Archive:

October 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



It's Columbus Day:  And people are still arguing about his ancestry, I learned today.
When schoolchildren turn to the chapter on Christopher Columbus's humble origins as the son of a weaver in Genoa, they are not generally told that he might instead have been born out of wedlock to a Portuguese prince.  Or that he might have been a Jew whose parents converted to escape the Spanish Inquisition.  Or a rebel in the medieval kingdom of Catalonia.

Yet with little evidence to support them, multiple theories of Columbus's early years have long found devoted proponents among those who would claim alternative bragging rights to the explorer.  And now, five centuries after he opened the door to the New World, Columbus's revisionist biographers have found a new hope for vindication.
DNA tests.

Though even DNA tests may not settle the question, as Amy Harmon explains toward the end of the article.
- 6:16 PM, 8 October 2007   [link]


Was Rickert Vs. Washington Decided Correctly?  That's the Washington state case in which our Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the state's Public Disclosure Commission could not penalize candidates for false campaign brochures.  (For more background, see this article.)   As I mentioned in this post, I thought the decision was obviously correct.

But I am not an expert on constitutional law, not even a lawyer, so when I saw that UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who is an expert on constitutional law, thought that the decision probably should have gone the other way, I thought I should call his post to your attention.

So my tentative view is that the dissent is correct, and that the law should have been upheld, even as applied to nondefamatory speech.  My sense is also that this case is a good candidate for Supreme Court review, since there's a pretty square split on this general question at least between the Washington Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  On the other hand, my sense is that there isn't much other caselaw on this from other circuit courts and other state supreme courts (there is some from intermediate courts of appeals, but they generally don't count much when the Court is measuring the magnitude of a split), so maybe the Court would decide to let the issue percolate in the lower courts for some more years.

I'll leave the legal questions to others, who are more knowledgeable about them — and more interested in them — than I am.  But I will say that, even if it is constitutional, this is a terrible law.  There are simply too many ways the law could be abused and used to limit free speech.  And giving this power to unelected bureaucrats may be even worse than giving it to elected politicians.

Volokh does not address that question in his post, so I emailed him asking him whether he favored the law.  In his reply, he said that he hadn't decided and that he would need to know more.  He undoubtedly knows far more about the law than I do, but I may know more than he does about our nation's often dirty political history.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The full name of the case, according to this article, is "Marilou Rickert vs. state of Washington and PDC, but that's too long for a headline.)
- 4:36 PM, 8 October 2007   [link]


Sandy Berger is back.
Sandy Berger, who stole highly classified terrorism documents from the National Archives, destroyed them and lied to investigators, is now an adviser to presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Berger, who was fired from John Kerry's presidential campaign when the scandal broke in 2004, has assumed a similar role in Clinton's campaign, even though his security clearance has been suspended until September 2008.  This is raising eyebrows even among Clinton's admirers.

"It shows poor judgment and a lack of regard for Berger's serious misdeeds," said law professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve University, who nonetheless called Clinton "by far the most impressive candidate in the Democratic field."
Amazing.  I wonder whether any "mainstream" reporters will ask her about this.

(Earlier posts on Berger here and here.   And don't miss this piece from the Wall Street Journal.)
- 1:21 PM, 8 October 2007
More:  Hillary Clinton says that Berger has no "official" role in her campaign, but that they have been friends for thirty years.  Cliff May suggests that some journalist ask her which documents Berger stole and destroyed.  The Investor's Business Daily has this to say about his service:
For the record, we believe Berger the lawyer-lobbyist is more valuable to Clinton as a political operator than as someone who can give her solid advice on security.  Nothing happened on his watch to indicate he has a talent for national security issues.  Indeed, his theft and destruction of National Archives material to cover up mistakes suggests that he was a failure — and knew it.
For the record, I recall thinking, when he was appointed National Security Advisor, that he was not qualified for that post.  Nothing I have seen since has given me any reason to change my initial opinion.  (Here's a list of National Security Advisors, for those who want to compare him to others who have held the post.)
- 6:57 AM, 9 October 2007   [link]


The Numbers Racket Isn't As Profitable As It Once Was:  States are taking in more money with their lotteries, but keeping a smaller share.  That's the principal lesson of this New York Times article
Now, a New York Times examination of lottery documents, as well as interviews with lottery administrators and analysts, finds that lotteries accounted for less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the total revenue for K-12 education last year in the states that use this money for schools.

In reality, most of the money raised by lotteries is used simply to sustain the games themselves, including marketing, prizes and vendor commissions.  And as lotteries compete for a small number of core players and try to persuade occasional customers to play more, nearly every state has increased, or is considering increasing, the size of its prizes — further shrinking the percentage of each dollar going to education and other programs.
I have never been comfortable with the states running lotteries, despite their long history in this country.  It is true that they are a tax on willing, as one quip puts it.  But they are also a tax on the stupid*, as the other quip puts it.  The people who play the lottery are mostly low income people, who should be doing other things with their money.

