Archive:

May 2006, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Basic Historical Data On Immigration:  I'm putting up these two simple plots more to demonstrate that I have figured out how to use the basic plotting functions in R than to discuss the data in them.  But I think you'll see some interesting patterns even in these test plots.

First, the raw numbers of immigrants to the United States, by decade:

Second, the percent of Americans who are foreign born:

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that, for the first 50 years of our history, there were few immigrants to the United States.  We didn't limit them by law, but the cost (and danger) of sea crossings did, as did, I suspect, the fact that most of the United States was a rather crude place then.

More soon, as I learn more about how to make these plots.
- 7:24 PM, 24 May 2006   [link]


The Glass Is More Than Half Full:  Probably.  In this post, I linked to a Michael Barone column which argued that the world is becoming more prosperous and peaceful.  Leftists who judge everything by partisan ties might be inclined to reject Barone's argument simply because he has become more conservative and more Republican over the years.  But here is a similar argument made by David Leonhardt of the liberal (and often leftist) New York Times:
But the fact is that by most broad measures — wages, average life span, crime, education levels, home ownership and racial and gender equality, to name a few — life in this country has clearly improved over the last generation.

And most Americans think about their lives in these terms.  In polls, even low-income people generally say they are better off than their parents were, probably because most are.
Leonhardt goes on to argue that Democrats would be making a mistake if they were too pessimistic about the economy, and the state of the nation.  His sensible advice can be found — in the business section.

(A better headline might have been something like this: "The Glass Is Closer To Full".   But that isn't what the editor decided.  Perhaps Leonhardt's argument was too distressing.)
- 2:52 PM, 24 May 2006   [link]


From ¡No-Pasarán!, two significant stories:

First, what is David Duke doing these days?  The KKK leader and neo-Nazi is visiting Syria.  Where he undoubtedly feels at home.  The Baathist governments of Syria and Saddam's Iraq have often been called fascist.  The adjective does not fit exactly, but it is closer than any other common Western word.

Second, who is subsidizing the terrorists in Iraq?  In part, Europeans, by paying large ransoms for hostages.
- 2:09 PM, 24 May 2006   [link]


Al Gore Gets It Wrong On Global Warming:  I can say that, even though I haven't seen his movie, because New York Times columnist John Tierney has, and explains, in this $column, how Gore went wrong.
But even as propaganda, the film is ultimately unsatisfying.  Gore doesn't mind frightening his audience with improbable future catastrophes, but he avoids any call to action that would cause immediate discomfort, either to filmgoers or to voters in the 2008 primaries.

He doesn't propose the quickest and most efficient way to reduce greenhouse emissions: a carbon tax on gasoline and other fossil fuels.  The movie gives him a forum for talking sensibly about a topic that's taboo on Capitol Hill, but he instead sticks to long-range proposals that sound more palatable, like redesigning cities to encourage mass transit or building more efficient cars and appliances.

Gore shows the obligatory pictures of windmills and other alternative sources of energy.  But he ignores nuclear power plants, which don't spew carbon dioxide and currently produce far more electricity than all ecologically fashionable sources combined.
So Gore believes, or says he believes, that we face catastrophes, but is unwilling to support measures that might prevent those catastrophes — if those measures are painful (a carbon tax), or would offend superstitious environmental voters (nuclear power).

Here's what I said two years ago, in my disclaimer on global warming:
I have even more doubts about some of the people pushing the theories.  Their actions are often inconsistent with what they say they believe.  For example, if global warming is to be feared, then we should begin switching power from fossil to nuclear fuels.  Almost none of those who worry about global warming back nuclear power, although it is one of the best near term fixes.  The actions they do favor often turn out to be actions they would favor for other reasons, as well.  For example, most of those who worry about global warming would want us to switch to mass transit, whether or not global warming is a problem.  (Mass transit does less for the environment than many think, especially in most of the United States, where the population is so spread out.)
There are two possible explanations for this gap between the catastrophes that Gore says he fears, and the measures Gore is willing to take to prevent them.  Gore may simply not understand the issues, may not have done the simple arithmetic on what would be required to cut our emissions of greenhouse gases — without destroying our economy.  Or this film may be a demagogic campaign film for 2008.  In short, either Gore doesn't understand the problem, or he doesn't believe his own story.  Neither explanation is flattering.

