Archive:

May 2005, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Bush's Popularity Soars In The Middle East:  Or at least in one country in the Middle East.
The BBC world service website recently released the results of their 2004 presidential poll.  Of the sixteen linguistic ethnical groups surveyed, Persians were overwhelmingly the most supportive of President Bush.  In fact, over fifty two percent of Iranians preferred Republican George W. Bush to challenger John Kerry who'd received a minuscule forty two percent of the vote.  Thus, surprisingly, unlike in the United States where the presidential race was relegated to a couple of percentage points, in Iran - President Bush won by a landslide.

Numerous other sources of plausible acclaim have confirmed these results.  Renowned intellectuals, as well as award-winning journalists have written pieces on this critical issue.  For instance, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times who spent an entire week in the country recently wrote, "Finally, I've found a pro-American country.  Everywhere I've gone in Iran, with one exception, people have been exceptionally friendly and fulsome in their praise for the United States, and often for President George W. Bush as well."  Thomas Friedman another Pulitzer Prize winner and ardent critic of the war in Iraq wrote "young Iranians are loving anything their government hates, such as Mr. Bush, and hating anything their government loves. Iran . . . is the ultimate red state."
And one of the most important countries, at that.  It would be fun to hear someone from, say, the BBC or NPR, try to explain that support for Bush in Iran.

(By way of the Brothers Judd.)
- 3:26 PM, 24 May 2005   [link]


David Huber has suspicions about two recent claims of Koran desecration.  After you read his posts here and here, you will too.
- 3:12 PM, 24 May 2005   [link]


That Was Quick:  Priscilla Owen, who has been attacked as an extremist for four years, just won a cloture vote, 81-18.   I expect her confirmation vote will have a similar margin.

And I must note that the Washington Post and I disagree, not for the first time.  In this editorial, they applaud the agreement discussed below and say:
The 14 senators nonetheless managed to put principle above self-protection.
Some may have; others, I suspect, as I explained below, did just the opposite.  For instance, if I were Mark Pryor or Mary Landrieu, I am not sure that I would want to explain to a black audience, in my next election campaign, why I had voted against Janice Rogers Brown, a black woman from an impoverished background.

(And, as I so often do, I must note a factual error.  The Post editorial writer says that President Bush "has long eschewed the steps he could take to deescalate tensions".  In fact, Bush called for up and down votes during the 2000 campaign, even though that would have meant that some Clinton nominees were approved, who not have been otherwise.  And when he took office in 2001, he renominated at least one of Clinton's choices.  I would say both actions were substantial efforts to "deescalate tensions".)
- 2:56 PM, 24 May 2005   [link]


That "Extraordinary" Deal On Filibusters:  Nearly everyone, whether in the "mainstream" media or in the blogosphere, has an opinion on who won in the agreement made by the fourteen senators to stop filibusters of judicial nominees — except in "extraordinary circumstances" — in return for a promise not to change the Senate rules.  The seven Democrats who signed the agreement were, in order of their signatures, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ken Salazar of Colorado, and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.  The seven Republicans who signed the agreement were, also in order of their signatures, John McCain of Arizona, Mike DeWine of Ohio, John Warner of Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.  (Inouye and Chafee appear to have been brought in at the last minute, since there were no lines for their signatures.)

But they don't agree on who won.  The New York Times called it a modest victory for President Bush, at least in one article.  The even more leftist Los Angeles Times called it a "striking reassertion of the power of the political center".  Conservative Orrin Judd, writing at the Judd Brothers site, calls the deal "excellent".  Conservative David Cohen, writing at the same site, thinks the agreement was a disaster for the Republicans.

And my own view?  I am undecided, because I agree with the point made by political scientist Ross K. Baker.   (And others.)
"I think they did what the Senate very often does," said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University and a longtime student of the Senate.  "They kicked the can down the road.  They basically postponed a crisis and set up the predicate for another one in the future on the Supreme Court nomination."
To decide who won, you would have to know what will happen when they catch up to the can.   No one knows that now.

But we can say something about the immediate result.  President Bush will get his three most controversial nominees, Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, and William Pryor, confirmed.   Whether the Republicans had to give up other nominees is in dispute.

If the Democratic senators were sure they could defend the filibuster against a rule change, why would they allow any judges through, especially these three, who had been targets of such nasty attacks from extremist groups on the left?  The answer, I think, is in that list of Democrats who signed the agreement.  The first, Nelson of Nebraska, is a moderate Democrat in a very Republican state, a state that gives strong support to traditional cultural values.  Landrieu, Pryor, and Salazar also have reasons to fear for their jobs if the filibusters continue.  (I suspect Landrieu and Pryor would be especially wary of being forced into making a high profile stand against Janice Rogers Brown.)  And perhaps, just perhaps, so does Byrd.

So these Democrats, fearing their voters, staged a tactical retreat.  But could the Democrats have been forced even farther back, as some on the right believe?  And would the Republicans have benefited, in the long run, by forcing them farther back, assuming they could?  The answer lies in that ambiguous phrase, "extraordinary circumstances".  If "extraordinary" has its usual meaning, then the Democrats have given up the filibuster for all likely Bush nominees.  And some Republicans, DeWine and Graham, for instance, seem to think that it does have its usual meaning.  If "extraordinary" does not have its usual meaning, then the conflict has only been postponed, and probably not for very long.  If the Democrats have given up the filibuster, for every likely case — and some of the Republicans who made the agreement think they did — then the Republicans have the substance and would be wise to disregard the Democratic spin.  If the Democrats have not given up the filibuster, then the rules of the Senate will be changed to end the filibuster, as soon as those Republican senators conclude that they were cheated.

Finally, there's an ironic twist to the agreement.  Today, Senator Trent Lott was on the Tony Snow show explaining which senator gets to enforce the agreement.  That lucky senator is, of course, John McCain, a point that Lott had already made to McCain, or so he told us rather gleefully.  I may be wrong, but I think John McCain may have a different definition of "extraordinary circumstances" than does, say, Senator Barbara Boxer of California.
- 1:47 PM, 24 May 2005   [link]


Most Felons Are Democrats:  And since Democrats can be sensitive on this point, I will add immediately that the reverse is not true.  Most Democrats are not felons.

