Archive:

May 2004, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Memorial Day And The Civil War:  Memorial Day grew out of Decoration Day, which honored the soldiers who died in the Civil War.  On that day, the graves of soldiers were decorated, a practice that began even before the war ended.  In observing Memorial Day, it is appropriate to begin with the Civil War.

Rather than try to sketch the whole war or even some part of it, I will just give a few bits to show you why I am awed by the men who fought that war.

Let me begin with a statistic from the very worst part of the war, June 1865, when the Army of the Potomac under Grant faced the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee, both armies entrenched.  During that month, the Army of the Potomac averaged 2,000 casualties a day.   Lee's army lost fewer, because they were defending, but still took severe losses.  And that was just two of the armies, though the largest.  In that month, it is likely that the two armies together averaged somewhere around 500 deaths a day.  Many of those who survived lost limbs, in a time when prosthetics meant wooden legs and hooks for hands.

That did not stop some of them from fighting.  More than one officer lost an arm or leg and came back to fight some more.  There was even, on the Union side, an entire organization of men who continued to serve though they had been crippled.  Recruited from army hospitals, they were at first called the Invalid Corps and given robins-egg blue uniforms, much to their dismay.   The army later gave them regular uniforms and changed the name to the Veterans Reserve Corps, a more respectable, though less bluntly honest, name.  The army used them mainly to guard prisoners and supplies in the rear, but once one of these units, the 18th Regiment, fought in a small battle, when Confederate raiders under Wade Hampton attacked a base.  Soon after, the medical board examined the unit and found that not only were they not fit for duty, but four-fifths belonged in hospital beds.

And they accepted a harsh military discipline that would astonish us.  One of the curses of the Union Army, in the later years of the war, were the bounty men, who had signed up for the high enlistment bonuses.  Many of these men were criminals who planned to desert at the first opportunity.  One teen-ager in upstate New York, a true volunteer, found himself among a group of 600 such men in Albany.  When it came time for them to be sent to the front, the officer in charge announced that any who tried to desert would be shot.  Here's how Bruce Catton describes the trip in A Stillness at Appomattox.
The officer's word was good.  Three men were shot dead as the crowd marched through Albany to the steamboat wharf.  Two more, who jumped from the steamer as it went down the Hudson, were shot in midstream.  Four more were shot in New York as the men were marched from one pier to another.  After the steamer finally unloaded its consignment at Alexandria and the men were put on freight cars to go to the front, five men tried to escape from the moving train and were shot dead.
Now did these measures disturb the bulk of the army?  No.  They favored them, although they saw the folly of enlisting men such as these.  Try to imagine something similar today.   My mind boggles.

There were far more of the brave than of the criminals, as a glance at the statistics of the Civil War show.  Estimates of the total deaths vary widely; this one, based on official statistics, is actually lower than some I have seen (and higher than others).  Together the Union and Confederate armies lost 184,584 in combat and 373,458 men outside combat, for a total of 558,042.  In 1860, the population of the United States was a little over 30 million, so a proportionate loss now would be about 5 million.  (Or even more if the higher estimates of the losses are correct.)

(The non-combat losses may seem high, but they are not.  In nearly all wars for which we have good data, more men were lost to disease than to enemy action.  I believe that World War II was the first major war when that was true not for the United States.)
- 9:10 AM, 31 May 2004
Thanks to a helpful reader, I learned that the link in that next to the last paragraph was broken.  Here's the substitute list of losses she provided, and here's another list from Wikipedia.   I should add that recently the New York Times had an article claiming new — and higher — estimates of the losses during the Civil War.  The description made the newer estimates sound plausible, but I haven't seen what other Civil War historians think of them yet.
- 3:47 PM, 18 June 2012   [link]


Ad Buys tell us something about a campaign's own perceptions.  When a campaign puts money into a state thought to be safe for the the other party, they show optimism; conversely, when they put money into a state thought to be safe for them, they show pessimism.   There was one interesting nugget in this meandering column by Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman and now a token Republican at Princeton.
Recently the Kerry wizards unveiled plans for a big new ad buy. Where are they going to run the ads?  Much of the money is going into California, New York, and Massachusetts, states where the only question is whether Kerry will win by 10 points or 20.
Now I disagree that Bush will necessarily lose California by 10 points, as I have argued before.   New York will be much harder to win, and Massachusetts looks unreachable, if only because Kerry is from that state.  Bush lost Massachusetts by 27 points, New York by 25, and California by 12 in 2000.  If Kerry's campaign really feels it must run ads in Massachusetts and New York, then they are currently very, very pessimistic.

