC, lawsuit abuse in medical cases is the "paramount issue."
Will rocket scientists be next to join the Bush bandwagon?  Could be.  Certainly, many of them are pleased by Bush's space policies.
- 6:16 AM, 13 May 2004   [link]


George Neumayr makes a cheap, but funny point.
Outrage at obscene photos would be a little easier to take from liberal senators if they didn't have a history of financing them.  Had Robert Mapplethorpe snapped the photos at Abu Ghraib, the Senate might have given him a government grant.  Jesse Helms would certainly be surprised at the moral horror on display these days in the Senate.  In 1989, he asked his fellow senators to stop funding degrading photography coming out of the National Endowment for the Arts.  They refused.
(If you missed the Mapplethorpe photos, a search on the web should find them for you quickly.  But be warned.  Most will find them shocking.)

Yes, I know, the models in the Mapplethorpe photos were, presumably, volunteers, which does make a difference.  That's why I said the point was cheap.
- 9:30 AM, 12 May 2004   [link]


While I Am On The Subject of Seattle PI columnists, I might as well mention another failure, this one by Joel Connelly.   Last year I argued that Connelly was wrong to put the blame on President Bush for the cool relations between Canada and the United States.  Then Prime Minister Jean Chretien had provoked Bush in many ways and, I thought, had made it clear that he did not even want good relations with Bush.  (Perhaps because it helped him in Quebec to be on the outs with Bush.)

Canada has a new Prime Minister, Paul Martin, and though this may surprise Connelly, relations between the two nations are improving.
Canada's comfort and friendship were the dominant themes in what all sides reported as a very amicable, nearly two-hour meeting between the Canadian and U.S. leaders.
. . .
The two men emerged from their private discussions in the president's Oval Office with fond words for each other and the promise of an even warmer relationship in the future.

"We've got a good friend in Canada.  It's an important relationship.

"It's a crucial relationship.  And it's one that I look forward to continuing to nurture with this prime minister."

Standing in the White House Rose Garden, a pack of mostly Canadian reporters surrounding them, Bush did most of the talking at the news conference.  Martin told a news conference later that he found Bush likeable, forceful in terms of conviction, and remarkably up to speed on Canadian issues.

"We certainly got along very well.  I think that he's somebody who has very, very strong personal and moral convictions and I think that they come through in the kinds of policies he sets out," Martin said.

"I've met with a lot of leaders around the world.  He was certainly very, very well-briefed, whatever the issues we raised with him."
Chretien wanted to quarrel with Bush and succeeded, after much effort; Martin wants to get along with Bush and is succeeding easily.  But will Connelly tell his readers that?  Don't hold your breath.

(This is entirely unrelated, but it is so funny that I have to mention it.  As long time readers know, I am amused by both the overuse of "quagmire" and the botched metaphors I often see in print.  In his latest column, Connelly manages to make both mistakes in a single phrase, saying that "Iraq has turned into a quagmire that is bleeding America".  Visualize a quagmire.  Got it?  Now try to imagine that quagmire making something bleed.  Doesn't work, does it?  Perhaps Mr. Connelly should re-read George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language".)
- 9:07 AM, 12 May 2004   [link]


Free Speech For Me — But Not For Thee.  That's not just the title of Nat Hentoff's book, that's a good description of the attitude of many, especially on the left.  (Those younger than I am may not realize that, in the past, those on the left were more likely to defend freedom of speech than those on the right.  Now, of course, that's reversed and most threats to freedom of speech in the United States come from the left.)

Today's example of that attitude is by Seattle PI columnist Susan Paynter.  A far left group posted a sign calling for the victory of the Islamofascists and terrorists (though of course they did not use those terms) in Iraq.  A conservative talk show host, John Carlson (who also ran for governor in 2000), organized a peaceful demonstration against the sign and the support for our enemies.   Paynter is greatly perturbed.  By the support for Islamofascists who, for example, cut off the heads of American civilians and record it on videotape?  No, by Carlson's peaceful protest against those sentiments.  Novel ideas do not get a positive reception in McDermottville.