(Minor correction:  Tierney is wrong when he says that the topic is "taboo" on Capitol Hill.   Actually, there has been considerable discussion of the issue, mostly on the Democratic sides of the aisles.  And there has been some action by the Bush administration, which has encouraged voluntary efforts to cut emissions by businesses.)
- 8:26 AM, 24 May 2006
President Bush doesn't.
"Let's quit the debate about whether greenhouse gases are caused by mankind or by natural causes; let's just focus on technologies that deal with the issue," Mr. Bush told workers at the Limerick Generating Station, a nuclear power plant here in Montgomery County.  "Nuclear power will help us deal with the issue of greenhouse gases."
Which is what every person who has studied the problem seriously thinks.
- 12:08 PM, 25 May 2006   [link]


Know Someone Who Is Still Confused about the NSA data mining program?   Show them today's Michael Ramirez cartoon.
- 6:00 AM, 24 May 2006   [link]


Democrats Were Hoping To Use Corruption As An Issue Against The Republicans:   But now it looks as though they may need to find a different issue.
Haven't heard much lately about Democrats' plans to make an issue of the GOP's "culture of corruption" in the 2006 elections.  Could it be they just don't want to call attention to their own scandals?
. . .
The strategy isn't looking so hot now that the FBI videotaped Democratic Rep. William Jefferson taking $100,000 from an FBI informant.  The FBI later found $90,000 of the cash in Jefferson's freezer.  Apparently, Jefferson planned to use the money to bribe a high-ranking Nigerian government official to win business for a U.S. company that, in turn, was bribing Jefferson.
And then there was Congresman Allen Mollohan, a (former) member of the House Ethics Committee, who seems to have been behaving most unethically for years.

It always seemed like a dubious strategy to me.  You need not believe that this cheerful little book, Donkey Cons, is completely fair, to recognize that the Democratic party has, historically, had more problems with corruption than the Republican party.  (And I knew that even when I considered myself a Democrat.)

And the Democrats still do have problems with corruption, some very traditional.  I have mentioned the patronage scandal at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which has gotten little attention inside New Jersey and almost none outside New Jersey.  Just today, I spotted this article about the Roti family, which has been a part of the Democratic machine in Chicago for more than half a century — and part of the Mafia for even longer.

And, of course, anyone who has read this site for any length of time will know that most vote fraud is committed by Democrats.  (Often, by the way, against other Democrats.)

Were Democratic leaders such as Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, who have been trying to use the corruption issue against Republicans, unaware of these facts about their party?  I'm not sure, but perhaps not.  Or perhaps, like many other politicians, they just started using what they thought would be useful sound bites, without thinking much about the matter.

(Why did I vote for Democrats if I thought they were more likely to be corrupt than Republicans?   Because, at that time, I like their issue stands better.  And, in general, I did not back Democrats who were openly corrupt, as some were then and now.)
- 3:42 PM, 23 May 2006   [link]


The Instapundit, reacting to this fine piece on Katrina coverage by Lou Dolimar, speculates that bad reporting "may well have cost lives".  I would go farther and say that the bad reporting almost certainly cost lives.

The bad reporting cost lives in two ways.  First, as Rita Kepner says, broadcasters, by moving into New Orleans, encouraged people to stay, rather than evacuate.  Second, by exaggerating the problems, journalists slowed down rescue efforts.   Michael Fumento found several specific cases in which victims died who might have been rescued if rescue organizations had a more accurate picture of the situation.

The belief that bad reporting contributed to suffering, and even deaths, is shared by many government officials, as the Washington Post was candid enough to admit.  But that same article ended with this paragraph:
Keith M. Woods, faculty dean at the Poynter Institute for journalists, is willing to cut reporters some slack.  "Every institutional source for quality information was uprooted," said Woods, a New Orleans native whose father's and sister's homes were flooded.  "It was different than 9/11 because everything was underwater, and you are relying totally on word of mouth.  In that situation, invariably, we will get some things wrong.  One of the questions that would have served us better is 'How do you know that?'"
In other words, bad reporting caused suffering and cost lives, but it would be mean to blame journalists for their failures.

