October 2003, Part 1
Jim Miller on Politics
Blame California: When the California energy crisis was at its peak, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times wrote a column noting that neighboring states might start blaming California for their own energy problems. He seemed to think this unfair, but living in one of the states hurt by California's policies, I thought it simple justice. He thought the energy companies should be blamed instead. Even granting that the energy companies had caused the problem—which I don't—you still have to remember that it was California that set up the rules under which they operated.
Hardly anyone is trying to shift the blame from California in this recall mess, though a few still are looking of culprits outside the state. (Sadly, I haven't heard any really entertaining theories that blame little green men, or the sinister men running Area 51, or something similar. Perhaps California's creativity is declining.) Gray Davis, of course, deserves the biggest share of the blame, but who comes in second? There is, as the saying goes, blame enough to go around. We might start by blaming the "geniuses" who set up the weirdest recall procedure I have ever heard of. We should include the California Democratic party, which has accepted as a leader a man with such obvious failings. We should include the California Republican party, which allowed itself to be suckered by Gray Davis into nominating their weakest candidate in the last election. And it is not hard to think of many others who deserve some share of the blame.
More than any of these, though, I think we should blame the Los Angeles Times. Newspapers, whether they ought to or not, serve as referees in our political system. The Times has simply been unwilling to call many of the Davis fouls. Here's what Jill Stewart, who once worked for the Los Angeles Times says about the newspaper:
Since at least 1997, the Times has been sitting on information that Gov. Gray Davis is an "office batterer" who has attacked female members of his staff, thrown objects at subservients and launched into red-faced fits, screaming the f-word until staffers cower.Blame California, blame Gray Davis, and blame the Los Angeles Times.
- 3:35 PM, 7 October 2003 [link]
California Cheating: Whoever wins the two stage recall election in California, one thing is certain. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of votes will be cast illegally. For years, Democratic officials (and some Republican officials) have been making it easier for non-citizens to vote. A few officials in some large cities are even honest enough to admit that they want to get rid of citizenship as a requirement for voting. In this laundry list of problems, I found this example from Anthony Williams, the mayor of Washington, D. C., and by no means a radical.
In Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams gave readers of the Washington Post an insight into the movement to grant non-citizens the right to vote. Saying he is "committed to expanding the franchise," he stated that in order to grant a greater voice to those he sees as underrepresented, that a new standard for voter eligibility is needed, and regardless of what that standard becomes, "it isn't citizenship."How many fraudulent votes will there be in today's election in California? No one knows. I have tried some back of the envelope estimates an gotten numbers that ranged between 10,000 and 100,000. That's not very satisfactory, I know, so I'll try to find some better numbers for you soon.
(Historical note: Citizenship has not been a universal requirement for voting in the United States. Until some time in the 20th century, Arkansas allowed residents to vote, whether or not they were citizens. I think other states may have had similar rules in the 19th century.)
- 2:44 PM, 7 October 2003 [link]
Some Housekeeping: The main site file has been getting a little large for those with dial-up connections, so I am cutting back the number of days it includes. Recently, that has been a week; for now, it will be five days, and I might cut it back even more. I have also added two dates to my "Coming Soon" list on the right, as a jog to my conscience. If the creek don't rise, you'll see an article on gay marriage by this Friday at the latest, and one on George Wallace and Howard Dean by October 17th, at the latest.
- 9:40 AM, 7 October 2003 [link]
Timing The Smears: I have a little bit of the political consultant in me, perhaps because you need a little bit to understand some of what happens in campaigns. So let me play Dick Morris for a moment and think about how the changes in voting affect the timing of smears, or, as the consultants would say, the release of opposition research. In the past, before the growth in voting by mail, the decisions were easy. If you had a solid charge, one that might lead to more investigations, you could let it out at almost any time, but you would probably pick a time when you thought it would attract the most attention. Either a slow news period or several weeks before the election, as the marginal voters begin to pay attention, would be the best time. If your charge was weak, or might be refuted, you would release it at the last minute, at the earliest a week before the election. That's why the story of George W. Bush's drunk driving conviction surfaced the weekend before the 2000 election. And that's why everyone predicted that the Los Angeles Times, which will do almost anything to save Governor Davis, would release one or more hit pieces on Arnold Schwartzenegger just a few days before today's election—as they did.
But, there is a problem with this traditional timing for smears. More and more voters are voting days, and even weeks, before election day. Smears a few days before the election will not affect their votes, which they have already mailed. Consultants will adapt their tactics to these new realities, I am sure. What I suspect will happen is that some smears will be released a little earlier, as the consultants gamble that they can keep them credible until election day. Let me be more specific. In 2004, I fearlessly predict that the Democrats (or more likely groups allied to them) will release a smear against President Bush 10 days to two weeks before the election.