(Another report said that they planned to run ads in Virginia, a state Bush won by 8 points.   Campaigns sometimes fake with their advertising, pretending interest in a state that they do not expect to carry, just to draw the other side into spending resources there.  The ads in Virginia could be a fake, or the ads in Massachusetts and New York could be fakes.  Or, Kerry's internal polls are showing some unexpected patterns, to say the least.)
- 10:35 AM, 30 May 2004   [link]


Every Continent?  On Thursday, Kerry made one of his "tough" speeches, promising to expand the military and "take the fight to the [terrorist] enemy on every continent".

I had not realized that terrorism was a threat in Antarctica.  But, now that Senator Kerry mentions it, I must admit that some of the penguins do look suspicious.  We should begin interrogating them immediately, taking care, of course, not to humiliate them.

(Will I do a more serious treatment of Kerry's foreign policy proposals?  Sure.   Though I plan to look at his record in the Senate first.)
- 5:25 AM, 29 May 2004   [link]


Where Good Ideas Come From:  There is a very practical reason to want more civility in our politics.  We are more likely to get good ideas from those who are different from us, than from those who are like us.  That's the central finding from University of Chicago sociologist Ronald S. Burt's examination of ideas in business.
Mr. Burt, whose latest findings will appear in the American Journal of Sociology this fall, studied managers in the supply chain of Raytheon, the large electronics company and military contractor based in Waltham, Mass., where he worked until last year.  Mr. Burt asked managers to write down their best ideas about how to improve business operations and then had two executives at the company rate their quality. It turned out that the highest-ranked ideas came from managers who had contacts outside their immediate work group.  The reason, Mr. Burt said, is that their contacts span what he calls "structural holes," the gaps between discrete groups of people.

"People who live in the intersection of social worlds," Mr. Burt writes, "are at higher risk of having good ideas."

People with cohesive social networks, whether offices, cliques or industries, tend to think and act the same, he explains.  In the long run, this homogeneity deadens creativity.  As Mr. Burt's research has repeatedly shown, people who reach outside their social network not only are often the first to learn about new and useful information, but they are also able to see how different kinds of groups solve similar problems.
Burt was studying business, but I believe (and have believed for some time) that the same is true of political thought.  If you get all your ideas from those who agree with you, you will miss many good ideas.

And, although Burt has not, from what the article says, studied bad ideas, I have long thought that listening to those you disagree with is one of the best ways to learn that you are wrong on some point.  It may not be pleasant, but it is often useful.

There's a local example that illustrates both points.  In Seattle, the homeless activists have helped create a "tent city" that is moved around regularly, annoying people wherever it ends up.   The very movement, though some may enjoy it, prevents the establishment of a routine that could lead to jobs for a few and treatment for others.  The tent city is a terrible idea, especially for the homeless.

In the past few weeks, a local conservative talk show host, Kirby Wilbur, has mentioned what seems to be a far better idea.  Portland, Oregon, a city similar to Seattle in many ways, decided to attack its homeless problem, rather than move it from neighborhood to neighborhood.  They tried to identify what caused the person to be homeless and then apply a solution that fitted that person.   Drug users, alcoholics, and the mentally ill were directed to treatment.  Those few homeless who were just down on their luck were given some bridge help, and so on.  If Wilbur is correct, and I think he is, Portland managed to get most of its homeless off the streets and into programs that might help them.

It is easy to think of many other examples.  Bill Clinton got considerable popularity by borrowing what was mostly a Republican idea, welfare reform.  Governor Schwarzenegger has soared in popularity with ideas that his predecessor, Grey Davis, knew about, but refused to try because they were unpopular with parts of his party.

If we treat those across the aisle with civility, we are more likely to listen to them when they have ideas worth borrowing, as they sometimes will.

Those who are unwilling to treat their domestic opponents with civility punish themselves, by cutting themselves off from good ideas and from criticism of bad ideas.  Currently, I believe, this happens much more often to those on the left than those on the right.  Our media and universities are so dominated by those on the left that people in them may almost never hear either contradictions or new ideas.  I think that is one of the reasons that our media and universities have underperformed so badly over the last few decades (at least in politically charged areas).  "Structural holes", to use Mr. Burt's jargon, separate them from both good ideas and criticism of their mistakes.

Those holes can be just as damaging to our thinking as potholes are to our driving.

