Archive:

November 2002, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics





Pseudo-Random Thoughts


Cantwellisms:  Jacob Weisberg of Slate has made a minor career and at least one book out of what he calls "Bushisms", verbal slips by George Bush.  Eugene Volokh has criticized Weisberg effectively, pointing out that, often, the Bush quotes make sense in context, as he has shown in a number of examples, or that they are the kind of slips that nearly all of us make when we are speaking extemporaneously.  I heard a striking example of the second point in an interview with Washington's junior senator, Maria Cantwell, on last Friday's Dave Ross program.   (Dave Ross is a left wing talk show host, whose program is often used by Democratic officials, especially when they want an uncritical interviewer.  So far as I can tell, Ross does not object to being used this way.)

Ross was asking Cantwell about the extension of unemployment benefits, and trying to talk her through the usual Democratic argument that a refusal to extend them would show that Republicans are meanies.   Even with his assistance, she had trouble articulating this simple and familiar argument.  She rambled around, in what sounded like a series of sentence fragments.  She referred to Dennis Hastert as "Congressman Hastert", rather than the more appropriate "Speaker Hastert", just the kind of mistake that would draw a huge guffaw from Weisberg.  ("Congressman" is less appropriate than "Speaker" because Hastert would have to act as the Speaker in setting the agenda, rather than as an individual congressman.)  This is not the first time I have heard her struggle, or even make large errors.  Some months ago, I heard her on the same program get the American casualties in the Vietnam war completely wrong.  Despite this, you will not see any articles in Slate, or elsewhere, about "Cantwellisms", nor will anyone argue that her verbal slips show a lack of intelligence.  In fact she appears to be fairly intelligent, as shown by her clever campaign in 2000 against Slade Gorton, though the same can not be said of the senior senator here, Patty Murray.  

(Unfortunately, I have to commit one Weisberg sin that Volokh correctly criticizes, not giving you a link to a transcript of the program, since none is available.)
- 8:35 AM, 24 November 2002
Update:  After a thoughtful email from reader Chad Johnson, I rewrote this post to take some of the edge off, for the sake of accuracy.
- 8:02 AM, 25 November 2002   [link]


No More Clickety-Click:  New Zealand's parliament has just banned knitting in parliament—if done by a minister overseeing a debate.  Members, however, can still knit, which should please former member Marilyn Waring, who says, in her autobiography, that the 32 garments she knitted during nine years in Parliament was the only productive thing she had accomplished there.   Not having seen the garments, I can't tell whether she is boasting or complaining.  Fortunate New Zealand, where this can be a major issue.
- 7:30 AM, 24 November 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  Ron Rosenbaum's advice to the left.  They should not, he says, make the same mistake that some of the sillier people on the right did, who demonized Bill Clinton.  Rosenbaum himself is making progress; during the 2000 Florida election controversy, he actually speculated that a reporter's heart attack was caused by the nasty Republicans.   That made him a candidate for one of my Truly Silly awards in this election analysis.   He still has some way to go, though.  When he says that he opposes almost all of Bush's domestic policies, does that include, for example, Bush's efforts at education reform?
- 5:46 AM, 24 November 2002   [link]


Nigerian Riots:  Still another dismal example of how some Muslims behave when they feel an insult to their religion.  (Last news reports put the death toll at 100, as you may have heard by now.)  What is so dreary about this is how familiar it is.  Muslims feel insulted, so they attack people of other religions, sometimes Jews, often Christians or Hindus, whether those they attacked had anything to do with the supposed "insult".  In one particularly bizarre case, after a riot in Mecca between Muslim groups, a Pakistani mob attacked American facilities in Pakistan, blaming the CIA for the riot.  To say that this behavior is insane is only to state the obvious.
- 8:01 AM, 21 November 2002   [link]


Two Elephants in the media living room, and no one mentions them.  The disclosure of the severity of John F. Kennedy's health problems, unknown even to biographers like Richard Reeves, has drawn much comment from the media, but I have yet to see any one do more than mention one giant issue in passing, and a second has not even been mentioned.  The first elephant is the part some reporters had in the cover up of Kennedy's illnesses, mentioned in this Safire column.  Some reporters knew, from the Johnson camp tips, and elsewhere, that Kennedy might have severe health problems, that he might be lying to the American people about his "vigor".  They chose not to investigate.   Why?  One journalist, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, was so close to Kennedy that he must have know of some of these health problems.  Did he let loyalty to Kennedy override his duty to the public?