That most felons are Democrats is not a secret — but it does seem to be a secret from the Seattle Times, which yesterday put out this extensively researched article, but never mentions that fact.  (Party leaders know that most felons are Democrats, as one can see by noting that the Democrats generally support extending voting rights to felons and that the Republicans generally oppose that extension.)

How do we know that most felons are Democrats?  Two ways, broadly speaking.  First, felons belong to groups that are more likely to be Democrats.  Those who are bothered by this line of argument should know that it is the same line of argument often used by Paul Berendt, the state Democratic chairman.  More than once, I have heard him argue that since felons are more likely to be men (true) and men are more likely to vote for Republicans than women (also true), then more felons must have voted for Republican Dino Rossi than for Democrat Christine Gregoire.   His analysis is not wrong; if all we knew about felons is that they were mostly men, I would agree that it would be likely that more of them voted for Rossi than for Gregoire.

But it is incomplete, because we know many other things about felons.  Let me add in more of what we know and you will see that these other factors outweigh Berendt's single factor.   First, felons are more likely to be single.  Singles are more likely to be Democrats than married people.  Second, felons are poorer than the average person.  Poorer people are more likely to be Democrats.  Third, felons are more likely to be black or Hispanic.   Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be Democrats, much more likely in the case of blacks.   Felons are more likely to come from urban areas.  Those from urban areas are more likely to be Democrats.  You can now see why anyone familiar with American voting patterns would expect most felons to be Democrats.  (Does Berendt know this?  I am not sure and would not want to guess without more knowledge of the man.)

Second, although secret ballots prevent us from looking at felons' votes, we do have the next best thing, their party registrations in the state of Florida, something I discussed at length in this post.  Briefly, a newspaper that endorsed Al Gore in 2000, the Palm Beach Post, found about 5,600 felons who had voted illegally in the 2000 election and found that 68 percent of them were registered Democrats.  (The Miami Herald, which also endorsed Gore, did a similar investigation and came up with similar results.)  That 68 percent is about what most students of American voting patterns would expect, given what else we know about felons.

Can we extend this directly to Washington state?  Not quite, as I explained in my January post, because the two states have such different rules for restoring voting rights to felons.  And it is also true that Washington does not have as large a population of pro-Democratic minorities as Florida does.  So, if we had registration data by party in Washington state, I would expect we would find that our felons are not 68 percent Democrats, but somewhere between 50 and 60 percent Democrats.  That would still be enough to have tipped the election to Gregoire easily.

And we should not forget another point that I have mentioned before &mdash although the Seattle Times does not mention it.  When these searches for felons on the voting lists are made, they certainly miss many felons.  Relying, as they do, on name matches, they will miss any felon who changes his name.  And in Washington (and probably Florida), they will miss those who committed their crimes in another state.  (Washington forbids them from voting if they could not vote in the state where they committed their crimes.)  More than 5,600 felons voted illegally in Florida in 2000; more than 1,000 felons voted illegally in Washington in 2004.   Almost certainly many more, in both elections.

Knowing that most felons are Democrats, can we conclude that Rossi won the election?  Not quite, because of all the other uncertainties in the election.  But we can say this: If we eliminated the felon votes, and made no other changes, that would give Rossi the win.

(Does this analysis mean that I disagree with the decision of the Rossi legal team to use proportional analysis, which attempts to estimate how the felons voted only from their precincts?   Not necessarily, because I do not know what kinds of analyses courts have allowed in the past.   If precedents allow proportional analysis, but not the kind of demographic analysis that I sketched above, then they made the right decision.  But if we were interested in the best estimate possible, then we would use the other data, as well as their precincts.

And perhaps some other factors that I have not mentioned.  For example, it seems entirely plausible to me that felons are less likely to attend a church regularly, and that was one of the strongest predictors of the vote in last fall's election.

Stefan Sharkansky has his own criticisms of the Seattle Times piece, which you can see here and here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics)
- 6:33 PM, 23 May 2005   [link]


Not Sure What To Make of this finding.
The gender of your children may depend on your choice of job, say researchers.  While those who opt for caring careers such as nursing or teaching are more likely to have girls, people who go into a profession such as accountancy or engineering stand a far greater chance of having boys.
That doesn't get the finding exactly right, as you will see if you read the whole article.   In fact, the researchers think that stereotypically masculine jobs attract people who are more like to have sons, and stereotypically feminine jobs attract people who are more likely to have daughters.

The size of the effects when both father and mother are in masculine or feminine jobs seems implausibly large to me.
Satoshi Kanazawa, the LSE academic who led the research, explained last week that in the general population, roughly 105 boys are produced for every 100 girls.

But according to his calculations, among engineers and other "systemisers", the ratio is 140 boys for every 100 girls, and nurses have 135 daughters for every 100 sons.
But I can't see how the researchers could have gone wrong in their counts, so I would accept the finding, at least until I see some reason not to.
- 1:22 PM, 23 May 2005   [link]


Remember The Axis Of Weasels?  That was Scott Ott's term for the European "allies" who openly opposed us on Iraq.   After Jacques Chirac of France, the biggest weasel would have to be German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.  In the last national election in Germany, most observers thought that he saved himself, barely, by an attack on Bush and the United States.  Now Schröder has suffered his latest and worst local election defeat, a defeat that many believe presages his own fall from power, and quite soon.

The American press has not given this defeat much attention, but you can find most of the essentials in this New York Times story.
In a surprise move, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called Sunday for national elections to be held a year earlier than scheduled, after a shattering defeat for his Social Democratic Party in local elections in Germany's biggest state, North Rhine-Westphalia,
. . .
The decision to seek early elections was clearly a response to the Social Democrats' continued declining fortunes, capped by the widely expected loss of North Rhine-Westphalia in the election on Sunday.  The state, a heavily industrialized region where the party had held power for 39 years, was taken by the party's main national rival, the moderate-right Christian Democratic Union.
(How big is North Rhine-Westphalia?  It has about 22 percent of Germany's population (18 million out of 82 million).  There is no American state anywhere near that large, relatively, but we can get a rough equivalent by imagining that the Democrats had controlled the states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin for 39 years and then lost them all to the Republicans.)