(Seattle Times columnist Mat Rosenberg makes a similar argument for more willingness to listen to our opponents, using Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott as an example.   Now I don't agree with Rosenberg's example, McDermott's stunt with the pledge of allegiance, but I do think, and have said so here, that McDermott has been right on some matters, notably his backing of freer trade with Africa.

I have said that I favor more civility and listening to our opponents.  Do I always practice those principles?  Not always, though I keep trying.  For example, I can say that I have learned something from nearly all those who write for the two Seattle papers.  Offhand, I can think of just two exceptions, both academics, oddly — or perhaps not so oddly.)
- 1:54 PM, 28 May 2004
More:  Liberal Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi criticizes Al Gore's speech to Move On, and agrees with me that more of the nastiness in our politics comes from the left.
In the fallout from Gore's speech is a larger warning for the Kerry campaign.  Voters are already tired of the snideness of this presidential campaign; more meanness is predicted in the months ahead.   Both sides are dishing the dirt, of course.

But with Democrats, it comes directly from the top, whether from Gore, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe.  Kerry, too, has contributed a few snide remarks, usually in situations when he is speaking into an open mike or making a supposed "off the record" crack.

On the Republican side, the nastiness does not yet come directly from Bush or his Cabinet.
Off hand, the only nasty crack from Bush that I can think of was when he called New York Times reporter Adam Clymer a "major league ... ", in what Bush had every reason to believe was a private conversation.  And that was in 2000.
- 6:24 AM, 29 May 2004 [link]


More On Politics And A Gas Tax:  Debra Saunders has a typically perceptive column on gas taxes, beginning with:
IT MUST be an election year.  Ten years ago, when he wasn't running for president, Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., mused about the value of raising the tax on gasoline by 50 cents a gallon (in 1994 dollars).  Now Kerry has hit the road to campaign for cheaper gas prices and to accuse President Bush of not lifting a finger to lower prices at the pump.
And ending with:
In a sense, Kerry's plan is the perfect California energy plan:  It tells voters they can bash Bush for not doing enough to stop global warming and still drive their SUVs.  Californians can demand cheap gas, but oppose new oil drilling.  Just as long as you say you really, really care about the environment.
Perfect for this area, too, for the same reasons.

In between those two paragraphs, Saunders exposes mountains of hypocrisy from the "environmentalists" who are backing Kerry, even though they think (privately, now) that gas taxes (and prices) should be higher.
- 8:42 AM, 28 May 2004   [link]


Give A Thousand To Kerry's Campaign, give the finger to anti-Kerry demonstrators.  That's what all too many donors at Kerry's fund raising dinner in Seattle did.   His supporters, like Howard Dean's, are all class.

Conservative talk show host John Carlson ran a program on this general phenomena.  Enough called in with examples to convince me that it would be unwise to drive a car with a Bush bumper sticker in parts of Seattle — if I hadn't already come to that conclusion.  There are jerks in both parties, but, at least in this area, far more jerks appear to be Democrats, or even farther left.

Did either Seattle newspaper mention the crude behavior of the Kerry donors?  Not as far as I can tell, though the Seattle PI did find space for this cutesy article on how Kerry supporters had to abandon their umbrellas to go to the rally.  (The Secret Service does not allow signs on sticks or umbrellas at these rallies, for security reasons.)  Since reporters rarely mention bad behavior by leftists, it seems likely that they omitted it from the stories on the fund raiser deliberately.

(Thanks to Stefan Sharkansky and Carol G.)
- 8:18 AM, 28 May 2004   [link]


How Smart Are Ravens?  Very smart.  They not only think, they think we think.
Response to gaze is reckoned to be a good measure of the development of theory of mind in human children.  By about 18 months of age most children are able to follow the gaze of another person, and infer things about the gazer from it.  Failure to develop this trick is an early symptom of autism, a syndrome whose main underlying feature is an inability to understand that other people have minds, too.

To test whether ravens could follow gaze, Dr Heinrich and Dr Bugnyar used six six-month-old hand-reared ravens, and one four-year-old.  The birds were sat, one at a time, on a perch on one side of a room divided by a barrier.  An experimenter sat about a metre in front of the barrier.  The experimenter moved his head and eyes in a particular direction and gazed for 30 seconds before looking away.  Sometimes he gazed up, sometimes to the part of the room where the bird sat, and sometimes to the part of the room hidden behind the barrier.  The experiment was videotaped.

