Archive:

October 2008, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Canadian Conservative Party Actually Lost On Tuesday:  According to the New York Times, anyway.  Here's their relentlessly negative article on this week's election.  It begins with this paragraph:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's gamble that forcing the country into its third election in four years would give him firm control over Parliament failed on Tuesday.  While his Conservative Party improved its results over the last election, it still fell short of a majority in the House of Commons, according to unofficial and incomplete tallies.
The reporter, Ian Austen, keeps that tone all the way through the article.  You would almost think that Harper had lost instead of winning, and winning with a larger share of the popular vote and a larger share of seats in the Canadian parliament.

Let's review.  The Canadian Conservative party ran a solid race in its first national election in 2004.  They became the largest party and formed a minority government in their second election in 2006.  They enlarged their majority in last Tuesday's election.  With that record of success, a positive article, explaining how the Conservatives had made their gains, would be appropriate.

(Austen does not mention that Harper was attacked for his ties to President Bush.  But I have the feeling that he would have said a lot about those attacks if the Conservatives had lost.

Austen mentions a small issue — arts funding — as the reason that Harper failed to gain in Quebec.  I doubt that one issue had much to do with it.)
- 2:53 PM, 16 October 2008   [link]


Fun Meeting This Morning, All In All:  Though I would like to have had more time to talk with the group.

Now to start catching up with other things, including posts here.  And email.
- 2:19 PM, 16 October 2008   [link]


And Now, off to Seattle to meet with another group of Edward R. Murrow journalists.  Be back early this afternoon.
- 8:45 AM, 16 October 2008   [link]


Did Someone Yell "Kill Him" At A Palin Rally?  Probably not.  After an investigation, the Secret Service thinks it didn't happen.
The agent in charge of the Secret Service field office in Scranton said allegations that someone yelled "kill him" when presidential hopeful Barack Oabama's [sic] name was mentioned during Tuesday's Sarah Palin rally are unfounded.

The Scranton Times-Tribune first reported the alleged incident on its Web site Tuesday and then again in its print edition Wednesday.  The first story, written by reporter David Singleton, appeared with allegations that while congressional candidate Chris Hackett was addressing the crowd and mentioned Obama's name a man in the audience shouted "kill him."

Agent Bill Slavoski said he was in the audience, along with an undisclosed number of additional secret service agents and other law enforcement officers and not one heard the comment.
The reporter, David Singleton, is sticking to his story.

It could have happened.  In large crowds, a man can yell something that only a few people hear.   But I think it more likely that Singleton misinterpreted some other yell.  Especially since he admits not seeing the person who yelled.

(Minor correction:  According to Singleton's account, the person yelled this after Palin mentioned unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers, not Barack Obama.)
- 8:38 AM, 16 October 2008   [link]


Welcome Edward R. Murrow Journalists!  Welcome to Ms. Maryna Koktysh (Editor-In-Chief, Narodnaya Volya), Mr. Aleksandr Hobotov (Correspondent, Narvskaja Gazeta), Mrs. Marina Narchemashvili (Reporter, Radio Imedi), Mr. Azamat Kasybekov (Correspondent, Vecherny Bishkek), Ms. Victoria Gladkovskaya (Director, Web Portal, Novyy Region), Ms. Ecaterina Jecova (Director, Gagauziya Radio Televizionu), Mr. Aleksey Dmitriyevich Anishchuk (Editor, International Department Moskovskiy Komsomolets), Ms. Anastasiya Gavrielovna Gavrielova (Editor and Journalist, Moy Rayon Newspaper Network), Ms. Parvina Khamidova (Special Correspondent, Asia-Plus), Ms. Anna Kurbanova (Correspondent, ITAR-TASS News Agency), Mr. Marat Kurdov (Correspondent, Reuters News Agency), Mr. Dmytro Gruzynskyi (Editor, Regional Politics Television Program, Kharkiv Oblast TV Channel), and Mr. Sobirjon Yakubov (Head, International News, Huriyat).

Welcome also to the interpreters, Mr. Greg Burnside, Ms. Larisa Dorfman, and Mr. Vladimir Motalygo.

I hope that I will be able to answer some of your questions about American bloggers.  I will begin with two general observations, show you my site, tell you a little bit about what I have done, and then come back to more general questions, in particular how American bloggers are affecting our journalists.