- 9:29 AM, 7 October 2003
More: Yesterday I saw a news story that shows just how exact the timing for these stories has gotten. Consultants call the Thursday before the election "Dirty Thursday" because that is the day you dump the dirt on your opponent.
- 7:42 AM, 8 October 2003   [link]
Another Thing You Won't Learn From The New York Times: The decisions of newspapers not to cover some stories are just as important as their decisions to cover stories. When David Kay said that he had been "amazed" by the news coverage of his report, and went on almost all the talk shows to say so, some newspapers covered that, and others didn't. The New York Times, our "newspaper of record", printed only this limp article, which is not even by one of their own reporters. They had to cover President Bush's statement, in another article, but take the same dismissive tone there. (Alert readers will note that one of the reporters is the same David Sanger who so botched the earlier "analysis" of the interim report.) Neither article even mentions Kay's amazement. The chief inspector may think most of the news coverage on his report was wrong, but the New York Times does not feel you should know that.
Neither does the Seattle PI. My search of their site turned up this AP story, but it is dated October 5th, Sunday. The PI does not publish on Sunday, except for an opinion section tucked into the Sunday edition of the Seattle Times. The article did not appear in yesterday's print edition, at least not the "Eastside Edition" I bought. To its credit, the Seattle Times put the same AP story on their front page, with the headline, "Tips suggest presence of Iraqi Scuds and anthrax", with the subhead, "Kay predicts U. S. weapons hunt will yet yield 'remarkable things'".
The Washington Post showed why it is gaining on the New York Times in credibility. Yesterday they printed this column, and today they have another column from Colin Powell, no less. As for the New York Times and the Seattle PI, it is fair to ask if they even want to get this story right.
- 8:51 AM, 7 October 2003 [link]
Cheers? The German government has slowly been moving its departments to Berlin, the capital since reunification. The spies, who have been located near Munich since 1947, don't want to move because they dislike much about Berlin, especially the beer.
One disgruntled agent told a German newspaper: "Why would we want to go there? It's dirty, full of Russian mobsters, half-built, expensive—and the beer's crap."One claim in the article surprised me. Does Berlin really have "20,000 bordellos"? (If I may be serious for a moment, the general problem, how much to centralize a bureaucracy, is a very difficult one. The German government probably can get more coordination by moving the spies closer, but they may lose some independence of thought.)
- 7:18 AM, 7 October 2003 [link]
Bill Safire Agrees with my guess about what really happened in the Wilson-Plame scandal (?), which I explained here and here. Or I should say he agrees with most of my guess. Like me, he thinks that what we are seeing is one of the usual bureaucratic fights inside an administration. Like me, he thinks that the second leak, where two officials in the administration said they thought the first leak was awful, was a counter-attack, not a fit of conscience. Unlike me, he seems certain that the first leak to Novak was intentional. About that point, I am not certain. Novak says it was not, though he could be mistaken. I don't see anything implausible about the fact of Plame's CIA job getting out by accident.
And there is one little bit of history that makes me even more suspicious about the second leak, or as Safire calls it, the counterleak. The counterleak appeared first in Newsday in a story written by Knut Royce and Timothy M. Phelps. The second name rang a little bell in my head, but it took me a while to remember where I had first heard it. Finally, I did. Along with Nina Totenberg of NPR, Phelps had been a conduit for the illegal leak of the FBI files on Clarence Thomas. Here's what David Brock said about him in The Real Anita Hill, when Brock still had some credibility:
The second reporter who, simultaneously with Totenberg, broke the Hill story was Timothy Phelps of Newsday. New to Washington, Phelps was understandably eager to make a name for himself. "A journalist could make a career coup by sinking a Supreme Court nominee," he later wrote in his book on the Thomas nomination, Capitol Games. As his book also showed, Phelps was not very knowledgeable about the judiciary. Though few in Washington read Newsday, Phelps was nonetheless a favored outlet of the Shadow Senate for negative stories, because he was likely to run them. His stories could then be clipped and perhaps placed in one of the more influential newspapers, or maybe a member of the Senate would develop an interest in it.As you can see, Phelps has some interesting history. An official who wanted to plant a story attacking the Bush administration would have to look hard to find a reporter more willing to smear Republicans.
If you compare the reactions to the two scandals, you'll find more than a little hypocrisy. As you probably remember, the Senate was then controlled by the Democrats. They delayed and blocked an investigation into the leak, which broke several laws, until the leakers, almost certainly Democratic staffers, could coordinate their stories. Some of the same Democratic senators who spoiled that investigation to protect their staffers are now demanding that Bush do more to investigate his staffers.