"David Medienkritik" has much more here, along with many interesting comments from his readers.

I looked at more than a dozen articles on this election, and not one of them noted that this is a victory for President Bush, or that we may soon have a more friendly government in the European Union's largest nation.  But it is, and we probably will.

Of course, the Christian Democrats did not win because they support President Bush.  But we can say is that their relative friendliness to the United States did not prevent them from winning, and that Schröder's attempt to distract German voters from their economic problems by attacking the United States did not work this time.

(The only article on this election that I could find in the Washington Post was an item in this World in Brief summary.  I ouldn't believe that they didn't have more, so I did a couple of searches on "Germany" and "Gerhard" without finding anything more.

Regular readers will recall that I think that common color coding for the American parties is reversed from what it should be.  You can see more evidence for my position when you look at the results in the "David Medienkritik" post.  You'll note that the Schroeder's party, the Social Democrats (SPD), who roughly equivalent to our Democrats, are given red, just as leftist parties almost everywhere are.

Schröder or Schroeder?  The second seems more common in English language articles, but the New York Times uses the first, so I am too, just to be consistent)
- 9:08 AM, 23 May 2005   [link]


Some Parents are truly determined.
A pair of storks that decided to nest on the middle of a German golf course were so keen to become parents that they stole balls from players and tried to hatch them.  They took so many balls that one nest, on the fourth green, overflowed and they built a second at the seventh hole for their haul.

Although their chances of parenthood appeared remote, the birds were regarded as a biological sensation by German nature authorities.  Breaking with tradition, they had decided to nest on the ground rather than on top of a chimney.
You'll be pleased to know that this determined pair has been supplied with a fertile egg and have accepted it.

There's a small political point to this story.  The help that the Germans are giving these storks is something that only rich nations can afford.  Those who want an improved environment should understand that cleaner air, cleaner water, and, for that matter, protection of storks, are, in a sense, luxury goods.  Only wealthy societies can afford them.
- 8:11 AM, 23 May 2005   [link]


Every Nation Rations Medical Care:  That should be obvious, but is easy to forget when we see some of the results of that rationing.  It is a fact that some Americans do not get the care they need because they do not have, or do not think they have, enough money.

It is equally a fact that some Britons do not get the care they need because the government does not allocate resources properly, or does not think their care is worth the cost.  In the last few days, there were two stories in the Telegraph illustrating each of those points.  First, a story on the death of Peter Buckle.
A nine-year-old boy has died after an operation to treat his severe epilepsy was cancelled because Britain's top children's hospital had run out of money.

Peter Buckle, from Evenwood, in County Durham, had a massive seizure and died last Monday.   He had been waiting to undergo surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London.

The brain operation which might have saved his life had been cancelled twice.  The first time, on March 15, Great Ormond Street cut back its operation lists after finding that it had treated more children than its budget allowed for.  The operation was rescheduled for April 22, but cancelled three days beforehand when a ward was closed after staff contracted a viral infection.  It had since been rescheduled for June 10.
You would have to know more than I do to decide whether this is just a single sad loss, or an example of systematic problems.  The Telegraph clearly thinks it is the latter.

The second example will have, for many Americans, weird echoes of the the Terry Schiavo case.   Only in this case, the patient, Leslie Burke, can speak for himself and has said clearly that when he has to rely on a feeding tube, as he will, he does not want it removed.
Leslie Burke is a 45 year old man who has an incurable and degenerative brain disease.  Sooner or later, he will be hospitalised and lose the ability to communicate.  When that happens, he has asked that his right not to be starved or dehydrated to death be upheld by the doctors who treat him.

The Department of Health, along with the British Medical Association, opposes that right and is adamant that it will not guarantee to respect it unless it is forced to do so by the courts.  So it has taken the decision of the High Court, which upheld Mr Burke's right not to be starved to death, to the Court of Appeal, in the hope of overturning it.  A lawyer acting on behalf of Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, explained the basis of her position by saying that "life-prolonging medical treatment has very serious implications for the functioning of the NHS", and would lead to "inefficient and unfairly skewed use of resources".

This is the first time that the Department of Health has admitted what has long been obvious: that it stops feeding and hydrating patients, not because it is in their "best interests", but because it believes that it costs too much.
Americans should know that our health officials sometimes make exactly the same decisions for exactly the same reasons, though usually not quite this openly.

Is some kind of rationing of medical care inevitable?  In some trivial sense it is.   But it is worth imagining what would happen if we were to provide all medical care with tax dollars, whether through socialized medicine or through a single payer systems similar to Canada's, without putting any limits on that care, other than not providing cosmetic surgery.  If you believe that the demand for medical care is infinite, as some claim, then you would have to think that the costs of medical care would absorb first the entire federal budget and then destroy the economy.

I don't think that the demand for medical care is infinite, since most of us, certainly including me, see medical care as something to avoid if possible.  But there would be an enormous increase in expenditures on medical care under a system where all care is free to the patient.   Such a system would prevent the sad cases of Peter Buckle and Leslie Burke, and all the similar ones that tug at our emotions.  But it would also result, as I think you can imagine, in enormous waste and would tend to discourage some from living healthy lives.

Moreover, such a system would not even be the best way to prolong lives.  Let me give you an example to show you why.  I lived for some years in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, long enough to notice a pattern in the traffic accidents there.  The main highway, Route 15, runs north and south through the town.  When I lived there, there were two stoplights on the highway at intersections with smaller east-west roads.  About once a year, there would be a death at one of those stoplights, almost always because a driver had made a right turn and had been hit by oncoming traffic.  It is possible, of course, to eliminate those right turns and save those lives.  But, if we greatly increased our expenditures for medical care, we would have less money for such life saving traffic improvements.

