October 2003, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Close Journalism Departments: That, I think, qualifies as a "modest proposal", but I think it is a sensible solution for a serious problem. For evidence, see this column by journalism professor Floyd McKay. (The McKay columns are one of the reasons I jokingly suggested that the Seattle Times editorial page editor, James Vesely, was trying to discredit professors in order to bring much needed reform to our universities.)
Let me start with what he says in the column, and then turn to a subject he never discusses, but should. Like a Times reporter earlier, he forgets that the Northwest, as usually defined, includes a third state, Idaho, as well as Oregon and Washington. He then claims, as many on the left do, that Clinton's behavior with women, unlike Arnold Schwazenegger's, was consensual. (The excuse, even if it were correct, is insufficient in itself, as there are some consensual relationships nearly everyone would condemn.) This may have been true for Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, and Juanita Broaddrick would dispute that it is generally true.
Although he is unhappy with the exercise of democracy we just saw in the California recall, Professor McKay sees a silver lining. Governor Davis, he thinks, was recalled because he lied about the budget problems. This is, at best, incomplete, since California voters have many other reasons to dislike their soon to be ex governor, among them his mismanagement of the power crisis, his corruption, and his signing of a bill to allow illegal immigrants to have drivers licenses. From this, however, Professor McKay is pleased to draw this general conclusion:
Voters will forgive mistakes and even ineptitude, but they are hard on dishonesty and "spin," and Davis is the latest victim, terminated not by the Terminator, but by his own words.American voters are so hard on dishonesty and spin that Bill Clinton did not survive the primaries in 1992. And, had he been elected in 1992 in a freak election, the voters would have tossed him out in 1996. Oops, that's not what actually happened, is it? Someone should tell Professor McKay, who seems to have missed this, that despite an entirely deserved reputation for dishonesty and spin, Clinton won the presidency twice.
Professor McKay is pleased by his false generalization because he thinks that President Bush was dishonest on Iraq.
Only the most diehard Bush supporter can any longer believe that the president was honest with the public about Iraq. There is too much evidence to the contrary, and it seems to grow by the day.There is so much evidence that Professor McKay can not be bothered to cite any. He accuses President Bush of lying, but can't come up with a single lie. Even a small town gossip can usually do better than that.
Professor McKay believes that Bush's "dishonesty" is already damaging him with the American people. (And that similar "dishonesty" by Bush allies like Tony Blair and John Howard is hurting them, as well.) The evidence of the polls shows that some Americans do, in fact, agree with Professor McKay. (And other polls show that a significant number of Americans think that flying saucers are real.) Those who are inclined to think that President Bush lied about Iraq, after an intense campaign against Bush by Democratic leaders and the media, are mostly Democrats, people who did not have a high opinion of Bush to begin with. This not what most of us would call news.
So much for what Professor McKay has to say, now for what he never discusses. Although President Bush and his administration are doing about as well as could be expected in public opinion, there is a group that the public profoundly distrusts, the media. Unlike Professor McKay, I'll cite some evidence. In the California recall, the Los Angeles Times coverage became so big an issue that the newspaper admits to having lost at least 1,000 subscriptions. The anger was so intense that some observers believe it may have helped Schwarzenegger in the recall election. Earlier, our newspaper of record, the New York Times, was profoundly embarrassed by the Jayson Blair scandal. The newspaper had printed many false or plagiarized stories under his byline, in spite of warnings from inside and outside the paper. Incidents like these over the years have severely hurt the reputation of the news media. The most recent Gallup poll on the subject, which I discussed here, shows that about half of the public has little or no trust in the news media, and that we give them less trust than any of the three branches of government. For some reason, neither these gross failures nor our resulting distrust interest Professor McKay. Maybe dealing with actual evidence is just too icky for him.
Finally, what do Professor McKay's students learn from his example? They learn that you can omit facts (Idaho is in the Northwest), that you can distort recent history (Clinton's relationships were all consensual), that you can generalize thoughtlessly (the public always penalizes politicians who lie), that you need not present any evidence for your conclusions (Bush lied about Iraq), and that you need never examine your own work. If he is typical of journalism professors, and I see no reason not to think so, we would be better off without their departments.
- 9:59 AM, 16 October 2003 [link]
The Los Angeles Times has a position on religious discrimination; they are in favor of it, as this disapproving article on an American general shows. Lieutenant General William Boykin has what the LA Times thinks is a fatal flaw; he is an evangelical Christian. At least, it is a fatal flaw, in their view, for a man who is combatting radical Islamists. We should, they apparently believe, allow our enemy's bigotry to determine our own combat assignments. Wonder if they would have objected to Jewish generals in World War II?