I'm not a complete killjoy.  If someone who can afford it buys a lottery ticket from time to time, that's fine with me — though I do hope they think of it as entertainment, not investment.

(*Almost always, but there are a few exceptions.  Some years ago an article in Slate showed that lotteries that accumulate prizes when no one wins can, occasionally, get large enough so that a lottery ticket has a positive expected value.  The mathematics used to show this are beyond me, and, probably beyond most of those who play the lottery.

There's one curious fact in the article:
Surveys and interviews indicate that many Americans in states with lotteries linked to education think their schools are largely supported by lottery funds — so much so that they even mention this when asked to vote for tax increases or bond authorizations to finance their schools.
Actually, in only one state, New York, do lottery profits make up as much as 5 percent of the education budget, and the average is closer to 2 percent.

Playing the numbers is far more popular in some states than others.  The tops is Massachusetts, where residents spend $699 per person, per year on the lottery; the bottom is North Dakota, where they spend just $35.  I am pleased to see that Washington is one of the stingier states, spending only $75.)
- 12:37 PM, 8 October 2007   [link]


Just In Case You Had Any Doubts:  Howard Kurtz's exchanges with two journalists should end them.
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC ANCHOR: The U.S. military reports the fourth straight month of decline in troop deaths, 66 American troops died in September, each a terrible tragedy for a family, but the number far less than those who died in August.  And the Iraqi government says civilian deaths across Iraq fell by half last month.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to put this into perspective, Robin Wright, who covers national security for The Washington Post.  And CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Robin Wright, should that decline in Iraq casualties have gotten more media attention?

ROBIN WRIGHT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not necessarily. The fact is we're at the beginning of a trend -- and it's not even sure that it is a trend yet.  There is also an enormous dispute over how to count the numbers.
Wright squirms for several more sentences, but does not budge from her position that good news from Iraq is not news.

Kurtz then tries again with another journalist.
KURTZ: Barbara Starr, CNN did mostly quick reads by anchors of these numbers. There was a taped report on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."  Do you think this story deserved more attention?  We don't know whether it is a trend or not but those are intriguing numbers.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: But that's the problem, we don't know whether it is a trend about specifically the decline in the number of U.S. troops being killed in Iraq.  This is not enduring progress.  This is a very positive step on that potential road to progress.

KURTZ: But let's say that the figures had shown that casualties were going up for U.S. soldiers and going up for Iraqi civilians. I think that would have made some front pages.

STARR: Oh, I think inevitably it would have.  I mean, that's certainly -- that, by any definition, is news.  Look, nobody more than a Pentagon correspondent would like to stop reporting the number of deaths, interviewing grieving families, talking to soldiers who have lost their arms and their legs in the war.  But, is this really enduring progress?
Like Wright, Starr squirms for several more sentences, but sticks to her position that good news from Iraq is not news.

By way of Newsbusters, which has the video.
- 6:00 AM, 8 October 2007
More:  The networks don't think good economic news is news, either.
- 2:59 PM, 9 October 2007   [link]


More From Laurie Mylroie:  Four weeks ago, the New York Times published this Peter Beinart review of Norman Podhoretz's World War IV.  In it, Beinart claimed that the case for connections between Saddam Hussein and terrorist attacks had been "refuted".  Today, Mylroie replies, in a letter.   If you read both, you'll notice that Beinart's claim is much broader than Mylroie's — and that she is more familiar with the evidence than he is.

Almost the same thing happened in 2004, except that the reviewer was Gideon Rose, and the book was Stephen Hayes' The Connection.   Again, Mylroie replied to an attack on her with a letter.   Again, she appeared to be making a narrower claim than her critic, and to be better informed.

Here's the last sentence of today's letter, which (I assume) summarizes her current argument.
As I explain in greater detail on my Web site, LaurieMylroie.com, Iraq's terrorist links under Saddam Hussein were far-reaching, and the likelihood that Al Qaeda was penetrated and used as a cat's paw by Saddam's regime for revenge against America quite real.
She is not saying that the evidence proves that Saddam had links to 9/11, but that he had many terrorist links, and may have had something to do with both the 1993 and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.  Put that narrowly, it is hard to disagree, especially when so much of the evidence is missing.

Her critics dislike her argument in part because it has political consequences they don't care for.  But those consequences do not prove that she is wrong.  On the other hand, she herself admits that she does not have proof of her theories.

My own view?  I think that her theories deserve investigation, as I said about her theory that the 2001 anthrax attacks might have a Saddam connection.  But that's as far as I would go, given my own lack of knowledge about these questions.

(Here's one of the details that makes me think that Mylroie and Hayes may be on to something.  Edward Jay Epstein, who is a careful scholar with much experience in intelligence mysteries, says that the leader of the 9/11 attacks, Mohammed Atta, went to Prague twice, and adds this:
Czech intelligence reported to the CIA that an eye witness had identified Mohammed Atta as the person who met with Iraq consul, al-Ani in Prague on April 9, 2001.  The CIA then briefed the 9-11 Commission that Czech intelligence subsequently determined that al-Ani was not in Prague at the time of the putative meeting, and, by doing so, precluded the possibility that the identification was correct.