The second elephant, which has not drawn even a mention, is Bill Clinton's medical history.   Richard Reeves claims that concealment of illness:
. . . would not happen now.  The press is a great deal more aggressive than it was in the good old days.  Political life is more transparent now.  Witness the skeptical surveillance of the medical charts of Bill Bradley in 2000 or Vice President Dick Cheney today.  By our rules now, John F. Kennedy almost certainly could never have become president.
In fact, Bill Clinton never released his medical records, and behaved very much like a man with something to hide.  For example, shortly after he took office, he asked the White House doctor to prescribe an allergy medicine.  The doctor, a holdover from the Bush administration, said that he needed Clinton's medical records before he could write a prescription.  Rather than let this doctor see the records, Clinton fired him.  What did Clinton want to conceal?  There are two likely possibilities, venereal disease(s) and mental illness.  The first is plausible for reasons that every reader will know.  The second is also plausible given some of the strange behavior of our 42nd president.  He suffered a major depression after losing the Arkansas governor's race in 1980.  His recklessness shown in sexual matters, like the Lewinsky affair, and his narcissism are often found in people suffering from bipolar disease, perhaps better known as manic-depressive illness.  (Let me add the obvious caveat here.  I am not a psychiatrist, so I can write this without breeching professional ethics, but, for the same reason, I am by no means an expert on mental illness.)

Are there reporters, even now, who know what Clinton has concealed?  Will we, four decades from now, learn that he was suffering from serious illnesses?
- 8:16 AM, 21 November 2002   [link]


New York's Crime Decreased while London's crime increased.   Julia Magnet explains why, with this report from the street.
- 3:14 PM, 21 November 2002   [link]


The New York Times thinks it a breech of media ethics that Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, sent a note to a Bush aide, shortly after 9/11.  To the best of my knowledge, the Times found nothing to criticize in the much closer relationship that CNN President Rick Kaplan had with Bill Clinton, as described here.   Nor, to the best of my knowledge, have they been troubled by Tim Russert (former aide to Cuomo), George Stephanopolous (former aide to Bill Clinton) or the many Clinton staffers who were married to people in the media.  Wonder if this editorial was written by the former Clinton speech writer they just hired?
- 2:46 PM, 21 November 2002   [link]


Chairman Lugar:  Here's a sketch of the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The 2000 Almanac of American Politics has this to say about him:
Throughout his public life,Lugar's strength has been that he has followed where his stubborn convictions and his considerable intellect led, regardless of political risk or reward.  He has plenty of accomplishments, but also some disappointments to show for it.
He's a fine man for the job, in my opinion.
- 8:16 AM, 21 November 2002   [link]


Pelosi's Flag Pin:  For her appearance on Meet the Press, the new leader of the House Democrats wore a large American flag pin.  This made me curious.   Did she wear a similar pin in the past?  And, just as interesting, does she wear one to political meetings in her San Francisco district?
- 8:38 AM, 21 November 2002   [link]


Don't Know Much Geography:  Here's the latest survey from the National Geographic Society, with the usual dismal results.  One out of nine young Americans can not locate the United States on a map.  Most can not locate France, Japan, or the United Kingdom.  Over the past two decades, the United States has increased spending on education greatly, with this result in geography, and similar results in other subjects.  Yet you still see calls for still more spending without reform, like this column by the former editorial page editor of the Seattle Times.  How does the saying go?  One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.  Reform is the key, not more resources.
- 8:26 AM, 21 November 2002   [link]


Senate Majorities:  You probably have heard that a party really needs 60 votes to control the senate, not 51.  This is partly right, and partly wrong, as this article explains.  There is one great and necessary loophole, reconciliation bills with expenditures or taxes in them.  The budget has to be finished.

