Archive:

May 2006, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



You Can't Get There From Here:  That's the punch line to a classic joke; that's also a good description of our dilemma in trying to find a sensible policy on immigration.  In my initial post on the May 1st demonstration in Seattle, I said that I was showing two atypical pictures.  Below is a typical picture of the demonstrators in Seattle and, from everything I have read, the demonstrators in most other cities.


Notice the strollers in the picture?  They were almost ubiquitous.  And, if you wandered through the crowd, you could make eye contact with the kids in the strollers.  Most were shy, as kids in strange places often are, but still smiled back, if you smiled at them.  And their mothers, like mothers everywhere, were delighted if you admired their children.

Now picture those cute kids with their proud mothers, and then think about the problem of deporting illegal aliens — which is what many of those kids and their mothers are.  We could deport them if there hundreds of them, perhaps even if there were thousands of them.  But there are millions of them.

And now imagine how our "mainstream" media would cover that story, if the mass deportations were ordered by a Republican president.  (Maybe even a Democratic president.)  It isn't hard, is it?  We'd be shown hard working families (but never criminals) being forced across the border by police, with kids crying and mothers weeping.  Neighbors would be found to testify that those deported were fine, hard working people.  And the political effects of such coverage are equally easy to imagine.

So a Republican president can't order mass deportations, and even a Democratic president would find it difficult.  If we can't deport illegals in large numbers, then, broadly speaking, we have just two possible ways to deal with them.  We can continue to tolerate the presence of millions who came here illegally, or we can find some way to regularize their presence.  I think the latter is the better strategy, if it is combined with a much larger effort to control the borders and greater enforcement of laws against employing illegals.

In thinking about the right kind of strategy, we should think about the problem from the point of view of the person who is considering sneaking into the United States.  We want to convince that person that his chances of staying in the United States are far better if he gets in line for some legal program than if he hires a "coyote" to get him across the border.  That's difficult, but not impossible, especially if we make it far harder to cross the border illegally.

Many of us would prefer not to have a significant number of illegal aliens in this country.   But if you look at those strollers and think about the politics of massive deportations, you will realize that we can't get there from here.  Serious people will accept that and then look for the best, or perhaps I should say the least bad, policy from a set of unpleasant choices.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:25 PM, 8 May 2006   [link]


Michael Kinsley asks a good question:
Why does the press hold Bush to one constitutional standard and itself to another?
But finds no answer.
Many in the media believe that the Constitution contains a "reporter's privilege" to protect the identity of sources in circumstances, like a criminal trial, in which citizens ordinarily can be compelled to produce information or go to jail.  The Supreme Court and lower courts have ruled and ruled again that there is no such privilege.  And it certainly is not obvious that the First Amendment, which seems to be about the right to speak, actually protects a right not to speak.  Yet many in the media not only believe that it does.  They believe passionately that it is not merely OK but profoundly noble to follow their own interpretation and ignore the Supreme Court's.
Though most journalists would be outraged if President Bush did the same thing.
- 1:26 PM, 8 May 2006   [link]


There He Goes Again:  In February, former president Jimmy Carter was arguing that, just because the Palestinians had elected a government with a genocidal platform, that was no reason to stop sending them money.  Now Carter is making the same argument again.
Innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime.  Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the United States government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life.

Overwhelmingly, these are school teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, farm families, shopkeepers, and their employees and families who are just hoping for a better life.
Today is VE Day.  Does Carter know what we did to the school teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, farm families, and shopkeepers of Nazi Germany to force that nation to surrender?  It was more than just cutting off their cash flow.

Those who care about the Palestinians will want to see them make peace with Israel.  That peace can only come from a surrender.  Cutting off their cash is a good first step toward forcing them to surrender.  That Carter opposes it shows either that he does not care about the Palestinians, or that he is deluded about the Hamas platform.
- 11:15 AM, 8 May 2006   [link]


No Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether = Higher Gas Prices:  Hidden inside Saturday's New York Times was a partially informative article explaining how changing federal rules have raised gas prices.  In the 1970s, to meet clean air requirements, refiners began adding methyl tert-butyl ether, best known by its initials, MTBE, to gasoline.  The refiners were not required to add MTBE, specifically, but to add an oxygenate, and MTBE was the most practical oxygenate to use, since it is inexpensive and blends easily with gasoline.  Some gasoline mixes contained as much as 11 percent MTBE by volume, so calling it an additive is a bit misleading.