Dr Heinrich and Dr Bugnyar found that all the birds were able to follow the gaze of the experimenters, even beyond the barrier.  In the latter case, the curious birds either jumped down from the perch and walked around the barrier to have a look or leapt on top of it and peered over.  There was never anything there, but they were determined to see for themselves.
And they think other ravens think.
In this case, the observation was serendipitous.  Dr Bugnyar was conducting an experiment designed to see what ravens learn from each other while foraging.  While doing so he noticed strange interactions between two males, Hugin, a subordinate bird, and Munin, a dominant one.

The task was to work out which colour-coded film containers held some bits of cheese, then prise the containers open and eat the contents.  The subordinate male was far better at this task than the dominant.  However, he never managed to gulp down more than a few pieces of the reward before the dominant raven, Munin, was hustling him on his way.  Clearly (and not unexpectedly) ravens are able to learn about food sources from one another.  They are also able to bully each other to gain access to that food.

But then something unexpected happened.  Hugin, the subordinate, tried a new strategy.  As soon as Munin bullied him, he headed over to a set of empty containers, prised the lids off them enthusiastically, and pretended to eat.  Munin followed, whereupon Hugin returned to the loaded containers and ate his fill.

At first Dr Bugnyar could not believe what he was seeing.  He was anxious about sharing his observation, for fear that no one would believe him.  But Hugin, he is convinced, was clearly misleading Munin.

As it happened, Munin was no dummy either.  He soon grew wise to the tactic, and would not be led astray.  He even stooped to trying to find the food rewards on his own!  This made Hugin furious.  "He got very angry", says Dr Bugnyar, "and started throwing things around."   Perhaps ravens have something else in common with people — a hatred of being found out.
Some apes deceive each other, but I don't know of any monkeys that do, which shows just how bright ravens are.
- 7:39 AM, 28 May 2004   [link]


Can the Democrats Win The House Of Representatives?  They think they might.  
House Democrats do not usually like to talk about 1994, the year of their exile into the minority.   It has been a bad memory, best left undisturbed.

But in a changing political climate, some Democrats are now taking a new look at their least favorite year and finding some heartening parallels with the current one.  Democratic leaders say they believe they are poised to reverse the surprise Republican takeover of 1994, particularly if a continuing slip in public support for President Bush puts a breeze at their back.
Ron Faucheux, editor and oddsmaker at Campaigns and Elections, agrees, giving the Democrats a 40 percent chance to regain the House (and a 46.7 percent chance to take the Senate).

It is not impossible, but I think the Democrats are too optimistic, and that the betters at Tradesports are giving more accurate odds.  As of this morning, they are giving the Democrats about a 12.5 percent chance to take the House.  You can find the odds at Tradesports, or at on of the sites that runs their live feed, for example, Donald Luskin's.

Why do I agree with the betters, considering how narrow the margin of Republican control is?   Several reasons.  I do not yet see signs of a big shift in public opinion.  The Republicans did not make great gains in 2000 and 2002 leaving them with many seats that will be difficult to defend.   The redistricting in Texas will probably give the Republicans a few more seats.  I think the shift toward the Republican party in the electorate is real and has continued.  So, almost everything would have to go right for the Democrats to retake the House.  It isn't impossible, but it is unlikely.
- 7:07 AM, 28 May 2004   [link]


Do Any Soldiers Think The Press Is Getting Iraq Right?  This account, from a reserve major, who has returned from service in Iraq is typical.
Saying it was nothing like the media portrays it, local resident Bob Broody told of his experiences during his year of military service in the Iraq war at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Coatesville last Thursday.

"The news media doesn't want to tell us about the good side," Broody, a major in the Army Reserve, said.  "Almost everybody loves you," he went on to say about the coalition presence in Iraq.

According to Broody, soldiers would enter a town to cheering and smiling faces, and a popular expression of sentiment by Iraqis was "Thumbs up Bush, thumbs down Saddam."

Broody said that, although much work still needs to be done, life for many Iraqis has improved greatly since Saddam's government was ousted last year.  He said the country's schools and hospitals are much improved, as are the power grid, and water and sewer service.
Now it is natural for different people to have different experiences in a war.  And it is even natural for reporters to have systematically different views than those who are doing the actual fighting (or rebuilding, as in this case).  But I have yet to see a single soldier say that the press was getting the story right.  Not one.

