Archive:

October 2002, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts


Look Up:  And you'll often see wonders like these.  I see sun dogs every few weeks here in Kirkland and point them out to other people.  They are always surprised.
- 7:26 AM, 31 October 2002   [link]


Endorsements?  Matt Welch notes that the newspaper endorsements for California governor Gray Davis read more like indictments.  From the portions he posted, most do not even make the pro forma argument that California will be better off with Davis as governor than with his opponent.  Time for me to get started with the "Divest California" campaign.  (When California botched its energy policies, it raised prices all through the West, since the states share power.  If Davis and the gang of idiots in the California legislature continue in office, I want to see the other states in the West break out of that compact.  If we can't vote against them, we shouldn't have to suffer for their follies.)
- 7:18 AM, 31 October 2002   [link]


Haiti Ruler Trying to Influence Florida Election?  That landing of Haitian "boat people" in Florida was probably staged by the Haitian government, according to this Wall Street Journal editorial.  I wondered about the nice clothes on people who had supposedly made a long boat trip, when I saw the story on TV.   And Congresswoman Carrie Meek popped up awfully quickly to stage that scene with Jeb Bush.
- 7:05 AM, 31 October 2002   [link]


Anachronism:  I was glancing through Joe Conason's latest Salon column, looking for errors or corrections of previous errors (The first are easy to find.  So far I have had no luck with the second.), when I came across his misuse of "anachronism", a word more often used incorrectly than correctly, in my experience.  Conason seems to think, like many, that an anachronism is outdated.  In fact, an anchronism is out of place in time and can be wrongly modern, as well as wrongly old.  There's a famous example in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", where the chimes of a clock are heard in one scene.  This is an anachronism, because the sundials and rope clocks used by the Romans had no chimes.  A visible cell phone on an extra in movie set 100 years ago would be an anachronism for the same reason.

If, like Conason, you describe Paul Wellstone as an anachronism, you could mean either that he was outdated, or that he was ahead of his time.  Given this ambiguity, it is probably best to use the word only for examples like the Shakespeare play, where the meaning will be clear.
- 4:42 PM, 30 October 2002   [link]


Kudos To:  Bill Virgin of the Seattle PI for this thoughtful column on individual solutions to the traffic problems in this area.  Virgin even speculates that the drop in per capita gas consumption here may be caused by "the increase of sprawl".  That would horrify the editors at the Guardian, who are appalled to find people escaping from the central cities of Britain.
- 4:10 PM, 30 October 2002   [link]


Slipping off the Democratic Plantation?  That's what blacks are doing, according to this new survey.
African Americans are becoming less likely to identify themselves as Democrats, and give Republican Secretary of State Colin L. Powell a higher approval rating than civil rights icon Jesse L. Jackson, according to an opinion poll released yesterday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
I predict that we will see more of the outrageous ads like those the NAACP ran in 2000, as Democratic leaders try to counter this trend and bring blacks back to the plantation.  In the long run, they will not succeed, which will be good for the country and for blacks.
- 3:55 PM, 30 October 2002   [link]


The Other Occupation:  While Israel draws endless criticism for its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there is another far worse occupation about which the world is almost mute.  There is another difference between these two occupations; most Israeli citizens want to withdraw from their occupation, and Israel did make a partial withdrawal as part of the agreement with Arafat.  There is no sign that the leaders of the second occupation, or their people, want to withdraw, ever.
- 9:08 PM, 30 October 2002   [link]


Men are From Mars:  And so are women, plants, and bacteria, if this theory is correct.
- 3:22 PM, 30 October 2002   [link]


Paul Krugman Versus the Facts:  I was a bit startled recently—though I shouldn't have been—to realize that there were still people who take Paul Krugman's columns seriously, like, for example, economist J. Bradford Delong.  For some time, I have thought that Krugman's errors and bias were so blatant that even people who agree with him would dismiss the columns.   That certainly seems to be true for people like Mickey Kaus, who is on the moderate left.   I thought that economists on the moderate left would be especially annoyed by Krugman since he is, by implication, discrediting them.  Judging only from his columns, one would have to conclude that Krugman is a debit both to the profession of economics, and to people on the left.

So, for the instruction of people like Professor DeLong, let me go through one of Krugman's recent columns, in which he had the nerve to quote the great Monty Python dead parrot skit.  Krugman begins with a flawed Dana Milbank article, which I demolished here, and goes downhill from there.   After mentioning Milbank and some other articles by left wing journalists who think Bush is not truthful, Krugman claims that they are actually pulling their punches because of fear:
Let me hasten to say that I don't blame reporters for not quite putting it that way.  Mr. Milbank is a brave man, and is paying the usual price for his courage: he is now the target of a White House smear campaign.
The evidence for this nasty charge?  Krugman provides none, not even an example of a smear.   The White House did send a letter to the Washington Post, disagreeing in a mild way with Milbank's piece, but this hardly constitutes a "smear campaign".  To my knowledge, the Bush people have not hired private detectives to dig up material on Milbank, or had the IRS check over his income taxes, both of which happened to Clinton opponents while he was in office. Krugman recycles some old complaints and then comes up with this amazing charge:
For the Bush administration is an extremely elitist clique trying to maintain a populist facade.   Its domestic policies are designed to benefit a very small number of people -- basically those who earn at least $300,000 a year, and really don't care about either the environment or their less fortunate compatriots.
(I can almost hear a clunk as I read each phrase.  Not exactly a model of good composition, is it?   More on that later.)  

Let's take the clunks in order.  Is the Bush administration "an extremely elitist clique"?   Obviously not.  Any government in a democratic country must reach out to so many people that it cannot be an elitist clique.  The continuing drive to gain and maintain popular support pushes them to be as inclusive as possible.  This is even more true when the leader is, like Bush, a natural politician.  While running the Texas Rangers, Bush spent considerable time at the stadium, talking to all the employees and to as many fans as possible, hardly the behavior of an elitist.  At least from his time as an undergraduate, Bush has held populist attitudes; much of his dislike for Yale was a populist contempt for the professors.  On many issues during the 2000 election, notably abortion, gun control, and school vouchers, Bush took a more populist position than Gore.  He also has a more populist taste in friends than Gore (or Clinton) or, I would bet, Professor Krugman.