MTBE did help clean up the air, though, if I understand matters correctly, it does not help much with cars made in the last two decades.  (MTBE replaced lead in gasoline, so it eliminated a dangerous pollutant when it was first introduced.)

As MTBE use grew, we learned about its problems.  It leaks easily from tanks and often gets into the ground water.  Even in very small amounts, it can ruin the taste and smell of drinking water.  And it may be a carcinogen in larger amounts.  So the refiners were eager to eliminate MTBE from their gasoline mixes, if only to avoid endless lawsuits.  The 2005 Energy Policy Act gave them an opportunity.
Nine months after Congress passed major energy legislation, one provision affecting gasoline formulas is helping to drive the price of gas up much faster than the rising price of crude oil.

And because the new gasoline recipe contains less energy, mileage per gallon is declining.

On Friday, the 270th day after President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the law ended the requirement that gasoline sold in areas prone to air pollution include an "oxygenate," or a molecule including hydrogen, carbon and oxygen.  A result is that refiners over most of the country's big gasoline markets, anticipating the rule, have already dropped the chemical MTBE.
(By the way, were the copy editors at the New York Times on vacation?  That last sentence is terrible, and most of the other sentences could be improved.)

But there isn't enough domestic ethanol to replace the MTBE, at least in the short run, and so our gas prices have risen even faster than our crude oil prices.

Will dropping MTBE reduce pollution?  That's not clear.  As I read the Wikipedia article, ethanol causes fewer problems with our ground water, but may cause more air pollution than MTBE.  So we have higher gas prices, but not necessarily a cleaner environment.

(Just to be clear: I am not critical of the refiners for making this switch, since the potential costs of the lawsuits over MTBE leaks is enormous.)
- 9:27 AM, 8 May 2006
Correction:  I was imprecise in discussing lead (actually tetra-ethyl lead) and MTBE.  Here's what the Wikipedia article says:
MTBE has been used in U.S. gasoline at low levels since 1979 to replace tetra-ethyl lead to increase its octane rating and help prevent engine knocking.  Since 1992, MTBE has been used at higher concentrations in some gasoline to fulfill the oxygenate requirements set by Congress in Clean Air Act amendments; however, since 1999, in California and other locations MBTE has begun to be phased out because of groundwater contamination (California Air Resources Board, 2004), citing unproven health effects.
So, MTBE was first used as an additive to increase the octane rating of the mix.  Later it was used, in much larger quantities, as an oxygenate to reduce air pollution.  Thanks to an emailer for drawing my attention to this point.  (I also changed "ethanol" to MTBE in the first sentence of the next to the last paragraph of the original post — since that's what I intended to say.)
- 3:18 PM, 8 May 2006   [link]


Amazing Video from the BBC.  You should see this if you have any doubts about their bias.
- 6:21 AM, 8 May 2006   [link]


French Scandal:  And it's a big one.
A major political scandal unfolding in France has been mostly ignored by the world press.  It involves, among others, a president, a prime minister, a minister of defense, a minister of the interior, a top spy, and a business executive.  Every day brings some new twist.
In brief, the French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, has been accused of using forged materials to smear his party rival, Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy.  For some of the many twists in this story, you will need to read the whole article.

(For shorter descriptions of the scandal, see this Washington Post article, or this New York Times article.   Oddly enough, the Times tells the story from the point of view of de Villepin, who is now despised by most of his countrymen.  Perhaps his opposition to President Bush's foreign policies redeems de Villepin in the eyes of the Times.