The Czech government, however, denies that its intelligence services ever made such a determination about the whereabouts of al-Ani, and, it turns out, the sworn testimony of CIA director George Tenet is inconsistent with the CIA's June 2004 briefing of the 9-11 Commission.  Did the CIA falsely brief the 9-11 Commission on this issue?  If so, what was the CIA's motive for misinforming the 9-11 Commission?
Good questions, don't you think?)
- 4:47 PM, 8 October 2007   [link]


The Ukraine Election may have been decided by a braid.
It curls around her head like a golden crown, a rococo flourish that sets her far apart from the jowly men she has challenged.  Out of power for two years, the Ukrainian firebrand Yulia V. Tymoshenko has plotted a comeback that culminated in a strong showing in parliamentary elections last week.

And part of her strategy is her hairstyle, or rather "the Braid."

Ms. Tymoshenko's plait first attracted wide notice in the Orange Revolution of 2004, when, fairly or not, her beauty was commented upon nearly as often as her role in bringing down the post-Soviet government that reigned in Kiev.
Lot's of symbolism in that braid, as the article explains.

I wrote "may have been decided", because they are still counting the votes.

(The BBC has a chronology of important events in the Ukraine, starting in 1919, here.

You can see a picture that shows Tymoshenko with her hair down in this set.  (Though clicking on it may cause your browser window to shrink.))
- 3:21 PM, 7 October 2007   [link]


KUOW's Gang Of Four Meets RTID-ST2:  Today, KUOW's Gang of Four began by discussing the recent Washington Supreme Court decision that the state should not decide which politicians were lying in their campaign ads.  Somewhat to my relief, all four agreed with the decision, and Danny Westneat even worried, as I did, about how close the decision was (5-4).

The gang followed this by one of those meandering campaign discussions, focusing, as journalists almost always do, on the horse races.  Ron Paul's recent success in fund raising appeared to please the group, presumably because they think that he will cause trouble for the Republican party.  Eli Sanders of the Stranger, who was substituting for Knute Berger, had some interesting things to say about his interview with Jeb Bush.  (I will not link to the Stranger, unless necessary, because I want to keep this site suitable for sprogs.)  D. Parvaz felt it necessary to add that she really didn't care much for the Bush family, which will surprise no one who has read her work in the Seattle PI.  In fact, I can't think of a single Republican that she does like.

From there, the gang moved to a discussion of the RTID-ST2, the proposal to spend billions on light rail and highways in this area.  The four were depressed because the Democratic King County Executive, Ron Sims, had told Danny Westneat that he couldn't support the proposal — after not objecting to it for years while it was being put together.

On the whole, the gang's discussion of RTID was bizarre.  None of them had anything significant to say about the costs of the proposal (which are much disputed).  All of them are certain that light rail was the necessary component of the package, though even the proponents admit that the trains will carry a tiny fraction of the traffic.  (It is, I must admit, still something of a mystery to me that so many are attached to this 19th century technology, which suited the cities of that time, but does not suit modern cities.)  And none of them had anything to say about what should be the fundamental question for any transportation project:  Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

I can't quite say that the discussion was innumerate — but it came awfully close to that sad condition.  It is hard to discuss most issues intelligently without mentioning costs; it is impossible to discuss transportation issues intelligently without discussing costs.

Their discussion of the process that had led to this transportation mess was unintentionally revealing.  They agreed that the political leaders had failed to make and execute a good plan over the last two decades — but they didn't blame any particular leaders (other than Sims), or party, though it is not difficult to figure out which leaders, and which party, deserve blame.  Since the 1984 election Washington's governors have been Democrats.  Seattle's mayors have been Democrats for far longer.  The King County executive has been a Democrat since the 1993 election.  Though all were critical of Sims, all seemed fond of him; Westneat even said that he loves Sims, which goes a bit far for my tastes.  I don't think you have to be a Republican to suspect that the Gang of Four would have been able to assign blame if a different party had led this area, and this state, for the last two decades.

Near the end of their discussion, the gang came close to agreeing that the area needed a transportation czar, a benign dictator who would impose a solution on the voters of the area.  Or at least that the elected officials should ignore public opinion and force a solution on the voters.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The gang's grade this time was 0.05, again.  Danny Westneat rescued them from a 0.0 by noting that George W. Bush may not have been lying, after Steve Scher had insinuated that Bush was.  There were just a few callers; all had leftist views.

On the other hand, Westneat also claimed to be for the roads portion of the package, but in the past he has tended to favor fixing roads in reactionary Seattle, but not building new roads in the more progressive parts of the state, even when those new roads might reduce traffic deaths.

I did not hear any factual errors on this morning's program.