In World War II, the soldiers tended, from what I can tell, to criticize the press for being too positive.  In Up Front Bill Mauldin put it this way:
Newspapers at home have to print the news as it appears on a world-wide scale, but if they would clamp down a little harder on their enthusiastic rewrite men who love to describe "smashing armored columns," the "ground forces sweeping ahead," "victorious cheering armies," and "sullen supermen," they wouldn't be doing a bad job.  A dogface gets just as tired advancing as he does retreating, and he gets shot at both ways.
Mauldin illustrates this point with a cartoon showing one of his privates, Joe I think, dead tired as he slogs through the rain guarding some German prisoners.  The caption reads:
"Fresh, spirited American troops, flushed with victory, are bringing in thousands of hungry, ragged, battle-weary prisoners . . . " (News item)
I would say that the press has solved the problem of "enthusiastic rewrite men" by now, and might consider trying for balance in the other direction.
- 5:26 PM, 27 May 2004   [link]


Here Are Some Voters you don't hear much about.  After weeks of news stories on Abu Ghraib, with the conduct of some guards drawing condemnation from everyone from the President on down, how many voters would accept the just following orders defense?  More than you might think.  Here are the results from a question in an Insider-Advantage poll.
If it is established that some of the soldiers involved in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal were acting on orders from superior officers, should those soldiers be found guilty in their courts-martial?

Yes: 47 percent

No: 41 percent

Undecided/Don't Know: 12 percent

The national survey was conducted with our research associates at The Marketing Workshop on May 21 and 22.  It sampled 500 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
So "just following orders" is not just a bitter joke from World War II, it is also a defense that 4 of 10 American voters would accept.  Have you seen any of those voters in any news story on Abu Ghraib?

It is not, I should add immediately, a defense that I would accept, nor, as I understand it, is it what the military has taught recruits since World War II.
- 5:39 PM, 27 May 2004   [link]


Bush Preferred At A Barbecue:  Quinnipiac University added some personality questions to its national poll and came up with some modest good news for Bush.
Voters would rather flip burgers and drink beer at a backyard barbecue with President Bush than Sen. John Kerry, according to a national poll that found Bush leading Kerry on "regular guy" qualities.

Half of the registered voters surveyed said they would rather have a barbecue with Bush, while 39 percent chose Kerry and 11 percent either didn't know or would not answer the question posed by Quinnipiac University pollsters.

More voters also would trust Bush, 46-41, to run the family business.  But voters were evenly split on whether they would rather have Kerry or Bush teach their children.
Although I wouldn't make too much of the answers to such questions, I wouldn't dismiss them entirely.   I thought it was a sign of trouble for Dole when he lost similar tests against Clinton in 1996, including who would be the best baby sitter. (I should add that some voters may have thought that it only makes sense to pick a guy from Texas over a guy from Massachusetts to run a barbecue.  A clambake might have produced different numbers.)
- 8:36 AM, 27 May 2004   [link]


Worth Reading:  Reverend Sensing, a former artillery officer, explains patiently why Scott Ritter is wrong to dismiss the sarin shell found in Iraq.  These quotes will give you the flavor of Sensing's criticism.
This is an incredibly great exaggeration.
. . .
This contention is true, but not quite to the extent Ritter seems to think.
Sensing comes to similar conclusions to those I did, though his are based on a solid background and mine on speculation.  The existence of a single shell does not, by itself, establish the existence of a stockpile.  But that possibility can not be dismissed, as Ritter would do.

(There's a local connection.  One reason I dislike talk show host Dave Ross is his uncritical treatment of Scott Ritter over the years.  Ross has simply been unwilling to criticize Ritter as he would a Republican politician, even though there is much in Ritter's record that should make us suspicious.  I finally concluded that Ross didn't care whether what Ritter said was true.   He just liked to hear Ritter attack the Bush administration.  I'll let you decide whether that makes Ross better suited to be the Democratic candidate for Congress in Washington's 8th district — or unqualified to be either a public official or a talk show host.)
- 8:01 AM, 27 May 2004   [link]


Two Small Signs Of Civility:  The widespread anger, especially on the left, has made our politics less civil, and, more importantly, less effective than it has been in the past.  The lack of civility mostly comes from the left, partly because they have been losing and partly because the media, on the left too, lets them get away with it.

An example:  Using swastikas to attack President Bush is as far out of line as using the hammer and sickle to attack John Kerry.  Calling the administration "fascist" is as bad (and idiotic) as calling Kerry a Communist.  Both the swastika and "fascist" are common in this area; to my knowledge, not a single "mainstream" journalist in this area has condemned either publicly.   (One did privately, in an email to me.)

So it is a pleasure to see two small signs of civility from the left.  First, Senator Johnson, Democrat of South Dakota, has apologized for talking about the Taliban wing of the Republican party.
The second-term senator issued an apology Tuesday, saying "I am proud of the support I have enjoyed from Republicans across South Dakota.  In a state like ours, you have to be able to reach across party lines to find consensus.  If any Republicans were offended, I apologize."
Not the greatest apology, but better than nothing.  Perhaps the Republican lead in registration in South Dakota, 47.9 percent to 38.5 percent, made it easier for him to take this step.