Are the Bush domestic policies "designed to benefit" only rich people who don't care about the environment or the poor?  Krugman intends two separate charges in this clunk, though what he writes is not what he intends.  Literally, he is saying that the Bush domestic policies will benefit only rich people who do not care about either the environment or the poor, a rather small group of people.  (Rich people are more likely to care about environmental issues than the poor, by the way, which is not surprising when you think about it.)  What Krugman intends to say is probably that Bush policies benefit only the rich, sometimes at the expense of the environment.  The first can be disposed of easily.  The Bush tax cut went to everyone who pays individual income taxes.  Parts of it, like the increase in allowances for dependents and more favorable treatment of charitable contributions will proportionately benefit lower and middle income people more than the wealthy.

After the tax cut, the most important Bush domestic policy was his proposal for school reforms.   He hopes to repeat some of the success he had in Texas, where schools improved markedly while he was in office, and black and Hispanic children had the biggest gains.  These children do not, generally, come from families with incomes higher than $300,000.  The Bush educational reforms, would have most benefit to poor children, especially poor black and Hispanic children.  To pass this set of proposals, Bush had to break with many in his party, who want to see the federal role in education limited, and to compromise with none other than Ted Kennedy.  One would think that a professor at Princeton, which is, after all, an educational institution, would have noticed this.

Nor can one plausibly claim, despite the nasty rhetoric from environmental organizations, that Bush policies will harm the environment—if you define harm, traditionally, as a decrease in air and water quality.  For those, Bush proposed modest improvements during the campaign, and has already begun to make some of them, like the much tighter controls on diesel emissions.   The Bush policies may harm the environment, if you define harm as limiting the areas reserved for wealthy urban privligentsia, people like, for example, Paul Krugman.  About 10 per cent of the land area of the United States is now in wilderness areas, or portions of national parks managed in much the same way.  Bush has rejected managing our national forests as wildernesses; instead he wants to follow the principles of Teddy Roosevelt and manage them for multiple uses, especially timber.  On this issue, Bush is siding with loggers against the wealthy environmentalists.  The same pattern can be found in oil drilling in Alaska, where he sides with unions and the local Eskimo tribe against the wealthy urban environmentalists.

Krugman ends by arguing that the Bush policies are increasingly unpopular with the people.   He provides not one single bit of evidence that this is so.  Polls consistently show that some Bush policies are popular, and that on many issues, including corporate corruption, he has an edge over the Democrats.

Finally, a word about Krugman's writing.  In one of his most famous essays, "Politics and the English Language", George Orwell argued that "the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts".  Throughout this column, Krugman illustrates Orwell's argument.  There are pretentious words like "spate" or phrases like "extremely elitist clique", outright lies like "bourgeois riot", and mixed metaphors like the switch from a flag to a helium balloon near the end.  Some friend of Paul Krugman's, if he has a friend, or ally if he does not, should send him Orwell's essay and Strunk and White's Elements of Style.   If Krugman would be less slovenly in his writing, he would put fewer foolish thoughts on paper.
- 11:02 AM, 30 October 2002   [link]


More Problems With Arithmetic:  Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plashke recently wrote that a study showed that Barry Bonds had reached first an average of 1.1 times for each turn at bat.  The only way I can imagine that happening is that, in every tenth turn at bat, Bonds took someone with him to first.  (by way of Matt Welch)
- 1:04 PM, 29 October 2002   [link]


Solid Waste Declines:  Nature magazine finds out that solid waste has declined, per capita, from a century ago.  This will not surprise anyone who has read William Rathje and Cullen Murphy's wonderful book on solid waste, Rubbish, which made the same point.  Even more surprising, people in a less developed nation, Mexico, actually produce more solid waste, per capita, than Americans do.
- 11:31 AM, 29 October 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  This article by James Q. Wilson on why Christians became tolerant and Muslims did not.
- 11:18 AM, 29 October 2002   [link]


How Prime Minister Heath Encouraged Terrorism:  By way of Natalie Solent, I found this historical example of how to encourage terrorists.  If you let them win, you encourage them.  That's not complicated, is it?
- 8:21 AM, 29 October 2002   [link]


Is Saddam Subsidizing Anti-American Organizations?  That's what the author of this article believes:
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Iraqi money is being used to help fund anti-American organizations and attempt to influence opinion to prevent America from invading Iraq.   Hussein realizes that his regime's existence, for that matter his existence, is contingent upon keeping President Bush from forming a coalition to assist in the invasion.
If this is true, and I would like to see more evidence, it would hardly be unprecedented.  All through the Cold War, the Soviets subsidized "peace" organizations in the West, as well as Communist parties in France, Italy, and elsewhere.  If I recall correctly, the Black Panthers got substantial support from Communist China.  And, of course, we did somewhat similar things, especially in the early part of the Cold War in Europe.
- 8:08 AM, 29 October 2002   [link]


Election Prediction, 10/28:  This is the second of three election predictions I will be making before the election on November 5th.  Right now, I think that the odds that Republicans will control the House of Representatives are at least 80 per cent, a 5 per cent increase from last week.  I did a rough tally of the Ron Faucheux predictions and now expect the Republicans to gain about 3 seats in the House of Representatives, against the pattern of off-year losses, but with the pattern of limited losing streaks.  This gain of three would be about the number of seats I have seen as the net gain the Republicans made from redistricting.  So, another way to put this is that the two parties will continue to be almost tied in popular support, as they have been in the last three elections for the House.

