October 2005, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Happy Halloween!And just in time for Halloween, up popped this mushroom just below my apartment. It looks about as much like a pumpkin as any mushroom I have ever seen.
Or, I should say, looked, since this is the way it looks today.
Of course, some may think the way the mushroom looks today better fits the spirit of the holiday.
- 1:19 PM, 31 October 2005 [link]
Good News: There's lots of it around, though good news stories don't always make the front page or become the lead story in the nightly newscast. There, is, for example, this one.
The economy grew at a faster pace in the third quarter, the government reported yesterday, as stronger consumer and government spending helped offset the effects of two devastating hurricanes and soaring energy prices.And the New York Times didn't mention all of the good news in the report. This story, from the LA Times, adds reasons to think that the expansion will continue,
Inflation also was subdued. The Commerce Department's index of personal consumption expenditures — an inflation measure favored by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan — rose at an annual rate of 3.7%. But without energy and food, the increase was only 1.3%, down from 1.7% in the second quarter.And that the pre-Christmas sales might not be all that great, but that's what you expect in good times.
That gives us, as a chart accompanying the print article reminds us, the tenth quarter in a row in which the United States has had growth above three percent. I am pretty sure that's the best record for any major industrialized country, though I haven't checked.
- 9:38 AM, 31 October 2005 [link]
Katie Couric Just Cracked Me Up: I tuned in to the Today show in hopes of catching some of their coverage of Supreme Court Justice nominee Alito. Instead I saw Couric about to do an interview with former ambassador Joseph Wilson — which she introduced with "and now back to reality". Maybe she slipped and meant to say "surreality".
- 7:46 AM, 31 October 2005 [link]
Can't We Just Censure And Move On, asks James Lileks?
Sad as this whole Scooter Libby thing is, I say we just censure and move on.And then says he is just kidding.
What would happen to Scooter Libby if he is found guilty and then receives the same punishment as Bill Clinton? Libby would be disbarred, would have to pay a fine — and would receive a humongous book deal and be the toast of Hollywood. Somehow I don't think that the Democrats will be drawing many parallels between Mr. Libby and our most famous perjurer in the months ahead.
(What should happen to Libby? I haven't followed the case closely enough to have an opinion yet.)
- 5:32 AM, 31 October 2005 [link]
If This Story Is True , then Prince Charles has some bizarre ideas.
The Prince of Wales will try to persuade George W Bush and Americans of the merits of Islam this week because he thinks the United States has been too intolerant of the religion since September 11.Some might think, if he is worried about intolerance, he could find more appropriate audiences, such as those who advocate killings like these.
Three Christian teenage girls were beheaded on Saturday in the latest attack against non-Muslims in the troubled Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi, police said.Wonder if Prince Charles could have gotten his bizarre ideas from the BBC? And if he really wants to work for tolerance, I would suggest he start in the Sudan or Saudi Arabia.
(Inside baseball: Though not important to my main point here, I'd like to give you my guess about why this story appeared when it did. Most likely, some figure, perhaps in the Blair government, perhaps in the monarchy, realized that this would be a disaster. So the story appeared as part of an effort to prevent Prince Charles from making a fool of himself. Most likely, the story is intended as a warning shot.)
- 7:15 AM, 30 October 2005 [link]
Two From Behind The TimesSelect Curtain: Today's New York Times illustrates my argument that they should pay us for reading their columnists, not the other way around.
Their libertarian, John Tierney, has a sensible piece on the "Scooter" Libby indictment. He notes that:
The leak was imagined to be a deliberate crime, part of an elaborate plot to cover up the administration's efforts to hype prewar intelligence. But from the start there was a much simpler explanation: that it was an accident by administration officials replying in kind to leaks from a critic.And if there is any great lesson to be drawn from the affair, it is that journalists (including most of those at his own newspaper) were foolish to call for the investigation.
So Tierney's column is a plus, though only a medium-sized plus since the conclusions are not difficult to reach — unless you happen to be a "mainstream" journalist, or a hopeless Democratic partisan.
But Maureen Dowd's column, opposite, is a big minus. She gets cute with the irrelevant fact that Libby is the son of an investment banker, while prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is the son of a New York doorman. And she comes down on the side of truth — which will strike those who are familiar with her record as deeply ironic, at best.