- 7:41 AM, 16 October 2003 [link]
Almost All Of Us, however high minded, have some low tastes. One of mine is the pleasure I find in an occasional tabloid headline or story. The famous "Headless Body Found In Topless Bar" still brings a smile when I recall it, and I chuckled over this cheeky, politically incorrect story about the successful Chinese launch of an astronaut. Their first line is: "China blasted its first man into space yesterday—with a takeaway." Or, as Americans would say, with takeout.
Congratulations to the Chinese, and I hope we meet them on the moon and on Mars soon.
- 7:12 AM, 16 October 2003 [link]
Annoy The Media. Re-elect Bush: That was my favorite bumper sticker in 1992, and I think we are going to see it recycled soon. The latest thing that the current President Bush has done to annoy the media is talk to the wrong reporters. After Bush did interviews with reporters from regional television outlets, here's how John Roberts of CBS reacted:
It was the public relations equivalent of a declaration of war aimed at the national media, President Bush claiming the American people aren't getting the truth about Iraq.A declaration of war. Now there's a man who doesn't hide his thoughts behind understatements. Roberts and the other national TV figures are not alone in this attack. I noticed another in the Seattle PI today, a cartoon by David Horsey, and am sure a search would find many others.
What's this all about? Power. Specifically, the power to set the national agenda. Journalists think they, not elected officials, should set the agenda for public discussion. That this is undemocratic is not something that bothers them, if they even notice the point. Every recent president has had this same struggle with the networks, and every recent president has tried to reach around them to the regional media, usually with some success.
- 2:33 PM, 15 October 2003
Update: ABC has, in effect, conceded that President Bush has a point about bias, and is going to try to balance their coverage of Iraq with a series on stories on the big picture. (I can hear ABC anchorman Peter Jennings grinding his teeth all the way across the continent.)
- 8:05 AM, 16 October 2003 [link]
If You Thought you were hearing a lot about the California recall and Arnold Schwarzenegger, you were right.
The Big Three evening news programs devoted 169 minutes to California's recall race between Aug. 1 and Oct. 3--compared to 40 minutes total for all 36 governor's races in 2002. (CBSNews.com, reporting on survey results by ADT Research).Or maybe it would be better to say that the coverage in 2002 was pitiful. Local TV stations don't usually do much to fill the gap either. Nearly every station will replace a serious story on state politics with pictures of a kitten up a tree, in a second. In this area, coverage of orphaned whales often seems to get more minutes than coverage of the state's budget. I have seen articles claiming that California TV stations were especially bad about covering politics; if so, that would help explain some of the state's problems.
- 1:44 PM, 15 October 2003 [link]
Is Howard Dean Hiding Something? I'm not the only one who finds his decision to block access to his gubernatorial papers for 10 years interesting. We may know soon, since it's hard to think of anything that would do more to attract the attention of his opponents' opposition researchers, unless it is Dean's own statement on the matter: "We didn't want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor."
Dean's wife, in contrast, seems to be hiding herself. As the Lucianne site notes today, she doesn't campaign with him, and once said "she hoped her husband's bid for the presidency would 'help him get it out of his system'". That's not what most of us would call a ringing endorsement, is it? Maybe she knows something about her husband that we should know too.
- 11:11 AM, 15 October 2003 [link]
The Japanese have Long Considered Themselves among the victims of World War II. It was, many think, something that happened to them, like a natural disaster, not a result of the aggressive policies of the Italian, Japanese, and German governments, policies that had wide support in all three countries. Now, Ann Applebaum tells us, the Germans are coming to the same view of World War II; like the Japanese, they are beginning to think of themselves as victims.
That point of view, always popular on the far right of the German political spectrum, has spread rapidly leftward in recent years, attracting supporters among Social Democrats, bank presidents and others. Not everybody agrees by any means, but the subject is shockingly raw, even difficult to discuss politely. As I can attest, there are German politicians who will shout down other guests at dinner parties if their right to victimhood is questioned too harshly.The Cold War, which put West Germany on the front line against the Soviet Union, severely restricted their foreign policy choices. Now they have more freedom, and we may not like some of the choices they will make. I don't have to remind you that the 20th century gives us ample reason for pessimism.