Right now, I think the odds that the Republicans will control the Senate are 55 per cent, also up 5 per cent from my first prediction.  Since the Real Clear Politics site has the poll results, I simply awarded each seat to the party leading in the average of the October polls.  That gives the Republicans a net gain of 1, losing a seat in Arkansas, but picking up two in Missouri and South Dakota.  Let me repeat that there are enough close contests so it is easy to see how either party could gain three seats. As before, if you want to make your own predictions, you may want to look at some of the sources I mentioned last week.
- 10:21 AM, 21 October 2002   [link]


Vast Volokh Conspiracy?  The Volokh Conspiracy continues to add members.  At some point, perhaps soon, it will have to add "Vast" to its name.  It will take only a few more members, in my opinion, to qualify as a vast conspiracy, since conspiracies, by their nature, must be limited to small numbers of people.  Before you even think it, let me say that any mentions of "half vast" conspiracies will be met with stern looks.
- 10:13 AM, 28 October 2002   [link]


Carbon Computers?  For years, integrated circuits have been constructed principally from silicon, which early displaced germanium as the best material for transistors.   Improvements have come largely by making them smaller and smaller, but a limit is, most experts think, in sight for that, perhaps as early as 2010.  By then, we may be able to replace silicon with carbon nanotubes.  If so, we could have computers as powerful as the current desktop systems, but as small as watches.
- 9:08 AM, 28 October 2002   [link]


Bilingual Education Fights:  There are two voter initiatives to ban bilingual education on ballots, one in Colorado and one in Massachusetts.  New York Times education editor Richard Rothstein is opposed to all such measures.   His reasons are obvious enough; the measures take control away from the professional educators he identifies with.  That these professionals have failed, as Ron Unz explains, in this letter, does not matter to Rothstein.  The opposition is not limited to articles in the New York Times.  Linda Chavez describes the much rougher methods proponents of bilingual education sometimes use.  Why the smears and violence?   Because banning bilingual education threatens the jobs and incomes of those who supply it.
- 9:03 AM, 28 October 2002   [link]


Foreign Anthrax, After All?  That's what many American experts are beginning to think, after looking at all the evidence.
A significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts are expressing skepticism about the FBI's view that a single disgruntled American scientist prepared the spores and mailed the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people last year.  These sources say that making a weaponized aerosol of such sophistication and virulence would require scientific knowledge, technical competence, access to expensive equipment and safety know-how that are probably beyond the capabilities of a lone individual.
And, these experts suggest that:
[I]nvestigators might want to reexamine the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or try to determine whether weaponized spores may have been stolen by the attacker from an existing, but secret, biodefense program or perhaps given to the attacker by an accomplice.
- 8:35 AM, 28 October 2002   [link]


Can't Anyone Here Do Arithmetic?  When I wrote this post, mentioning the mistakes in an article by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, I thought the last one, an arithmetic mistake, obvious.  I was wrong.  Journalist Andrew Sullivan did not see it.  Princeton economist (and New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman missed it in this miserable column.   (So miserable that I will give the rest of the column a full treatment, shortly.)  Berkeley economist Brad DeLong missed it in this post.   And Slate's Timothy Noah missed it here.   So, three prominent journalists and two economists at prestigious universities missed the obvious.   I am not surprised to see journalists, a notably innumerate lot, make this mistake, but economists?   So far, only Sullivan has admitted error, as he did here.   It is probably not a coincidence that, of the five, only Sullivan supports Bush.

(If the mistake isn't obvious to you, here's the simple explanation both I and Sullivan's anonymous correspondent used.  According to Milbank, in his last budget, Clinton increased the education budget by 18.5 per cent, and Bush increased it by 15.8 per cent in his first budget.  Milbank concluded that Clinton's increase was larger, but this is an error, since the Bush increase was made on a larger base.  If we set the budget at 100 initially, for simplicity, then it is 118.5 after the Clinton increase, and 137.223 after the Bush increase.  Subtracting 118.5 from 137.223, we see that the Bush increase was 18.723 per cent of the original base, just a trifle larger in dollars than the Clinton increase.  In fact, the amount may have been chosen in part just so Bush could make the "largest increase" claim.) I'll send emails to the four who have yet to correct this error, but I don't have high hopes that they'll do the right thing.
- 7:20 AM, 28 October 2002   [link]


Tribal Catastrophe in Zimbabwe?  There may be one coming, according to Matthew Parris, who writes:
The worst may not be over in Zimbabwe. If every white farmer were hacked to death and his farm consigned to ruin, the worst might not be over. The worst is what faces not a few thousand whites but a few million blacks: the Matabele people.
The example of Rwanda is not encouraging.
- 4:38 PM, 27 October 2002   [link]


The Wall:  Heather MacDonald, author of The Burden of Bad Ideas, describes another, the "wall" between intelligence and criminal investigations of terrorists.  She thinks it handicaps the FBI, while doing nothing to protect our rights.  As is so often true, most journalists seem to have missed the big story.
- 4:19 PM, 27 October 2002   [link]


Sniper News From Seattle, Part 4:  Here are a few more bits and pieces on John Muhammad's doings in this area.  I learned a plausible reason for Muhammad going to Bellingham, other than a hope to cross the border.  He had already spent months hiding there with the children from his second marriage, taken without his wife's knowledge or permission.  It's not an unusual choice as a hiding place, though one would think a larger city would be better.

Muhammad's second divorce and fight over child custody was so bitter that the attorney who had represented Muhammad in the court fight said (in a call to a talk radio program) it may have tipped him over the edge.  It may even have led to his first murder.  A 21 year old Tacoma woman, Keenya Cook, was shot when she answered the door at her aunt's home, where she was living.  Cook was the niece of Isa Williams, who had helped Muhammad's wife recover her children in the custody fight, and had worked for him in his auto repair business.