Or even those who finish the column. There is a whole series of smears in the column. For instance, she says that the White House decided to "slime" critics such as Joseph Wilson. For such a nasty charge, one might expect at least an example, but that is too much effort for Ms. Dowd. In fact, as every sensible person (and even a few journalists) knows, the White House was slimed by its critics, definitely including Joseph Wilson — and one or two columnists at the New York Times.
Dowd's column is bad enough to deserve a detailed fisking. (It even includes phrases so bad they could easily belong in a Frank Rich column.) But, after reading it, I realized I needed to clear my head with a walk in the fresh air before I take that on. Perhaps tomorrow or Monday. If you missed it, you should be pleased.
- 3:44 PM, 29 October 2005 [link]
Mountain Blogging: Much of my disaster tour along Route 242 ran along the southern flank of the Belknap volcano. And almost due south, from the same road, I could often see the Sisters.
You can see two of them, North and Middle, in the picture. A third, named, logically enough, South, is behind them. (Here's a map if you want to locate the volcanoes more precisely.)
How hazardous are the Sisters? Not terribly. Their last eruption was almost a thousand years ago. They have drawn attention recently because of this.
Three Sisters: USGS scientists from Cascades Volcano Observatory and Menlo Park, California, are completing their fifth annual field campaign in the Three Sisters region of central Oregon, which has been the site of slow uplift of the ground surface since 1997 (see http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/Sisters/framework.html). Ongoing accumulation of a modest volume of magma at a depth of about 3 to 4 miles has caused the ground to rise a maximum of about 1 to 1.5 inch per year over a broad dome-shaped area. This area is about 10 miles in diameter and is centered 3 miles west of South Sister volcano.By itself, this is not especially worrisome. Why not? Here's one reason: Granite is formed when magma rises but does not reach the surface. As I am sure you have noticed, there is a lot of granite around, so it is hardly unusual for magma to rise, but never reach the surface.
- 3:29 PM, 28 October 2005 [link]
And Now For Something Important: If that's all right with you. I start out apologetically because everyone else seems to prefer to discuss the Libby indictment, which may be significant poltically, but is not of great matter otherwise. But this isn't the first time I have chosen to paddle against the current, and it won't be the last.
For about a decade now, I have feared nuclear war in the Middle East. Israel, as everyone knows, has nuclear weapons. Iran, as everyone should know, has been trying to get them. And the Iranian leaders have been explicit all along about why they wanted those nuclear weapons.  . Melanie Philips sums it up well.
With its customary hypocrisy, the alleged civilised world has recoiled in horror at the declaration by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be 'wiped off the map'. So he's a genocidal, Jew-hating maniac. So what's new? Iran has never made any secret of its intention to annihilate Israel. It exports demented anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hatred to the Muslim world, it funds terrorists to murder as many Jews as possible (see the most recent victims this week in Hadera) and it is racing to build a nuclear weapon so that it can expeditiously carry out its professed aim to eradicate the Jewish nation state.Everyone should know this, but the Soviets have been selling the Iranians nuclear technology for some time, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of our European allies have been doing the same.
Let's think about the unthinkable for a moment. If Iran struck Israel, Israel would retaliate. How many would die? In a full exchange, millions in Israel (including many Arabs) and possibly tens of millions in Iran, given the damage an Israeli strike would do to their infrastructure.
Now suppose that you do not care about those millions — and it is not hard to find people who have, or at least say they have, that opinion. Then you should recognize that such an exchange would deal a terrible blow to the world's economy, and to the environment in the Middle East.
Now change the hypothesis and suppose that Iran develops nuclear weapons but does not use them on Israel immediately. Does anyone suppose that Iran will not try to blackmail neighbors? And in an age of ballistic missiles, their neighbors would include most of the European countries. And how will their neighbors react? In various ways, no doubt. But some of those neighbors will decide that they need nuclear weapons too. And Iran may help some of them in their quests.