At one time, the barrier to stopping debate was even higher, two thirds of the senate, or 67 votes.   In the 1950s and early 1960s, this was the most important barrier to civil rights bills.   Southern Democratic senators could block them simply by refusing to allow a vote, even though there were large majorities for the bills in both the House and the Senate.  (And those blocking civil rights bills were almost all Democrats.  The Republicans did not win a seat in the South until John Tower won LBJ's Texas seat in a 1962 special election.  Republicans got their second when Strom Thurmond switched in 1964.)  One of the great civil rights victories was lowering that Senate barrier.
- 1:40 PM, 20 November 2002   [link]


Jim Jeffords Jumping Again?  I am not sure I believe this rumor, but it sure would be funny if it were true.  In one of his statements after the switch, Jeffords actually provided a theoretical framework for a switch back to the Republican party, by the way.  He said he didn't think either party should control the entire government.  Were the Democrats to win both the presidency and the congress in 2004, with a 50-50 split in the Senate, that would seem to require Jeffords to rejoin his old caucus.  Meanwhile, the Working Assets organization is calling for senators Chafee, Snowe, and Spector to defy the will of the voters in every election since 1994 and switch to the Democratic party.  Their theory, I guess, is that elections with the wrong result don't deserve respect.
- 1:16 PM, 20 November 2002   [link]


Korean Kidnappings:  The return of five Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea drew attention to a nasty practice of the North Korean dictatorship.  South Korea lost far more citizens than Japan to this kidnapping, hundreds and possibly thousands, as described in this article.   Here's what Choi Jun Wa, the 73 year old father of one of the victims says:
My wife is hospitalized with heart disease and is very ill.  Before she passes away, I would like her to see her son again. It is my biggest wish.
North Korea has earned its place in the axis of evil.
- 6:54 AM, 20 November 2002   [link]


Legalized Fraud:  That's how Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson describes the current state of asbestos litigation, which he labels a "lavish welfare program for lawyers".  Read the whole thing and you'll see why we need tort reform.

There is, by the way, an interesting and relevant fact about asbestos that I learned from articles in Science nearly two decades ago.  Asbestos is not a single mineral but a name used for several different ones.  Only one of these—and it is not the one most commonly used—is especially dangerous to people.  So, even if you were exposed to asbestos, it was probably not the dangerous kind.
- 6:28 AM, 20 November 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  This summary of the dismal history of Islam and slavery.   I would add one possible correction to the first paragraph.  I believe that China eliminated slavery on its own, though I do not know enough Chinese history to be certain.  Denmark has the honor of being the first nation to abolish slavery, by a royal order in 1792.
- 5:54 AM, 20 November 2002   [link]


"Organic" Food Poisoning:  British chickens raised on organic farms have much higher levels of dangerous bacteria than chickens raised conventionally.  The bacterial danger in "organic" food may be a general problem, since "organic" vegetables and fruits are often fertilized with manure, which greatly increases the chance of bacterial contamination.
- 5:24 AM, 20 November 2002   [link]


Three Parents:  There are children, perhaps a few dozen, who have three genetic parents, a father and two mothers.  I learned this strange fact after reading about a now banned technique used for in vitro fertilization.  Some women, fertility experts believe, produce eggs of poor quality.  To help them, a technique called "ooplasm transfer" was developed.  In it, a technician takes some part of the cytoplasm from a donor egg and injects it in the woman's own egg.  The egg, with the additional cytoplasm, is then fertilized with the husband's sperm.  As you probably remember from your high school biology, the cytoplasm is the part outside the nucleus of the cell, so it does not contain the main DNA.   It does, however, contain mitochondria, which are energy producing structures in the cell that have their own DNA.  Ordinarily, we get all our mitochondria DNA from our mother's egg, though an exception was found recently in Denmark who had mitochondria from his father.  With ooplasm transfer, the baby would likely inherit mitochondria DNA from both eggs, and so would have three parents.   Two of the babies produced with this technique had Turner's syndrome and were aborted, so there is some evidence that the FDA was right to be cautious.