And, still more strangeness.  While living in Bellingham, Muhammad was a regular at a bar that had two other serial killers as patrons, Ted Bundy and Kenneth Bianchi, usually known as the Hillside Strangler.  What was this devout Muslim doing in a bar?  Killing the pain from losing his children and his businesses?  Building a cover as a terrorist?  More likely the first than the second, I would think, but it is still mysterious.
- 3:47 PM, 27 October 2002   [link]


Kudos To:  Australian Prime Minister John Howard for this announcement.   One of the biggest handicaps many poor countries face is the lack of access to markets in the wealthier nations, especially in Europe.
- 3:19 PM, 27 October 2002   [link]


Sniper News From Bellingham  Here's a sketch of John Muhammad's strange doings while he was living in Bellingham.  He took airplane trips and had lots of cash while he was living in a homeless shelter.  Bizarre and suspicious.
- 9:08 AM, 25 October 2002   [link]


The Things We Do for Love:  Lou Piniella, the popular manager of the Seattle Mariners baseball team is reportedly going to manage the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team with far less talent.  Apparently, when he said he was leaving Seattle for family reasons, he was telling the truth.  (Tampa is where his wife and much of his family live.)  Love may also tip the balance in many Senate races this year.  In Arkansas, Republican Tim Hutchinson is in trouble for leaving his first wife and marrying a staffer.  In Missouri, Democrat Jean Carnahan, who took the position to honor her late husband, may lose because she does not have the necessary political skills to keep it.  Another Democrat would have a better chance.  In Montana, Republican Mark Racicot, who had been a popular governor, would have had a good chance to defeat Democrat Max Baucus, but chose not to run.  One motive was his desire to provide more for his family than he could on a Senator's salary.  Finally, the Democrats were on their way to losing the New Jersey race, until Lautenberg replaced Toricelli, and may still lose it.  How is that an example of love?   Well, Toricelli got in trouble for gifts to someone he loved above everything—himself.
- 8:49 AM, 25 October 2002   [link]


Jimmy Carter's "Miracle":  In 1994, Jimmy Carter, without being asked, went to North Korea and negotiated an agreement, which he called a miracle.  They would give up their nuclear weapons program, and we would give them aid in return.  William Safire describes how they failed to keep their end of the bargain, and Charles Krauthammer mentions just how much this cost us.  North Korea was the biggest recipient of our foreign aid in the region.   No more miracles, please, Mr. Carter.  Instead, go home and pray to be delivered from the sin of pride.
- 8:28 AM, 25 October 2002   [link]


Sniper News from Seattle, Part 3:  News reports have filled in some of the puzzle pieces I could only speculate about earlier.  We now know why the Bellingham police were interested in John Malvo; the school asked them to check because he had no papers.  He had no papers because he is an illegal immigrant from Jamaica, as Michelle Malkin explains, with her usual vigor.   This would also explain why the two were unable to cross the border, if they in fact tried to, as the Bellingham mayor suggested.  (I still think that my idea, that they were trying to go from Canada to Afghanistan, or some other Islamic battlefield, is quite plausible.  It is hard to account for them being in Bellingham, otherwise.)

All the speculation about a white van appears to have been wrong.  One mistaken eyewitness, which is not unusual, may have actually protected the killers.  Wrong, too, was the common idea that the sniper was a white loner.  As Jonah Goldberg points out—and he is the first I have seen mention this—the odds were only slightly in favor of that hypothesis.  Just 55 per cent of sniper killers have been white men, nationally.  In the Washington D. C. area, with its heavy population of blacks, one would expect that percentage to be even smaller.   Sadly, as Daniel Pipes notes, conversion to Islam often goes with hostility to the United States, among black Americans.  That Islamic nations, like Sudan, are still taking blacks as slaves seems to matter not at all to some.
- 8:10 AM, 25 October 2002   [link]


Sniper News From Seattle, Part 2:  The Seattle papers have similar stories on the sniper connections to this area.  The Seattle Times story is here and the Seattle PI story is here.  One ironical detail: While in Bellingham, the two suspects turned to a Christian mission for help.  And a speculation: If, as the Bellingham mayor said, they had tried to get into Canada, they may have planning to go from there to Afghanistan or some other Islamic battlefield.
- 6:34 AM, 24 October 2002   [link]


Sniper News From Seattle:  Here's a summary of what I learned from the ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates in Seattle.  Today the FBI searched the backyard of a duplex in Tacoma, looking for bullets, shell fragments, and casings.  They hauled away two small U-Haul trucks full of evidence, including two large stumps.  A neighbor across the street had complained about frequent gunfire when the previous tenant had lived in the duplex, though most neighbors could not remember hearing gun shots.  The neighborhood, from what I could tell from the TV pictures is a modest, working class area, with small, inexpensive homes, close together.  The searchers have now left the duplex and taken down the police lines, so I would guess that they found what they were looking for.

Today they also did a search in Bellingham, a smaller city near the Canadian border.  According to the mayor of Bellingham, they were looking at the Bellingham High School and were interested in two men, one who had attended the high school about nine months ago, and the other an older man, perhaps in his thirties.  Now here are two curious parts.  According to the mayor the two had ended up in Bellingham because they had "bounced off" the Canadian border, that is, tried to enter Canada, but had been refused.  This would suggest that they were not US citizens, or at least did not have even fake papers.  Second, the police there had investigated the two at the time, though the mayor did not say why.

There were also reports that one of the two were Hispanic and that they were searching for a soldier from Fort Lewis, the large army base just south of Tacoma.  There's no obvious connection to James Ujaama or any of the Portland suspects.
- 7:31 PM, 23 October 2002   [link]


Incompetence in the Seattle Schools:  A few months ago, there was a nasty demonstration at a Seattle school, Rainier Beach, over the lack of text books.   We learned later that the school had an adequate budget for books and even had some additional money that simply had never been spent.  The shortage was the fault of the school's administration.   (And, collectively, the students, who have been poor at returning books.) A series of articles in the Seattle Times, of which this is the latest have shown that the incompetence is system wide.  Here are some highlights, if that's the right word:
  • A budget analyst made a 7 million dollar mistake by counting pupils twice, an error that went undetected for months.
  • When the error was detected, the school board was not informed and voted to accept a budget based on this error.
  • The school district, after negotiating new contracts, did not adjust the budget to allow for the higher costs.
  • The district budgeted too small amounts for substitute teachers, year after year, not adjusting for the experience of the previous year.
  • The district currently has no chief financial officer or budget manager.
  • Worst of all, the district does not routinely balance its books.  That's right, the Seattle schools do not bother to balance their checkbook, unlike millions of individuals, and most suburban schools.
So far as I can tell, no one, not even the employees who deceived the board, have lost their jobs or postions over this fiasco.