What can we do to avoid these perils? I do not have a good answer to that question, and I have been worrying about it for more than a decade. You would have to know far more than I do about their nuclear program to know whether it could be set back by a first strike. But I think it unlikely since the lesson the Israelis gave Saddam was only too clear. (It is worth recalling that the reactor the Israelis destroyed was built for Saddam by — France.) We can give encouragement to the Iranian dissidents, who may well command majority support in the nation. We can try to encourage our "sophisticated" European friends to be just a little more sophisticated and think just a few years ahead. And we can encourage that "realist", Putin, to be just a little more realistic and a little less willing to sell nuclear technology for cash.
And we can try, as a nation, to look outward for this peril, and others, and take just a little less pleasure in our trivial (when compared to nuclear war) quarrels.
(Who is to blame for the Mullahs being in power in Iran? Among others, the late shah, of course, for his policies that angered his opponents but failed to suppress them. Former President Carter, who ensured that an anti-American regime would take control of Iran. And, interestingly, the BBC. How so? Here's what Barry Rubin says in his book, Paved With Good intentions:
Other Iranians carried the idea further. They assume that the CIA clearly foresaw the future. Hence its refusal to halt the revolution is sufficient evidence of its complicity. The CIA and British intelligence, popular myths explain, smuggled in thousands of Khomeini cassettes and used the BBC to spread such a volume of anti-shah propaganda that the latter became known as the voice of Khomeini. (p. 258)You need not agree with such conspiracy theories — and I would be dubious about any theory that gave too much credit for competence to the CIA — to accept that, for many Iranians, the BBC propaganda against the shah requires an explanation.
- 1:22 PM, 28 October 2005 [link]
Remember The Jayson Blair Scandal? He was, of course, the New York Times reporter who was found to have made up some stories and plagiarized other stories. Recently, I have been thinking about how difficult it is to get "mainstream" journalists to correct factual mistakes, and I realized that there were lessons in the Jayson Blair affair.
Blair had been making factual errors all through his career, and there had been many complaints about them from the subjects of the articles. (And many other people who spotted the errors, but assumed that complaining would have no effect. And who can say they were wrong?) But what finally got Blair in trouble is not the false stories he wrote, but a true story.
Saturday, April 26, 2003: The Times runs a Blair story about Juanita Anguiano and her son, Edward. Edward Anguiano is the only US soldier in Iraq at this moment listed "missing in action" by the military.(Or, at least true as far as I know.)
Note two points about this series of events. First, the New York Times ignored complaints of inaccuracy from non-journalists for months. But it responded almost immediately to charges of plagiarism from journalists. From the point of view of journalists, this makes sense; all they have to sell are their stories, so it is a great offense if another journalist steals them.
But it does not make sense from the readers' point of view. Although most readers will disapprove of plagiarized stories, we are not hurt by them. But we are hurt by false stories.
Second, the scandal illustrates something I have commented on before: the guild loyalty among journalists. The New York Times ignored complaints from readers, even though some of them were substantial people who should have been listened to respectfully. But the newspaper responded immediately to other journalists.
It is understandable that journalists would care more about plagiarism than inaccuracy and that they would tend to value their own more than outsiders. But is is unfortunate, because both make our newspapers less accurate than they could, and should, be.
- 6:33 AM, 28 October 2005 [link]
That Retouched USA Today Photo Of Condi, which you can see here, has drawn a lot of criticism, criticism that USA Today agreed with, since they quickly withdrew the photo.
My first reaction was different. I liked the retouched photo — for certain audiences. Henry Kissinger has told of how he warned the Soviets that Richard Nixon was not entirely stable and that it would not be wise to provoke him. (He did this with the agreement of Nixon, as I understand it.) Similarly, I think the retouched image of Rice might be helpful in countries like North Korea, Iran, and Syria. That does not look like a woman you want to, if I may use a playground phrase, mess with.
(For more on the controversy, see this Michelle Malkin post.)
- 10:44 AM, 27 October 2005 [link]
Celebrating 2,000 Deaths In Iraq: Did the "mainstream" media celebrate that "grim milestone", as they almost all called it? I wouldn't go that far, but I would say that at least a few journalists took some grim pleasure in the story. And it is a story that they love to run, according to a study by Media Research.