- 8:35 AM, 15 October 2003 [link]
NPR Doesn't Want My Support: This week, the local NPR station, KUOW, is having their fund raising drive. Their choice of programs during this time reveals who they think is in their audience. For an example of what I mean, look at the first hour of their Weekday program from last Monday. The Palast interview, and I think the other two as well, were previously recorded. In other words, the program staff selected these from previous programs because they thought these interviews would appeal to their listeners. All three authors are on the left. I have not familiar with Schlosser's work, but if this description of his most recent book, Reefer Madness, is correct, he shares another quality with Greg Palast and Jim Hightower; he is more a cheerleader than a critical thinker.
Palast has been earning what appears to be a fairly good income for several years by claiming, along with others on the far left, that the Florida election was stolen. His arguments are not impressive. Those I have seen never consider the other side, for example, the considerable evidence that some Democratic officials in Florida cheated before the election, during the election, during the count, and during the recounts. (Palast giggled frequently during the interview. I mention that only because it made me wonder whether he felt some tension at getting away with these arguments for so long.) Hightower is similar, entertaining but not impressive intellectually.
Judging from these three, KUOW thinks that their listeners are on the left—no surprise there—and don't want to be challenged intellectually. They know what they feel, and they don't want to hear anything that challenges those feelings. Is the station right in this low opinion of their listeners? Probably. The program did seem to draw many donations. Since I am not on the left and do like intellectual challenges, they will not get my donation. Very few of their listeners will see the obvious impropriety of using tax money to support their narrow, unexamined views, but those with more open minds will recognize that the only fair solution is to end the public subsidy for the network. (I don't think it is possible, now, to reform the network, though it might have been some years ago.)
- 7:48 AM, 15 October 2003 [link]
Getting The New York Times Out Of The Quagmire: There are words that I never use because they have been spoiled by consistent misuse, words such as "spew", "mantra", "decimate", and so on. (The last two have fascinating original meanings. Look them up, if you haven't already.) The New York Times and ideologically similar news organizations have spoiled "quagmire" and should retire the word from use, other than in its original meaning, "[l]and with a soft muddy surface". The Times used it to describe the war against the Taliban—shortly before they collapsed. Other news organizations used it to describe the war in Iraq—just days before Saddam's collapse.
Despite these embarrassments, the Times continues to use the word, most recently in an article on public doubts about the war, a column by Thomas Friedman on our war with France, an editorial on the connection between Saddam Hussein and terrorism, another Friedman column on negotiating with dictators, and, yesterday, an editorial on regulating snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park. Really, I'm not making that up. Snowmobiles in Yellowstone. "Quagmire" has become a substitute for thought at the Times, not a means to express it. Their style guide should ban the word, at least for a year.
(There is a way to catch many of these misuses of metaphors in your writing that I have used for years. I am sure that it is not original, though I can not recall having read it anywhere. When you use a metaphor, like quagmire, visualize it to see whether it has the meaning you intend. In the case of quagmire, when you try to picture a quagmire in mostly dry lands like Afghanistan or Iraq, you will see that, even if the concept were right, you need a different metaphor to express it, perhaps trapped in a sand dune, or something similar. Often visualizing a metaphor will show you immediately that it does not express what you intend, and may even be ridiculous.)
- 8:57 AM, 14 October 2003 [link]
In This post, I described the interesting phenomena of money losing leftists, who were willing to run their newspapers, television programs, or movie studios in a way that put their ideology ahead of profits. After I wrote it, an emailer reminded me of one of the most powerful examples, the refusal of Hollywood to make a movie about the war on terror, after 9/11. Here's an article by Jonathan Last describing this strange reluctance. Not only is it politically incorrect to have Arabs as villians, even though some were, it is also incorrect to have heroes from the CIA or FBI. To be fair, the studios are not certain that the American public would flock to see such a movie, and they are almost certain that foreign audiences would not.
- 6:42 AM, 14 October 2003 [link]
Matt Drudge gave this story about babies with three parents top billing today, but if you were reading this site regularly last November, you had already seen it here. The AP story is misleading, since there have already been some babies born from this in vitro procedure. All that is new is that some American researchers showed Chinese researchers the technique, after the FDA banned it here.