If you want to know a bit about the cost of the RTID plan, you might start with this critique of the plan.)
- 4:11 PM, 5 October 2007   [link]


Sulphur Works:  I drove south past Mt. Shasta on my third disaster area tour to Chico, where I met my brother and sister-in-law.  The next day, we drove north to Lassen Peak.  A few miles past the south entrance of the park is an active area called the Sulphur Works, where you can find bubbling mud pots.

Lassen Sulphur Works 1, 2007

The mud pot smelled of hydrogen sulphide and sounded much like a large washing machine during the wash cycle.

On the other side, below the road, there is a whole hillside eroded and transformed by the sulphur compounds coming out of the mountain.
As in many hydrothermally active areas, the rocks at Sulphur Works and Little Hot Springs Valley in Lassen Volcanic National Park have been chemically altered into bright-colored clays.  Sulfurous acid and sulfuric acid have broken down hard, gray-green andesite lavas into red, yellow and buff clays and iron oxides.
Lassen Sulphur Works 2, 2007

If you liked chemistry class in high school, you'll love this place.

(Curious fact:  Although the Sulphur Works is inside Lassen park, most geologists believe that it is associated not with Lassen, but with an earlier volcano in the same area, Mt. Tehama.

You can find last week's disaster tour post here, with links to earlier 2007 disaster area tour posts.  You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours, here and here.)
- 1:14 PM, 5 October 2007   [link]


Michael Barone Sees Hope For The GOP:  In a Massachusetts special election, of all places.
When Democratic Rep. Marty Meehan of the Fifth District of Massachusetts announced he was retiring this year to become president of a local college, no one expected that Republicans would have a serious chance in the special election.  This was Massachusetts, after all: John Kerry carried the district 57 to 41 percent in November 2004, and no one thinks George W. Bush could get as much as 41 percent there if he were up for re-election this year.  Yet with two weeks to go, Republican nominee Jim Ogonowski seems to be within striking distance of Democratic nominee Niki Tsongas, widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, who was elected congressman from this district in 1974 and 1976.  The last time a Republican won here was 1972, when Paul Cronin upset none other than John Kerry.  As I have pointed out since the 1974 edition of the Almanac of American Politics, Kerry was one of only three Democrats who lost a House seat carried by George McGovern; the others lost to Republican incumbents in two other Massachusetts districts.
The one public poll, Survey USA, shows that the race is competitive and that Ogonowski has gained during the campaign.  But special elections are notoriously difficult for pollsters.  They are much more likely to see one-sided turnout, with one party turning out in much higher proportions than the other.

Often special elections are protest votes against the incumbent party.  But it is not clear, since the 2006 election, which party will be seen by voters as the incumbent party, especially in Massachusetts, where the Democrats hold almost all the offices.

(Here are the web sites for the Ogonowski and Tsongas campaigns.  The Tsongas site is conventional, but the Ogonowksi site is not.  And as a farm boy, I have to admit I got a chuckle out of seeing Ogonowski giving a kid a ride on a tractor.)
- 9:13 AM, 5 October 2007
More here and here.
- 3:20 PM, 6 October 2007   [link]


Early Morning Tip:  Take a look at Mt. St. Helens from time to time this morning, because, if the fog lifts, you'll see a gorgeous view of the mountain.  (As most of you know, you can see the full size picture by clicking on the little one over "Northwest:")  And, if the weathermen are right, it might be even prettier at sunset, around 6:40 PM.
- 7:32 AM, 5 October 2007   [link]


Homeless in Seattle:  Last Wednesday afternoon, it was warm and pleasant, so I took the 255 bus over to Seattle to do a quick survey of Seattle's homeless problem.

Before I describe what I saw, let me give those who are not familiar with this area some background.   Unemployment in the metropolitan area is currently very low, just 3.8 percent.  The Seattle suburbs, such as the one I live in, Kirkland, do not, in general, have homeless problems.  (Though local churches and synagogues sometimes import one, temporarily.)  Not that there are no homeless in the suburbs, but there are few of them and, to my knowledge, the homeless do not dominate any public area in the suburbs.  But Seattle does have a homeless problem, a very serious one.

I began my tour at Pioneer Square, where there is a lovely little urban park.  I saw no one using it who was not homeless.  From there I walked to Occidental Square park, where I found an information booth with tourists.   Information booth in Occidental Square Park, 2007  Other than the five people in that picture, everyone else in that park appeared to be homeless.  Interestingly, the homeless men in the park had almost all chosen places to sit or lie that were out of the sight of the information booth.  From Occidental Square I walked north to the City Hall park, which is next to the county courthouse.  It, too, is a lovely little urban park, perfect for lunches and coffee breaks.  Everyone using it when I walked by appeared to be homeless, just as they did when I was on jury duty last year.

A local TV station, KIRO, found many problems at Seattle's fancy new library, so that was the next stop on my tour.  There were a few men in the library who appeared to be homeless, but I did not see any of the problems that were reported last year, though I might have if I had stayed longer.  Or, it may be that the nice weather kept the homeless in the parks and on the streets, and out of the library.   (The building, a creation of Rem Koolhaas, is even sillier than I expected it to be, though I had read a devastating critique that prepared me somewhat.)