- 5:28 PM, 6 October 2003 [link]
Liquid To Solid With A Zap: Two scientists at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology have created a substance that goes from a liquid to a solid in a few thousandths of a second when an electrical field is turned on. It goes back just as quickly when the field is turned off. The strength of the field determines how hard the substance is. The fluid is actually a suspension, as you may already have guessed:
The fluid consists of silicone oil in which are suspended countless tiny spheres made of barium and titanium -- each one less than a ten-millionth of an inch in diameter and each coated with an astonishingly thin film of urea about one hundred-millionth of an inch thick.Many, many potential applications, especially if they can scale it up to larger volumes.
- 4:00 PM, 6 October 2003 [link]
We Didn't Back Bin Laden: How many times have you heard that we backed Osama bin laden in Afghanistan, that we trained and supplied him, that we are in some sense responsible for him? I have heard or seen the claim dozens of times, and just heard it repeated by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright on the local NPR station, KUOW. Richard Miniter has investigated this charge as thoroughly as one can, and has shown that it is almost certainly false. Here's his column summarizing the evidence. There were two separate resistance movements in Afghanistan. We supported one; Osama was in the other. He and the CIA don't agree on much, but they do agree on this. Of course, neither he nor the CIA always tell everything, and both would have reason to be embarrassed if there had been a connection, but for now I think we should accept Miniter's conclusion:
It is time to lay to rest the nagging doubt held by many Americans that our government was somehow responsible for fostering bin Laden. It's not true and it leaves the false impression that we brought the Sept. 11 attacks down on ourselves. While it is impossible to prove a negative, all available evidence suggests that bin Laden was never funded, trained or armed by the CIA.
- 10:13 AM, 6 October 2003
Correction: As an alert emailer reminds me, KUOW is affiliated with NPR, not PBS. I've corrected the post above. (I thought I didn't put quite enough coffee beans in the grinder this morning.)
- 3:42 PM, 6 October 2003 [link]
The French Don't Understand Us: They think we care about commercial competition, like that illustrated in this cartoon, with Uncle Sam sobbing over what Le Monde sees as two French business coups. For the record, until it had to be rescued, I had never heard of Alstom. (I think it is a large engineering firm.) And I don't care one way or another if a French airline buys a Dutch airline. In fact, in both cases, I see small advantages for the United States if the changes help the economies of those countries. I doubt very much that you could find 1 American in a 1000 who cared about either transaction.
But we do care greatly about insults like making a brutal American cop killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, an honorary citizen of Paris. (I think that this is the second time Paris has done this, by the way.) Do officials in Paris, a city enormously dependent on tourism, think this will encourage Americans to visit? I have visited Paris three times in the last decade. I very much doubt I'll be going back any time soon. (Thanks to "Merde in France" for both links.)
Our friends in Paris need a lesson, and I have a suggestion about how to give it to them. American cities should begin to name French murderers as honorary citizens, the citizenship to last as long as Mumia's does in Paris. I think that police unions might want to take the lead in this, especially the Philadelphia union. If you know policemen who are troubled by this "citizenship", you might want to suggest that they try to bring this before their city councils. We should do something else, as well. According to some news articles, the Mumia Abu-Jamal case is actually an official part of the French curriculum, something every French kid has to study. We ought to take a look at just what those French textbooks say about the subject. Somehow, I get the feeling that it is not balanced, or even accurate.
There is a larger lesson in this, as well. Not only is the Mumia case in the official French curriculum, so too is Michael Moore's wildly biased movie, "Bowling for Columbine". If these are typical of what French kids read and see about the United States, then we are fortunate that anti-Americanism there is no higher than it is.
(If you would like to know more about Mumia's victim, officer Daniel Faulkner, and the case, see this site.)
- 6:44 AM, 6 October 2003 [link]
Michael Kinsley supports my argument that one cause of Bush hating is a feeling of powerlessness.
Screaming powerlessly at a defenseless television set is a metaphor for the sense of powerlessness that unites these elements in liberal rage.There is, I must say, something comic in seeing an influential columnist and former editor of The New Republic and Slate complaining about being powerless. Kinsley, at least when he was editor of Slate, would have made almost anyone's list of the 1000 most influential people. And that was without the bother of running for office.
- 8:16 AM, 6 October 2003 [link]
David Kay was "amazed" by the news stories on his interim report. He found them so misleading that he went on Sunday talk shows and on NPR in an attempt to correct the stories. Here's what he told Tony Snow about the coverage.
Well, we certainly found that—have not yet found illicit arms. But that's not the only thing the report says. In fact, I'm sort of amazed at what was powerful information about both their intent and their actual activities that were not known and were hidden from U.N. inspectors seems not to have made it to the press. This is information that, had it been available last year, would have been headline news.Information such as:
Well, we have found right now—and we're still finding them—over two dozen laboratories that were hidden in the Iraqi intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, were not declared to the U.N., had prohibited equipment, and carried on activities that should have been declared.Perhaps I am more cynical than Kay, but I am not amazed, though a bit disgusted, by the unwillingness of reporters to read Kay's report carefully. It's not long, it's not difficult, and yet most reporters misrepresented its contents.