I don't agree with Woods since, sitting here in a Seattle suburb, I could see that the journalists were getting the story wrong in many ways, and said so at the time.  If I could see that, from two thousand miles away, the journalists in New Orleans should have been able to see it, too.
- 8:01 AM, 23 May 2006   [link]


Touching:  Ginny, one of the Chicago Boyz, has written a personal essay, with universal lessons.
I've been reading Michael Barone's Hard America, Soft America.  His subtitle is "Competition vs Coddling.  But he describes quite theoretical & profound differences in weltanschauung.  Of course, most agree in some situations (say raising a child) coddling is in order and in others (say training for combat) it isn't.  Statist economics coddle; free markets compete; closed societies protect their people from ideas, open ones let the bad ones compete.
. . .
I'm thoroughly enjoying his work.  It gives insights into my own life, the lit I teach, but is perhaps most useful in understanding the concave grading curve at the community college in which I teach.  So, here is the first response; it is personal – as Thoreau says, we always start with the "I".
And I thoroughly enjoyed her essay, and think most of you will, too.
- 6:49 AM, 23 May 2006   [link]


Data Mining For Terrorists:  USA Today caused quite a fuss when they published this article claiming that:
The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.
Two of the phone companies named, BellSouth and Verizon, confused matters by denying the story, or at least denying parts of it.
Verizon said in a statement Tuesday that it is not providing customer calling information to the National Security Agency.
. . .
On Monday, BellSouth denied providing records to the NSA.
The New York Times speculated that NSA was just collecting long distance records.
The responses by the companies suggest that the agency, in an effort to find patterns that could identify terrorists, sought records from major long-distance providers like the former MCI (now part of Verizon), AT&T and Qwest, but did not ask for data on local calls.
The Times doesn't really know, and neither do I.

But that doesn't stop the Times from speculating, and it won't stop me, either.  Two things seem reasonably clear.  First, as even the original USA Today story said, the NSA has not been listening to individual calls:
This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations.
Second, the NSA has been looking for patterns in calls, hoping to find ways to identify terrorists before they strike us.  Which calls?  What patterns?  I don't know, and, if I did, I wouldn't tell you.  But we may be able to understand what might be happening if we consider some analogies from business.

In this area, most supermarket chains offer discount cards, which give the holders sharp discounts on some specials.  I have two of them, one from QFC, and one from Safeway.  When they were first introduced, I wondered why the companies were using them.  The cards created additional costs for the companies, and annoyed many consumers, who feared for their privacy.  So why did the companies introduce them?  Because the cards gave the companies a way to analyze the buying patterns of their customers.  Knowing more about their customers lets QFC, Safeway, and other supermarket chains tailor their offerings more precisely.  And these profit driven companies apparently find enough patterns in that data so that they have chosen to set up and continue these programs, in spite of the costs.  (Membership retailers, such as Costco, do the same thing, I would guess, for the same reasons.)

Are there any other retailers that do similar searches for patterns.  Many, I am sure.  In particular, the phone companies must do it, or I wouldn't receive so many specific solicitations from them.  So the phone companies have been analyzing their data, looking for patterns that will let them sell us additional products, for decades.  And I cannot recall hearing many objections to their doing so.

Let's summarize to this point:  For many on the left, it is acceptable for the phone companies to look for patterns in phone calls in order to sell us additional products, but it is not acceptable for the NSA to look for patterns in the same records in order to find terrorists who want to kill us.   During a time of war, a war that is fought largely through intelligence operations, I must add.

But that isn't all there is to it.  The efforts of the NSA to find terrorists might be, as I believe, completely unobjectionable, but they might still be illegal.  I am not a specialist in that area of the law, not even a lawyer, but I can give you opinions from two people who are.  Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an attorney and counter-terrorism expert, is certain that the program is legal.   Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University, is certain that the program does not violate the Fourth Amendment, but not certain whether it violates other laws.   To which I say, if it does, then let's fix those laws.  Unless we really believe it is fine for phone companies to analyze their records in order to sell us products, but evil for the NSA to analyze the same records in order to find terrorists.

There would be little fuss over this NSA program (programs?) if it (they) had not been so consistently misrepresented.  James Taranto makes this point:
Sloppy bias if not out-and-out dishonesty is endemic in the reporting on the administration's terrorist surveillance programs.
And then gives a whole set of examples to support that harsh generalization.

Dennis Byrne makes the same point, and illustrates it with examples from late night jokes, all of which assume that the NSA is actually listening to conversations.  Which they aren't, as we have to keep saying again and again.