From the library I walked north to the Seattle Public Market, a big tourist attraction, and then to Victor Steinbrueck park, which is just north of the market.  That park, which has a superb view of the the Seattle waterfront, had a mix of homeless, tourists, and Seattle residents.  The homeless were mostly on the grass in the center of the park.

homeless in Victor Steinbrueck Park, 2007

While I was there, I should have tested the new (and very expensive) automated toilet.  Automated toilet in Victor Steinbrueck Park, 2007  But there was a line, and I was in a hurry to get home before the rush, so I skipped that part of the investigation.  The toilet may — I repeat may — have improved conditions in the park, which have been quite awful at times.

There were some children in the Victor Steinbrueck Park, unlike the three parks mentioned earlier.   But I think any sensible parent would not have wanted their children to run free there, and I saw no children playing in the park.

To catch the bus home I walked east to the Westlake Park.  This was the only Seattle park that I saw that afternoon that was not dominated by the homeless.  I'm not sure why, perhaps because it does not have the stretches of grass the homeless were using for beds.

These five parks are all downtown parks.  I don't doubt that many, probably most, of the other parks in Seattle do not have the same problems with homeless.  But these downtown parks do, and have had the problems for years.

At this point, let's step back and ask what an unbiased observer, for instance the traditional Martian, would conclude from the evidence so far.  If the Martian was a careful, logical thinker, he (or she, if you prefer) would make tentative conclusions.  He would think that the homeless are concentrated in these few places because there is something there that attracts them, or something in other places that repels them, or both.

In other words, the Martian would think that Seattle is doing something to attract the homeless, or all the rest of King County is doing something to drive them away, or both.  If the Martian preferred simpler answers to more complex, he would probably prefer just the first; he would think it likely that Seattle is doing something to attract the homeless.  And that seems the most likely explanation to me, as well.

One reason I come to that conclusion is that, of the homeless that I saw who were awake and sober, most appeared cheerful, appeared to be enjoying life.  They looked like men who were where they wanted to be, not men who had been driven to a place of last resort.  (And some who were not sober appeared quite cheerful as well.  One in Pioneer Square even came close to offering me a beer, with a smile.)

Now then, let's change observers.  Let's bring in a decent person, say one of those Victorian ladies who really did want to help the poor.  Suppose we tell her what we, and the Martian, have tentatively concluded, that Seattle is attracting the homeless and, though perhaps not intentionally, keeping many of these men (and they are almost all men, as I am sure you know) homeless.  What would this good lady say?  I think she would have something sharp to say, that she would say that Seattle was being, though perhaps not intentionally, extremely cruel to these homeless men.  And I think almost every decent person, every person who cared for the homeless, would have to agree with her.  If, that is, they thought about the consequences of Seattle's policies, and not just the professed intentions.

Some people, having read this far, will object and say that Seattle is doing much to end homelessness, and that the city does not really want to give some of its best downtown parks to the homeless.   Perhaps, but I have a witness on the other side, the mayor of Seattle.   He believes that Pike Place, which includes the Victor Steinbrueck park, is "a great example of an urban neighborhood where people live, work and play".  Since he is not blind, he must be able to see the same things that I did last week, and must approve of them, or at least prefer them to any practical alternative.

That's not a pleasant conclusion, but it fits the evidence that I saw last week, and that anyone else who wants to spend an hour or two walking around downtown Seattle can see as well.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:39 PM, 4 October 2007   [link]


Picasa:  Speaking of free software, have I recommended Picasa recently?   A quick search on my site shows me that I have not, so I guess that I should.

Picasa is a fine photo organizer, and an excellent tool for basic photo fixes.  It is not Photoshop, but that's a good thing, for most of us.  You don't have to study manuals or take a course to use it.  And it's fast.  I have found that I can do most of the photo fixes I need to do in Picasa, in seconds.

For instance:  With the small flashes on many digital cameras, the backgrounds on inside shots are often darker than they should be.  If you take a look at the Picasa photo fix menu, which you can see here, you'll see a "Fill Light" slider.  You just move the slider to the right to fill in the shadows on the current picture, stopping when the picture looks right to you.  And most of the other controls are equally simple.

You can download the Windows version here and the Linux version here.  
- 1:56 PM, 4 October 2007   [link]


The $100 Laptop:  Well, actually the $200 laptop.  But it is still cool.
In November, you'll be able to buy a new laptop that's spillproof, rainproof, dustproof and drop-proof.  It's fanless, it's silent and it weighs 3.2 pounds.  One battery charge will power six hours of heavy activity, or 24 hours of reading.  The laptop has a built-in video camera, microphone, memory-card slot, graphics tablet, game-pad controllers and a screen that rotates into a tablet configuration.