I am not amazed because I have seen this same unwillingness or inability to read carefully many times before. For example, when I complained to the New York Times that they had misrepresented a Pew survey of opinion in foreign countries, an editor replied that they had followed the press release! (You can see my own analysis here.)
It's a problem that has been around forever, as far as I can tell. In 1971, for example, the New York Times received a leaked copy of internal study of decision making during the Vietnam War, that became known as the "Pentagon Papers". The Times published the papers, against the explicit request of the Nixon administration. (Yes, the same New York Times that is now caterwauling about how dangerous leaks of secret information are.) The Times published these papers, as did others, but they also published a summary which became the standard view of the papers. The summary, as Edward Epstein showed in his article, "The Pentagon Papers: Revising History", misrepresented them drastically, falsely making them a story of duplicity and deception. (Epstein's article was originally published in Commentary magazine. It can also be found in his book, Between Fact and Fiction: The Problem of Journalism.)
The Internet has given us a wonderful way to cope with this inability or unwillingness of reporters to read, by making it easy for us to see the same documents they do. If you have seen the news stories, but haven't read Kay's interim report, do your own check. Read the interim report and compare it to the stories. You may be "amazed" by the difference between what he wrote and what was reported, as he was, or just disgusted, as I am.
- 7:26 AM, 6 October 2003 [link]
Aw, Gee: Many thanks to Stefan Sharkansky for naming this site yesterday's "site of the day". I'll try to live up to the "sage", and I'll try to keep the "fascinating tidbits" coming, since I think they add a little balance to the often grim political news.
You should check Sharkansky's own very fine site daily. One of its strongest points is the original research he does for many of his posts. You will find things there that you will not find anywhere else.
- 10:02 AM, 5 October 2003 [link]
Curious: Retired General Wesley Clark is running for the Democratic nomination for president. He is not, at least not yet, a Democrat, since he has yet to change his registration. That's a strange failure of staff work for a former general, since this is just the kind of detail that staffers are supposed to handle. And his explanation for why he will be joining the Democratic party keeps shifting. So far, I have yet to see one that seems plausible.
(That said, I should add that, from what little I have read about that part of his career, he served bravely and competently in Vietnam. We should respect and honor him for that.)
- 7:17 AM, 5 October 2003 [link]
Who Is Killing Iraq's Scientists? Sometimes you find something interesting even in articles by lousy reporters. While looking at this Colbert King column (not his best), I was led to look at this article by Dana Priest and Dana Milbank. Milbank is one of my least favorite reporters, but the article does have this fascinating bit:
Kay said Iraq's top nuclear scientist, Khalid Ibrahim Sa'id, had been killed during the war when his driver ignored a warning to move away from a Marine roadblock in Baghdad. Another Iraqi scientist frequently questioned by the U.S. team was fatally shot in the back of the head. A second scientist cooperating with the Americans was shot six times but survived.Now let's think about the death, the killing, and the attempted killing for a moment. The first death may have been, in some sense, an accident. May have been. The second death and the attempted killing of the third scientist were not, obviously, accidents. By far the most likely motive is that someone is trying to stop the scientists from telling us what they know. If so, then future reports by Kay are likely to reveal far more about Saddam's weapons programs, especially now that we are starting to provide the protection for the scientists that we should have given them from the beginning.
- 8:25 AM, 4 October 2003 [link]
Update On Jindal: "Bobby" Jindal, a son of immigrants from India and the Republican candidate for Louisiana governor I mentioned here, is now leading all other candidates in a recent poll. (By the way, Louisiana has a unique system for runoffs. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in the primary, the two top candidates—regardless of party—go to a runoff. If the vote goes as the poll predicts, Jindal will face Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Blanco in November.)
- 2:24 PM, 3 October 2003
Jindal Wins First Round! Here's the lead story on his win from the Times of India, which is mightily pleased by the result. And here's a long description of Jindal from the Washington Post. Some may be impressed by him winning a Rhodes scholarship; I am far more impressed by his record in fighting corruption in Louisiana, which I think is our most corrupt state, though some in Rhode Island may dispute that. And you have to like this from the Post's first two paragraphs:
Something is happening in Louisiana.The race between Edwin Edwards and David Duke produced, you may remember, the famous bumper sticker, "Vote for the crook. It's important".
Republicans should not order champagne yet, however. Of the six significant candidates in the first round, four were Democrats and two were Republicans, so one would expect Blanco to pick up more support from the Democrats than Jindal will from the Republican.