Similarly, the best "treatments" for many kinds of diseases are not medical treatments, but good habits, especially diet and exercise, that prevent those diseases.  We can, in various ways, encourage people to follow those good habits, but if we were to make all medical care free, we would have less resources to do that.  And, we should recognize that some people, knowing that others would pay for their care, would be less likely follow those habits.

So, even if our sole criteria is prolonging life, we would want to ration medical care.  And when we see the sad examples of that rationing, like Peter Buckle and Leslie Burke, we should not conclude that they could be avoided with another system, or even that they always should be.

(So which system of providing medical care do I like best?  I don't like any of the current ones, though I have different objections to the different systems.  I would like to see better health education in our schools so that kids leave them understanding how essential exercise and a good diet are to their health.  I would like to see most patients pay for small health care bills directly with no third party, whether an insurance company or the taxpayer, involved.   I would like to see private insurance divorced from its connection to employment, as it once was.   And I can see the attractions of a universal catastrophic insurance system, with a very large minimum.  But that is as far as my thinking has gone.)
- 7:28 AM, 23 May 2005   [link]


So Many Mistakes, So Little Time:  Yes, I have said that before, but it hasn't stopped being true.  I would much rather do original analysis and commentary and leave the news reporting to the "mainstream" news organizations.  But they have so much trouble getting the facts right, especially on politically charged subjects, that I feel I have to spend a fair amount of my time correcting them.

This morning, for example, I awoke to find that our local mountain, the Seattle Times, had labored and brought forth a rat, a story on the felon vote with dubious, to say the least, conclusions.   Stefan Sharkansky has already taken one whack at the rat over at Sound Politics, but I think I should add to his analysis.  So that will delay some other posts, how much I don't know yet.

(And, to be candid, I have to confess that I also have the problem described here — with far less excuse.)
- 2:45 PM, 22 May 2005   [link]


The Other Face Of The Embryonic Stem Cell Controversy:  You can see it here, but you probably won't see it on national television.

There are now hundreds of thousands of surplus human embryos stored in fancy freezers in the United States.  The surplus was created by fertility clinics, which commonly create many extra embryos so that a couple can try for a child (or children) several times without going through the unpleasant procedures required to produce the eggs again.  When a couple has finished trying, whether because they have the children they want, or because they have given up, there are, broadly, three things that can be done with those surplus embryos.  They can be discarded, which is what happens to most of them.  They can be given to scientists for research, which happens to a few of them.  And they can be given to a couple that wants a child with the result that you can see in the site I linked to.  (Not that all such gifts will produce a child; the success rate is, according to the site — which may be optimistic — somewhere between 25 and 30 percent.)

When our "mainstream" news organizations present this controversy, they commonly do not show this third alternative.  Instead, they present it as a dispute between those who want cures for themselves, or for their family, and people with inexplicable religious beliefs.  Fox News Sunday gave the issue a typical treatment this morning; they brought on the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, to explain his support for some limits on the research done with embryonic stem cells, and to counter him, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, whose son suffers from cystic fibrosis, a terrible disease.  (Romney does not oppose most embryonic stem cell research, but he does oppose cloning of the embryos.)

The simple fact is that discarding a human embryo, or using it for scientific research, destroys, at the very least, a potential child.  As a moderate on these questions, I would not prohibit either of those actions.  But I also think we should recognize that when we do either we are beginning to move into an ethically troubling area.  And if you still don't see that point, take another look at JJ, Tracy, and their baby.

(It may be necessary to review what the Bush administration has done on this controversy, since it is so often misrepresented by their foes.  Bush is the first president to support embryonic stem cell research with federal money.  But he limited it to existing lines of stem cells.   There was a great debate on the extent that this limit would affect research.  I did not follow the details because the issue has become so politicized that I thought it would take far too long to sort out the truth from the competing claims.

The Bush administration put no limits on research on embryonic stems cells supported by non-federal money, other than the prohibition against human cloning.  Despite this, there has not been much private investment in this area, most likely because the people who would make such investments do not see much potential for cures, or at least cures that will give large financial returns in the immediate future.  From that lack of private money, I infer that experts in the field do not expect cures using embryonic stem cells any time soon — despite what you may have been led to believe by "mainstream" news organizations.

The potential for cures is, judged by the results to date, much greater using adult stem cells, which very few object to.  (Take a look at some of Michael Fumento's articles if you want to learn more about that subject.)  But, for the political opponents of the Bush, adult stem cells are of no use as an issue.  And for some scientists, adult stem cells are of no use for some fundamental inquiries.  Am I suggesting that these opponents and these scientists have oversold potential cures from embryonic stem cells for their own reasons?  I sure am.

I found JJ and Tracy's site at the National Review's "Corner".)
- 10:16 AM, 22 May 2005   [link]


The Latest Star Wars Movie may have the biggest opening ever this week end, but I won't be going.  I liked the first movie, moderately, though the beginning annoyed me.*  The second was moderately interesting, but I haven't been interested enough in the others even to watch them all the way through on television.

That means I won't have to comment on the politics of the film, though I suspect I might agree with Jim Pinkerton, if I did.
The politics of the "Star Wars" movies have twisted around for the past three decades, but now, in the final episode, director-creator George Lucas has made a bid for critical acclaim - even if it costs him commercial success.
. . .
Second, even more shrewdly, Lucas has outed himself, ideologically: He compares George W. Bush to Darth Vader.  In a line that the critics are raving about, Anakin/Vader says, "If you're not with me, you're my enemy."  That's a clear play on President Bush's famous line from his speech to Congress on Sept. 20, 2001: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."  So there you have it: In Lucas' imagination, America is the evil empire.
Pinkerton thinks Lucas is doing this in order to please the critics, who almost all hate Bush.   Pinkerton may be right, but it is also possible that Lucas has absorbed the political ideas common in his community,  That doesn't bother me greatly since I don't see any reason why directors and producers should know much about politics.  (I certainly don't know anything about special effects — but then I know that I am ignorant on that subject and I am not sure that Lucas realizes how little he knows about politics.)