A laptop for third-world children has a camera, communications ability and a high-resolution screen.   Buy two: keep one and the other goes to a child overseas.

And this laptop will cost $200.

The computer, if you hadn't already guessed, is the fabled "$100 laptop" that's been igniting hype and controversy for three years.  It's an effort by One Laptop Per Child (laptop.org) to develop a very low-cost, high-potential, extremely rugged computer for the two billion educationally underserved children in poor countries.
It's a phrase that was so abused that it still makes me wince, but this laptop looks like "appropriate technology" to me.  And not just for third world kids, but appropriate for American kids, especially younger kids.

Pogue has a video demonstrating the new machine, which is worth watching.

(To keep the costs low, the laptops uses a version of the free operating system, Linux.  Which is becoming easier to use, though I would still not recommend it to most users.  Who should consider it?  The technically proficient, as the article says, and those who know nothing about computers, but have a technically proficient friend or relative who will set up and manage the system for them.

And if you are semi-proficient?  Then you might want to try a Linux "live CD", which lets you run Linux without installing it.  If you like that experience, you might want to install Linux beside Windows and use both, as I do.)
- 1:08 PM, 4 October 2007   [link]


This Is News?  That's what I thought when I glanced at this headline: "Threat of punishment can deter bad behaviour".  But when I read the article, I saw that it was news.
The fear of being punished makes people less likely to violate social norms, according to a study by Swiss and German researchers.

Using scanning technology, the scientists were able to show which parts of the brain react to the threat of punishment, highlighting that damage to these regions might lead to antisocial behaviour.
The news is not in the headline, or in the first paragraph, but in the second, and in the details of the study in the rest of the article.

The researchers also say that some people don't react to threats of punishment.  The areas of the brain that react in most of us to threats of punishment do not react in these people.  If the researchers are right, we may be able to use brain scans to identify career criminals who should never be released.
- 8:49 AM, 4 October 2007   [link]


What Is A Neoconservative?  For months, I have been planning to write this piece.  Now Joshua Muravchik has done it for me, and has done a better job than I would have.

Two samples:

The term "neoconservative" was coined in the 1970s as an anathema.  It was intended to stigmatize a group of liberal intellectuals who had lately parted ways with the majority of their fellows.

As a heretical offshoot of liberalism, neoconservatism appealed to the same values and even many of the same goals--like, for example, peace and racial equality.  But neoconservatives argued that liberal policies--for example, disarmament in the pursuit of peace, or affirmative action in the pursuit of racial equality--undermined those goals rather than advancing them.  In short order, the heretics established themselves as contemporary liberalism's most formidable foes.

Two distinct currents fed the stream of neoconservatism.  One focused on domestic issues, specifically by reexamining the Great Society programs of the 1960s and the welfare state as a whole.   It was centered in the Public Interest, a quarterly founded and edited by Irving Kristol.  The other focused on international issues and the cold war; it was centered in Commentary and led by the magazine's editor, Norman Podhoretz.
. . .

As for the neoconservatives, they have taken their lumps over the war in Iraq.  Nonetheless, the tenets of neoconservatism continue to offer the most cogent approach to the challenge that faces our country.  To recapitulate those tenets one last time: (1) Our struggle is moral, against an evil enemy who revels in the destruction of innocents.  Knowing this can help us assess our adversaries correctly and make appropriate strategic choices.  Saying it convincingly will strengthen our side and weaken theirs.  (2) The conflict is global, and outcomes in one theater will affect those in others.  (3) While we should always prefer nonviolent methods, the use of force will continue to be part of the struggle.  (4) The spread of democracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe and reduce the need for force.

Muravchik thinks that the neoconservatives' domestic ideas, the ideas discussed by Public Interest, are less controversial now.  I am not sure I would agree with that, in spite of the success of welfare reform.  But it is true that the loudest condemnations of neoconservatives now come from those who disagree with their foreign policy positions.

If you are at all interested in our recent political history, you'll want to read the whole thing.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For those familiar with the political history of Washington state, there is a simpler way to describe neoconservatives:  They are supporters of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson, who were driven from the Democratic party by the McGovernites.  Or, to put it nationally and going back a little farther, neoconservatives were Democrats who supported John F. Kennedy's call for a vigorous anti-Communism.)
- 8:06 AM, 4 October 2007   [link]


Tasteless:  Barbara Walters starts it off.  And then Whoopi Goldberg tops her.
Sure, politicians always appreciate a warm welcome when they appear on daytime TV talk shows.  But the welcome House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got today on ABC's chick TV show "The View" was more than warm - it was downright steamy.
The details, which are not suitable for younger sprogs, are in the article.  (Those details may reveal something about the political values held by Walters and Goldberg — and perhaps other journalists.)

I try to have higher standards here than most "mainstream" journalists, and some days that's easy to do.
- 7:14 AM, 4 October 2007   [link]


Want To Catch Up On The Limbaugh Controversy?  Then you might want to start with Byron York's calm account.  And then read Glenn Reynolds' brief post in which he calls the leftwing attacks on Limbaugh "battlespace preparation".  In other words, the attacks on Limbaugh are best understood as preparation for the political battles ahead.  Those making the attacks do not care whether they are true.