Second, Mayor Daley tried to clean up after John Kerry.
Mayor Daley scolded Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry Tuesday for making a wisecrack about the bicycle accident that scraped the face, hands and knees of President Bush.

According to the Drudge Report, Kerry was having a conversation with reporters that he apparently believed was off the record when he reportedly asked, "Did the training wheels fall off?"

Daley, who ripped the skin off his kneecap during a bicycle accident a few years ago, said the joke was disrespectful.  "When someone falls . . . you should not wish ill upon anyone.  It's not right. . . . You just don't do that.  Let's have some respect for one another."
As you may know, Kerry had surgery recently for damage done by a fall from a bicycle, and fell himself again even more recently.  If Bush made any nasty cracks about Kerry, they haven't gotten out.

Nice to see both the apology and the scolding.

(Neither the Bush fall nor the Kerry falls bother me much.  Perhaps it is my experience cross country skiing, where most think that if you don't fall from time to time, you aren't trying hard enough.  The Medpundit, I notice, has a different opinion.)
- 4:21 PM, 26 May 2004   [link]


One Result Of The Abu Ghraib Abuses has been a tightening of the rules on the interrogation techniques our forces can use.  It is likely those changes will make it more difficult for our troops, and the Iraqis who are working with us for a better Iraq.   Byron York describes what happened when Rumsfeld pushed for tougher interrogations.
All that applied to the war against al Qaeda. Hersh reports that later, in Iraq, Rumsfeld became increasingly alarmed at the growing level of violence from the post-Saddam insurgency.  After the August bombings of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, and then the United Nations headquarters, top Pentagon officials began to rethink their approach to the insurgents.  To which many people might say: Good idea.

The problem, Hersh writes, was a shortage of usable intelligence.  "Human intelligence is poor or lacking...due to the dearth of competence and expertise," says a classified military report quoted by Hersh.  "The intelligence effort is not coordinated since either too many groups are involved in gathering intelligence or the final product does not get to the troops in the field in a timely manner."

So the Pentagon decided, in Hersh's words, "to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents."  And guess what? It worked.  "We're getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq," the former intelligence official told Hersh, "and the intelligence is flowing....We're getting good stuff."
This comes from Seymour Hersh, so some caution is in order, but it seems likely that, on this, Hersh is correct.  Tougher interrogations helped our forces.

We have now changed the rules to forbid some interrogation techniques.  (Though we may not have gone as far as the latest Michael Ramirez cartoon suggests.)   And even more important, we made it clear to every officer and non-com that their career can be destroyed if they step over the line.  Will we now get less intelligence and take more losses than we would have had the press not gone nuts with this story?  I think that very likely.

(How far should we go with our interrogation techniques?  I don't have a simple answer to that.  I can say that I think we should be tough but avoid physical torture, or extreme physical torture, but that does not really clarify what our interrogators should do.  (I have seen the argument that physical torture does not help in interrogations.  I would guess that that is sometimes, maybe even usually, but not always true.)

Two examples may make that point clearer.  First, some of the techniques, including, I believe, some that are now forbidden, are used by our own forces in training troops against the possibility of capture.  If, for example, we don't think we are torturing our own troops when we force them to go through a mock drowning, why should we think that we are torturing suspected terrorists, if we do the same to them?

Second, some techniques shade very gradually from the trivial annoyance into pressure so great that they will break the strongest man.  I learned from Robert Conquest's The Great Terror that nearly every man can be broken simply by keeping him awake long enough.   Is that torture?  And, if so, when does it become torture?  After an hour?  Twelve hours?  A day?  Two days?  Three or more?  Presumably different men have different breaking points, so we might say that the torture would begin at different times for different men, if we call it torture even though it seems far from the usual definitions.  The same gradual shading is true of other techniques, such as keeping a man standing, which, unlike keeping him awake, does cause physical pain in time.  It would be far easier if there was a sharp line between torture and tough interrogation, but there is not.)
- 2:31 PM, 26 May 2004   [link]


Some Thoughts On A Higher Gas Tax:  As I shop for a car, I have been, naturally, thinking about gas prices.  For decades, some have argued that we should have a higher tax on gas.  Proponents have a variety of reasons.  Some want to discourage gas consumption to hurt OPEC, or to help the environment, or because they dislike "sprawl", or because they have aesthetic objections to giant SUVs.