Paynter does not quite call for Carlson's demonstration, and similar expressions of novel ideas, to be banned, but you can tell that she would like to see them vanish.  It is not, as anyone who has read her for some time can tell you, because she wants more civility in politics.   She has never, to my knowledge, criticized any of the local attacks on conservatives, not even the signs, found at nearly every "peace" demonstration, decorated with swastikas, and calling President Bush a fascist or Nazi.  That doesn't bother Paynter, but peaceful demonstrations by conservatives do.

Those who live in this area and have read Paynter and listened to Carlson will know that Paynter never opens her column to ideas from the right, and that Carlson opens his talk show to ideas from the left nearly every day.  Not only does he talk to leftist callers almost every day, he often brings leftists on his show to debate him.  Paynter is, I think, all too typical of many on the left, hypocritical and closed-minded.
- 7:46 AM, 12 May 2004   [link]


Colin McPowell?  Colin Powell, in his copious free time, is getting Scottish arms for his father.
Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, has commemorated his Scottish roots by having a coat of arms commissioned by Scotland's heraldic authority.
. . .
The Heraldry Society of Scotland helped with the design of the arms, which depict two swords arranged in a diagonal cross to mark Mr Powell's military career.

Also included are a lion, a symbol traditionally associated with the Powell surname, and an eagle, which signifies America and is also a reference to the badge of the 101st Airborne Division, which Mr Powell commanded.

Four "mullets [stars] Argent" arranged around the swords refer to Mr Powell's status as a four-star general.

The motto "Devoted to public services" has been written across the top of the design, which Mr Powell will be entitled to stamp on letterheads, books, flags and pennants.
Well, actually for Powell himself, considering what's included in the arms.  (His father, who was born in Jamaica as a British citizen, is eligible for the arms, but Powell himself is not, directly, though he can "inherit" them.)

I rather like the fact that Powell can celebrate all parts of his mixed heritage.   And it is fun to see a man who started out as an ordinary soldier end up with heraldry.
- 6:02 AM, 12 May 2004   [link]


Did "60 Minutes" Cause The Death Of Nick Berg?  No, the al Qaeda terrorists did.  But "60 Minutes" and CBS do bear some responsibility for his death by making it more likely.

To understand that, let me begin with a less gruesome example.  Several years ago, I wrote to Randy Cohen, who calls himself the "Ethicist" and writes a weekly column for the New York Times magazine.  (Here's his latest, if you are curious.)  I asked Cohen whether, in 1992, the journalists who knew about Bill Clinton's flagrant promiscuity but refused to tell the public, had behaved ethically.  Joe Klein, who later wrote an anonymous novel describing Clinton's reckless womanizing, would be one of many offenders.  Perhaps the worst was Don Hewitt of "60 Minutes", who did not just ignore the subject, but put on a show that he and everyone at "60 Minutes" knew was false, implying that Clinton's marital problems were in the past.

Cohen agreed that it was an interesting ethical problem.  For some reason — just possibly the fact that he works for journalists — he never treated it in his column.  Of course it is not just journalists who run into this problem; almost everyone does.  I would guess that nearly all of you have chosen both to tell, and not to tell, news that you knew would affect someone's actions.  And I think all of us recognize that those choices have ethical consequences.   Sometimes the ethical choice is to provide the information; sometimes the ethical choice is to withhold it.

The American military asked CBS and "60 Minutes" not to show the humiliating pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison, warning the network that showing them might lead to harm to some of those held hostage.   Now, as I am sure you know, that has happened, with the videotaped beheading of Nick Berg.  Let me repeat that the terrorists, not CBS and "60 Minutes", bear the prime responsibility for his murder.  But we can also say that "60 Minutes" is not free from blame.   (I might take a different position if there was any real news in the pictures, but there was none.   Since January, the military has been issuing press releases telling of their investigation into this matter, press releases that have gotten scant coverage from the media, and no attention from Congress.)