Sarkozy and de Villepin belong to the Union for a Popular Movement, which is a relatively conservative party by French standards.  Here's the UMP's web site.)
- 5:54 AM, 8 May 2006   [link]


Kudos To Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell for this admission.
Watching the corrections process during a career in journalism has led me to one conclusion: Journalists are often thin-skinned and resist corrections.  I've been guilty of that myself.
Though I think she is wrong to propose adding a layer of bureaucracy to help with corrections.   Instead, journalists need to listen to their readers more.  And they should understand that they will gain credibility by prompt and frank corrections.  I think that most readers understand that journalists work under time pressure, and that they often must write on subjects about which they know little.  In those circumstances, mistakes are inevitable.

But an arrogant refusal to make corrections — which is what I nearly always encounter when I suggest them, however politely — is not inevitable, and will alienate readers, nine times out of ten.

(There are a few journalists — Dana Milbank of the Washington Post comes to mind — who make so many errors that they should be told to find a different profession.)
- 1:17 PM, 7 May 2006   [link]


Reckless Journalist:  I am still amazed, from time to time, to see how reckless some journalists can be.  Yesterday, while browsing through the sports pages of the New York Times, I found this $column by William C. Rhoden.  The column is mostly an unfocused discussion of how good basketball star LeBron James is, and how he had been coached in the first years of his professional career. But the next to the last paragraph made this astonishing accusation:
[Kobe] Bryant and James will probably be Olympic teammates in 2008.  If the N.B.A. is as much like professional wrestling as I think it is, the league will find a way to manipulate a Kobe-LeBron finals matchup within the next two seasons.
So Rhoden believes the NBA finals are rigged — unless he is joking.  As it happens, I think that the NBA is plagued by biased refereeing, in favor of home teams and superstars.  But I don't think it is rigged as Rhoden suggests.  If Rhoden really believes this charge, he should provide some evidence for it.  If he is joking, he should make that clearer.  No one, not even a journalist, should charge fraud this lightly.
- 12:59 PM, 7 May 2006   [link]


Is Ecoterrorism Terrorism?  Put that way the question sounds silly, but journalists in this area have begun to raise the question, even so.  Perhaps to avoid looking openly silly, Hal Bernton of the Seattle Times argues that ecoterrorism isn't terrorism — while never using the word, "ecoterrorism", except in a quotation.  (I assume the "ecosabotage" in the title came from an editor, not Bernton.)

In considering this question, let's start with a definition of terrorism, this one from the 3rd edition of the American Heritage dictionary:
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or organized group against people or property with the intent of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
The arson attacks on laboratories, homes, and businesses by environmental extremists (Bernton calls them "militants") mentioned in Bernton's piece obviously fit that definition perfectly.  Some environmental extremists have used force in attempts to intimidate or coerce, and they have done so for ideological reasons.

Not everyone agrees with that definition, as you can see from this longer discussion.  But I think it is a reasonable definition.  And the definition is politically neutral.  It includes — as it should — arson attacks on abortion providers, as well as arson attacks on laboratories, homes, and businesses that offend environmental extremists.  (For that matter, it would include arson attacks for ideogical reasons, on the Seattle Times.)

So why does Bernton want to avoid using that definition, or a similar definition?  The most likely answer is that he sympathizes, as many journalists do, with environmental extremists, and does not want to see them called terrorists, just as those who sympathize with Osama bin Laden do not want to see him called a terrorist.  (Journalists would be less likely to sympathize with these extremists if they were not, often, spectacularly misinformed on environmental issues.)  But this sympathy for ecoterrorists by Bernton, and other journalists, lead them on to dubious ground.

Terrorism is usually illegitimate, even in autocracies, and nearly always illegitimate in democracies.  In the United States and other democracies, environmental extremists can (and sometimes do) make their arguments in elections.  The extremists that choose instead to burn laboratories, homes, and businesses, or to commit other violent acts, are thereby rejecting democratic means.  And the journalists that excuse or minimize these violent acts are thus excusing or minimizing attacks on democracy.

Does Bernton understand that?  I'm not sure.  But if he does believe that his environmental causes are incompatible with democracy, he should say so openly.