Let's summarize again.  The NSA has, apparently, been searching for patterns in phone records in order to find terrorists before they can strike.  Unless there is more to this story than has been reported, this is exactly what the NSA should be doing.  If the laws do not specifically allow these kinds of analyses, we should change the laws so that they do.  We have a fuss over this because, at the very least, the reporting has been filled with "[s]loppy bias", and, possibly, "out-and-out dishonesty".  Those are harsh charges to make against our "mainstream" journalists, but the evidence supports them.

(You can find some speculation on what the NSA might have been doing here and here.

You can find robust defenses of the NSA efforts here and here.

And for a spying effort that began under Clinton and may have been far more intrusive, see this article on Echelon.)
- 3:35 PM, 22 May 2006   [link]


Could This Drudge Report be true?
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) secretly placed political operatives in the city of New Orleans to work against the reelection efforts of incumbent Democrat Mayor Ray Nagin, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean made the decision himself to back mayoral candidate and sitting Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu (D-LA), sources reveal.
Yes, it could be, for two reasons.  First, Howard Dean really is that foolish, and really would risk alienating the Democratic party's most faithful voters by backing a white candidate against a black candidate.

Second, Mayor Nagin has done much to provoke the Democrats nationally, and in Louisiana.  He switched to the Democratic party in order to run for the mayoralty, and he keeps saying nice things about President Bush, and not-so-nice things about Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco.  There's an example here
In his election night comments, Mayor Ray Nagin called himself and President Bush the two most "vilified" politicians in America.
And another here
Naturally, Mayor Nagin saw opportunity and grabbed it.  He praised President Bush for keeping his commitment to bring billions of dollars for levees, housing and incentives to the city; thanked Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, a political enemy, "for what she's getting ready to do"; and declared it "time for a real partnership" and "time for us to get together and rebuild this city."
Was Nagin a better choice for mayor than his opponent, Mitch Landrieu?  Sadly, he may have been.  Neither ran what I would consider an elevated campaign.  And Landrieu,as lieutenant governor, may share some of Blanco's blame for Louisiana's botched response to hurricane Katrina.

Finally, one small, but intriguing, point:  The winner in New Orleans was the candidate who was closest to President Bush.  One would almost think that the voters of New Orleans blame state and local officials for the Katrina failures, rather than President Bush.

(It is rare for national parties to interfere in local races in this way.  And, if the national party is going to interfere, it had better back a winning candidate.)
- 8:35 AM, 22 May 2006
Maybe Not:  Drudge is now saying that the DNC did not try to help Landrieu.  So perhaps Howard Dean is not quite that foolish.  But I do think that most Democratic officials would have preferred that Nagin lose.
- 4:54 AM, 23 May 2006   [link]


These Facts should cheer you up.
Things are better than you think.
. . .
First, economic growth.  In 2005, as in 2004, the world economy grew by about 5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF projects similar growth for several years to come.  This is faster growth than in all but a few peak years in the 1980s and 1990s, and it's in vivid contrast to the long periods of stagnation or contraction in history.  The great engine of this growth is, of course, the United States, which produces more than one fifth of world economic product and whose gross domestic product has been growing at around 4 percent — 4.8 percent in the latest quarter.
. . .
But aren't we also living in times of record strife?  Actually, no. Just the opposite.  The Human Security Centre of the University of British Columbia has been keeping track of armed conflicts since World War II.  It reports that the number of genocides and violent conflicts dropped rapidly after the end of the Cold War and that in 2005 the number of armed conflicts was down 40 percent from 1992.  Wars have also become less deadly: The average number of people killed per conflict per year in 1950 was 38,000; in 2002 it was just 600.  The conflict in Iraq has not significantly changed that picture.  American casualties are orders of magnitude lower than in the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, and precision weapons have enabled us to vastly reduce the civilian death toll.
Economic prosperity and less violence.  What's not to like about that combination?  Unless, of course, you are a Democratic operative.

(And I could add that crime is sharply down in the United States from two decades ago, and our air and water are much cleaner than they were three decades ago.)
- 7:36 AM, 22 May 2006   [link]


What A Disgusting Creep!  If this story is correct — and I see no reason to doubt it — a disbarred lawyer has been stealing parcels of land from poor churches in Chicago.
The board of directors of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago authorized the sale last year of several vacant lots that the church had owned for nearly 10 years.

With land values in the Woodlawn neighborhood skyrocketing, the South Side church's four parcels were sold quickly--and two were resold--with more than $1.1 million changing hands in the transactions.

But there is one problem: The pastor at First Presbyterian says the church doesn't have a board of directors.