You may wonder why the mitochondria should have their own DNA.  The explanation that I have seen is this.  Way, way back, a larger cell swallowed the bacterial ancestor of mitochondria and, rather than digesting it, began to use its energy producing qualities.  This was so advantageous to both that a permanent partnership was formed.  There is strong evidence for this theory in the similarity, even now, of mitochondria to certain types of bacteria, as well as their separate DNA.   As I understand it, the chloroplasts, the food producing structures in the cells of green plants, are thought to have a similar origin.
- 2:22 PM, 19 November 2002   [link]


A Small Error:  Michelangelo Signorile writing about the film, Far From Heaven claims that:
The film is set in the the sexually buttoned-down Eisenhower era, the early part of which was the only other time prior to now in which the presidency, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate were under the control of the Republican Party.
Actually, the Republicans controlled all three for most of the period between 1860 and 1932. The party was dominant in national politics from Lincoln's election until Franklin Roosevelt swept into office.   I won't check them all, but, just from memory, the following Republican presidents controlled both House and Senate for at least part of their time in office: Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.  Does Signorile realize Lincoln was a Republican?   Did an editor look at this?  
- 12:34 PM, 19 November 2002   [link]


A Gentle Nudge  may be enough to divert killer asteroids, if we spot them early and have the space ships to get to them.
- 11:34 AM, 19 November 2002   [link]


Hezbollah in Canada:  Our northern neighbor has long provided a haven for this terrorist organization.   It is not entirely clear why.  Perhaps a naive hope that Canada can use contacts with the terrorists to work for peace.  Canada has helped other terrorist groups.  During the Somali conflict described in Blackhawk Down, the warlord fighting against us and the other UN troops received significant sums from his wives, living on Canadian welfare payments.
- 6:47 AM, 19 November 2002   [link]


Three Votes:  That's the latest margin on the Seattle monorail proposal.  There are just a few votes to be counted, so the final margin on this project, which has a projected cost of nearly 2 billion but will, if built, surely cost much more, be tiny.  (If you are wondering, the monorail proposal, like the current competing plan to build a light rail transit system in this area, is a bad idea.  The population is too small here and too spread out for such systems to be cost effective.)
- 6:33 AM, 19 November 2002   [link]


Are You a Non-Muslim?  Then, according to radical cleric Sheik Abu Hamza of London's notorious Finsbury Park mosque, it is legitimate for Muslims to kill or enslave you.  Hamza is not, of course, representative of all Muslims, or even most, but there are many who see his interpretation as of Islam as correct.  Muslims who object to these views often receive death threats both in Britain and the United States.
- 2:04 PM, 18 November 2002   [link]


Can't or Won't?  Richard Norton-Taylor, the "security affairs editor" for the Guardian claims that the military capability gap between Europe and the United States is "already unbridgeable".  This is nonsense.  The European Union has a larger population and a larger gross domestic product than the United States.  If the Europeans spent proportionately as much as we do, with reasonable efficiency, they could have just as capable a military force.  They have chosen instead, with some honorable exceptions, to be free riders, letting us bear most of the burden.  I would not mind that much if it were not for the endless carping.
- 8:36 AM, 18 November 2002   [link]


Conservative Catholic?  That's what Nancy Pelosi claims she is, in this New York Times article.  The reporter does not have enough curiosity to follow up that amazing statement, but Andrew Sullivan does, and asks the obvious questions.   (Scroll up, and don't miss the not a parody item, too)  Oddly enough, relative to San Francisco Democrats, Pelosi probably is a "conservative Catholic".
- 7:56 AM, 18 November 2002   [link]


No Blue?  The last item in this list of brief science items claims that many languages do not have a separate word for the color blue.  High levels of ultraviolet B radiation in areas close to the equator may damage peoples' eyes there, making it difficult for them to distinguish blue and green.
- 7:36 AM, 18 November 2002   [link]


Daschle and Pelosi on the Gulf War:  On Meet the Press today, Tim Russert asked Nancy Pelosi, as he had asked Tom Daschle some weeks earlier, whether it was wrong to oppose the Gulf War in 1991.  Like Daschle before her, though less candidly, Pelosi rejected her chance to admit an error and change her position.  Some years ago, Senator Sam Nunn, who also voted against the Gulf War resolution, said that opposing it should disqualify a person from the presidency, or, I would add, any other position making foreign policy.  That Daschle and Pelosi, the leaders of the Senate and House Democrats, still do not grasp this point is worrisome.  It is bad enough to be wrong on such an easy question; it is even worse, once proved wrong, not to admit your error.
- 9:35 AM, 17 November 2002   [link]