Seattle does not, by a long way, have the worst urban schools in the nation.  In fact, they probably are above average for schools in large cities, which shows just how bad schools in other cities are.  
- 5:45 PM, 23 October 2002   [link]


Worth Reading:  By way of Bjørn Stærk I found this fine history of our first war against terrorists.   If you want to learn some lessons for the present, or you just aren't sure what the phrase "to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Corp hymn is about, you'll want to read this article.
- 10:22 AM, 23 October 2002   [link]


For Dana Milbank, Facts Are Malleable:  When Dana Milbank last drew national attention, he was putting a partisan spin on a Bush speech and provoking an outburst by Tom Daschle, the Democratic Senate majority leader.  Bush had criticized the Senate and then deliberately said that he had received strong support from both parties.  Milbank's account of the speech added a partisan element that was not in the text, and left out Bush's bipartisan line just afterwards.

Now, Milbank (and the Washington Post) are claiming that, "For Bush, Facts are Malleable", as the headline puts it.  The examples given in the article don't support the claim.  Some are trivial, like Bush's mistake in attributing an estimate to the International Atomic Energy Agency instead of US intelligence.  Others are silly, like Milbank's argument that we can ignore Iraqi drones for distributing biological and chemical weapons because they do not have the range to reach the US from Iraq.  (Two obvious points: Should we not care if he uses them against neighboring countries?  And, does Milbank not realize that they could be used from, for example, an Iraqi freighter hundreds of miles off our coasts?  I am not an expert on air defense, but I believe such an attack would have a good chance of getting under our radar.)   And the last Milbank argument, that Bush's education increase is smaller that Clinton's, is simply wrong.  The last Clinton increase was 18.5 per cent and the Bush increase was 15.8 per cent.   If you do the arithmetic, you'll see that the 15.8 per cent is just slightly larger in dollars than the 18.5 per cent increase, since it is on a larger base.
- 9:52 AM, 23 October 2002   [link]


From Pigs to Pot:  T. R. Reid of the Washington Post summarizes the initiatives voters will face in less than three weeks.  One of the most important, the Colorado initiative to ban bilingual education has drawn ferocious and well-funded opposition.  This is disturbing since the results after the ban in California have been so promising, something admitted even by many former opponents in the schools.
- 9:13 AM, 23 October 2002   [link]


How Not to Study Public Opinion:  I have gotten behind in my reading, so I did not get to this New York Times Magazine article by novelist A. S. Byatt until just the other day.  (Too late, unfortunately for it to be available free.)  In "What is a European?", Mrs. Byatt concludes that Europeans are united only by their feeling that they are not Americans, and so feel most European when they visit the United States.  This is not surprising; Americans have told me the same, in reverse, after they visited Europe.  Her other observations about what Europeans believe are much less plausible, and in fact show how not to study public opinion.

Mrs. Byatt studied European opinion by traveling around Europe and asking people questions.   The great novelist V. S. Naipaul did this for Muslim countries and wrote two insightful books from his experiences.  Byatt has been less successful; everywhere I could check her generalizations about European opinions, she was wrong.  She claims that she met no one in favor of military action against Iraq.  Public opinion polls show that significant minorities in most European countries support such action.  In Britain, Byatt's home, between 30 to 40 per cent of the public has supported military action, as well as both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition.   If we take the lower percentage and do a quick calculation, we find that Byatt would have less than a 3 per cent chance of interviewing only people who did not support action against Iraq, after just 10 interviews with randomly selected people.  Byatt believes, from a meeting of writers in Germany, that the young are more likely to oppose war; polls show that they are more likely to support it.   Byatt believes that Europeans are all opposed to capital punishment; in fact large numbers in nearly every country support it, with a majority favoring it in Britain, as Josh Marshall has shown.   As wrong as she is in her beliefs about European opinion, I do not think that Byatt was dishonest.   In her narrow coterie of writers, opinion probably is much like that in her distorted portrait of Europe.  She failed to get the larger picture because, unlike Naipaul, she did not go out of her way to talk to people with different ideas.

Finally, Byatt is not the only one who has difficulty making accurate observations.  The Times put this quote at the beginning of the article:
Despite the creation of the European Union, Europeans do not speak with a single voice—except when opposing U. S. foreign policy.
One can see why the a Times editor might want this to be so, since the Times opposes much of our current foreign policy, especially possible military action against Iraq, but this is not what Byatt says in the article.  Instead, Byatt concludes by agreeing with Timothy Garton Ash that Europe and America are in agreement on 85 per cent of their ideals and beliefs, though she thinks that 85 per cent is shrinking.  Like Byatt, the Times editor saw what they wanted to see, a serious fault in a novelist and a fatal one in a journalist.
- 2:01 PM, 22 October 2002   [link]


Adult Supervision:  That's the summary phrase Matt Welch uses to describe both the new Bush foreign policy, and our general postwar policies toward the world.  There's more than some truth in his charge; after World War II, our policy makers really did see the world as a place that needed our supervision.  And, many people in other countries welcomed the peace and stability it brought much of the world, especially Europe.  But Welch is also right to see the long term costs such policies have for us, and the damaging effects they have on the "children" we are supervising.  Our dominance in NATO was one of the reasons the Europeans were so slow to solve the problems in Bosnia, something they could easily have done on their own.   Conversely, when the Philippines asked us to leave our bases there, some Americans were troubled, but the more equal relationship since has been good for both countries.