- 5:20 AM, 14 October 2003
Correction: The technique is similar to ooplasm transfer, but more radical. Instead of cytoplasm being moved from a donor egg to the wife's egg, the nucleus of the wife's egg is moved to a donor egg, which has had its own nucleus removed. And this is the first time that it has been done, at least publicly. The resulting egg, however, is very similar to one created by ooplasm transfer, in that it has nuclear DNA from one woman, but mitochondria DNA from another, or perhaps from both. Here's an article explaining the new technique.
-12:51 PM, 14 October 2003 [link]
Political Strawmen And Urban Legends: Urban legends about political figures often originate in strawmen created by their opponents. Recently, the opponents of President Bush have created the "imminent danger" strawman, claiming that Bush said the danger from Iraq was imminent, while in fact he took pains in the State of the Union speech to reject that position. Andrew Sullivan has been especially good on running this one down; here's his most recent post, on the subject. Sullivan doesn't mention one amusing fact. Senator Jay Rockefeller, who has been criticizing Bush for saying the danger was imminent, did say that himself before the war.
Another such legend, much older, is the claim that Nixon, during the 1968 campaign, said he had a "secret plan" for ending the Vietnam War. I have have known for years that this was false, but had not known that it came from an opponent of Nixon for the Republican nomination, George Romney, until I read this Safire column. (Two other thoughts about that legend. I have thought for some time that Nixon did have a plan, because he began, quite early in his administration, to play off the Chinese against the Soviets. And, to his credit, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, who had repeated the false "secret plan" claim, corrected it in another column. It is hard to imagine certain current New York Times columnists ever making a similar correction.)
Sometimes, though, the strawman is based on what a politician said. When a politician is ambiguous in a public statement, he runs the risk that opponents will use it to make a strawman. That seems to have happened to Howard Dean. Dean has been claiming that a quotation attributed to him is an another urban legend, another strawman made up by opponents. Here's the original AP story from Safire's column:
"Questioned about the deaths of Saddam's sons, Odai and Qusai, in Iraq, Dean dismissed suggestions that it was a victory for the Bush administration. `It's a victory for the Iraqi people . . . but it doesn't have any effect on whether we should or shouldn't have had a war,' Dean said. `I think in general the ends do not justify the means.' "Some saw this as Dean saying that killing Saddam's horrific sons was not worthwhile. I agree with Safire that the more general interpretation of Dean's words, that he meant the Iraq war, when he talked about ends and means, is more plausible. Dean should explain what he meant, rather than complain about an "urban legend".
- 10:34 AM, 13 October 2003
More: Matthew Hoy has the full exchange between Tony Snow and Senator Rockefeller here. I'm not sure I would call Rockefeller either an idiot or a liar. Instead, he seems like a typical politician, who has not thought much about the current party line.
-7:01 AM, 14 October [link]
Six People Died In A Baghdad Suicide Bombing and it was the lead story in newspapers and on broadcast news programs all over the world. At least ten Christian villagers died from terrorist attacks in Indonesia, and news organizations mostly ignored it. The Indonesian attacks, almost certainly by Muslim extremists, don't matter to news organizations because they have nothing to do with American policy, or, more crudely, give no reason for defeating President Bush next year.
Since this is a Reuters story, we have to check for bias, and it is not hard to find. They say that: "Muslim-Christian violence in the region has caused about 2,000 deaths in clashes since 1999." Nearly all the dead were Christian villagers killed by Muslim terrorists, something concealed by the bland "Muslim-Christian violence". For Reuters, the killers are not terrorists, but "militants". Their estimate of the death total may be low by a factor of 10. I have seen much higher estimates, though I have not seen a careful study.
- 7:42 AM, 13 October 2003 [link]
More On The Rural Political Shift: In this post, I described how the Democrats had lost much of their support in rural areas over the last generation, first because of cultural issues and now because of economic issues. That shift is continuing, and Washington state has a vivid example. A Democratic county commissioner, Pat Hamilton, switched parties this year and is now running for a Democratic state senate seat. Here's why:
She switched parties earlier this year, telling [state Democratic party chairman Paul] Berendt in a fiery resignation letter that Democrats have abandoned rural Washington and become captives of radical environmentalists and animal-rights activists.The state Republican party is encouraging the shift, and even has a "Rural Contract" proposing to cut back on regulation and make other reforms in rural areas. The state Democratic party has made no significant response to these proposals.