Mark Bowden, author of Blackhawk Down, describes the link between Saddam and Osama, and argues forceably that we should oust the Iraqi dictator:
The United States bears some culpability for creating Hussein, for supporting him through the 1980s, and for betraying the Iraqi people when they rose up after the Persian Gulf war.  But when you couple the threat posed by his weapons with his despicable tyranny, and add his repeated flouting of agreements he signed to end the Gulf war, it would seem that anyone in favor of preventing horrible acts of terror, in liberating the oppressed, and in respecting international agreements would see the urgency of ending Hussein's regime.
So, it would seem, if opposing terror, liberating the oppressed, and respecting international agreements were truly your goals.
- 9:16 AM, 17 November 2002   [link]


Bush and Rove in Texas:  David Broder calls their record in Texas a "political steamroller".   After Bush defeated incumbent governor Ann Richards, he and Rove continued to work, with great success, at building Republican strength in that state.   In that, he is in sharp contrast to California's last Republican governor, Pete Wilson, who was able to win re-election, but left the party there drastically weakened.  Bush and Rove were able to strengthen the Republicans in Texas, while the increase in Hispanics was supposedly making it a more Democratic state.  Broder concludes that the political skill shown in Texas bodes ill for the Democrats, nationally.
- 7:46 AM, 17 November 2002   [link]


Beijing Musical:  Every once in a while, National Public Radio does a story that justifies the tax money and donations they receive.  For example, yesterday, they had a brief story on a musical now being performed in China.  This Communist country has permitted a Beijing musical based on that great anti-Communist work, George Orwell's Animal Farm.   Singers and dancers, some dressed as pigs, are performing Orwell's brilliant allegory on Communist dictatorships.  Older people in the audience seemed to understand Orwell's message, having lived through their own version of Animal Farm, but it was harder for the young people to understand.  What a wonderful change this shows.  I hope those young people never have to experience what their elders did.
- 7:30 AM, 17 November 2002   [link]


Good News, If True:  The Times of London, citing Libyan government sources, claims that Saddam is preparing a refuge for family members and associates in Libya.  So, we can conclude that he sees a real chance that he will soon be out of power.  Note that he recognizes that neither he, nor his despicable son, Uday, will be welcome anywhere.  (Unlike Idi Amin, who is living quietly in Saudi Arabia.)
- 1:44 PM, 16 November 2002   [link]


Update:  After a week of avoidance, the Seattle Weekly grudgingly admits that the Republicans won the election.  Knute Berger has the color coding wrong, though, like most journalists.  Seattle is either a red island, or, even more accurately, a red and green island.
- 8:16 AM, 16 November 2002   [link]


Osama Alive, After All?  Apparently, although the science of authenticating sound recordings leaves some doubt.  Since he used a sound recording, instead of video, as in the past, he must not want to be seen, most likely because he is sick, injured, or both.
- 10:09 AM, 16 November 2002   [link]


Nancy Pelosi, Machine Politician:  Most of the commentary on the Democrat's new minority leader has been on her extreme views.  She has already been tagged with "San Francisco Democrat", which Jeanne Kirkpatrick used so effectively in her 1984 speech to the Republican convention.  It was a clever term, referring both to the location of the Democratic convention that year and the major city with the most radical reputation.  (She did not use it, by the way, to describe life styles, as Josh Marshall seems to think.   As one would expect from a student of international relations and a UN ambassador, Kirkpatrick was most critical of the foreign policy stands of the Democrats.)

But there is another aspect of Pelosi just as interesting as her extremist views, and perhaps more important, her background in machine politics.  Think of her as the heir to the late Mayor Daley of Chicago, as well as some one who thinks Tom Hayden is and was right about many issues.  She grew up in a political family; her father was a Baltimore congressman from 1939 to 1947, and was mayor of Baltimore for 12 years after that.  Northeastern urban Democrats of that era almost all had their roots in some kind of machine, and so it is reasonable to conclude that she grew up in a family where politics was practiced much as Mayor Daley of Chicago did.  Her career began with long service in the party organization.  Among other posts, she was California Democratic chair in the 1980s.  She worked closely with the late Congressman Phil Burton, famous for his organizing ability (and his ability to gerrymander).