And the church never approved the sale of any of the four lots.

A Tribune investigation has found that in the last year, a dozen South and West Side churches, some of them just scraping by, have had land sold out from under them in the same way.
. . .
The lots, mostly vacant patches of land located in neighborhoods showing signs of gentrification, have been sold in transactions linked to a disbarred Berwyn attorney, according to court records.

In each of the transactions, which are laid out in county records, a bogus board of directors approved the sale to fictitious buyers, who quickly transferred the property to one of three real estate companies with a single Berwyn mailing address.

That address belongs to Phillip Radmer, who voluntarily surrendered his law license in March 2000.
Apparently, it will take a lot of legal work for the churches to get their land back, which makes the mess even more disgusting.
- 4:13 PM, 21 May 2006   [link]


How Many People Does It Take to change a BBC light bulb? They are still working on the answer to that question.
For more than a month the iconic sign at BBC Television Centre on Wood Lane, west London, has been out of action.

But what should have been a simple job, to repair a light illuminating the second "i", has descended into farce.

For where once it would have been a job for a couple of in-house technicians with a few hours to spare, the project has sunk into confusion involving outside contractors and spiralling costs.
Granted, this isn't an ordinary light bulb.  But it does illustrate how bureaucracies can become unable to cope with everyday problems.
- 9:25 AM, 21 May 2006   [link]


How Does An Al Qaeda Ally Fund Terrorist Activities?  Partly, through a traditional form of commerce.
A senior member of an Islamic organisation linked to Al-Qaeda is funding his activities through the kidnapping of Christian children who are sold into slavery in Pakistan.

The Sunday Times has established that Gul Khan, a wealthy militant who uses the base of Jamaat-ud Daawa (JUD) near Lahore, is behind a cruel trade in boys aged six to 12.

They are abducted from remote Christian villages in the Punjab and fetch nearly £1,000 each from buyers who consign them to a life of misery in domestic servitude or in the sex trade
Will there be riots in Pakistan after this revelation?  Probably not.

(There's much more here, including the part Christian missionaries played in exposing the ring.)
- 7:15 AM, 21 May 2006   [link]


R-Rated Sites:  I've added a new category of blogs, "R-Rated".  I am including it to provide links to sites that often use crude language, obscenity, and profanity.  I still intend to keep this site "sprog friendly", and not just for the sprogs, but I recognize that there are many important political blogs, especially on the left, that do not meet the usual standards of civilized discourse.  So, as a compromise, I will be including some of those sites in my list, but segregating them, and adding a warning in red to show that they are not fit for children.

(And, yes, I know that isn't the same definition of R used with movies, and, no, I don't intend to add an X-Rated category.)
- 7:04 AM, 19 May 2006
I've added the first blog to this category.  The current entries there will show you why I am warning readers.  By the way, according to several articles I have seen, this site is the Seattle area leftist site with the most traffic.  One thing you will also notice is that Goldstein does not see any need to link to conservative sites.  Some might consider that just a tad close minded.  But the attitude does seem quite common among leftists, especially in this area.
- 12:18 PM, 21 May 2006   [link]


Moms And Mathematicians Versus The Blob:  In my first, brief report on the forum sponsored by Where's the Math? I described the basic argument made there, that our current math curriculum is a poor one, and that we could do better by moving from what is commonly called "constructivist" mathematics to a more traditional curriculum.  In this post, I would like to give you a brief description of the two sides in this controversy.

On one side is what former Education Secretary William Bennett called the "blob", which is short for "bloated bureaucracy".  If we want to more precise, though it slightly spoils the blob metaphor, we would say that advocates of the status quo are in a set of bloated bureaucracies, in our public schools, in our state departments of education, and, most of all, in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  (If you want to correct the metaphor, imagine a set of blobs, side by side, blocking a road.)  In 1989, the NCTM proposed a math curriculum that was widely adopted, in part because of federal support for textbook purchases that follow the NCTM standard.  This standard has been, research shows, a disaster, seriously damaging mathematics education in the United States.  It has been worst for the children of parents who have fewer resources, less money and less education, because those parents find it harder to make up for the defects of the math education in most public schools.