I believe that, because of the dangers to the hostages (and American soldiers), CBS should not have broadcast those pictures.  The network obviously does not agree, because they are planning to show more.  And, if another hostage killing follows, will they continue?  I don't know, but I fear the answer is yes.
- 5:23 PM, 11 May 2004   [link]


Why 17 Years?  Now that the 17 year cicadas are emerging again, biologists and mathematicians are arguing over why they have a 17 year cycle.   Mathematicians?  Yes, because some think that cicadas have 17 year cycle, or a 13 year cycle in some species, because those numbers are prime.
[Glenn] Webb is a mathematician.  Working at Nashville's Vanderbilt University, he spends his days immersed in formulas, not fieldwork.  But a backyard encounter with periodical cicadas several years ago led him to a mystery that has seduced more than a few members of his profession over the years: the cicada-prime connection.
. . .
For Webb and others, it's a pattern that immediately raises eyebrows: 13 and 17 are prime numbers, integers divisible by only themselves and 1.  Primes, like cicadas, have been a source of fascination for centuries.  So it didn't take long before scientists wondered: Is it mere coincidence that cicada emergences are timed to primes, or is some deeper mechanism at work?
. . .
And by emerging every 13 and 17 years, [Stephen Jay] Gould argues in his 1977 book, cicadas minimize the chance that their infrequent invasions will sync with the life cycles of birds and other creatures that dine on them.

For example, imagine bird species that wax and wane on a five-year cycle.  If cicadas emerged every 10 years, their arrival might coincide with the peak of this avian predator, setting up a pattern that could drive the cicadas to extinction.
There is still considerable debate about this idea, though I haven't seen a better one.

(Omnivores such as ourselves can take advantage of these rare opportunities.  The National Geographic suggests, possibly tongue in cheek, that some dieters might want to try cicadas.
High-protein, low-carbohydrate diet fanatics take note: The billions of cicadas set to emerge from the ground en masse later this month are a healthy alternative to that bacon double-cheeseburger without the bun.

"They're high in protein, low in fat, no carbs," said Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.  "They're quite nutritious, a good set of vitamins."
He says nothing about the taste, though.)
- 2:01 PM, 11 May 2004   [link]


Worth Reading:  Laurie Mylroie's summary of new evidence linking Saddam to 9/11.   Mylroie has some pointed comments on the American "elite".
Opinion polls show that most Americans still believe Iraq had substantial ties to al Qaeda and even that it was involved in 9/11.  Yet among the "elite," there is tremendous opposition to this notion.  A simple explanation exists for this dichotomy.  The public is not personally vested in this issue, but the elite certainly are.

America's leading lights, including those in government responsible for dealing with terrorism and with Iraq, made a mammoth blunder.  They failed to recognize that starting with the first assault on New York's World Trade Center, Iraq was working with Islamic militants to attack the United States.   This failure left the country vulnerable on September 11, 2001.  Many of those who made this professional error cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it; perhaps, they cannot even recognize it.   They mock whomever presents information tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks; discredit that information; and assert there is "no evidence." What they do not do is discuss in a rational way the significance of the information that is presented.  I myself have experienced this many times, including in testimony before the 9/11 Commission, when as I responded to a Commissioner's question, a fellow panelist repeatedly interrupted, screeching "That is not evidence," even as C-SPAN broadcast the event to the entire country.
Mylroie is certain that Saddam was linked to 9/11.  I am not, but then I have not pored over the the same evidence.  I do think that the question is still open, that there is some evidence for the link, and that a serious, open-minded investigation of that evidence is needed.
- 11:05 AM, 11 May 2004   [link]


When Can We Call Them Copperheads?  An opposition party in time of war is in a difficult position.  Any progress in the war will almost always help the incumbents, but criticizing the troops and their leaders looks unpatriotic.