Where I differ with Welch is in his interpretation of Bush's policy.  It is true that, since the 9/11 attack, some people in his administration have been pushing the kind of maximalist foreign policy that the Weekly Standard and John McCain advocated in the 2000 election.  But, it is also true that Bush's own policies have been cautious, on the whole, both before the 9/11 attack and after.  He defused the very dangerous confrontation with China after the collision between our surveillance plane and their fighter, a collision that was entirely their fault, with soft talk.  The effort in Afghanistan has been criticized for being too limited, in both the military effort and the assistance to the new government.  I think it is clear that Bush's own instincts, even after 9/11, are to avoid foreign entanglements, if possible.  Having learned to respect the craftiness of the Bush team, I suspect that some of the tough talk in the new doctrine is intended as a bargaining ploy.   Our mistakes in the past led many, including Osama bin Laden, to think they did not have to take us seriously.  I believe the Bush team is talking tough in part to restore our reputation as a nation that it is unwise to provoke.
- 10:33 AM, 22 October 2002   [link]


This Idea is Probably Crazy, But  I keep wondering whether there may be more than one vehicle involved in the sniper shootings.  At least one of the reports said that there were two men at the white van.  If there is more than one sniper, it would be easy to have two (or more) vehicles, the very visible white van and a nearby concealed getaway car for the sniper and his weapon.  In this scenario, the accomplice first drives the shooter to the second vehicle and leaves him there with the rifle.  If the accomplice is stopped in the white van, there's no evidence for the police to find.  Meanwhile, the sniper is escaping in a much less identifiable vehicle.
- 8:19 AM, 22 October 2002   [link]


Suspicious Minds  will find the timing of these gifts to Indians in South Dakota, just three weeks before the election, interesting, to say the least.
- 2:14 PM, 21 October 2002   [link]


Democrat Wars?  After reading this post, an old friend, John Sacha, reminded me that one could use the same argument Vinzant uses to associate Democrats with prosperity, to associate them with wars.   It is a fact that all four major 20th century American wars, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, began under Democratic presidents.  In the 1976 campaign, Bob Dole got some criticism for referring to this, when he talked about "Democrat wars".  Although I could construct an ad hoc explanation of the association between Democrats and wars like the one Vinzant constructed for the association between Democrats and prosperity, I think such an argument would be almost as dubious as hers.
- 10:36 PM, 21 October 2002   [link]


Election Prediction, 10/21:  This is the first of three election predictions I will be making before the election on November 5th.  Two long term patterns will be clashing then, off year losses and three time streaks.  Parties nearly always lose seats in off year elections, and parties almost never lose seats more than three times in a row.  The first would suggest that the Republicans would lose seats, and the second that they would gain seats, since they have lost a few seats in each of the elections since 1994.  Both patterns have, in my view, the same principal cause.  There are underlying levels of support for the two parties.   When they are disturbed in an election, they tend to flow back to their expected levels in a following election.  The party that wins the presidency almost always wins seats at the same time; the bigger their win the more seats they will lose in the next election.  Since the Republicans lost seats in 2000, as well as 1998 and 1996, they are probably close to their expected level, and so at worst they will have small losses.  They may even make small gains because they probably did better in the redistricting after the 2000 census.  Right now, I think that the odds that Republicans will control the House are at least 3 to 1.

The Senate is more difficult to predict because the numbers are so much smaller.  In 1980, the Republicans won all the narrow contests and took control of the Senate.  In 1986, the Democrats took back control in the same way.  There are enough close contests so it is easy to see how either party could gain three seats.  (There is a technical factor that makes the Senate predictions even more difficult.  It is almost as expensive to conduct a good poll in a single state, as it is nationally.  Typically the state polls are not done as professionally as national polls like Gallup.)  Right now, I think the odds on Senate control are even.

If you want to make your own predictions, here are some sources I have found useful.  First, there is the Iowa options market.  The University of Iowa business school runs options markets on elections (and other things) as experiments in predictions.  You can see the latest results for Congressional control here, and, if you want, bet some of your own money in the market.  The editor of the Campaigns and Elections, Ron Faucheux, uses more traditional methods, though his current predictions are not that far from the options market.  You can see them here.  That useful site, Real Clear Politics, has tables of the most recent poll results.  Political scientist Larry Sabato has his own predictions here, along with much useful background.  
- 10:21 AM, 21 October 2002   [link]


Maureen Dowd's Tantrum:  The Instapundit and Josh Chafetz, who identified the "Immutable Laws of Dowd", are both puzzled over her latest column.  They should take a look at my Unified Theory of Maureen Dowd.  In it, I explain that Maureen Dowd is an "alpha girl", motivated by a desire for power and status, and unchecked by any considerations of honesty or fair play.

Now, how does that explain her latest column, which is almost incoherent?  Simple.  The worst thing that can happen to an alpha girl is that everyone ignores her.  Her power depends on the attention that she gets from others, especially the beta girls that hang around her.   This Bush administration, unlike the last one, has done the cruelest possible thing to Maureen Dowd.  They have ignored her.  (That Bush has done this while listening to Condi Rice must hurt Maureen even more.)  And so Dowd is reduced to the final tactic of an alpha girl, throwing a tantrum.  If the Bush people ignore this one as they have all the other nasty columns, I would not be entirely surprised to see Dowd take some time off, for a rest, of course.
- 7:33 PM, 20 October 2002   [link]


Another Emerging Republican Majority?  In 1969, Kevin Phillips got much attention for his book, The Emerging Republican Majority.  I was not greatly impressed by his analysis at the time, though I believed that the Democrats had alienated so many of their traditional supporters that the two parties had roughly equal chances to win the presidency, something not true since 1932.  A similar book, with the opposite argument, The Emerging Democratic Majority, by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira, has just been published.   Unfortunately for their thesis, a recent poll shows that the young are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats.  Here's the key finding for people between 18 and 37:
The dwindling gender gap also has made the GOP the party of choice among young adults overall, with 33 percent identifying with the Republicans and 27 percent with the Democrats.
If there is a new Republican majority, it will emerge slowly, since young people are much less likely to vote than older people, as this article, discussing the same poll, explains.  On the other hand, the young are much more on the Republican side on major issues, like individual retirement accounts and school vouchers.  (Saw a nit in the article, by the way.  They meant "algorithm", not "logarithm", I am sure.)
- 10:22 AM, 20 October 2002   [link]


Zapping Asteroids:  Here's another method for diverting killer asteroids.
- 7:20 AM, 20 October 2002   [link]


Quotas for the Homely?  Unless I misunderstand this article, that's what Norwegian TV now requires.  What puzzles me about this is the motive.   With the widespread availability of plastic surgeons, orthodontists, personal trainers, and makeup artists, I would think that nearly everyone who wants to be presentable for TV can be.   Apparently some don't want that.
- 7:07 AM, 20 October 2002   [link]