On the other side from the blob are moms and mathematicians, in a wonderful ad hoc coalition.   Moms noticed that their kids were not learning mathematics, and, a little later, mathematicians (or to be more precise, mathematically adept professors) noticed that students were coming to them weak in basic mathematics.  There were many dads at that meeting in Bellevue, but I would judge that the moms outnumbered them by two to one, and were more passionate about how their kids were being cheated by the blob — as moms usually are when they believe that their kids are not getting what they should.  And the mathematicians were rightly distressed that they had to spend so much time on remedial mathematics, even in supposedly competitive colleges and universities.

Both groups at first reacted with individual solutions.  The moms tutored their kids, enrolled them in private tutoring organizations, or even started home schooling them in a few cases.  The mathematicians changed their courses so that less was assumed about their students' knowledge of mathematics.  As time went by, some moms and some mathematicians began to think that these individual solutions were not enough; those moms began to organize, and those mathematicians began to research the problem.  The result is what I saw at that Bellevue meeting, a grassroots organization with strong scientific support for its cause.

It is, as I said, a wonderful ad hoc coalition.  And the six member panel at the forum showed the quality of the people in the coalition.  (Unfortunately, I have barely adequate pictures of just five of the six.  The lighting conditions were poor, my little Olympus C-765 has a modest flash, and I am a very amateur photographer.)  I mentioned the first member of the panel, Shalimar Backman, in my first post, saying that I thought her a remarkable woman.  The other five were also remarkable, though in different ways.  The first picture shows Bill Hook and Niki Hayes.  (Scroll to the bottom for brief sketch of her career.)

(You can find a sample of his work here, and samples of her work here and here.)

Hook presented research on California schools showing that schools that used traditional textbooks outperformed schools using constructivist textbooks.  Hayes, who has been a principal, and is now a math teacher, sparkled as she gave us lessons from her experience.

The second picture shows, left to right, Craig Parsley, a fifth grade teacher in Seattle, Elizabeth Carson, the executive director of New York City HOLD, and University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor Clifford Mass.

Parsley, like Hayes, gave us the benefit of his own experience.  When he said that his goal was to produce students who "dominated" in the sixth grade, I knew that he understands boys that age.   (I suspect girls that age just tolerate that kind of talk.)  And he also made a general point of great importance: Those who hope that we can improve math teaching by better training of math teachers are forgetting the brutally high turnover among teachers.  Carson gave us a fine overview of the problem.  (And her organization's web site has many useful links.)  Mass, as I mentioned in the previous post, gave us his experience as a father, and as a professor teaching a mathematically demanding subject.

All of the panel members were willing to learn from the nations that outperform the United States in teaching mathematics.  In that, they differ sharply from their opponents in the blob.  I have long thought that, in education, we should look at what works and copy it.  We don't have the same theoretical understanding of the psychology of learning that we do of, for instance, physics, to put it mildly.  The NCTM began with a theory and built a proposed curriculum around it; they would have done better to study nations that succeed at teaching math, such as Singapore, and copy their methods.  And their textbooks.  Where's the Math? had exhibits outside the forum; one of the most interesting was the math textbooks from Singapore, which were plainer, cheaper, and much better than the comparable American textbooks.  (The Singapore textbooks were, as far as I could tell, much like the Japanese textbooks that I discussed here.)  And the extra material in the American textbooks was not just distracting, but, in some cases, incorrect.  (Mass found a silly meteorological error in one textbook; a diagram showed a cirrus cloud, which is made of ice crystals, below the freezing line.)

So how should this coalition confront the blob?  I have never seen the original movie, so I am not sure what strategic advice we could gain from it.  But often the best way to defeat bureaucracies is to go around them.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:41 PM, 18 May 2006
Correction:  I misread my notes, and misspelled Shalimar's last name in both this post and the original post.  It's "Backman", not "Buckman".  I have corrected both posts.  My apologies to Ms. Backman.
- 4:18 AM, 19 May 2006   [link]


What Do Border Sheriffs Think About The Bush Proposal?  Those in the Corpus Christi area seem to think it's a welcome first step, but no more than that.
Members of area law enforcement agencies who deal with illegal immigration in their counties every day hope President Bush's proposal to bring in 6,000 National Guardsman to patrol the border can provide some much-needed relief.
. . .
San Patricio County Sheriff Leroy Moody said 6,000 more troops on the border won't be enough.

His deputies spend countless staff hours chasing and apprehending immigrants.  He cited one chase earlier this month that lasted about five hours, involved many deputies and utilized one Department of Public Safety helicopter.