(*Why?  Because I am a hard science fiction fan, and Lucas began with "a long time ago", or something like that.  Any real hard science fiction fan will immediately see the problems that poses.  Here are humans who must be our ancestors, but we don't have their technology.  How did we lose it?  And if humans evolved on earth, as most scientists think, then how did they get to this far away galaxy?  Lucas could have put the story in the future in our own galaxy and avoided annoying purists like me.

Some of the best hard science fiction writers go to considerable lengths to be as accurate in their science as possible.  (Although it is not unusual for them to allow one or two cheats, such as faster than light travel.)  One of them, Charles Sheffield, who was a scientist before he became a science fiction writer, even wrote a guide for other science fiction writers, Borderlands of Science, in an effort to improve the science in the stories he read.  (The book is also a good review, if your science is a little rusty.))
- 5:42 PM, 21 May 2005   [link]


It's Easy To be An Authority On The Internet:  Too easy.   Two weeks ago, I decided to switch from one version of Linux (Red Hat 9) to another (SUSE 9.3).   After I had bought the upgrade version of SUSE 9.3, I learned that it did not support my Advansys SCSI card, much to my surprise, since the card had been supported under previous versions of the the SUSE distributions, and Linux distributions generally.  I did a little digging on the net and learned that the kernel maintainers had dropped support for the card in the last year or so.  (The kernel is the name for the central part of the Linux operating system, and most other operating systems, for that matter.) To warn others about this, I wrote a brief review and posted it on Amazon, so that others would not have the same unpleasant surprise.  I began the review with this line:
Buyers who have a system with an Advansys SCSI card should know that SUSE dropped support for these cards beginning with version 9.1.
Yesterday, I decided to search for more information and so I searched on Google with this phrase: "Advansys + SUSE".  Much to my surprise, my review popped up all over the net.  Apparently, many small internet stores simply copy the reviews at Amazon, deleting the identifying information.   And maybe some bigger ones; I would think, just from the name, that Japan Software is not a mom and pop operation.

This is flattering, sort of, but I hope no one takes me for an authority on the subject as result, because I am not an authority, just a consumer who wanted to share some information.

This will have reminded some of you of a famous New Yorker cartoon.  It shows one dog sitting at a computer and telling a second dog: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."  Or not really an authority.  (If you want to see the cartoon, just search Google's images with "dog + Internet".)

(Technical stuff for those who are interested: I have been using the Advansys SCSI card to run an old Yamaha CD burner and an Epson 1640SU scanner.  I don't particularly need the burner, since I recently bought a Plextor DVD burner, but I do want to use the scanner under Linux.   I can't connect it to a USB port, because there is no Linux support for this scanner with USB, probably because the scanner was designed when the companies were still sorting out their USB hardware and drivers.

There are several possible solutions.  From what I have read on the internet, the support for the Advansys card was dropped because "race" conditions sometimes happened.  My guess is that would happen only when the card was driving a fast hard disk, so I could restore support for the driver by putting it back in the kernel without adding bugs to my system.  In the best case, that would be easy; I would just have to find the right flag in the source code, remove it, recompile the kernel, and then install the new version of the kernel.  In my search, I did learn that a Red Hat employee, who is working on the Fedora spinoff, had restored the Advansys driver in the "Core 3" version of the kernel used by Fedora.  He didn't mention any great problems, so I think I am going to at least look into that solution.  (After I had changed the kernel, I would also have to load the module, either each time I needed it, or more simply by putting it into a start up script.)

I could also just replace either the SCSI card, or the scanner.  There are some inexpensive SCSI cards such as the Adaptec 2906, but it is not clear to me that they are supported by all versions of Linux.  (The more powerful and more expensive cards are supported, perhaps because both Linux and SCSI are more common on servers than in the consumer market.)  And, for about a hundred dollars I could get a new scanner with roughly equivalent capabilities.  But then I would have to learn the quirks of a new scanner driver.)
- 4:36 AM, 21 May 2005   [link]


The New York Times Wants To Rig The System:  Nothing new about that, you may say, especially if you are not on the left, but I was surprised at which system they want to rig.
I was spoiled with Los Angeles perennially in the N.B.A. playoffs. The glamour of the Kobe-Shaq Lakers was a continuation of the Showtime Lakers, and it was glamour that competed with that of the Bird Celtics before giving way to the dominance of the Jordan Bulls.  This was the "image always" N.B.A. at its best: big market teams, great players.  The league had better find a way to rediscover that formula.
. . .
The league has to make certain that the playoff light stays on in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Boston.
And if you are a fan in a smaller market?  Tough luck.  I am not even sure this is good advice financially.  I can't claim to be a typical NBA fan, but I have noticed that, in recent years, I have been watching fewer of their games — precisely because I thought they were too often rigged.  (In particular, I object to the favoritism shown to superstars who play under entirely different rules than other players.)

At one time, a writer for the New York Times would have at least noticed that this proposal defies the ideals most want to find in sports, but Rhoden doesn't even seem to see that point.

(Since Rhoden says he wants to get back to a time in which the NBA did a better job of rigging the system in favor of the bigger markets, it is fair to conclude that he thinks there was even more rigging then.  And he gives an example:
Next month marks the 20th anniversary of the "Frozen Envelope" conspiracy.  Patrick Ewing was the best college player coming into the N.B.A., and the league supposedly wanted Ewing in New York, a marquee city with an underachieving franchise.  The story - subsequently laughed off by the N.B.A. - goes that someone froze the envelope with the Knicks' logo in it so the cold envelope could be easily plucked out when the drawing was made for the first pick.
You'll note that he does not have even an anonymous source for this story, a story that slanders a number of identifiable people, some still alive, I would guess.

Curiously, Rhoden does not discuss the success of the National Football League, which has rules that equalize the competition between the big market and small market teams.)
- 8:44 AM, 20 May 2005   [link]


Did George Galloway Win His Seat In Parliament Legitimately?  Maybe not.
George Galloway could face a challenge to his election victory in the East End over fears that hundreds of people may have voted twice.