This op-ed by Gregg Easterbrook makes the usual arguments.
But the country would indeed be better off if gasoline taxes had been raised by 50 cents a gallon when Mr. Kerry favored the idea. And the United States would still be wise today, if it increased gasoline taxes by the same amount now.

The federal gasoline tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, while state gasoline taxes average 24.6 cents per gallon.  Had federal gas taxes gone up 50 cents a gallon 10 years ago, several things might not have happened or would have had far less impact.

The S.U.V. and pickup-truck crazes would not have occurred, or at least these vehicles would be much less popular; highway deaths would have been fewer; and gasoline demands would be lower as would oil imports.  To continue, the world price of oil would have been lower, since petroleum demand in the United States is the first factor in oil markets; greenhouse-gas emissions in this country would be lower; Persian Gulf oil states would have less influence on the global economy and less significance to American foreign policy; fewer dollars would have flowed to the oil sheiks; and the trade deficit balance for the United States would be smaller.
(Andrew Sullivan made somewhat similar arguments in an opinion piece in Time magazine, no longer available free on line.  You can see a summary of his arguments in this reply from Ramesh Ponnuru.)

There is a mix of objectives here, which always makes me suspicious.  And a couple of claims that I find dubious.  One reason for the increase in sales of SUVs and pickups is that trucks (which includes many SUVs, as you probably know) are regulated differently from cars.  And it is not entirely clear that, taking everything together, higher gas prices would have lowered highway deaths.  People in larger cars are, everything else being equal, safer than those in smaller cars.

Let me try to sort out the other objectives.  Easterbrook is right that a higher gas tax would have decreased gasoline use and greenhouse emissions.  It is not clear that it would have decreased world wide oil prices.  For some years, OPEC, particularly Saudi Arabia, has been managing oil prices, cutting or increasing production to meet their target price.  A decrease in American consumption might have been met by a decrease in Saudi production, keeping prices the same as before.

I find the national security arguments more telling.  The flow of oil money to the Middle East has been a disaster for the world and has endangered the United States.  It has financed war, terrorism, and the development of WMDs.  But, if we want to decrease that flow, we can do better by taxing all petroleum imports, not just retail gasoline.  (And, of course, the greenhouse arguments apply to fuel oil and other petroleum products just as strongly as they do to gasoline.   Perhaps even more strongly; I think fuel oil has more carbon by volume than gasoline, though I could be wrong.)

(Some have thought that, if we were clever about it, we could find a way to rob OPEC of its monopoly profits.  Years ago, the great oil economist M. A. Adelman proposed a scheme of tradeable tickets for oil imports.  He thought that might allow us to transfer OPEC's monopoly profits to the US Treasury, without increasing domestic prices.  If such a scheme would work, I would be all in favor of it, of course, but I seem to recall that, a year or so after he proposed it, he decided that Saudi Arabia had become too dominant and that it would no longer work.)

That proponents of a higher tax on gas do not favor a higher tax on petroleum imports tells me that, either they have not thought through the problem completely, or that the national security arguments are not as important to them as the life style arguments.  They want to discourage exurbs and get rid of ugly SUVs more than they want to break OPEC.

There is another aspect about the argument that I find troubling.  A former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Russell Long, used a rhyme to explain the problem.
Don't tax you.
Don't tax me.
Tax that fellow,
Behind the tree.
Those who favor higher gas taxes are almost never behind the tree, and would be very little affected by them.  Andrew Sullivan is an extreme but telling example.  He lives in a city, does not own a car, and cannot even drive.  So he would pay nothing directly if gas taxes were higher.  Who would be hurt the most, proportionately?  The rural poor and working class.  Many commute long distances to work and shop, and have no choice but to do so, at least in the short term.  (Moving closer to work would not necessarily help financially, since many live in rural areas because housing costs are lower there.)  James Lileks discusses how higher gas taxes would hit those fellows "behind the tree" in rural areas in this post.  Easterbrook is more sensitive to the regressive aspects of the tax than Sullivan, but he misses entirely the disproportionate effect on rural areas.

That disproportionate effect is why we are unlikely to see a much higher gas tax.  Politicians, successful ones anyway, almost never favor higher gas taxes.  John Kerry is typical;he flirted briefly with a 50 cent a gallon increase in gas taxes, but fled from it quickly and now is denouncing the Bush administration for the high gas prices that he once favored.  Instead of going to direct methods to reduce gas consumption, such as a tax (or rationing), politicians have favored indirect methods, for example, requiring car companies to meet fuel efficiency standards for all the cars they sell.  (Essentially this taxes the low mileage vehicles and subsidizes the high mileage vehicles.  Since I am planning to buy a high mileage vehicle, I should thank those of you who have been buying the others.)