"From what I know, they could send 10,000 troops and it wouldn't be enough," Moody said.  "That's a start, but it won't get the job done."
In thinking about the immigration problem seriously — which many are unwilling to do — we need to understand that a pure enforcement policy would be fantastically expensive.  To understand that, just do some simple calculations about how many officers would be needed for our long (and, in parts, wild) borders.
- 10:37 AM, 18 May 2006   [link]


Worth Reading:  Ian Buruma makes a familiar point.
One of the most vexing things for artists and intellectuals who live under the compulsion to applaud dictators is the spectacle of colleagues from more open societies applauding of their own free will.   It adds a peculiarly nasty insult to injury.
But one that needs to be made from time to time.

(The classic work on this subject is, of course, Paul Hollander's Political Pilgrims.)
- 10:09 AM, 18 May 2006
More:  London Mayor Ken Livingstone may not be everyone's idea of an intellectual, but he does make a habit of applauding dictatorships, as he did, hilariously, yesterday
Asked about his attitude to regimes alleged to abuse human rights (the Tory questioner cited China and Venezuela) Ken claimed Mao's cultural revolution was "justified", because it improved chiropody.

"One thing that Chairman Mao did was to end the appalling foot binding of women," he announced.   "That alone justifies the Mao Tse-tung era."
(Actually, foot binding was almost obsolete by the time Mao came to power.)

The questioners at first thought Livingstone was joking, but it became apparent that he wasn't.   Does "Red" Ken know about the 70 million deaths attributed to Mao?  Would he care if he did?
- 12:50 PM, 18 May 2006   [link]


Are You A Better Driver Than Average?  Most of us think we are.  And most of us tend to overestimate our abilities in other ways.  But I was still a little surprised by this:
The noted media critic James Bowman, in the April issue of The New Criterion, delved into the specifics of a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll conducted earlier this year that showed fully 37 percent of participants believed they could do a better job at the White House than Bush.
(I wouldn't be in that 37 percent, if you are wondering, though I do like to think I know a little about politics and government.)

The political skills of most of our recent presidents, certainly including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, are rare, even among top elected officials.  Think of the way, for example, that Clinton got women to cover for some of his misdeeds, or the way that Bush coopted most of the GOP governors in 2000.  Regardless of what you think of those accomplishments, they show that both men have impressive political skills.

And without those political skills, it would be hard for anyone to do the president's job.   As Richard E. Neustadt argued, the power of the president is the power to persuade, and the success of any president rests on his ability to persuade others to support his policies.

Very few of us have those political skills, and very few of us could do the president's job.
- 8:27 AM, 18 May 2006   [link]


Suppose You Had An Employee who had done poor work for years, who had lied, cheated, and stolen, and who had massively embarrassed you.  Would you fire that employee?

You and I might, but the people of Colorado have just such an employee, Professor Ward Churchill — and a faculty committee that investigated his conduct has come out against firing him.
While we are unanimous in finding that Professor Churchill's research misconduct is serious and that we should express the degree of seriousness through a recommendation about sanctions, our discussions have not led to unanimity about what particular sanctions are warranted.    What follows, then, is the only portion of our report that presents multiple views.
  • Two members of the Committee conclude and recommend that Professor Churchill should not be dismissed.  They reach this conclusion because they do not think his conduct so serious as to satisfy the criteria for the revocation of tenure and dismissal set forth in section 5.C.1 of the Law of the Regents, because they are troubled by the circumstances in which these allegations have been made, and because they believe that his dismissal would have an adverse effect on the ability of other scholars to conduct their research with due freedom.  These two members agree and recommend that the most appropriate sanction, following any required additional procedures as specified by the University's rules, is a suspension from University employment without pay for a term of two years.

  • Three members of the Committee believe that Professor's Churchill's research misconduct is so serious that it satisfies the criteria for the revocation of tenure and dismissal specified in section 5.C.1 of the Law of the Regents, and hence that revocation of tenure and dismissal, after completion of all normal procedures, is not an improper sanction.  One of these members believes and recommends that dismissal is the most appropriate sanction; the other two believe and recommend that the most appropriate sanction is suspension from University employment without pay for a term of five years.
So two of the five think that Churchill deserves a two year vacation without pay and two others believe that he deserves a five year vacation without pay.  (Churchill has had enough speaking engagements in the last few years so that either "penalty" would probably not cause him any hardship.)