They are unlikely to make any while their thinking is dominated by fierce urban partisans like Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly, who opposes almost everything that would bring jobs to rural areas, other than, perhaps, tourist jobs. Note that, in this column, he does not quote a single person who favors gas drilling in the Rockies, though he admits there are some. He certainly does not intend to listen to them, and doesn't think his readers should either. Will he pick up his phone and call Pat Hamilton some time? It isn't likely.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman illustrates a different problem, also common in the Democratic party, in this column, in which he advocates a dollar per gallon increase in the federal tax on gasoline. Friedman thinks this would help in the war on terror, and he might be right, but he obviously has no clue about how this would affect people in rural areas, especially the poor. (Others have proposed similar ideas in the past, but usually include other changes to offset the effects on rural areas.) This ignorance is quite common among urban Democrats, and may be even more destructive than Connelly's hostility toward rural economic development.
- 6:53 AM, 13 October 2003 [link]
When Mayor Giuliani Cleaned Up Graffiti In New York, he not only made the city look better, he cut down on crime. Experts on crime, notably James Q. Wilson, had long argued that vigorous enforcement of laws against minor crimes like graffiti would help in the fight against major crimes. Giuliani proved them right. The success in New York has been a model for cities everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. Presidential candidate Howard Dean has, to my suprise, a position on graffiti. He's in favor of it. When he campaigned in New York, he used a backdrop of graffiti made by a graffiti "artist", Blake Lethem, who was wanted by the police. So far Dean's campaign has not apologized, but the police have arrested Lethem.
- 10:04 AM, 12 October 2003 [link]
Sometimes NPR Is Beyond Parody: While listening to Weekend Edition this morning, I heard Liane Hansen ask an expert about bias in the Los Angeles Times coverage of the Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her expert? Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. (He thinks, or at least said he thinks, that the newspaper was not biased.) Neither seemed to see anything strange about this exchange.
- 9:32 AM, 12 October 2003 [link]
It's Official: An independent panel found "serious bias" in 12 ABC stories on the liberation of Iraq. That's the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but the same bias would be found at the American ABC, as well as CBS, CBC, CNN, NBC, NPR, and, of course, the BBC, which often sets the tone for the others. From what I can tell, the bias in the French and German broadcasts was even worse.
The panel was appointed by the ABC's board of governors, so one should not be surprised that, having found many mistakes, all in one direction, they thought the overall coverage was fair. The article does not mention any complaints from the left, so I think it likely the panel found none. ABC is like a car that veers to the left, unless constantly checked, and the same is true for most other broadcast organizations.
- 7:36 AM, 12 October 2003 [link]
Gay Marriage And Changing Taboos: After a Canadian court established gay marriage there, the debate over gay marriage in United States flared up again. I have not taken part in that debate because my own views on the subject are not completely settled. I do have an opinion—a very uncommon opinion—about the likely consequences of gay marriage. And I see a lesson in the debate over gay marriage about our current taboos on the discussion of some subjects.
Many opponents of gay marriage oppose it, at least in part, because they believe that it will damage traditional marriages. (Many oppose it primarily for religious or moral reasons, of course.) By establishing a different kind of marriage, the opponents think that it will weaken the social support for marriage, support that is already frayed. Some supporters of gay marriage, notably Andrew Sullivan, make exactly the opposite argument. By allowing gay marriage, they say, we will add some gays to the supporters of marriage, thus strengthening the support for marriage.
Both groups are, I suspect, wrong. By itself, I think that gay marriage will have little effect on society, simply because so few gays will get married. The first few months of data from Canada support this view. My very rough back of the envelope estimate* is that there are 200,000 gays and lesbians in the Canadian province of Ontario, concentrated in the city of Toronto. In almost four months since the Canadian court decision, just 443 Ontario couples have gotten licenses for same sex marriages in Toronto. Even if we suppose that some got their licenses outside of Toronto, this is not a large number. At that rate, it would take 5 years for there to be enough such couples to fill one mega-church and 50 years to fill a large American football stadium. That's not a mass movement.
By itself is a crucial qualifier. If the legalization of gay marriage were to be followed by the legalization of polygamy or polyamory, then I do think that the effects on our society would be profound. There are groups that favor just that path, but, as yet, they seem to have so little influence that I do not think such changes would be inevitable if gay marriage were legalized.
So gay marriage may not matter much to society, but it can be discussed openly. A century ago, gay marriage would have been taboo, though other changes in marriage were openly discussed. (Many "progressives" then favored the abolition of marriage, or free love as they called it. Our experience with the abolition of marriage through the welfare system has made that idea look less attractive to nearly everyone except a few single men.) There is a related subject that was discussed widely then, but rarely is now. It is not quite taboo, but bringing it up will not enhance your career at most universities or get the attention of the major networks, unlike gay marriage.