(Strangely, Bernton and his research helper, Gene Balk, never mention one of the most famous ecoterrorists, Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber".   Perhaps he didn't fit their thesis.)
- 8:18 AM, 7 May 2006   [link]


Mt. St. Helens has added a "fin" to the growing pile inside the crater
If the skies are clear as forecast, volcano watchers who turn out for the reopening of the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Friday will get a spectacular view of a hulking slab of rock that's rapidly growing in Mount St. Helens' crater.

It's jutting up from one of seven lobes of fresh volcanic rock that have been pushing their way through the surface of the crater since October 2004.

The fin-shaped mass is about 300 feet tall and growing 4 feet to 5 feet a day, though it occasionally loses height from rockfalls off its tip, said Dan Dzurisin, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey
A Seattle TV station, King 5 has some unedited video of the fin, which shows more of the crater.

Here's the Johnston Ridge web cam, if you want to try to see it live.

(And now I am off to visit another volcano, to take a few pictures, and to do a little spring skiing.)
- 5:35 AM, 5 May 2006
If you are wondering about the original time stamp on this post, the explanation is simple.  I wrote it yesterday morning, but forgot to upload it before I left.  The skiing was excellent, by the way, as it often is on Mt. Rainier in May.  I'll have a picture or two for you later this weekend.
- 5:32 AM, 6 May 2006
Not last weekend, obviously, but maybe this coming Friday.
- 10:24 AM, 8 May 2006   [link]


Republicans Aren't Necessarily Doomed This November, even in Ohio, says Michael Barone.
If there's any state the Republicans are in trouble in this year, it's Ohio.  Incumbent Republican Gov. Bob Taft's job rating has been hovering in the teens.

Taft and other Republicans have had scandal problems.  Control of Ohio state government tends to oscillate between the parties: From the 1840s to the 1990s, no party held the governorship for more than eight years.  Today the Republicans are in their 16th year of controlling the governorship and the legislature. Ohio is overdue to go Democratic.
But, as Barone shows, the Republicans drew solid support in the Ohio primary elections this last Tuesday, enough support to show that, though Ken Blackwell may be behind in the race for governor, he has a good chance to win, and that the Republicans may not suffer big losses farther down the ticket.
- 5:20 AM, 5 May 2006   [link]


Those Labour Party Scandals mentioned here didn't help them in local elections.
The Conservatives look to be on course for their best local election performance since they last won national power in 1992.

On the projected share of the votes if the local polls were held nationwide, the Tories are on 40%, ahead of the Lib Dems' 27% and Labour's 26%.

As well as net gains of more than 250 seats, the Tories have won control of councils like Crawley.
It wasn't just a protest vote, since the third party, the Liberal Democrats, did not make large gains.
- 5:05 AM, 5 May 2006   [link]


"Americans Don't Make Things Anymore"  I am sure you have heard that claim, many times, just as I have.  But the claim is a little hard to square with the data, for instance, this report.
New orders for manufactured durable goods in March increased $13.1 billion or 6.1 percent to $230.6 billion, the U. S. Census Bureau announced today.
And that's just durable goods; when you include nondurable goods, the new orders to US manufacturers totalled almost $420 billion at the end of March.

And the good news isn't limited to just one month.  In the last two years, the value of American industrial production has increased about 10 percent.  The same charts show that American manufacturers were hit very hard by the recession of 2001, but have done remarkably well over the last 25 years.

It is also true that many fewer are employed in manufacturing than once were.  American manufacturers have had outstanding productivity gains, which makes the nation better off.  But those same gains mean that we need far fewer people on factory floors than we once did, just as we need far fewer farmers than we once did.
- 3:43 PM, 4 May 2006   [link]


Another Way To Reduce Gasoline Use is, of course, to switch to manual transmissions.
Oil use, your number-one warming cause, must be addressed.  Hybrid vehicles, using a combination of petrol and electric power, are widely believed to be an ideal interim remedy to gross oil overconsumption.  This response might excite the mechanically minded, but a low-tech solution is perhaps more workable.  I porpoise — sorry, brain injury again — I propose that automatic transmissions be banned, and that all cars so equipped be removed from the planet's roads.  The reason?  Automatic cars use around 5% more fuel than their manual equivalents.