Vote Fraud in South Dakota, Part 4:  There are two fascinating details in this story.   First, the Democrats were using paid workers to increase registration.  As with paid signature gatherers, this is an invitation to fraud.  Second, "absentee voting has exceeded the numbers seen during presidential election years".  This is most suspicious, since voting turnout in off years is almost always lower than in presidential years, and absentee voting is the easiest way to cast fraudulent votes.
- 10:56 AM, 18 October 2002   [link]


The Issue of the Economy:  Yesterday I heard some pundits on NPR discussing the poll finding that voters are more likely to think that the Republicans can clean up corporate scandals than the Democrats, which they found almost impossible to believe.  Actually there is nothing surprising about this; the Bush administration has been prosecuting any number of high profile cases of fraud that happened during the Clinton administration.  Nor is there any reason to think that a business friendly administration will be lax on fraud.  After all, businessmen themselves are often the first victims.  In the short run, AT&T was hurt badly by the shenanigans at Worldcom.  The pundits I heard were living in the past, when memories of the Great Depression still dominated voters' thinking about the parties.  Michael Barone explains why that is no longer true, and has some thoughts about what to expect in the future.
- 10:26 AM, 18 October 2002   [link]


Barbra Streisand, Double Agent?  There are some people who give so much help to the side they supposedly oppose that irresponsible wags are led to wonder if they might be double agents.  For example, there's Jerry Falwell.  Did the person on his staff who told him to accept the 60 Minutes invitation really have Falwell's interests at heart?  And, time after time, there's Barbra Streisand, who just embarrassed herself by making Saddam Hussein dictator of Iran, of all places.  How better to discredit the Hollywood left and cause trouble for both Saddam and his neighbors, the Iranians?  Will we learn years from now that Karl Rove promised her another night in the White House?  
- 10:08 AM, 18 October 2002
Update:  A day after I wrote this post, the Telegraph published a Mark Steyn column making the same point, though more eloquently.  That's twice that's happened to me with Steyn.
- 6:49 AM, 20 October 2002 [link]


Republican Governor in Hawaii?  Republicans may win the Hawaii governorship for the first time since 1962.  (Or maybe not the first time, considering the evidence of fraudulent voting in the last election.   That last point should make Josh Marshall feel even worse, given his heartburn over the evidence of vote fraud in South Dakota.  Clean elections should not be, I would think, a partisan issue.)
- 2:23 PM, 17 October 2002   [link]


Impossible:  Finding the cheapest flight between destinations, that is.   You can do it in many specific cases, but the problem, with frequent flier plans and other complexities, has become so difficult that researchers have proved that you can not always solve it in a reasonable amount of computer time.  One amusing example of the difficulty: From time to time, it has been cheaper to fly from Boston to New York, by way of London, than directly.
- 2:14 PM, 17 October 2002   [link]


Who Was Here First?  Archaeologists have dug up a hair's worth of evidence that some one beat the Indians to the Americas.
- 1:56 PM, 17 October 2002   [link]


Congressman McDermott Wrap Up:  Those who followed Congressman McDermott's trip to Baghdad from a distance would be likely to think that McDermott called President Bush a liar from Baghdad, that he backed off from that when he returned, and that McDermott has since said little worth attention.  All three of these would be wrong, at least in part.

McDermott did not quite say that Bush was a liar in his interview on the ABC program This Week.   Instead McDermott claimed that Bush would mislead the American people, something that can be done without lying.  McDermottt did not really back off from this when he returned from Baghdad and gave his joint press conference with Congressman Bonior, in spite of what you may have read in stories like this one.   At one point in the news conference he did say that he might have "overstated his case" in Baghdad, but he stuck to his principal charge that President Bush would mislead the American people.  Finally, his statements at a peace rally, four days later, were far worse than anything he said while in Baghdad.

As I explained in this post, McDermott is an ideological extremist and a bitter partisan.  He is also seriously out of touch with reality in some areas.   These three characteristics explain why he, and Congressman Bonior, who has similar faults, went to Baghdad.   Both belong to what Ambassador Kirkpatrick called the "blame America first" faction of the Democratic party.  Both are so partisan that they see evil in the most ordinary things that a Republican official does.  They have a deep distrust of American power, especially when it is exercised by a Republican president, and they may have honestly thought that their trip would strengthen their cause.   The last illustrates just how out of touch they are.

At their October 2nd joint press conference, McDermott and Bonior tried to repair some of the damage they had done.  (Caveat: I listened to the press conference on a Real Audio player over a modem.  Although I tried to make accurate notes, I may have missed a few words.)  In his opening statement, McDermott was careful to say that he cared about the American people, which is nice of him, and that he had no "delusions" about Saddam Hussein, which some may find difficult to believe.   McDermott believes that "unfettered" inspections are possible in Iraq and that even a bad person like Saddam deserves "due process", a novel concept in international relations.  Even accepting the concept, one would think that more than a decade of evasions of UN resolutions would exhaust "due process" for Saddam.  On the crucial question of trust, McDermott stated that he did not trust Saddam—and that he believed what Saddam's officials had told him.   He had no such trust in President Bush.  On several direct questions, he first evaded saying whether he trusted the president, and then listed areas in which he didn't.  So, it is fair to say that McDermott consistently thinks that he can believe what he is told by the officials of a fascist dictatorship, Iraq, but not what he is told by officials of a democratic country, the United States.

McDermott and Bonior repeated two Iraqi propaganda themes, both of which have received much publicity from leftists in western countries.  Bonior claimed that 50,000 Iraqi children die of malnutrition every year because of sanctions, a claim Matt Welch has refuted in several articles, like this one.  (Welch is not, by the way, a conservative.  He supported Ralph Nader in the last election.  And, I should add that I view Welch's own estimates as a maximum, a point that I will treat some time in the future.)   McDermott, who is a physician (specifically a psychiatrist), claimed that the depleted uranium shells used by American forces in the Gulf War were causing high rates of leukemia and other diseases in Iraq, and that American troops would have to march through clouds of radioactive dust in another war.   As far as I could tell, this medical "expert" did not realize that "depleted" uranium is depleted of its radioactive portion and is less dangerous than ordinary uranium.  So far medical experts have found no significant health risks from it, as you can see in this summary.   No reporter at the press conference challenged Bonior or McDermott on their repetition of these Iraqi falsehoods.