A century ago, nearly every nation worried about its birth rate. A high one was thought, almost universally, to be a good thing, making a nation stronger economically and militarily. Those who thought this were not wrong, given the mass armies of the time. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian war, the population of France was 36 million and the population of Germany, 41 million. By 1910, France's population was 39.5 million, while Germany's had soared to 65 million. It is quite likely that World War I would not have started in 1914 had it not been for this difference in population.
Now, birth rates are seldom discussed, though every European nation I know of has a birth rate that will soon lead to a shrinking population and economic difficulties. Many will face serious shortages of young workers to support their many pensioners within a decade or so. Despite this, to my knowledge, no European nation has been able to significantly raise its birth rate in the last decade. Some have tried increasing their subsidies for children in various ways, with little effect. Values will have to change, I think, not the level of payments for each child.
We like to think that we are wiser, as well as more knowedgeable, than our ancestors. That's not always true. We can discuss gay marriage, which may not matter much. Unlike our ancestors, we can not discuss birth rates, which are fundamental.
*(If you are wondering where I got the numbers, here's my reasoning. In the United States, about 1 percent of the female population are lesbians and 3 percent of the male population is gay. The Canadian population is a little over 30 million. At a guess, at least 20 million are adults, so there would be roughly 400,000 gays and lesbians in all of Canada. I would expect the province of Ontario, with a population of about 12 million, to have about half of Canada's gays and lesbians, since Canada's largest city, Toronto, is in Ontario, and gays and lesbians tend to concentrate in large cities. This is, I repeat, a very rough estimate.)
- 5:50 PM, 10 October 2003 [link]
There's A New Background for the statue on the main page, this one a little less obvious than the first two. As before, there's a hint you'll be able to see in most browsers, if you move your mouse pointer over the picture.
- 11:29 AM, 10 October 2003 [link]
FDR Made The Great Depression Worse: That's not an unusual view among economic historians, but it is almost unknown among the general public. Thomas Sowell plugs a new book on the subject, and sketches the evidence against FDR. Who was most hurt by FDR's policies? Sowell says, "poor people and blacks", the very groups that gave him the most support.
- 8:06 AM, 10 October 2003 [link]
Getting The Gender Gap Wrong: Here's one more I'll have to add to my list of common mistakes. Beginning about 1980, men moved toward the Republican party more strongly than women. Much of Reagan's margin that year came from men's votes. When reporters noticed this change, they almost universally got it backward, interpreting the gap as a loss of support from women for the Republicans, instead of a gain in support from men. (It is not hard to get this right if you recall that the Republicans have won a few elections beginning in 1980.) Here's still another example in this AP story, which prints an EMILY's List press release on a recent poll. The far left group looked at these numbers:
The survey found that slightly more women -- 42 percent to 39 percent -- say they'll support a still-to-be identified Democrat over President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential race.And came to this conclusion:
There may not be a gender gap between political parties in next year's election.After I stopped laughing at this innumeracy, I felt compelled to defend the competence of most women at arithmetic. The women I know would have no trouble noticing that a 16 point difference in support is, in fact, a gap. They may agree with the (quickly withdrawn) Barbie doll that said, "Math is hard", but they are not afraid of a little mental effort. (For the record, I think the Barbie was right, and that students will learn math better if they understand the effort required.)
- 7:34 AM, 10 October 2003 [link]
Oil Drilling And Wildlife Refuges: Opponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge almost never mention the oil wells in other wildlife refuges. One refuge, in fact, has more than—well, I think I'll let you guess, but you can see the answer here. Were you surprised? I was. Not that some of wells haven't had problems, but experience shows that these problems can be avoided, if care is taken.
- 2:01 PM, 9 October 2003 [link]
Three Analyses Of The Recall, Three Conclusions: Leftist Harold Meyerson, who favors nearly everything Governor Gray Davis did, thinks the recall won because Davis was an cold person who was unwilling to claim credit for all the wonderful things he had done. New York Times reporters Katherine Q. Seeley and Marjorie Connelly seem more than a little baffled by the recall, but finally decide that it passed because of the bad national economy. Moderate Joel Popkin thinks the recall passed because it gained the support of swing voters, specifically:
In the broadest terms, Arnold's victory came courtesy of a large and growing constituency of younger and middle-aged, middle-class voters, mostly living in the suburbs. They were attracted not only to the star power of the onetime Terminator, but also to his combination of fiscal probity and moderate social positions.These voters, Popkin thinks, had both economic and cultural reasons to back Schwarzenegger. They worry about the effects of regulation and the poor business climate on their jobs, their businesses, and their prospects for buying a home. As moderates on social issues, they think that the Democrats have gone too far.