My mandatory-manual law would, at a stroke, effect a far greater positive environmental change than any plastic bag campaigns or hybrid-buying frenzies now underway.  In the US, where the massive majority of vehicles sold are automatic, some 113 billion barrels of fuel were consumed in 2001 by passenger cars (reports the US Energy Information Administration: "That fuel consumption by light-duty vehicles, stored in a tank the size of a regulation football field, would require the tank to have walls nearly 50 miles high.")  Assuming a 5% drop across the board, fuel savings would be in the range of 5,650,000,000 barrels per year (I think that figure is correct; remember, brain injury).  And the only consumer sacrifice required would be minimal occasional movement of every driver's shifting hand.
He's joking about the ban, but he is right about the fuel savings.  (And the savings may be greater on some cars. Consumer Reports did some tests a year or so ago and found improvements in mileage as high as 10 percent for some small cars.)  And, of course, you usually (always?) save on the original cost of the car, too.

(When I was younger, manual transmissions were less popular because many men thought them fit only for women, and for those the governor of California might call "girlie men".)
- 12:49 PM, 4 May 2006
Correction:  As an emailer reminded me, I meant to say automatic transmissions were less popular when I was young.   I've corrected the post above.
- 2:35 PM, 4 May 2006   [link]


What's Important To The Left?  James Taranto, of the Wall Street Journal, makes a pretty good argument that it's the reception given comedian Stephen Colbert.
We have often suggested that the left in America doesn't really stand for anything.  Well, we stand corrected.  Evidently the left in America stands for one thing: the proposition that Stephen Colbert is funny, or at least that he was at the White House Correspondents Association dinner over the weekend.
And bloggers on the left are mad as hell that the "mainstream" media seems to think otherwise.

I have no idea whether Colbert was funny.  (Liberal columnist Richard Cohen says he wasn't.)   I haven't seen his skit, hadn't even heard of him before this controversy.

But suppose, just for the sake of argument, that Colbert was funny, and that the "mainstream" media got it wrong.  This would matter to anyone other than Colbert and his family and friends (assuming he has any) because?  I am unable to think of a plausible answer to that question.  (And if you can think of one, please email me.)

We need a serious left in this country, and a responsible opposition party.  It is nonsense like this that convinces me that we don't have either.
- 12:29 PM, 4 May 2006   [link]


Who Says Marriage is declining?
A suburban Detroit woman who police say made a habit of marrying men and draining their finances was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on polygamy charges.

Kyle McConnell, 46, is charged with wedding one man when she already was married to two others.   Police estimate she may have been married to 15 men at one time or another.
Though I have to add that, according to the police, she didn't always marry her victims.
- 2:04 PM, 3 May 2006   [link]


Oil Profiteers:  In the post below, I noted that there are simple ways to cut our gas consumption.  In this important piece, Max Boot explains why we should:
Free-market purists are getting a lot of mileage out of scoffing at all the hysteria about rising oil prices.  From a strictly economic point of view, they've got a point.  Even with crude selling at more than $71 a barrel and gasoline at about $3 a gallon, the U.S. economy continues to expand.   It grew at a healthy annualized rate of 4.8% in the first quarter, and there has been no sign of a slowdown since.  Oil is a much smaller part of the economy than it was during the oil shocks of the 1970s, and retail prices are still half of what the more heavily taxed Europeans pay.
. . .
If oil were a commodity like any other, the free-marketers would be right.  But it's not.   Most oil reserves are controlled by governments, many of which conspire through the OPEC cartel to manipulate the market.  These governments aren't the kind that any sane person would want to see in control of such a vital asset.  Their power can only be countered by action from our own government.