- 7:47 AM, 5 October 2003 [link]
Extreme Ironing: And now for something a little lighter. Restless people, most often single young men, are always looking for new challenges. A British rock climber, Philip Shaw, has invented one of the strangest yet, the sport of extreme ironing, ironing in unusual and often dangerous places. For even more examples, see the extreme ironing site, where one of the participants tries to explain the challenge:
The combination of ungainly equipment and participant dynamics make ironing the most testing and yet visually appealing extreme domestic chore.Young men look for these challenges, most think, in order to impress young women. Will this one work, I wonder? Is the ability to climb sheer rocks and iron at the same time an impressive combination? Does the domestic touch help? Or does the combination make him just a little too weird? It would, I suspect, be a little hard to explain to some parents.
- 9:38 AM, 3 October 2003 [link]
What We Now Know About Saddam's WMDs: Before the liberation of Iraq, opinions about his possession of chemical and biological weapons, and his pursuit of nuclear weapons, ranged all the way from nothing to extensive stocks, ready to use, and advanced development programs. Some, notably Rolf Ekeus, a former UN inspector, argued that Saddam had kept the programs after 1998, when the UN inspectors were forced to leave, but not large stocks of weapons, something I discussed here and here David Kay's interim report is now out, and we can definitely exclude one possibility. Scott Ritter and others who argued that Saddam had given up his weapons programs after 1998 were wrong.
Saddam was pursuing dozens of biological and chemical weapons, including Brucella, ricin, aflatoxin, botulin, anthrax, mustard gas, and Sarin. He had not given up his nuclear ambitions, and was even considering a restart of the centrifuge program for enriching uranium. He was actively developing new delivery systems, including ballistic missiles with longer ranges and unmanned aerial vehicles. So Ritter, and those who made similar arguments, were wrong. Beyond that, we can not yet exclude any possibility. There may be massive hidden stocks, there may only be programs, the weapons may have been moved to another country, and so on. All are still possible; Kay gives an example that shows why we may not have found chemical artillery shells:
Let me turn now to chemical weapons (CW). In searching for retained stocks of chemical munitions, ISG [Iraq Survey Group] has had to contend with the almost unbelievable scale of Iraq's conventional weapons armory, which dwarfs by orders of magnitude the physical size of any conceivable stock of chemical weapons. For example, there are approximately 130 known Iraqi Ammunition Storage Points (ASP), many of which exceed 50 square miles in size and hold an estimated 600,000 tons of artillery shells, rockets, aviation bombs and other ordinance. Of these 130 ASPs, approximately 120 still remain unexamined. As Iraqi practice was not to mark much of their chemical ordinance and to store it at the same ASPs that held conventional rounds, the size of the required search effort is enormous.The report has been misrepresented by the press, almost without exception. For example, Andrew Sullivan is right when he says that the New York Times story by David Sanger is "political propaganda disguised as analysis, presumably designed to obscure and distort the evidence that you can read with your own eyes". (I suppose it is possible that Sanger just can't read.) It says something about the decline of the New York Times that this article in the Sun, a British tabloid without pretensions, is far more accurate than Sanger's analysis. And the networks, from what I have seen, may have been even worse than the New York Times.
It is not really that difficult a story to get right. Read the Kay report and you will see that his team has found indisputable evidence of many illegal weapons programs, and has just begun its search for the weapons themselves. Why don't the news organizations say that?
- 8:58 AM, 3 October 2003 [link]
The CIA's War With The White House: In a post two days ago, I argued that Wilson-Plame affair should be understood as part of a bureaucratic war. Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman agrees:
Behind the scenes or openly, at war or at peace, the United States has been debating what to do in, with and about Iraq for more than 20 years. We always have been of two minds. One faction, led by the CIA and State Department, favored using secular forces in Iraq—Saddam Hussein and his Baathists—as a counterweight to even more radical elements, from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the Shiite ayatollahs in Iran to the Palestinian terrorists in the Levant. The other faction, including Dick Cheney and the "neo-cons," has long held a different view: that, with their huge oil reserves and lust for power (and dreams of recreating Baghdad's ancient role in the Arab world), the Baathists had to be permanently weakened and isolated, if not destroyed.As part of their war with the White House, the CIA sent Joseph Wilson to Niger. He found nothing, as intended, after a farcical "search". This assignment, however, gave him the credentials to attack the administration in a misleading New York Times op-ed. It is not, I think, a coincidence that this happened after White House staffers had embarrassed the CIA.
After that, conservative allies of the administration wondered why Wilson had been sent to Niger. This imaginary conversation is a good guess as to what may have happened:
Conservative journalist: What the hell were you doing sending Wilson over there? He worked for Clinton!So it was more likely an attempt to explain a blunder, sending Wilson to Niger, than a deliberate leak. (Once it was out, of course, other administration officials may have urged reporters to follow the story.)