The Evening Standard has learned that up to 300 duplicate names have been found on the electoral register for Bethnal Green and Bow.
And if that many clumsy efforts to cheat have been found, it is more than likely that there were many others less easy to spot.

The extremist MP, who just testified before the Senate, or I should say ""testified", since he refused to answer most of the important questions, could be forced into a new election over this.

Most election fraud in the United States is committed by those on the left.  I am beginning to think that the same may be true in Britain.

(And there is this interesting detail on his new "party", "Respect".  They hope to win control of the Tower Hamlets local council.  If they do, they plan to fly the Palestinian flag, that is, the flag that represents anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and terrorism.)
- 8:12 AM, 20 May 2005   [link]


Who Should We Blame For The Koran "Desecration" Riots?  Most (including Newsweek) have blamed Newsweek.  Some, especially some on the left, have blamed President Bush and his policies.  All who blame either are wrong; the people who should be blamed for the riot are (almost entirely) the rioters.

Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy makes that point judiciously.
Here's an actual newsflash — and one, yet again, that should be news to no one: The reason for the carnage here was, and is, militant Islam.  Nothing more.

Newsweek merely gave the crazies their excuse du jour.  But they didn't need a report of Koran desecration to fly jumbo jets into skyscrapers, to blow up embassies, or to behead hostages taken for the great sin of being Americans or Jews.  They didn't need a report of Koran desecration to take to the streets and blame the United States while enthusiastically taking innocent lives.  This is what they do.
Author Robert Spencer makes that point lucidly.
There is no excusing Newsweek's irresponsibility in this. But this is not really a story about media bias or carelessness at all.  There is a much larger story that is getting hardly any attention at all.  The gorilla in the living room that no one wants to notice, is that flushing a Qur'an down the toilet should not be grounds to commit murder.
Satirist "Iowahawk" makes that point humorously.
Decorah, IA - The debris-strewn streets of this remote Midwestern hamlet remain under a tense 24-hour curfew tonight, following weekend demonstrations by rock- and figurine-throwing Lutheran farm wives that left over 200 people injured and leveled the Whippy Dip dairy freeze.  The rioting appeared to be prompted, in part, by a report in Newsweek magazine claiming military guards at Spirit Lake's notorious Okoboji internment center had flushed lutefisk down prison toilets.  Newsweek's late announcement of a retraction seems to have done little to quell the inflamed passions of Lutheran insurgents in the region, as outbreaks of violent mailbox bashings and cow tippings have been reported from Bowbells, North Dakota to Pekin, Illinois.
It would be absurd for Lutherans to riot over lutefisk; it is even more absurd for Muslims to murder other Muslims over an alleged desecration of the Koran.

But we tend to accept the second as natural and miss seeing its absurdity.  Why?  There are two reasons for this acceptance, I think.

First, we tend to accept other people's feelings as legitimate.  If someone tells us that they are offended by the mistreatment of lutefisk, or the Koran, we tend — especially now when so many think feelings, rather than logical thought, should be central — to take them at their word and to accept their view of things.  (Successful politicians are often very good at manipulating this tendency, by the way.)

Second, we in the West still tend to have lower standards for those outside the West.  (I think that those lower standards are now especially likely to be found on the left, which is a reversal from the past patterns.)  Many of us still think, though we may deny it, that those outside the West are, in Kipling's phrase, "lesser breeds without the Law".  (From "Recessional".

When South Africa was ruled by a white tribe, the Afrikaners, this was thought, rightly, to be a terrible wrong.  When dozens of other African nations were (and are) ruled by a black dictators, this was thought to be unfortunate, but not a matter that required any action.

And so many of us accept from Muslims, especially Muslims in the third world countries, actions that would outrage us if done by Lutherans here in the United States.  But we shouldn't do that — unless we really believe those rioting Muslims are "lesser breeds without the Law".

So how much blame does Newsweek deserve for the riots?  Far less than the rioters, but it still deserves some.  It was unprofessional for them to print this story relying on a single anonymous source.  And it was imprudent in a time of war not to realize what a weapon this put in the hands of our enemies.

(That many Muslims do not show the same respect for other people's religious symbols that they demand for their own is not exactly a secret, though not a topic often covered by the "mainstream" media.  You can find some examples here, and I could have added many more with little effort.)
- 7:46 AM, 20 May 2005   [link]


Is A False Election Report Fraud?  A deliberately false election report?

King County's absentee-ballot supervisor has testified that she collaborated with her boss when she filled out a report that falsely showed all ballots were accounted for in the November election.

Nicole Way said in a deposition Friday that she and assistant elections superintendent Garth Fell agreed to the misleading report because officials didn't know how many absentee ballots were returned by voters.
. . .
The regulations require counties to reconcile the number of absentee ballots returned by voters with the number of ballots accepted or rejected.  Way's report showed perfect reconciliation because it simply added the number accepted and rejected to calculate ballots returned.

I don't know whether this meets the legal definition of election fraud, but it meets the ordinary definition.  The report was fraudulent.

None of this will come as any surprise to those who have followed Stefan Sharkansky's fine investigations at Sound Politics.  But this admission, which confirms one of his findings, should trigger outrage even in the "mainstream" media.  (And it should trigger some activity on the part of the Seattle PI, which was completely beaten by the Times on this story.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Those not in this area may need to know that the deposition was filed in the continuing lawsuit over last November's gubernatorial election.

If anyone has a copy of this deposition they can send me, I would love to study it for a possible follow up post.)
- 5:33 AM, 19 May 2005   [link]


George Galloway And The Senate Committee:  The extremist British MP and his questioners on the Senate committee had distinct, but not conflicting, goals in the hearing yesterday.  Both could gain from the encounter, and from the news reports, both did.   Galloway wanted the publicity and the chance to gain more support from other extremists.  He got the publicity and probably the support, at the risk of being charged with perjury.  (Not a very large risk, I would judge, given his position in the British parliament.  There is no doubt that he lied in his testimony yesterday; there is little reason to think that prosecuting him for perjury would be a political winner.)