Perhaps the easiest political position, assuming the war is not wildly unpopular, is to argue that it is being badly managed, that the war has a good goal, but that the incumbent party is managing it badly.  Even that, however, is vulnerable to battlefield successes.  To argue that the war is a mistake, but that you will win it, as Kerry is currently doing, is much more difficult.   To argue that the war is a mistake and that it should be abandoned, as Kerry's Massachusetts colleague and mentor, Ted Kennedy, is doing, is far harder to explain to voters.  Such criticisms, though not illegitimate in a open society, do, in fact, encourage the enemy and may prolong a war, or even change its course.  North Vietnamese General Giap has, more than once, attributed his victory over South Vietnam, not to the prowess of his forces, but to the American Left and its opposition to the war.  (Many military experts agree with his assessment, though this is not something that the New York Times will tell you very often.)

It is an old dilemma.  During our Civil War, Democrats in the North were split then as they are now.  In A Stillness at Appomattox, Bruce Catton gives this description of their positions.
The immediate magnet was the national convention of the Democratic party, convening on August 29 [1864] to nominate a candidate to run against Lincoln.  Broadly speaking, this convention was bringing together practically everybody who disliked the way the war was being run, with the single exception of dissident Republicans who thought Lincoln was not tough enough.  Among the assembling Democrats were stout Unionists who opposed the forcible abolition of slavery and the reduction of states' rights; among them, also were others who only wanted only to have the war end — with a Union victory if possible, without it if necessary.  And there were also men who saw the war consuming precious freedoms and creating tyranny, who blended extreme political partisanship with blind fury against the war party and who at least believed that they were ready to strike back without caring much what weapon they used.
That last group was often called "Copperheads", after the poisonous snake.  And Copperheads went very far indeed in their opposition to Lincoln and the war.  Before the 1864 Democratic convention, some met with Confederate agents and agreed to help stage a revolt and free Confederate prisoners being held in Illinois.  They backed out when it came time for action, but I think it fair to call these Copperheads traitors, whether or not their actions met the strict definition of treason in the Constitution.

Now at what point can we begin to call people on the Left, and in the Democratic party, Copperheads?  What about cartoonist Ted Rall, who opposed an American victory in Afghanistan?   Or film maker Michael Moore, who openly hopes for more American casualties?  Both, I think, can fairly be called Copperheads.  Whether Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott can be is a more difficult question, though he certainly combines "extreme political partisanship with blind fury against the war party".  For now, I will leave him out, and I will leave out Senator Kennedy, though his reckless attacks on President Bush do in fact give aid and comfort to our enemies.  But both men show signs that they may be developing fangs and scales.
- 10:46 AM, 11 May 2004   [link]


Speaking Of Europeans, Sarah Lyall uses an interesting metaphor to describe the European dislike for Bush, even among conservatives.
It is as if admiring Mr. Bush is seen as slightly shameful among thinking Europeans, like confessing a preference for screw-top wine bottles.
Here's what made me chuckle.  Although it is not well known, except among wine experts, screw-tops are better than corks for wine.  Some very high end wine companies have even begun using them, in defiance of the prejudice against them.

Is Ms. Lyall suggesting that the Europeans, like the consumers who think corks are a sign of quality, are ignorant and if they knew more would favor Bush?  Probably not, since this is the New York Times, but it's an amusing thought.

(The advantages of screw-tops over corks have been discussed in the New York Times quite recently, but as anyone familiar with the newspaper can tell you, those who write for it do not always read it.)
- 7:15 AM, 10 May 2004   [link]


German Troops Hid Like "Frightened Rabbits":  Many Americans, including me, would like to have more help from our NATO allies.  The sad fact is that, even if they wanted to, they might not be able to give us much help because their forces have deterorated so much, especially since the end of the Cold War.  This incident, from Kosovo, will give you an idea just how poor some of those troops are.
German troops serving with the Kfor international peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo have been accused of hiding in barracks "like frightened rabbits" during the inter-ethnic rioting that erupted in the province in March.

A hard-hitting German police report sent to the Berlin government last week criticises the troops for cowardice and for their failure to quell the rioting in which 19 people died and about 900 others were injured.
When John Kerry promises, as he does persistently, that he will get more help from our allies, he misses two points.  Although the allies may turn him down more politely than they did Bush, they have no desire to help us.  And, as this incident shows, they don't have much capacity to help us, either.