If this is what happened, then there is one large outrage here, and one very small one. The very small one, the revealing of Plame's CIA job, is getting all the attention. The larger one is getting almost none, even from conservatives. It is always wrong for bureaucrats to undermine legitimate policies of elected officials. We want the CIA and every other agency to put forward its ideas; we can not, in a democracy, have them sabotaging the policies of the president. And this is not a small matter, not an argument over a few bureaucratic jobs or some pork barrel projects. The CIA should be doing real searches for WMDs, not false ones. It is time, as Congressman Peter King says, to rein in this rogue agency.
America is at war with international terrorism. For us to win that war, the CIA must be focusing its attack on Islamic fundamentalists - not spreading disinformation against the elected leaders of our nation.Those who think it more important to defeat President Bush, or to "destroy" his administration, as Joseph Wilson put it, may not agree.
- 7:30 AM, 3 October 2003
More: This Wall Street Journal editorial makes a similar argument, though phrasing it more temperately. They also have some interesting comments on the records of three current critics of the Bush administration, Joseph Wilson, Larry Johnson, and Paul Pillar.
- 1:53 PM, 3 October 2003 [link]
As You May Have Noticed, the background for the little statue on the main page changed. If you are curious about where he is now, move your mouse pointer over the picture. The "tool tip" in most browsers will give you a hint. Experts at Photoshop and similar programs will no doubt see ways to make improvements. Feel free to send any suggestions, since I am just getting started.
- 3:04 PM, 2 October 2003 [link]
Schrödinger's Bacterium? Schrödinger's cat has been disturbing people ever since he described it in his famous thought experiment. Physicists have been able, however, to console themselves that the quantum weirdness we find in the cat does not really happen except at very small scales. Now, a team of physicists have proposed an experiment that would let a mirror the size of a bacterium be in two places at once. The mirror, small by our human standards, is an enormous object compared to usual subjects of quantum mechanics, such as electrons.
(Never encountered the cat? Here's a description from Charles Sheffield's Borderlands of Science, a book of advice for would be science fiction writers:
The cat paradox was published in 1935. Put a cat in a closed box, said Schrödinger, with a bottle of cyanide, a source of radioactivity, and a detector of radioactivity. Operate the detector for a period just long enough that there is a fifty-fifty chance that one radioactive decay will be recorded. if such a decay occurs, a mechanism crushes the cyanide bottle and the cat dies.It boggles my mind, but I accept the word of the physicists that these indeterminate states have been found in experiments for decades, and that they are even used in some common electronic devices.)
- 9:21 AM, 2 October 2003 [link]
The Seattle School Counselor Scandal: Two weeks ago three of the four counselors at Seattle's Franklin High School were placed on leave while the school district investigated charges that they had routinely tampered with records, raising student grades. The school district has now released documents that show that the scandal may be even worse than suggested by the first reports. The school's principal had been warned about the grade changes by the one innocent counselor and the school's registrar since 2000, but took no action. The investigators found similar, though not as widespread, practices at three other Seattle high schools, Cleveland, and two alternative high schools, Middle College and Interagency. Grade tampering endangers the validity of all the transcripts that these high schools send out. It also brings into question all the recommendations that these counselors may have written over the years. And, like almost any other tampering with school records, it makes it far harder to measure the effects of any new programs.
You might think that this tampering would be universally condemned. You would be wrong; this is, after all, Seattle. The counselors have already received considerable support from students, parents, and other teachers. There was even a demonstration supporting them yesterday. Unfortunately, the signs demonstrators carried did not say "We need the cheaters", or "Honesty is overvalued", or something equally frank. Whatever the Seattle schools may be teaching—not much it appears from across Lake Washington—honesty does not appear to be part of the curriculum. Any chance of reform? Not that I have seen.
- 8:43 PM, 2 October 2003
More: Every single Seattle high school may have problems with illegitimate grade changes. And these changes have been occurring for at least three years, in spite of warnings from a counselor and a registrar.
- 1:39 PM, 3 October 2003 [link]
Real Vote Fraud In California: As I discussed in this post, I believe that vote fraud is increasing in the United States, even though the subject is almost ignored by most newspapers and broadcasters out of sympathy for the Democrats and political correctness. Democrats are almost always the beneficiaries, and the fraud usually takes place in Hispanic or black communities. In contrast, journalists have given considerable attention to potential vote fraud from new voting systems, and to errors from punch cards. (For the record, I should add that I disapprove of most of the new systems, especially the touch screens. The best current system is probably paper ballots, read with optical readers.)
Vote fraud is more difficult to detect than most crimes. If some crook steals your car, you will know it. If some crook steals an election, you may not even know it happened. And it can be terribly hard to prove. Consider, for example, the 2000 senate election here in Washington, which Slade Gorton lost by just 2229 votes to Maria Cantwell. As I explained in this analysis, there are statistical reasons for thinking that her margin came from illegal votes. Suppose that Gorton had decided to contest the election. He would have had to organize an inquiry into the citizenhip of literally millions of Washington state voters. This would be enormously expensive and time consuming, and might well have produced an ambiguous result.