The Senate committee wanted to show that they will give a fair hearing to those they have accused of crimes.  They did that by being cool and polite, while Galloway refused to answer their questions.
Patiently, courteously, yet relentlessly, time and again he [Norm Coleman] and his Democratic colleague, Carl Levin, returned to the same questions: how could Mr Galloway explain that his name was on documents allocating oil sales?

Was he not troubled that his Mariam Campaign, a charity originally set up to help an Iraqi leukaemia victim, was apparently funded in part thanks to paying bribes demanded by Saddam Hussein?

Mr Galloway could not explain how his name appeared on the documents.  As for being troubled, yes he was - but by sanctions and the war.
So both Galloway and his questioners on the committee (principally the chairman, Norm Coleman, and the ranking Democrat, Carl Levin) got what they wanted.  At least in the short term.

(More: Scott Burgess live blogged the hearing and inspired a vigorous discussion in the comments to his post.   You'll note that Americans and Britons seem to agree that it was a zero sum encounter and that if Galloway won, the committee lost, and vice versa, though they disagreed on who "won".  As I explained above, that's incorrect.  It was possible for both to win, and most likely both did.   (By the way, Burgess's site has many other fine posts on Galloway.)

As we have learned to expect, some of the worst coverage came from one of the world's most prestigious news organizations, the BBC.  Matthew Davis may not have been wearing a button that says "I love Gorgeous George" when he wrote this piece, but it reads as if he were.)
- 8:58 AM, 18 May 2005   [link]


Reject From A Yard Sale?  That's what I thought when I saw this picture in Sunday's New York Times Magazine.  If I had to guess, just from the picture, I would have thought it was one of those items that you can't sell at a yard sale, even pricing it at a quarter.



Which shows that you shouldn't rely on me for advice on modernist collectibles.  That's a famous chair by a famous designer, Poul Kjaerholm, and Sotheby's hopes to sell it, according to the caption, for between forty and sixty thousand dollars.

The article did not explain, at least to my satisfaction, why an ugly, cheaply made, and uncomfortable chair in poor condition would fetch such a price.  But it did remind me of Tom Wolfe's description of another chair, which he says could be found in every young architect's apartment during the 1950s.  (From "The White Gods", which you can find in Wolfe's collection, The Purple Decades.)
At the end of the rug, there it would be . . . the Barcelona chair.  Mies had designed it for his German Pavilion at the Barcelona Exposition of 1929.  The Platonic idea of chair it was, pure Worker Housing leather and stainless steel, the most perfect piece of furniture design in the twentieth century.  The Barcelona chair commanded the staggering price of $550, however, and that was wholesale.  When you saw that holy object on the sisal rug, you knew that you were in a household where a fledgling architect and his young wife had sacrificed everything to bring the symbol of the godly mission into their home.  Five hundred and fifty dollars!  She had even given up the diaper service and was doing the diapers by hand.  It got to the point where, if I saw a Barcelona chair, no matter where, I immediately — in the classic stimulus-response bond — smelled diapers gone high.
(They were still sacrificing because Mies always used the chairs in pairs, and they were planning to buy another.)

That description explains why that ugly yellow chair above might fetch such a price.  It is, like the Barcelona chair, in some sense a religious object, so ordinary judgments of aesthetics and utility do not apply.  As the salesman who hopes to get sixty thousand dollars for the chair says, it is "the holy grail for Kjaerholm collectors".  The price would be cheap for the Holy Grail, regardless of its looks or usefulness for holding a drink.

(Wonder what the Barcelona chair looks like?  Here's a picture:



Doesn't look comfortable to me, but that may just show how low my tastes are.

To be fair to Kjaerholm, I should add that a search of images using his name produced many chairs, some looking quite graceful, though none looked especially comfortable.)
- 7:18 PM, 17 May 2005   [link]


Another Step Forward For Democracy:  And in the Middle East.
Kuwait's Parliament granted full political rights to women on Monday, making way for them to vote and run for office in parliamentary and local elections for the first time in the country's history.   The surprise amendment to Kuwait's election law ends a decades-long struggle by women's rights campaigners for full suffrage, and promises to redefine the city-state's political landscape.

"It has been 20 years of work, but at last we got our rights," said Lulua al-Mulla, general secretary of Kuwait's Social Cultural Women's Society, a women's advocacy group. "It is about time."
Quite right.
- 2:58 PM, 17 May 2005   [link]


If They Don't Have A Majority, some politicians think it fair to buy one.
In a stunning political move that could save Paul Martin's government, high-profile Tory MP Belinda Stronach has defected to the Liberals.

Martin, sitting beside a smiling Stronach at a surprise news conference Tuesday, welcomed his new caucus member and named her human resources minister.  He also said she will be in charge of democratic renewal.

The development boosts the government's chance of surviving a crucial confidence motion scheduled for Thursday.  It is also a big blow to the Conservatives
I like that touch about her being in charge of "democratic renewal" — right after a deal that defied the choices of the Canadian voters.

(Americans will immediately think of the deal that brought Jim Jeffords to support (but not join) the Democrats in the Senate.  Although I have never seen a full account of the bargaining, I don't think the deal was nearly as crude as this one.)

My guess is that this deal only postpones the problems for the Liberals in Canada, and may worsen them in the long run*.  As soon as they lose a single MP, which could happen at any time, they lose control of parliament.  And even if they convince another MP or two to defect, they will be in danger of losing their majority in a by election**.  And in the mean time, the tales of corruption, and perhaps worse, from the Gomery commission will continue.

As you can see here, here, here, here, here, and here, our Canadian friends are not pleased.  Many think that Stronach can fairly be called the "Paris Hilton of Canadian politics".

(*If you want an American parallel, consider what happened to former governor Gray Davis in California.  He won a second term, in part by interfering in a Republican primary.   That, and other scandals, finally destroyed his popular support, and he was thrown out of office by the voters.