A recent MRC study of this year's Iraq war news found the networks had already produced 400 evening news stories noting America's war casualties, far more than those discussing episodes of heroism on the part of those same troops.The same is true, in my experience, of the newspapers in this areas. The Seattle PI and the Seattle Times don't much care about covering the troops in Iraq — unless they die or are injured. And their unwillingness to cover the heroism of so many is simply disgraceful. (There is an ironic side to this; some of the same newspapers that are unwilling to give more than cursory coverage to the heroism of our troops in Iraq were also telling us that John Kerry's medals from Vietnam qualified him to be president, almost by themselves.)
With some groups, I think that "celebrating" is the correct word. Thanks to "zombie" we have these pictures from an American Friends Service Committee's rally commemorating the 2,000 milestone. Looks like a great party to me — if you ignore what is making them so happy. (And, if I may say so, they don't seem to be as humble as I would expect Quakers to be.)
- 7:42 AM, 27 October 2005 [link]
Maybe The Grand Jury Likes Ham Sandwiches: While looking at Tom Maguire's latest take on the Fitzgerald investigation, I had this odd thought: Perhaps the grand jury is not going along with the prosecutor. Ordinarily, as the saying goes, a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. But grand juries do sometimes balk, and that might explain why the prosecutor is scrambling for additional evidence this late in the game — assuming that story is true. (According to the LA Times, FBI agents were just out asking the Wilson/Plame neighbors whether they knew she was a covert agent. One would think that they would have nailed down that point quite some time ago.)
I'm not saying that's likely; I'm saying that's possible.
- 6:02 PM, 26 October 2005 [link]
Suicide Watch? Might be a good idea to be ready to start one for Democratic partisans and "mainstream" journalists — just in case Patrick Fitzgerald fails to indict anyone in the Bush administration. When I heard the hope in their voices on the news programs this morning, I was reminded of bratty children who can hardly wait for Christmas. If they don't get their presents, they aren't going to take it very well.
(I feel I should apologize every time I mention this issue. It is such a foolish, media-contrived "scandal", and it comes at a time when we have many far more important issue to think about. But it could have political consequences even though it shouldn't. By the way, it is not only conservatives who have this view; so do some liberals, including Richard Cohen of the Washington Post and libertarians, including John Tierney of the New York Times.
In general I think governments make far too many matters secret — and many journalists are far too addicted to leaks. I'd like to see both behave better, and it is just possible that this foolish business will have that result — for a short period of time.)
- 5:28 PM, 26 October 2005 [link]
Sorry For The Lack Of Posts: Picked up a little bug yesterday — nothing serious, just a few degrees of fever — and felt more like napping than blogging.
- 5:11 PM, 26 October 2005 [link]
Peat, Not Sand: For some time I have been wondering whether the floodwalls that failed in New Orleans had been built, literally, on sand. Now, the independent experts who have been studying the failures have an answer to that question for two of the floodwalls.
In the case of the 17th Street and London Avenue canals, the independent investigators believe the floodwalls themselves were the problem. The reason was the naturally soft soil made up of river silts and swampy peat that has been the bane of builders here for two centuries.The failure of the third floodwall may have a different explanation:
In 1965, the Corps completed the 76-mile-long, 36-foot-deep Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a larger dirt-moving project than the Panama Canal. The outlet -- known locally as MRGO, or "Mr. Go" -- created a navigation shortcut to the Port of New Orleans, although a little-used one that averages fewer than one ship a day. But the outlet also amounted to a funnel that would accelerate and enlarge any storm surges headed for the city's levees.Let's summarize. The failures of two of the floodwalls were probably due to design and construction errors. The floodwalls did not have deep enough roots, especially considering the layer of peat. The failure of the third floodwall, along the Industrial Canal, may have been caused by a pork project from the 1960s.
Finally, there is a point made in the article that needs emphasis:
Experts now believe that Katrina was no stronger than a Category 3 storm when it roared into New Orleans, and Congress had directed the Corps to protect the city from just such a hurricane.In other words, Katrina, by the time it hit New Orleans, was not beyond the design requirements that Congress had set. The floodwalls should have been able to withstand a Category 3 storm.