Given the difficulties of detection, it is almost certain that the cases we learn about are a small fraction of all the cases. Which makes the many known cases of fraud in California and elsewhere even more disturbing. If this many are detected, how many are there? And Fund explains why California has so many cases. The laws there are intended to make vote fraud easy.
California has been home to some of the most brazen recent examples of voter fraud. The state is one of the few to make it illegal for poll workers to demand identification from any voter, thus creating a breeding ground for corruption. In 1997, a House investigation concluded that several hundred illegal votes were cast in the close Orange County congressional race between defeated Republican incumbent Robert Dornan and Democratic challenger Loretta Sanchez. But investigators couldn't prove there were enough phony votes to overturn the election.Illegal to ask for identification at the polls. Think about that for a moment. Amazingly brazen, isn't it? If similar rules were in effect for banks, we would have to keep our money in mattresses.
There is some hope, as Fund says, in Attorney General Ashcroft's willingness to take the matter seriously, as he did in the 2002 election. But, if we want clean elections, we are going to have to change our laws. To begin with, we should make it far harder to vote by mail.
- 7:22 AM, 2 October 2003 [link]
Disempowered Democrats And Bush Hating: In this post, I argued that, as the party of government, Democrats are hurt more by being out of power than Republicans, who are more the party of business. If that is true, then a candidate could appeal to Democrats by promising to empower them. Which is exactly what candidate Howard Dean is doing.
"I liked it when he said the election wasn't about him, it was about us," said [Teresa] Pierce. "He's empowering me."(The Washington Post reporter thinks this is therapy; I think it is pandering to voters' fears.)
If I am right in this theory, then Bush hating should vary with the Democrats' distance from power. The less hope Democrats have of regaining power, the more they will hate Bush because he blocks them from power. There should, for example, have been an increase in Bush hating after the almost unprecedented Republican gains in the 2002 elections. I'll have to think about this some more, but I may even be able to use poll data to do some rough tests of the theory.
(Of course, this distance from power is not the only reason that Democrats have for hating Bush; this now infamous opinion piece by Jonathan Chait, "The Case for Bush Hatred", lists many more. But he does mention his anger that Bush has tried to help his party make gains—like nearly every other American president, I would add.)
- 6:44 PM, 1 October 2003 [link]
For A Lighter Thought on the Wilson-Plame affair, see today's editorial cartoon by Seattle Times cartoonist Eric Devericks. His suggestion for a special prosecutor will offend some and amuse most. Devericks is, by the way, often better than his more famous competitor at the Seattle PI, David Horsey.
- 10:36 AM, 1 October 2003 [link]
Bureaucratic Infighting And The Wilson-Plame Affair: Sometimes it is a good idea to step back and think more abstractly about a problem. Let's try that for the latest scandal(?) from Washington, D. C., the controversy over the identification of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. Most of us, I think, would not want to have political tests for bureaucratic employees, at least within very wide limits. Someone whose goal is to provide weapons to terrorists might not be the very best choice for an employee of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and a pacifist Quaker might not make the best general, but beyond such examples, few citizens should be excluded from jobs because of their beliefs. In some jobs, in fact, we want a wide variety of views, and nowhere is that more true than in intelligence work. The difficult problem of trying to discern the truth from limited, and often corrupted, information is likely to go best if people with a wide range of views look at problems. So the CIA has—and should have—employees with a wide range of political views. Which means that the internal factions there will constantly be at war with each other.
Now then to that fact, let us add another. In our bureaucracies (and most others, from what I have seen), one of the principal weapons in the internal wars is the leak. We shouldn't be surprised by this. Even very little kids threaten to tell when they think they will gain from it. However natural this may be, the leaks are often illegal, and nearly always against regulations. Despite this, most people are ambivalent about leaks. We tend, naturally, to approve of leaks that help our side and disapprove of those that hurt our side. Few Republicans, for example, disapproved of the leaks from the Defense Department, some at least touching on classified information, during the Clinton administration. Few Democrats disapproved of the illegal tape made of then Speaker Gingrich's phone conversation, and the subsequent leak by Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott. (One of the more curious aspects of that scandal is that the conversation was essentially innocuous, something that escaped the Democratic Gingrich haters and the New York Times reporter who wrote the story on the conversation, Adam Clymer.)
Going back a little farther, I must say that I can not remember many Democrats calling for an investigation of the leaks during Watergate or the Clarence Thomas hearings. Some of the stories Woodward and Bernstein wrote during the Watergate investigation relied on confidential FBI files. The Thomas hearings took a dramatic turn when someone, almost certainly one or more Democratic Senate staffers, illegally leaked FBI interviews with Anita Hill. None were ever prosecuted or fired though the senators who employed them must have known who the leakers were.