There were few questions, even indirectly, on what the two congressmen would do differently from Bush.   As I understand them, we should do everything we can to negotiate a new inspection regime.  If negotiations fail, then we should discuss the matter more.  McDermott was certain that we should never go to war without the sanction of the UN.

Four days later at a town hall meeting, McDermott was more frank in his views.   McDermott accused Bush of planning a war to distract the voters from domestic problems, of trying to sabotage inspections, and of wanting to be an emperor.  He claimed that we are "having a kind of bloodless, silent coup", that since 9/11 the country "has been continuously terrorized by the government", and that the president is saying he wants to "go to war with the whole world".  To the best of my knowledge, McDermott has not retracted any of these outrageous statements.

McDermott may have been encouraged to speak frankly by the presence of many of his far left supporters.   Those familiar with the manners often found on the far left will not be surprised to learn that opponents of McDermott were shouted at, while supporters were allowed to have their say.

Reactions in the Seattle area among journalists to McDermott's statements from Baghdad, the press conference, and the town hall meeting mostly varied along predictable party and ideological lines.  After the ABC program, the Seattle Times had one of their partisan leftists write this foolish editorial, while the PI, which is usually to the left of the Times, came closer the next day with this one.  (After his outrageous statements at the townhall meeting, the Times did chide McDermott gently.)   PI columnist Robert Jamieson made a common (and false) argument, claiming that McDermott was contributing by raising important questions.  (If, like McDermott, you make many false claims on a controversial subject, you actually detract from a reasonable discussion, since so much time has to be spent refuting your errors.)  Seattle Times columnist Erik Lacitis made perhaps the most foolish argument of all by arguing that McDermott had considerable popular support, something true of many disgraceful leaders, as Lacitis must know.  One of the most knowledgeable local political writers, the PI's Joel Connelly was unhappy about the McDermott affair, judging that it will hurt the Democratic party.

The same was true, from what I heard, of talk show hosts.  Three prominent local ones are, from left to right, Dave Ross (KIRO), Dori Monson (KIRO), and John Carlson (KVI).  Ross, who is, in my opinion, something of a sucker for Democratic spin, mostly defended McDermott, often using the same bogus "raising important questions" argument that Jamieson found convincing.  Monson was the only one I heard who had much to say about McDermott's switch, from support of a resolution authorizing force in 1998, to his current opposition.  Monson also pointed out that Trent Lott had moved in the opposite direction.  He attributes both changes, as I do, to partisanship, at least in part.  John Carlson (who was the Republican candidate for governor in the 2000 election) had two reactions, disgust at McDermott's statements, and glee about the help that McDermott was giving to the Republicans.

No one in the center, or on the left, was much bothered by McDermott's factual errors, as far as I could tell.  None seemed bothered by the repetition of Iraqi propaganda, long proved false.   None seemed to care that McDermott's picture of the world was so inaccurate as to raise questions about his mental processes.  This does not surprise me, because many journalists share at least parts of McDermott's world view, and his partisanship.  McDermott's exaggerated claims about deaths of Iraqi children often appear in the PI's columns, editorials, and even news articles.   The PI has a terrible record of inaccuracy in assessing threats from radiation, so their tacit acceptance of McDermott's nutty claim that American soldiers would face "clouds of radioactive dust" in is not surprising.  The newspaper even has had their foreign desk editor, Larry Johnson, writing pieces from Baghdad so bad that they deserve their own separate post.  The Times has been somewhat less gullible about leftist propaganda, but does not go out of its way to refute it.

Finally, McDermott does indeed reflect the views of many of his constituents.  Seattle has a substantial population of people who are as far left as anyone you will find in Berkeley.  It is not hard to find even the most extreme examples.  One Seattle caller told Dori Monson that Bush was worse than Hitler because Hitler at least was a self made man.  On Tuesday, a barista at my local coffee shop interrupted me to claim that Bush, like Saddam, was a dictator.  (I was chuckling over the 100 per cent Saddam victory, if you are wondering what provoked the comment.)  And, many of his constituents have just as distorted a picture of the world as their Congressman, as this amusing column shows.  You have to have to be seriously confused to be so easily duped by a fake story.  The psychiatrist should heal himself, move out of fantasy land, and then go to work on many of his constituents.
- 1:14 PM, 17 October 2002   [link]


Zogby Polls?  Patrick Ruffini raises some interesting questions about the recent results from Zogby polls on US Senate races.  Is he right?   Don't know, but the Zogby results do look strange to me, especially when compared to other polls.
- 8:46 AM, 16 October 2002   [link]


Young People and the Vietnam War:  Andrew Sullivan makes a common error in his post on the Bali bombing, when he argues that young people were more likely to oppose the Vietnam war than older people.  In fact, polls at the time showed that young people were "more supportive of the war than older people" [John E. Mueller,War, Presidents and Public Opinion, p. 137].  Even more surprising to some, the more educated a person, the more likely they were to support the Vietnam war.  There were similar patterns of support in World War II and the Korean War.  The current tendency of young people to be more inclined to support a war with Iraq is consistent with the patterns in past wars, contrary to what Sullivan thinks.
- 8:35 AM, 16 October 2002   [link]


Covering a Sham Election:  A surprising number of western news organizations treated Saddam's sham elections as real.  Yesterday's Best of the Web has some examples.  According to blogger Vinod Vallopillil, who noticed the same pattern, the second day coverage was better, which makes me wonder why so many botched it the first time.  Apparently, some journalists have to think a bit before they realize that an election where the choice is Saddam or death is not exactly free.
- 8:03 AM, 16 October 2002   [link]


Vote Fraud in South Dakota, Part 3:  John Fund of the Wall Street Journal has the complete story so far.   We now know of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of illegal registrations, charges of bribery, and the possible involvement of two former Daschle staffers.  (They may be former only in name, by the way.  It is common for Congressional staffers to leave a staff so that they can participate fully in an election campaign and then return afterwards.)
- 7:30 AM, 16 October 2002   [link]