Many of the new constituency voters, although not strict social conservatives, also objected to the Democrats' social agenda, which had shifted from mere "tolerance" to an aggressive program of social engineering in favor of gay rights and illegal aliens. For example, state Democrats recently passed legislation to protect the rights of "crossdressers" and to force prospective foster parents to prove they weren't homophobic. Particularly damaging was the Democrats' support for illegal alien drivers licenses, which polls showed roughly two-thirds of voters opposing.If you have read my discussion of the earlier shift of rural areas away from the Democratic party, you will not surprised that I think Popkin is closer to the true explanation than the others.
- 1:41 PM, 9 October 2003 [link]
News Media Too Liberal? Forty-five percent of Americans agree, according to Gallup. Just 14 percent think the media are too conservative. These numbers have barely moved over the last few years. Almost half (46 percent) of us have little or no trust in the media, a number that has not changed much over the last six years. Trust in the media has dropped sharply since the 1970s, though. And we now have less trust in the media than we do in all three branches of government.
(Two annoying technical points: Gallup collapsed four categories into two in reporting their results about trust for the media. It would be very interesting to know how many in the 54 per cent who say they trust the media answered "a great deal" and how many answered "a fair amount". Those seem like very different answers to me. "Not very much" and "none at all" are also different enough so that they should be reported separately. Second, the chart showing the decline in trust over time, makes an elementary mistake, by spacing the samples equally even though there was almost 20 years between the third and fourth polls.)
Now why would 45 percent think the media is too liberal? Perhaps because they have seen too many examples like this Los Angeles Times column by Steve Lopez that dubs Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Der Gropenfuhrer", neatly combining the two main slurs used during the campaign. The first part may have some legitimacy, especially considering Schwarzenegger's apology during the campaign, but the second is simply outrageous, as I think Lopez knows. It is no more fair to call Schwarzenegger "fuhrer" than if would be to call Governor Gray Davis, "a little Stalin", or come to think of it, to call Lopez, "Goebbels", after Hitler's propagandist.
Or they may be thinking of examples like this MSNBC article by Michael Ventre, who thinks the typical Schwarzenegger voter is a young man "18-to-34, limited vocabulary, easily distracted by flashes of light", with a short attention span. In fact, the Los Angeles Times exit poll showed that Schwarzenegger got less support from younger voters, and the geographic patterns of the vote suggests that he drew more votes from wealthier, better educated voters, who might be expected to have longer attention spans. These facts will not bother Ventre, or, it seems, MSNBC.
- 9:20 AM, 9 October 2003 [link]
Were Newton And Einstein Wrong? Our two greatest physicists both proposed theories of gravity. Isaac Newton, famously, determimed that the attraction between two bodies varied as the inverse square of their distance. If the distance doubles, then the attraction will fall by a factor of four, and so on. Albert Einstein reinterpreted Newton in his theory of General Relativity, but not in a way that made large changes in most predictions. (In some rare situations, for example, the precession of Mercury's orbit, there are observable differences in the predictions made by Einstein and Newton, but Einstein's theory keeps the inverse square.) Centuries of successful predictions have supported the theories. The attractions between small weights in laboratories, between the sun and Jupiter, and everything in between, all have been found to vary with the masses and the inverse square of the distances between the objects.
Except when you go beyond the solar system. When astronomers began observing galaxies, they found that stars orbited the centers of their galaxies faster than Newton and Einstein predict. For decades, astronomers have assumed that they were not measuring all the mass in the galaxies, that there was something hidden that would explain the faster movement. Physicists have been searching for that missing mass and have developed a variety of hypotheses to explain it, often with amusing names. Some, for instance, think that the missing mass is in Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs. So far, searches for WIMPs, and other explanations for the missing mass, have been unsuccessful.
There is another troubling anomaly. Two space probes that have gone far from the sun, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, seem to be moving more slowly than predicted, as if the sun's gravity was not falling off as quickly as expected.