For evidence that Reynolds is right, see this post, with many examples.

And consider this point:  The congressional Democrats have yet to pass a single regular appropriations bill — but they have time to waste on demagogic attacks on a talk show host.

(Limbaugh has invited Majority Leader Harry Reid to come on his program and make his charges there.   So far, Reid has not accepted the invitation, and I doubt that he will.)
- 9:06 AM, 3 October 2007   [link]


Media Connections:  This approving article on a career move has three of them.
The Huffington Post, a news Web site, plans to announce today the appointment of a new chief executive, Betsy Morgan, who will leave her job as the general manager of CBSNews.com.

Betsy Morgan will take over The Huffington Post.

Ms. Morgan will switch from running the Web site for a prominent traditional media organization to running a news Web site that is just over two years old.
. . .
[Huffington Post chief executive] Mr. [Kenneth] Lerer said the audience was mainly urban and affluent and thus desirable to what he called a growing list of advertisers.  These include other media outlets, including The New York Times, as well as automakers and cellphone services.
So, a woman who has been running a web site for a leftist "mainstream" news organization has moved to a far left web site, which is supported by ads (and approving articles) from another leftist "mainstream" news organization, the New York Times.

If you want to see some particularly nasty samples from Huffington Post, look here.   I wouldn't say that those samples are typical of the site, but the fact that they were posted there tells us much about all three organizations, Huffington Post, CBS, and the New York Times.

(I've added Huffington Post to the blogroll, as I should have done long ago, and put it where it belongs — down in the R-Rated section.)
- 6:09 AM, 3 October 2007   [link]


It's Official:  Al Gore's documentary is partisan.  At least in Britain.
Al Gore's climate-change documentary An Inconvenient Truth promotes "partisan political views", a High Court judge has ruled.

Normally that would almost certainly make it unlawful for the Oscar-winning film to be shown to schools.

But Mr Justice Burton indicated that it can be shown if teachers follow new guidance to prevent the former US vice-president's views being wrongly "promoted" to children.
So the kids can see it if the teachers tell them not to believe parts of the film.  Or something like that.

(For the record, I think kids, at least kids in high school, should be able to see the film — if it is presented along with criticism from the scientists who agree with Gore on the dangers of global warming, but think that he has gone too far, and criticism from the scientists who think that Gore is almost completely wrong.  And, if the accounts of the film I have seen are correct, it would be better to show it in a class that is studying politics (or, perhaps, religion) than one studying science.)
- 5:44 AM, 3 October 2007   [link]


Mylroie's Theory On The Anthrax Letters:  Remember the anthrax letters that were distributed about the same time as the 9/11 attack?  They sickened twenty-one people that we know of, and killed five of those twenty-one.  More than six years after the attack, we still do not know who sent the letters, or what they were trying to achieve.

In the first chapter of her book, Bush vs. the Beltway, Mylroie sketches a theory that seems as plausible as any I have seen..
The anthrax letters are probably best understood as a test, a dry run.  When this limited anthrax operation — with a relatively low number of casualties and an apparently simple delivery system — produced widespread speculation about Iraqi involvement, the lesson would have been clear; any further biological attacks, particularly one that produced large casualties, might well be attributed to Iraq.  That would be particularly troublesome to Iraq in light of the unexpectedly rapid U.S. military victory in Afghanistan.  In the end, Saddam — barely, perhaps — failed to develop the necessary cover for bioterrorism. (pp. 39-40)
Note the "probably".  Mylroie does not know whether this theory is true — and neither do I.  But it is compatible with the known facts, in particular with the strange combination of very sophisticated processing of the anthrax spores (which must have been done in an advanced laboratory) and very unsophisticated delivery methods.  At the very least, this is a hypothesis worth pursuing, but as far as I can tell, the FBI is not doing so.

(For some time, the FBI considered Steven Hatfill a "person of interest" in this anthrax case, but their reasons for suspecting him seem weak, at best.

If you want some details about the anthrax attack, you can find them here, along with some other unsolved mysteries of the 9/11 attacks.)
- 4:24 PM, 2 October 2007   [link]


Here's A Question For Anne Applebaum:  In her latest column, Applebaum argues that we have lost support among our traditional friends (though she does not mention gains elsewhere).  She cites polls in support of this claim, and I don't quarrel with her general claim that support for the US in Europe has declined since 2002.  (Though it is only fair to add that support then was artificially high, after the 9/11 attack.)

She then argues that much of this decline has come from perceived "incompetence".  Many Europeans are unhappy with us because they think we are bunglers, not because they necessarily oppose our aims.   And Applebaum agrees with that conclusion, agrees so strongly that she thinks it not even worth discussing, at least in this column.