**In the United States and Great Britain, opposition parties have much better chances of winning a by election after a legislator dies or resigns than they do of winning an ordinary election in the same district.  I don't know whether that is true in Canada as well, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were.)
- 2:36 PM, 17 May 2005   [link]


Happy Syttende Mai to our friends in Norway.  It's a big one this year, since this is the hundredth anniversary of their independence from Sweden.  The seventeenth of May does not celebrate the 1905 independence from Sweden, like America's July 4th, but the day the Norwegian constitution was adopted, May 17, 1814.

Why the 91 year gap between the two?  Very briefly, Norway, which had been a possession of Denmark for centuries, was given to Sweden at the end of the Napoleonic wars.  (Sweden had fought on the winning side, Denmark on the losing side.)  The Norwegians objected and wrote a constitution which was adopted on May 17th.  The Swedes invaded, but soon came to an agreement with the Norwegians to accept the constitution in return for the Swedish king ruling Norway.

The two nations continued with this awkward arrangement until 1905 when Norway declared independence.  The Swedes threatened war, but grumpily came to accept Norwegian independence, and by now the two nations seem to be mostly friends, though they may not be as close as Norway and Denmark.  (My grandmother, who came to the United States from Denmark, would probably be pleased that Norway imported a king from Denmark, after gaining independence.)

Those who want to celebrate Syttende Mai in this area can go to Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.
- 10:21 AM, 17 May 2005   [link]


Warren Buffett Has Lost A Lot Of Money:  Granted, he has a lot to lose, but he still can't enjoy this result.
The stubbornly resilient dollar has cost Warren Buffett a lot of money this year and has disappointed many other investors who thought that a weaker dollar would be their friend.

Buffett's bet against the dollar resulted in a $307 million loss for his company, Berkshire Hathaway, in the first quarter.
I wonder whether Buffett's opposition to George W. Bush led him to make an investing mistake in betting against the dollar.  (But I should add immediately that I have no opinion on whether the dollar is now too low or too high against currencies such as the euro.)  Buffett wouldn't be the first investor to make that mistake, though he hasn't done it very often.

(I have a less favorable opinion of Buffett than many others do, for very personal reasons.   Twice, after I had found a company I thought undervalued, he came in and made a deal with the management that benefited him and the management — at the expense of individual stockholders like myself.)
- 9:16 AM, 17 May 2005   [link]


Newsweek Retracts Their Koran Story:  The magazine has now, finally, retracted their story.  

After a drumbeat of criticism from the Bush administration and others, Newsweek magazine yesterday went beyond an apology it issued Sunday and retracted an article published May 1 that stated that American interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had tried to rattle Muslim detainees by flushing a Koran down a toilet.

The original article was blamed for inciting widespread protests and riots in the Muslim world, where desecration of the Koran is viewed as an incendiary act, and where at least 17 people were killed in the ensuing violence.

"Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Koran abuse at Guantánamo Bay," the statement from Newsweek said.

The carefully worded retraction came after the White House said the Newsweek article had damaged the image of the United States abroad.  It reflected the severity of consequences that even one sentence in a brief news article can have at a time of intense anti-American sentiment overseas and political polarization, as well as extreme distrust of the mainstream media at home.

But many "mainstream" journalists don't seem to think they should have retracted it.  These four lead paragraphs from the New York Times story reveal much about our "mainstream" journalists — and miss much about the controversy.

Seelye and Lewis begin by implying that Newsweek is retracting the story because of government pressure.  Their very first phrase is "After a drumbeat of criticism from the Bush administration".  They did not begin with "After going back to their source", or "After an embarrassing failure by experienced journalists".  And, they do the same thing in the fourth paragraph; although they don't say that the retraction came "because" of White House pressure, they do say it came "after" White House pressure.  It is, I think, obvious that Seelye and Lewis think the retraction came because of pressure and want you to think so, too.  From what I can tell, that is how many journalists will see the retraction, as evidence of government pressure, not as evidence of failure by journalists.

They begin that way in spite of the fact that both Newsweek and the White House denied any pressure, according to the Times' own story:

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said yesterday morning that he found it "puzzling" that Newsweek had not retracted the article.  "There is a certain journalistic standard that should be met," he said, "and in this case it was not."

Mr. McClellan and [Newsweek editor] Mr. [Mark] Whitaker said that no senior White House officials had spoken privately to Newsweek's management to seek a retraction.  After Newsweek retracted the article in the afternoon, Mr. McClellan called it a "good first step."

Is suggesting that news organizations should meet journalistic standards pressure?  Not in my judgment.

The second paragraph also reveals something about our "mainstream" journalists.  Religious belief is so rare in our newsrooms that Seelye and Lewis believe their readers need an explanation of the motivations for the violence.  The vast majority of believers in the world would not need that explanation — but "mainstream" journalists may.

Finally, the rest of the article is notable for what it leaves out.  Religious belief may be rare in our newsrooms, but the belief that journalists are privileged persons who owe loyalty to no country is so common there that Seelye and Lewis do not even discuss the question I (along with many others) raised: In time of war, should Newsweek have printed this story, even if it were true?  Nor do they discuss Glenn Reynolds' similar observation:

Nobody's arguing that reporters wake up in the morning asking themselves how to lose the war for America.  At least I'm not.  Er, except maybe for Robert Fisk.

But in many ways, they act almost as if they were doing so, and it's no accident.  As the James Fallows anecdote reported here illustrates, leading representatives of the profession regard themselves as loyal to journalism, not to the United States -- and are proud to do so, and it seems clear that they reflect that priority in their work.

Most conservatives would agree that journalists "act almost as if they were" trying to lose the war on terror.  It was a charge heard on almost every talk show in the last few days.  But it doesn't even rate a sentence in the New York Times.

Similarly, Seelye and Lewis go on at length about the previous charges of desecration at Guantanamo, but never mention that an Al Qaeda manual directs its people to make false charges, if they are captured.  Some of us would think that fact relevant when discussing these stories — but not these two reporters from the New York Times.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.
- 8:08 AM, 17 May 2005   [link]