Of the top 14 oil exporters, only one is a well-established liberal democracy — Norway.  Two others have recently made a transition to democracy — Mexico and Nigeria.  Iraq is trying to follow in their footsteps.  That's it.  Every other major oil exporter is a dictatorship — and the run-up in oil prices has been a tremendous boon to them.
How big a boon?  By one estimate, they are getting 500 billion more now than they were in 2003.  Half a trillion here, half a trillion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

Boot has a number of suggestions, most of them sensible, for taking the money away from these dictatorships.

And we can avoid doing stupid things.  For example, requiring more ethanol in our gasoline than we can currently produce, domestically.
Part of this [gasoline shortage] is due to the mandated increase in the use of ethanol, which is rising in price as producers find themselves hard-pressed to meet skyrocketing demand--up from 1.8 million barrels a month in 2002 to 7.4 million barrels this month.  This is a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences--not unforeseen by experts, but neither foreseen nor intended by legislators.  In order to blend ethanol into gasoline and still avoid violating air quality regulations, refiners must remove other components, with the net effect of reducing gasoline supplies by 1.7 percent in the face of increasing demand.
If you believe in magic, you'll believe that ethanol producers can scale production up instantly.   And apparently some of our legislators do believe in magic.
- 1:50 PM, 3 May 2006   [link]


Want Gas Prices To Go Down?  Then go check the air pressure in your tires.
You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure.  Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires.  Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.
If we all did that (and followed the other standard tips for improving mileage) we would reduce demand enough to noticeably lower gasoline prices.  But the best part about this strategy is that you can lower the amount you spend, even if no one goes along with you.

When searching for information on this subject, I found many references to studies by the Automobile Association of America showing that most of us (80 percent was a common number) do not follow the standard advice, which is to check your tire pressure at least once a month, and more often when the temperature is changing rapidly.  (Many don't even know where to find the recommended pressure for their car.  On my car — and I think most new cars — it is inside the front door on the driver's side, which makes it hard to miss.)

(And, no, I won't say that I always follow my own advice, though I buy so little gasoline — about 350 gallons in the last two years — that it matters less to me than it does to most people.)
- 11:01 AM, 3 May 2006   [link]


Bill Clinton's Arsenic Trap  catches Seattle.

Drinking water is being shut off at all 100 Seattle public schools after tests last month found traces of arsenic in the water at several elementary schools.
. . .
The federal government recently changed the amount of arsenic it considers unsafe from less than 50 parts per billion to less than 10 parts per billion.  The water tested in the five elementary schools contained between 11 and 18 parts per billion.

When the Seattle Times reporter, Emily Heffter, says "The federal government recently changed", she glides over what actually happened.

Here's the story:  At the end of his eight years in office, Bill Clinton set a number of political traps for President Bush.  One of them was changing the allowable level of arsenic in our water supplies from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.  At the time, the scientific evidence that this change was needed was, at best, weak.  And the proposal put severe burdens on some small towns.  When the Bush administration took office, they set the rule aside and asked for a second look at the evidence.  Immediately there was an outcry that Bush wanted to poison our children.  (Sometimes from politicians, such as Tom Daschle, who had supported the higher level for years.)  There was enough political damage from the charge that the Bush administration yielded to pressure and, after some months, accepted the lower standard.

And here's the joke:  More recent studies showed that the level of 50 parts per billion is fine.  In fact, there is some reason to believe, thanks to the curious phenomena of hormesis, that a level of 50 parts per billion may be healthier than lower levels.

So Bill Clinton's arsenic trap caught George W. Bush — and is now catching the Seattle public schools.  I suppose there is some rough justice in that, since the city gave Clinton strong support in 1992 and 1996.  But it is sad that Seattle schoolchildren, who had nothing to do with this, will lose resources that might have gone to better use.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(By the way, it is not just conservatives who thought that Clinton was setting a trap with this move.  So did Ralph Nader.  And the scientists at the World Health Organization never found any reason to change their recommendation for a limit of 50 parts per billion.