And what about the students at Colorado University, or the taxpayers of Colorado who have been paying this scoundrel?  Their views don't matter to most academics; even a professor as sensible on most other subjects as Stephen Bainbridge does not see that this liar, thief, and cheat does not belong at Colorado University, or any other respectable academic institution.

(You can learn more here, here, here, and, especially, here.

What about the argument often made that tenure protects freedom of thought?  I'll discuss that more in a later post, but for now I will just say that the evidence that tenure has that effect is weak, at best, and that it is at least possible that tenure has the opposite effect.)
- 2:28 PM, 17 May 2006   [link]


Help On Math Education From President Bush?  Maybe.  He has taken the first step.

The Bush administration has named a former president of the University of Texas at Austin to lead a national panel to weigh in on the math wars playing out across the country.  The politically fraught battle pits a more free-form approach to teaching math against the traditional method that emphasizes rules and formulas to solve number problems.

The former president, Larry R. Faulkner, who led the university from 1998 until early this year, will be chairman of the National Math Panel, which President Bush created by executive order in mid-April.

The panel is modeled on the National Reading Panel, which has been highly influential in promoting phonics and a back-to-basics approach to reading in classrooms around the nation.

The New York Times article is not as clear as it might be on the "free-form" approach, better known in education circles as "constructivist" mathematics.  You can find a better explanation here and here.

This should please our friends at Where's the Math?  But I suspect that, in their next breath, they would tell us that we don't need to wait for this panel — and they would be right.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 10:55 AM, 17 May 2006   [link]


Have Bush Policies Reduced The Homeless Population?  There is strong evidence for that conclusion in this article:
Three years after the launch of the most aggressive nationwide strategy in a generation to solve homelessness, there is evidence that it may be working: The number of street people in cities across the United States has plummeted for the first time since the 1980s.

The drop-off reflected in street counts of the homeless taken over the past year has ranged from 30 percent in Miami and 28 percent in Dallas to 20 percent in Portland, Ore., and 13 percent in New York.  In all, 30 jurisdictions reported declines in their homeless populations, including the 28 percent dip recorded in San Francisco a year ago and a 4 percent drop reported this week in Denver.
The Bush administration has been supporting programs solidly grounded in scientific studies.
The goal of the 10-year plans is to put the most dysfunctional homeless people in the country -- that 10 percent to 20 percent who are continually on the street with addiction or mental problems -- quickly into permanent "supportive" housing with counseling services to help them get healthy.  Those chronic cases are a tremendous financial burden on their communities in hospital, jail and other services -- hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece annually in some instances.
In contrast, at least in this area, homeless activists have been, in effect, encouraging people to stay homeless.  These activists see themselves as virtuous, but I think the consequences of their policies are cruel.

(By way of Tim Blair.

For more on the homeless problem, see here, here, and, especially, here.)
- 8:55 AM, 17 May 2006   [link]


Those Duke Lacrosse Players may not all be scum, after all.
The group has a 100 percent college graduation rate.  Sixty percent have a 3.0 grade point average or above.  During the past four years, 80 percent have made a national honor roll.  Members regularly volunteer at more than a dozen community agencies, building houses for the homeless and serving in soup kitchens, while raising more money than any other group for the Katrina Relief Fund.
On the other hand, Thomas Sowell has serious doubts about the prosecutor.
If there is a smoking gun in the Duke University rape case, it is not about the stripper who made the charges or the lacrosse players who have been accused.  The smoking gun is the decision of District Attorney Michael Nifong to postpone a trial until the spring of 2007.

That makes no sense from either a legal or a social standpoint, whether the players are guilty or innocent.  But it tells us something about District Attorney Nifong.
Something unpleasant.

And in another column, Sowell confronts the attitude Nifong may be appealing to
The worst thing said in the case involving rape charges against Duke University students was not said by either the prosecutor or the defense attorneys, or even by any of the accusers or the accused.   It was said by a student at North Carolina Central University, a black institution attended by the stripper who made rape charges against Duke lacrosse players.

According to Newsweek, the young man at NCCU said that he wanted to see the Duke students prosecuted, "whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past."

This is the ugly attitude that is casting a cloud over this whole case.  More important, this collective guilt and collective revenge attitude has for years been poisoning race relations in this country.
So it has.

(I should add that I have not completely formed an opinion on the truth of the charges in the case.  It is, after all, entirely possible both that Nifong is behaving badly — and that those charged are guilty.)
- 7:35 AM, 17 May 2006   [link]