It may seem contradictory for a person to be both relatively extreme and a machine politician, but in fact there is no contradiction.  The first identifies goals, and the second a means of holding power.  There have been machines of all political parties and all ideological stripes.   A Republican machine controlled Philadelphia for many years.  Even now there are areas of Britain controlled by what we could call Labour machines.  Many urban areas in the United States have black, or sometimes Puerto Rican, politicians who operate a machine organization and have far left politics.

As often happens in machine politics, Pelosi more or less inherited her Congressional seat.  After Congressman Burton died, his wife, Sala, held his seat for four years.  On her death, Pelosi won the Democratic primary, with the blessing of Sala, who had endorsed Pelosi before death.   (There was an ironical twist to her victory.  Her principal opponent was Harry Britt, the openly gay supervisor.  So, Pelosi blocked the election of the first openly gay congressman, since, though first elected in 1980, Barney Frank did not come out until 1989.)  Like her father, she won a seat on the House Appropriations committee, a natural place for any machine politician.   Pelosi is, both literally and figuratively, a San Francisco Democrat, but she is also an heir to a tradition of machine politics that goes back to Daley of Chicago, Tammany of New York, and earlier.
- 10:54 AM, 15 November 2002   [link]


Just Not True:  It turns out that the reasons given for the late mailing of absentee ballots here in King county were false.  Here's the original story and here are the facts.   The D. C. sniper had nothing to do with it.  King county does not even share a printer with Montgomery county, Maryland.  The Maryland governor never urged people there to vote with absentee ballots.  The superintendent of elections for the county, Julie Anne Kempf, told us a completely false story.

Why did the county tell us this ridiculous story just before the election?  And why were the ballots mailed late?  One possible answer to the second question gives us an answer to the first.   If the late ballots were sent to the more Republican areas of the county, the parts out of sight of the Space Needle, if you will, that might be enough to tip a number of contests here, including control of the state legislature.  And, that also explains the story.  It would be an attempt to hide the manipulation of the election until after the voting.  When an explanation can be incompetence or conspiracy, the odds favor incompetence, but this is terribly suspicious.
- 4:10 PM, 14 November 2002   [link]


Support for Missile Defense  is coming from new places, notably Britain and Japan.  And the Japanese Defense Agency chief wants us to hurry, saying: "We should exert efforts to get the program to leave the research phase as soon as possible."  Having North Korea as a neighbor concentrates the mind wonderfully.  Prediction: Within five years, France will have a missile defense program.  Maybe sooner if they can figure out a way to avoid admitting Bush is right about this.
- 8:15 AM, 14 November 2002   [link]


Stolen Election in South Dakota?  Did Democrats steal the senate race for Tim Johnson?  Maybe.  David Frum summarizes the evidence:
In other words: A fraud-prone Democratic-controlled county delayed reporting its results until the tally was complete everywhere else in the state, by which time it was clear that the Democratic candidate needed 1,000 more votes to win. The county then delivered almost 1,600 more ballots than in 1998, virtually every single one of them marked for the Democratic candidate. Curious, no?
Curious, but not absolute proof.  There are alternative explanations for both the lateness and the surge of new votes.  We can be certain of one thing.  Were this to occur in a county controlled by conservative whites, it would draw more attention from the media.
- 8:02 AM, 14 November 2002   [link]


Why Military Tribunals?  Here's an case where you might need one.  If a terrorist organization starts to threaten the lives of prosecutors, judges, witnesses, or members of the jury, it will be difficult to conduct the trial in a civilian court.
- 2:46 PM, 13 November 2002   [link]