Let's set that argument aside, for a moment, and turn to another decline in trust, one that occurred in the same time period.  Americans now trust "mainstream" journalists far less than they did in 2002.  And many who distrust those journalists do so in part because they think they are incompetent, as well as biased.

Now the question for Applebaum:  Does this public perception that "mainstream" journalists are incompetent show that they are, in fact, incompetent?  In other words, would she accept the same argument about her colleagues that she implicitly makes about the Bush administration?

I doubt that.  In fact, I am almost sure that she would say that, if the public knew more about "mainstream" journalists, the public would admire them as much as she (presumably) does.  But if she were willing to consider that argument, she should also be willing to consider the parallel argument, that the Europeans would think better of us if they were better informed.

And that leads us to this possibility:  If Europeans thinks less of us now, then the reason may be the incompetence of "mainstream" journalists, not the Bush administration.  Since she works for the Washington Post, that may be harder for her to see than it is for those of us who do not draw paychecks from large news organizations.  Just a possibility, but I hope she thinks about it.

(I don't know if Applebaum knows about the polling on other wars.  In general, the longer a war lasts the lower the support for it, in democratic countries.  So one would expect a decline in support for the US in Iraq — regardless of the competence, or lack of it, of those running the war.)
- 11:24 AM, 2 October 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  Stuart Taylor sees double standards in our universities.
In the matter of the Holocaust-denying, terrorism-sponsoring, nuke-seeking, wipe-Israel-off-the-map-threatening, we-got-no-gays-in-Iran-spouting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his September 24 showcase speech at Columbia University: It would be easier to stomach the free-speech grandstanding of Lee Bollinger, Columbia's president and Ahmadinejad's histrionically hostile host, and others of Bollinger's ilk if they were a bit less selective in their devotion to the First Amendment.   When a student group recently canceled an event featuring an anti-illegal-immigration speaker for fear of a hecklers' veto by leftist students, for example, Bollinger had nothing to say.
Taylor has more examples in the rest of the column.
- 10:43 AM, 2 October 2007
For another example, see this Clarence Thomas quip.
- 11:11 AM, 3 October 2007   [link]


Good News:  Even if it is just one month.
Deaths among American forces and Iraqi civilians fell dramatically last month to their lowest levels in more than a year, according to figures compiled by the U.S. military, the Iraqi government and The Associated Press.

The decline signaled a U.S. success in bringing down violence in Baghdad and surrounding regions since Washington completed its infusion of 30,000 more troops on June 15.

A total of 64 American forces died in September — the lowest monthly toll since July 2006.

The decline in Iraqi civilian deaths was even more dramatic, falling from 1,975 in August to 922 last month, a decline of 53.3 percent.  The breakdown in September was 844 civilians and 78 police and Iraqi soldiers, according to Iraq's ministries of Health, Interior and Defense.
A "U.S. success".  You don't see that often in stories from Iraq, not that there haven't been many successes, but our "mainstream" journalists do not like to write about them.

And there is another point, often neglected, in those cold numbers.  We have gotten used to civilians being the main targets of our terrorist enemies in Iraq by now, but we should not have.  Our enemies do not have the military strength to challenge us, or even the Iraqi army, so they have chosen to murder civilians, including many women and children, instead.
- 10:32 AM, 1 October 2007   [link]


The Two Main Palestinian Gangs are acusing each other of immoral behavior.
The Hamas-Fatah power struggle has descended into the gutter over the past few days, with both parties trading allegations about the involvement of their members in homosexual relations and adultery.
They may both be right.

One infuriating detail, not mentioned in the article:  Since we, and our European friends, are subsidizing the Palestinians, we are paying for both the scandals and the scandal-mongering.

By way of Jihad Watch, which has an interesting rumor (though not one you want to share with younger sprogs) in the comments.
- 7:16 AM, 1 October 2007   [link]


Confession Is An Ancient Rite Of The Catholic Church:  Now one monk has extended it to new sins.
On occasions, the attempt to recycle traditional theological concerns in a green form becomes a caricature of itself.  In August, Dom Anthony Sutch, a Benedictine monk, announced that he would hear eco-confessions of sins against the environment at the Waveney Greenpeace festival, in a confessional booth carefully constructed from recycled materials.  The good monk clearly practices what he preaches.  He tries 'very hard' to live a green lifestyle and is proud of his principal achievement — reducing his electricity bill by 30 per cent.  This mock ritual is unlikely to offer penitents' salvation or redemption, but their 'awareness' will be raised.  And these days being 'aware' is recognised as akin to being virtuous.
A caricature, but few who came to his booth would recognize that.

(The rest of the article describes how many churches, especially "main line" churches, are trying to join the new green religion — or perhaps I should say the old green religion, since many of the beliefs common among environmentalists have very old antecedents.  That's why, for instance, that opponents of the environmentalist David Brower called him an "Archdruid".   And why environmentalists often make arguments about "sacred" areas that sound like they come from our pagan ancestors.)
- 5:36 AM, 1 October 2007   [link]