Now, a few physicists are beginning to speculate that Newton and Einstein may have been wrong, that at very great distances, the inverse square relationship does not hold, and gravity decreases more slowly. Israeli physicist Moti Milgrom has proposed that, at some very low threshold, gravity decreases more slowly than predicted by Newton. Naturally he has an acronym for his theory; it's Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND. With MOND, he has been able to predict correctly both the movements of the stars in other galaxies and the Pioneer spacecraft, without missing matter.
Few physicists think Milgrom and others with similar ideas are right, but more are beginning to think that his ideas deserve testing. This article in Discover will give you more on these ideas, though you will have to buy the magazine to read past the opening paragraphs. (The article may not be entirely accurate in its description of MOND. I am pretty sure, for example, that MOND does not predict that the pull of the sun grows "progressively stronger" at great distances, but that it decreases more slowly than expected. Here's a FAQ for those who would like to look at some of the math.)
- 3:05 PM, 8 October 2003 [link]
The Top Gym In Iraq just changed its name to "The Arnold Classic", after Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course. He's always had fans in Iraq, and now has even more.
- 10:58 AM, 8 October 2003 [link]
Trading Places: This map, showing the California counties that voted to recall Davis, is another example of the shift that has taken place in the last generation. Davis lost all the rural counties, many by margins of more than 70 percent. He lost the Central Valley, which used to be a source of Democratic strength. A generation ago, these rural areas often supported the Democratic party, in California and elsewhere.
There's a book that shows these changes vividly, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress 1789-1989, by Kenneth Martis. As you flip through the pages showing party control during the last generation, you see the parties trade places. In 1972, Democrats held most of the rural California House seats; by the election of 1982, Republicans had taken almost all of them, and the map of House seats in California looks much like the map of the recall vote. You find very similar shifts in rural districts in Washington and other western states. In 1972, Republicans held just one of the Washington House seats, a suburban district north of Seattle. (It may actually have included part of Seattle, hard as that is to believe now. The map is not detailed enough for me to be sure.) Now they hold two, both rural districts in eastern Washington.
It is not hard to understand why rural areas shifted Republican; they are culturally more conservative than urban areas. When the McGovernites took over the Democratic party in 1972, they shifted it sharply to the left on cultural issues such as gun control and abortion. Rural Democrats, who might have agreed with much of the party's economic program, began leaving the party in 1972 and haven't stopped since.
Economic issues are beginning to hurt the Democrats in many rural areas. Their urban voters give strong support to environmentalists. This often leads Democrats to back proposals that damage rural areas. In this state, the Seattle City Council resolution to tear down dams in Eastern Washington is still hurting the party. Almost everywhere, growth (mis)management plans cause serious problems in rural areas. The hostility to automobiles so common among Democrats is one of their biggest disadvantages in rural areas, where cars are essential. Light rail may be useful in the Seattle area—though I very much doubt it—but even its strongest proponents would admit that it won't work in towns like Asotin, Chewelah, Gold Bar, Forks, Humptulips, Ilwaco, Omak, Peshastin, Selah, and Zillah. Davis was hurt greatly by his increase in the car tax, which hits the rural poor hardest.
To me, the most curious thing about this shift of rural areas toward Republicans is how indifferent Democratic leaders have been toward the change. Few seem willing even to listen to the complaints from the rural areas. They would rather, it seems, lose their majorities than try to get in touch with rural voters.
- 9:44 AM, 8 October 2003 [link]
Bigger Than It Looks: That's not a phrase often applied to Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it does fit his win yesterday. When I looked at the returns this morning, I saw that he was taking 48 percent of the the total vote. But the third place candidate was another Republican, Tom McClintock, with 13 percent of the vote. If McClintock had withdrawn, Schwarzenegger would not have gotten all of his votes, but he would have gotten most of them. In a two candidate race between Schwarzenegger and Bustamante, the result probably would have been about 60-40, a landslide by American standards. (I would expect Bustamante to pick up most of Camejo's votes in such a race.) This victory is even more impressive when we recall that the Democrats have a big lead over the Republicans in registration in California, roughly 10 percent according to news stories I have seen.
His margin may grow as they count the mail ballots. Typically these are more Republican than the electorate as a whole. On the other hand, there seems to have been a move toward Schwarzenegger during the campaign, so he may have won a smaller share of the early deciders. The size of his win is important; if he were to reach 50 percent in the final returns (something Davis did not do in the last election), he would have more legitimacy.
- 8:03 AM, 8 October 2003 [link]