I share a bit of the ambivalence toward leaks, even though I strongly prefer that people obey the laws, especially those governing classified information. The leaks have become part of our checks and balances; if you are losing on the inside, you can leak and appeal to public opinion. Despite this, on the whole, I would like to see fewer leaks and more open debate, less dependence by reporters on anonymous sources, and more digging for facts.
This culture of leaks damages our news coverage. It is easier to get a false story into the paper with an anonymous leak than to go on record. The reporter, who may be a co-conspirator, can write, truthfully, that an official or a high ranking official said something that both know to be untrue. The official is protected by the anonymity and the reporter is protected by the evasive "said". Or the anonymous tip may be true but misleading, because of what is omitted. Note that in neither case will the newspaper necessarily print a correction, even if the claim in the story is shown to be false. What they printed was literally true; an official did "say" something, even though what the official said was false or misleading.
Worst of all, the leaked story almost never even hints at the motives of the leaker. Sometimes the reporter even gives false hints about the motives. A few years ago, Associated Press reporter Pete Yost wrote a story about a leak from court proceedings that embarrassed the Clintons. His story hinted that his source had been a Republican trying to damage the Clintons. A few days later, after an outcry from the Democrats, a judge who had been appointed by Clinton admitted that he was the source of the story. He had let slip something he shouldn't have. Yost deceived his readers—deliberately in my opinion.
So, when we see a story based on a leak from an anonymous source, we don't know who said it, why they said it, or even if the reporter writing the story thinks it is true. There have been two principal stories based on anonymous sources in the Wilson-Plame affair, and both show these problems. The first was a column by Robert Novak, which named Valerie Plame as a CIA employee. Since then, Novak has modified or corrected his story several times; the latest version, in this column, is also the most innocuous.
The leak now under Justice Department investigation is described by former Ambassador Wilson and critics of President Bush's Iraq policy as a reprehensible effort to silence them. To protect my own integrity and credibility, I would like to stress three points. First, I did not receive a planned leak. Second, the CIA never warned me that the disclosure of Wilson's wife working at the agency would endanger her or anybody else. Third, it was not much of a secret.Clifford May supports Novak on the third point. In this column, Novak now identifies his sources as a "senior admininstration official", another "official", and an "official" at the CIA. And he does give us an explanation for the motives of the first; he is trying to explain the strange choice of Wilson as an investigator. From what Novak says, the official may not even have known that Plame was a covert CIA employee, if she was. Although Novak tells us more about the origin of the first column, we are still uncertain about many points, including his sources and their motives. It looks like a bureaucratic war between a faction at the CIA and the White House, but we can't be sure. (Some who oppose Bush immediately concluded that Novak was lying in this column, though they seem to mostly believe his other columns. I am skeptical about everything based on anonymous sources.)
The second story is a complete mystery at this date. Someone, supposedly an administration official or a high administration official, has told several reporters that another official was trying to plant the story of Plame's job in order to strike back at Wilson. We do not know for sure that an official was actually trying to plant this story. We do not know who said that an official was trying to plant such a story, or why they said it. And there are oddities about the story that no one has explained. Why would an official think that planting such a story would be a good move in the bureaucratic infighting? Until we know more about these questions, and others, it is a mistake to denounce anyone.
I have an unusual supporter in that position, Wilson himself. He had charged, at a meeting in Seattle sponsored by Congressman Jay Inslee, that Karl Rove had been spreading the story. Wilson now admits that he has no evidence against Rove. It is disgraceful to accuse another person of a crime without evidence. That Wilson did so says something about his own credibility. There is every reason to call for an investigation in this matter, but it is far too soon to reach any conclusions.
- 10:14 PM, 1 October 2003 [link]
Thanks To All who visited this site or linked to it. You set a new record for page views last month, and moved me up to a "Marauding Marsupial" in N. Z. Bear's ecosystem.
Visitors have come here from more than 80 different countries, and there are some intriguing patterns when I look at the visits by country. For example, if I look at the countries with the fewest visits (3 or less), I get this list:
.bs (Bahamas)Most of these are not surprising. They are either small nations, or medium sized nations with relatively few people who speak English. The two surprises are Egypt, the largest Arab country, and Pakistan, the second largest Muslim country. I often write about Arab and Muslim issues, but not for readers in those countries, apparently. They, and everyone else from Anguilla to Vanuatu, are welcome, of course.
I plan to add more links to sites in other nations soon, and any suggestions are welcome. My list of bloggers has gotten long enough so that I will separate some into groups. One group will be from the Northwest; if you know of good sites in Alaska, Idaho, and Oregon, as well as Washington state, please let me know about them. I am particularly interested in sites outside of the metropolitan areas, since I think rural issues get less attention than they ought to.
- 7:46 AM, 1 October 2003 [link]