Was Heffter ignorant of this history?  I can't tell from the article.  But I'll ask her.)
- 2:46 PM, 2 May 2006   [link]


First Look At Yesterday's Demonstration For Illegal Immigrants:  Yesterday afternoon, I went over to Seattle to photograph what one might call the "take an illegal immigrant from work day", since the ostensible purpose of the demonstration was to show how important illegal immigrants are to the economy by having them go on strike for a day.  I have many pictures, and some impressions, which I will be sharing with you over the next few weeks.

For today, I'll just give you some basic impressions and two atypical pictures.

Nearly all the demonstrators were Hispanic, though the Seattle march went through the International District, which is mostly Asian (Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese), and began near Seattle's Central area, which has many black residents.  From what I could tell from their expressions, the Asian shopkeepers were not pleased by the march.  Though few blacks joined the march, it was led by a black man, King County Executive Ron Sims.


Those familiar with Sims' record may be tempted to conclude that any cause he gets in front of is a dubious cause, but that would be unfair to the majority of the demonstrators.  But his presence, and the presence of union contingents, and "official" members of the clergy, did show something else:  The demonstration had the support of much of the Seattle political establishment.   (And was heavily subsidized, in various ways, by Seattle taxpayers.  The costs for the additional police alone must have been in the tens of thousands of dollars.)  Whether any of these leaders of the Seattle political establishment have actually thought seriously about immigration issues is not apparent, at least to me.

I saw hundreds of American flags, sometimes combined with other country's flags.  Of the American flags I saw, only one did not appear to be brand new.  If the demonstrators are American patriots, they have come to their patriotism quite recently.

Though American flags predominated, there were other flags, including this one from the Revolutionary Communist Party.


The young man waving it did not appear to be Hispanic and was ignored, except by this little Hispanic boy, who ran toward him to join in the fun of flag waving.  That incident struck me as more than a little symbolic; those on the far left were trying to seduce Hispanics into joining their anti-American causes — but were not having much success.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I plan to have more posts on immigration issues, at both Sound Politics and my own site, in the next few weeks.  Some will use the pictures of the earlier demonstration that readers were kind enough to send me.  I'm not sure just when the posts will be up.  I want to put the pictures on a new web host, and have yet to set that up.)
- 8:53 AM, 2 May 2006   [link]


Our Mediocre Math Curriculum:  Last Tuesday I went to a public forum co-sponsored by a local activist group, Where's the Math?, and the Washington state PTA.  (Though the PTA, through its executive director, Jean Carpenter, was careful to make it clear that it was not endorsing the group or the ideas presented in the forum.)

What I learned at the forum supported the opinion I had come to some years ago:  Our math curriculum is mediocre, at best.  As a result, our public school students are not learning the math they need for many occupations, or even the math they need to understand many public policy questions.  The students who are hurt most are those with poor, or poorly educated, parents.  Students whose parents have more resources can tutor them, or can buy extra help for their children at tutoring centers, such as those run by Kumon.

My understanding of this problem has come from reading; parents often come to the same understanding more directly, when they are shocked to find out what their children are studying, or, often, what they are not studying.  That's what happened to Shalimar Backman, the remarkable woman who cofounded Where's the Math?, after learning that her son was not being taught how to do long division, or much else in the way of real mathematics.  She was first shocked, and then mobilized, by what she learned about the math curriculum in her son's school.

Something similar happened to University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Clifford Mass when he saw how little his oldest son was learning.  (As a good father, with considerable resources, he tutored his son, enrolled him at Kumon, and did everything else he could to make up the deficit in math.  But not every child has a father who takes an interest in his schooling, much less a college professor father who takes an interest in his schooling.)

Given his own mathematical skills, it was only natural that Mass would want to measure what students entering the University of Washington knew.  Fortunately, his department has been giving the same math test to entering students for years, and so he could compare scores for the last decade or so.  Students coming to the UW have higher and higher grades, he told us — and lower and lower scores on that math test.

What caused this decline?  Much of it was caused by the math curriculum used in Washington state (and in most other states).  In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics adopted a math curriculum based on "constructivist" ideas, which was soon widely used across the United States.  Constructivist ideas seem, frankly, so bizarre to me, that I will quote a semi-official description of them, as I did in this post, rather than try to describe them.