For now, I would favor higher gas taxes only when they are used to build new roads, much needed in this area.  I would back a small tariff on petroleum imports, for the national security reasons I mentioned above.
- 9:52 AM, 26 May 2004   [link]


Don't Support The Troops:  That's the position of Washington state's capital, Olympia.
The USS Olympia's visit was canceled last week, rendering the council's proposed resolution to oppose the visit irrelevant.  But while officials pushed ahead with the decision to have a public hearing, they have withdrawn the resolution.  The hearing gave Olympia residents and others from outside the county, including Rochester, Shelton and Sumner, an opportunity to make their views known.
If that seems a little obscure, here's what happened.  The USS Olympia, a Los Angeles class attack submarine, planned a port visit to its namesake city.  The city council, under the influence of anti-nuclear and, I think, anti-military activists, prepared a resolution "disinviting" the submarine.  The submarine canceled the visit, as they do when they are not wanted.  The public hearing came after the decision had been made.

Essentially, the activists robbed the sailors on board the USS Olympia of a chance for shore leave in their namesake city, which they had visited more than once before, with no problems.

Since John Kerry served four months in Vietnam, the "mainstream" media consider illegitimate to say that anyone on the left is unpatriotic or does not support the troops.  But some on the left (and a few on the right) are unpatriotic.  This action is one example, and I expect to see many others.

Whatever one may think of our foreign policy, there is no reason, in my opinion, not to support the enlisted men and women, who do not make that policy.

Neither Seattle paper thought this story interesting enough to print, though local talk show programs made it a major topic of discussion in the last few days.  Not a word in the Seattle Times or Seattle PI.

(Some of the activists who opposed the visit want Olympia to be a "nuclear-free" zone.  The USS Olympia is powered by a nuclear reactor, as all our submarines now are.  Its main weapon, the Mk-48 torpedo, does not have a nuclear warhead.   (There have been torpedoes with with nuclear warheads, but because of the way that water transmits shock, they endangered the submarine that fired them, as well as the target.  As the joke went, they had a kill ratio of two.)  But the USS Olympia also carries Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can have nuclear warheads.  I have no idea whether any of those on the Olympia do, and could not tell you if I did.  Some in this area have said that the Olympia does not have nuclear weapons, but we really don't know.)
- 7:25 AM, 26 May 2004   [link]


As I Predicted:  Joel Connelly's latest column in the Seattle PI is about Canadian politics, and the relationship between the Liberal government there and George W. Bush.  The column would have been a good opportunity for Connelly to correct what he had written last year, when he blamed the problems between the nations on George Bush, rather than then Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Does Connelly take that opportunity?  No, just as I predicted in this post.
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.
And I haven't been.  Will Connelly ever admit that he was wrong?  The odds are against that, given his general unwillingness to make corrections.

By the way, my post, unlike Connelly's columns, will give you an idea of just how much relations have improved since Martin forced Chretien out.
- 7:43 AM, 25 May 2004   [link]


Middle Column Too Wide?  Or too small?  Then just resize it.   When I designed this site, I wanted to allow for different monitors and different readers.   To do that, I made an unusual design choice.  Rather than having a fixed size, the main page (though not the archive pages) is resizable.  Just grab the right side of your browser and pull it to the left to change the size of the middle column, if you haven't before.  Most sites limit the page width to 640 pixels; this site can be adjusted to your monitor.

And, more importantly, to your reading pattern.  As we read, we move our eyes across the page in a series of jumps, which vary in size with different readers.  If the number of jumps per line is comfortable, the line will be easier to read and the column will seem to be about the right size, not too narrow or too wide.  Different readers will find different widths comfortable, so go ahead and adjust it to your most comfortable width, to the extent that your monitor allows.   (There's a technical term for those jumps.  Saccades, perhaps?)

Now, I violate my resizing principle whenever I put up a picture which limits the resizing.  In some cases, I should limit the width of the pictures; in other cases, too much detail would be lost.  The best solution, of course, would be to provide several sizes of pictures, and I may do that for some especially important pictures.  And I should add resizing to the archive pages, but just haven't gotten around to it.

(For more on my design thinking, see this explanation, which is a little out of date.)
- 6:41 AM, 25 May 2004   [link]