No Hate Mail:  So far, anyway.  I put this site up last July and have had a variety of reactions, mostly positive, but none I would consider even close to hate mail.   This surprises me a little (but disappoints me not at all), since I have been sharply critical of Ann Coulter, the Democratic party, Rush Limbaugh, Mohammed, a whole raft of British journalists, and many other public figures.  All these targets have defenders who are likely to take the criticisms personally.   Another blogger, Rachel Lucas, has had such a different experience from mine that she now has a hate mail category on her site.  The biggest reason for the difference, I am sure, is simply that she gets more traffic than I do.  I'll leave it to others to decide whether there may be other reasons, as well.
- 9:24 AM, 13 November 2002   [link]


Castro's Opponents:  This Washington Post editorial on the opposition in Cuba is the best reason for optimism about that misgoverned country I have seen in some time.
- 8:44 AM, 13 November 2002   [link]


Sensors Everywhere:  The new sensors engineers are designing have enormous promise, especially when the sensors are networked.  They may help us with finger print recognition, climate control, and a thousand other things.  There is also enormous threat, particularly to privacy, in the same sensors.  The designers take the threat so seriously that some already want help from lawyers and sociologists, which is like cats asking for help from dogs and lizards.  You can get an idea of both the promise and the threat here.  Or, if you want to look farther ahead, read Vernor Vinge's wonderful science fiction novel, A Deepness in the Sky, where tiny networked sensors play a central part in the plot.
- 8:33 AM, 13 November 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  This James Traub article on the Bush administration's efforts to find out what works in education, and to apply that knowledge to the classrooms.  They have a difficult task, since, often, what works is not what the educational bureaucracy, or even individual teachers, like.  As Traub notes, one method with considerable classroom success, Direct Instruction, was "wildly unpopular with educators".  Changing methods may meet as much resistance as getting the first President Bush to eat broccoli.

I would add two points to the article.  First, Traub rather slights Eric Hanushek, who is one of the top authorities on the effects of class size on achievement.  Second, the situation is even worse in our universities, where there is little interest in finding out what teaching methods work, and almost none in reform.   We spend billions on education in our universities, with almost no idea about which part of that vast sum is well spent, and which is not.
- 3:07 PM, 12 November 2002   [link]


Wedding Bells  are ringing in Afghanistan, which, pessimists told us told just a year ago, would be a hopeless quagmire.  We may not admire everything in their marriage customs, but I would far rather have them arranging marriages than training terrorists.  Wonder if, in a year or so, there will be Afghan babies named George, Dick, Colin, or, even, Condoleeza?
- 9:40 AM, 12 November 2002   [link]


New England Elections:  This region was long the most Republican in the nation.  Lincoln won 76 per cent of the Vermont vote in 1860, and only Maine and Vermont voted against FDR in 1936.  It is now the most Democratic region.  Every single congressman from Massachusetts is a Democrat, and the party controls most of the state legislatures in the region.   That makes the success of the Republican gubernatorial candidates there last week even more striking.   Republicans won every governor's race in the region, except Maine.  (Technically, the Vermont race is still undecided, since the Republican candidate did not win 50 per cent of the total vote.  In that case, Vermont law requires that he be chosen by the legislature, but the Republican candidate seems assured of winning that vote.)  Have New England independents decided they can not trust Democrats with control of the entire state government?  Or is there some other explanation?
- 8:33 AM, 12 November 2002   [link]


"Any Religion Will Do"  Ian Buruma claims, "when men decide to go crazy".  Which is why we have seen all those reports of crazed Quaker terrorists, I suppose.  In this column, Buruma simply refuses to face the obvious, that some religions, notably Islam, encourage violence in ways other religions do not.  Buruma repeats the false claim, common on the secular left, that Christians and Jews are just as prone to violence as Muslims.  Not in the modern world, by any reasonable accounting.   He ignores the many bloody attacks on Christians by Muslims all around the world, which Amitai Etzioni describes here. (And the attacks on Hindus, Buddhists, and others.)  Buruma would never, I think, claim that a man's ideology has no influence on his propensity to violence, though he makes that bizarre claim about a man's religion.   Nor would he claim, I think, that religions have no influence on other aspects of life.  He would not, for example, write that any religion will do when men decide to eat pork (forbidden to Jews and Muslims) or beef (forbidden to Hindus).  His unwillingness to face the facts about Islam and violence is all too common at the Guardian, and similar publications of the secular left.
- 7:26 AM, 12 November 2002   [link]