Students need to construct their own understanding of each mathematical concept, so that the primary role of teaching is not to lecture, explain, or otherwise attempt to 'transfer' mathematical knowledge, but to create situations for students that will foster their making the necessary mental constructions. A critical aspect of the approach is a decomposition of each mathematical concept into developmental steps following a Piagetian theory of knowledge based on observation of, and interviews with, students as they attempt to learn a concept.

Or to put it crudely, the students are to figure out thousands of years of mathematical ideas on their own, without much help from their teachers.  That's a little unfair, but not entirely.

That's the bad news, but there was good news at the forum, too.  Comparative international studies have shown that we can markedly increase what our students learn about mathematics just by changing the curriculum, which is far easier than changing the teachers or the schools.  To change the curriculum, Washington state would have to pass a law, and the public schools would have to buy new textbooks.  Neither would be terribly expensive, or difficult.

Tomorrow, I will have more on this forum, but now I have to go cover the immigration demonstration in Seattle.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The constructivist approach should not be confused with an earlier fad, the new math, which was so memorably satirized by Tom Lehrer.  In fact, some call the constructivist approach the "new-new math", just to avoid that confusion.)
- 1:07 PM, 1 May 2006   [link]


Open Letter To The New York Times #3:  This one a reply to a Frank Rich $column.
To the Editor:

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Metaphors (a loosely organized group, of which I have the honor to be a member) must protest the return of Frank Rich to the editorial pages.

Reading a Rich column is like watching a careless mechanic who can't be bothered to find the right part.  Instead he grabs the nearest part, and tries to hammer it into place.  When we members of PETM see Rich do the same thing to our beautiful and useful metaphors, we feel real pain.

You can find examples of abused metaphors in nearly every paragraph of Rich's latest column (April 30).  For instance, in the first two paragraphs, Mr. Rich switches from a hand to demons to WMDs, which rise from the grave (or the past), grab President Bush, stalk him (after grabbing him), and were wielded by him.  All of these are, somehow, an "original sin."

Perhaps the Times can not afford to hire a fact checker to correct Rich's many factual errors, or a logician to help him with his reasoning, but surely the Times must have a copy editor who can help him with his writing.

James R. Miller
Kirkland, WA, May 1, 2006
(I added the dollar sign to show that you have to pay for the content.)
- 8:51 AM, 1 May 2006   [link]


What Happens If A Foreigner Commits A Crime In Your Country?  Ideally, you capture him (or, occasionally, her), try him, convict him, and jail him.  (Or, for a few crimes, execute him.)

And then when he is released from prison, what do you do?  Deport him, right?  The British government skipped that last step for more than a thousand prisoners and now the man in charge, Home Secretary Charles Clarke, is in serious political trouble.
Tony Blair last night admitted that he may be forced to sack his Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, as rebel Labour MPs issued the Prime Minister with an ultimatum to declare an early departure date or face a humiliating leadership contest.

Mr Blair confessed that he was "pretty angry" that 1,023 foreign criminals who should have been deported were allowed to slip through the net by the Home Office and said there were "no excuses" for the debacle.
British police are now trying to find most of those criminals.  A few have already been located, generally because they have committed other crimes, such as this one.

(Clarke isn't the only member of Blair's government in trouble; so is the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who appears to have behaved all too much like Bill Clinton.)
- 6:11 AM, 1 May 2006   [link]


Conflict Of Interest At The NYT:  John Hinderacker of the Power Line blog spots a big one.
So the Times has now acknowledged that its own reporters are at risk of criminal prosecution for their role in the NSA leak scandal.

Yet the Times allows those same reporters to continue reporting on the leak scandal, even thought their own interest--the prospect of going to jail--must inevitably color (or at least be suspected of coloring) their coverage.
But I doubt that the editors at the Times see anything wrong with that curious arrangement.
- 5:44 AM, 1 May 2006   [link]