If these conclusions are right, who should be blamed for the failure of the floodwalls? Not George W. Bush. Perhaps some Corps of Engineer bureaucrats. Perhaps the Congressional committees that supervise the Corps. And for the floodwalls along the Industrial Canal, maybe no one. I doubt that anyone could have predicted in 1965 that the MRGO would amplify a storm surge.
Those are not a very sexy conclusions politically, but I suspect they, or something close to them, will be the verdict of history.
(You can find some previous posts on this question here, here, here, and here. The first includes a map that you may find helpful.)
- 3:26 PM, 25 October 2005 [link]
Iraqi Constitution Passes: In spite of terrorist attacks and ethnic divisions, Iraqis voted 78 percent in favor of the constitution.
Iraq's voters have approved its constitution after Sunni Arab opponents failed to muster enough support to defeat it, officials said today.Turnout was a reasonable 63 percent. And this time Sunnis participated in large numbers, even if they did vote strongly against the constitution.
This is excellent news for the United States, and for the people of Iraq. But if you read the accounts in the New York Times or the Washington Post, you'll get the impression that they aren't entirely pleased by the results.
(What's in the constitution? This Q&A from the Guardian has some answers, including this:
The Shia- and Kurdish-drafted text promises a "future in a republican, federal, democratic and pluralist system" with "a pact to respect the rule of law, reject the politics of aggression, give attention to the rights of women, men and children, spread the culture of diversity and uproot terrorism".Just promises for now, but good promises.
- 2:12 PM, 25 October 2005 [link]
Worth Reading: Steve Antler has most of a David Brooks column on President Bush. Brooks gives us some important reminders.
Let's start by remembering where conservatism was before Bush came on the scene. In the late 1990's, after the failure of the government shutdown, conservatism was adrift and bereft of ideas.Some of the anger at Bush coming from the right comes from those he proved wrong. If you are an "intellectual", there are few things less forgivable.
And though "bereft of ideas" is too strong, it isn't entirely wrong, as anyone who remembers those years can verify.
(TimesSelect protects us from some of the worst columns at the New York Times; it also, from time to time, blocks our access to good columns.)
- 7:29 AM, 25 October 2005 [link]
Walter Pincus Gets The Basic Facts Wrong: In this post, I wondered whether the Washington Post reporter was just being polite when he failed to correct substitute NPR host John Ydstie. I can stop wondering because Pincus (and Dana Milbank) made the same mistake Ydstie did.
Now, amid speculation that prosecutors could bring charges against White House officials this week, Republicans preparing a defense of the administration are reviving the debate about [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson's credibility and integrity.What did President Bush say in the 2003 State of the Union speech? You can find it in a few minutes simply by using Google and the following search phrase: "State of the Union" + 2003. (I took about ten minutes to find it because I first searched for it on the White House site and found many pictures, but not the transcript. It is almost certainly there; I just didn't find it quickly.)
Here are the much disputed sixteen words.
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.The British government did a study of its own intelligence failures after the war, and stands by that claim.
In short, from what we now know, Bush was right and Wilson was wrong. Or, to put it another way, Wilson's "central assertion" has been invalidated.
Why is this important? Because it was impossible for Wilson to refute Bush's claims about all of Africa by visiting a single African country, unless Niger were the only uranium producer in Africa — which it is not. And just to make the error worse, the Senate hearings revealed that Wilson had found weak evidence that Saddam was trying to purchase uranium from Niger. (As I have explained before, Saddam had sent a trade delegation to Niger — and the country has almost nothing to sell except uranium.)
And because this issue has been used, again and again, to attack President Bush — even though he was right and Wilson was wrong.
Why can't Pincus, who has been following this story for two years, get the basic facts right? I don't know, but there is no flattering explanation for these consistent errors. And, at some point, readers may conclude that Pincus either doesn't care what the facts are, or is not telling the truth.
Whatever the reason Pincus got this wrong — as so many journalists have — we can conclude one thing: A journalist who can not (or will not) get the facts right is worse than useless.
(Sharp readers will have noticed that I am, if anything, minimizing the failure here. Pincus got the facts wrong; so did Dana Milbank; and so did at least one editor at the Washington Post.)
- 5:46 AM, 25 October 2005 [link]