Perhaps Kerry is simply out of date.  Through much of the Cold War, at least according to news reports I saw, German troops were thought to be very good, well trained and motivated.  Of course, then they expected to be defending their homeland, not going off on foreign adventures.
- 6:55 AM, 10 May 2004
More:  The incident in Kosovo shows how poor some of the NATO troops are; this sobering article shows how few could be deployed to Iraq, even if their governments agreed.
"Out of the 1.4 million soldiers under arms, the 18 non-U.S. [NATO allies with militaries] have 55,000 deployed on multinational operations ... yet they feel overstretched. ... We must generate more usable soldiers and have the political will to deploy more of them in multinational operations," former NATO Secretary General George Robertson said in an October 2003 speech.

By contrast, the United States has a far higher percentage of deployable troops. Of the 1.4 million-strong U.S. military, 135,000 soldiers — almost 10 percent of the overall force — are stationed in Iraq.  Additional troops are deployed in Afghanistan, South Korea, the Horn of Africa, Haiti and elsewhere.
. . .
[Julianne] Smith [a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies] said it is hard to see which countries could contribute more troops in Iraq.  Germany is maxed out with 8,000 troops deployed abroad — primarily in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.  France would be the best fit, but the political barriers seem impossible to scale, Smith said.  Spain and Turkey also have some excess military capacity, but neither is likely to send troops due to political considerations.
But John Kerry keeps promising that he can get significant help from them, if elected president.

It is not entirely a lack of spending, by the way.  Our NATO allies do spend less than we do, but they waste large sums on bureaucracy and preparing for Cold War tasks (Britain excepted, perhaps).  
- 9:33 AM, 11 May 2004   [link]


Synchronized Ducklings:  When I saw this latest batch of ducklings, pictured below, I wondered how they do it.  Human mothers are usually advised to space their births, but ducks want all their eggs to hatch at once.  Since the ducklings feed on their own from the very beginning, the mother duck must lead them in a group to the water as soon as possible.  She can do this only if all her brood hatches at the same time.

One reason the hatching is synchronized seemed obvious.  Although I would guess that the mother duck lays roughly an egg a day, she most likely does not start incubating them until all are laid.   So the eggs start to hatch at about the same time.

The fine control on the synchronized hatching comes from the ducklings.
As a hen sits on her nest, incubating her eggs, she exposes the embryos to her maternal call.   Two days before hatching, the young are fully capable of hearing this call and begin to make their own vocalizations, which can be heard by the other unhatched ducklings. This is the pipping stage of egg development, and, in fact, it is this vocal communication among un-hatched siblings that enables their synchronized hatching.  At this early stage, ducklings learn to identify the voices of their siblings, the specific call of their mother, and the repertoire of their species in general.

The ability of the ducklings to recognize and respond to the hen's call is essential to their survival during this vulnerable period in their life cycle.  The first crucial test of their hearing and recognition capability — when the female calls to her young, encouraging them to follow her to food and water — occurs when the ducklings leave their nest.  Response to this type of maternal call is best exemplified in wood ducks.  The female wood duck calls to her ducklings from outside the nest cavity.  This lets the ducklings know it is time to leave, and they must climb out of the nest to join their mother.
(Birds that are mobile and can follow their parents immediately after hatching are "precocial"; birds that can't, such as robins, are "altricial".  If you want a finer classification, see this guide.

Synchronizing hatching using sounds from the embryos almost certainly predates birds, since it is also found in the American crocodile.   For that species, the synchronized hatching allows the mother to guard the whole group of vulnerable young.  Since some dinosaurs were precocial, they probably used the same method to synchronize their hatches.)
- 7:37 AM, 9 May 2004   [link]


Happy Mother's Day!  To this mother duck and all the other mothers out there.



(Is that the same mother duck as last year.  Quite possibly.  It's the same little beach, tucked in between two condominiums on Lake Washington, and birds often come back to the same nests.)

And here's some flowers for the day, just in case you forgot.


- 6:44 AM, 9 May 2004   [link]