A. J. Liebling, who wrote for the New Yorker, once observed that: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."   When Americans got most of their news from a few television networks and from large newspapers, it was difficult for those without fortunes to reach the public.  With the spread of internet access to most American families, that changed.  Now, almost anyone who wants to have a "press" can have one.  Matt Drudge had almost no resources when he started his site, but he broke stories that "mainstream" reporters were unwilling to touch, and now has an audience in the millions.  (And can direct hundreds of thousands to a particular news article, just by linking to it on his site.)

The cost for owning a simple site like my own is astonishingly low.  Even if I did not have the site, I would have a computer and an internet connection, so the additional costs are almost certainly less than $20 a month.  I don't know what your presses and television and radio equipment cost, but I am pretty sure that it is more than $20 a month.

Money may not matter, but expertise does.  Charles Johnson, who writes the popular blog, Little Green Footballs, was able to help break the Dan Rather forged documents story because, as a programmer, he had become an expert on fonts.  When I want to know something about Supreme Court decisions, I can read the New York Times or the Washington Post, but I think I get better analyses from UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh and his colleagues.  When I want to know something about military questions, I often turn to one of the "milblogs", that is, a blog written by men who are serving, or have served, in our military.  Although he does not have a milblog, I have learned much from Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister — and a former artillery officer.

Expertise is especially important when a blogger with the right kind of expertise spends time on a single subject.  For example, in this area, Stefan Sharkansky became the expert on the problems we had in our 2004 election for governor, often by looking through computer records.  He even set up a publicly available database for all the voters in Washington state, so that others could look for problems, too.  Sharkansky could do that because he is, as you probably guessed, a software expert as well as a blogger.  (Full disclosure:   I contribute regularly to his main site, Sound Politics.)

Now, a little about my own experience.  Very few bloggers begin political blogs because they are satisfied with the mainstream media, ABC, the Associated Press, the BBC, CBS, NBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and all the rest.  I am no exception to that rule.  I began blogging because I saw factual errors, persistent bias, and shallow or missing coverage of important subjects by our mainstream media, or as I usually call them, our "mainstream" media.

Here's a particularly bad example of those errors.  But what I found even more amazing was that the two news anchors apparently did not know that some nations were worried about falling populations.

Demography has fascinated me for years.  And I think very few American journalists understand the subject, despite its importance.  An example:  Between 1871 and 1910, the population of France grew from 36 to 39.5 million.  During the same time, the population of Imperial Germany grew from 41 to 65 million.  You do not have to be a historian to realize that our history would have been very different if those population gains were reversed.

That's why I wrote this post giving the basic data on American fertility, and this post on changed policies in Russia.

Bloggers can concentrate on areas where they have some expertise, and I have tried to do that.   For example, because I had some methodological training years ago, I find it easy to recognize the "ecological fallacy", which I spot from time to time, notably in columns by Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times (and Princeton University).  Because I have been studying vote returns for decades, I often come to different conclusions than most reporters; for example, here's what I had to say on the black vote in our presidential elections, and about elections in Muslim countries.  And because I have had some training in analyzing public policy, I did two posts, here and here, on how a series of presidents have cut federal taxes for poorer Americans.

Bloggers can also cover stories neglected by "mainstream" journalists; that's why I did these posts on Presidents Lincoln and Washington, and why I went to church to see the documentary, Obsession.  And they can cover stories from a different angle; I covered the massive pro-illegal immigration rally here last year, in part because I did not think that "mainstream" journalists would even note the extremists there.  (And I followed that post, with one showing families, so my readers would understand that the extremists were not representative.)  At about the same time, I did two posts on a local group, Where's the Math?, which is trying to restore standards in math education.

Or stories where they believe that "mainstream" journalists have been wrong.  That's why I did this post on our bookworm president, and our big increase in spending for research and development since 2001.

Although what I do is similar to many of the better bloggers, my site is atypical in several ways.   It is hand coded; I write the HTML code for it directly, rather than using a program to generate the posts.  I have chosen not to have comments, at least for now.  And I probably take a softer tone than most American bloggers, at least those who cover politics.  On the whole, I try to be civil in my critiques and "family friendly" in the words I use.  And I sometimes play peacemaker.   Last year, for example, I put up this post describing a small good deed I had done for three leftists on Mt. Rainier.  About the harshest post I have done was one attacking a local journalist, Ryan Blethen.  Some people think he got his job at the Seattle Times through family connections rather than talent.  (I don't know if nepotism is a significant problem in your countries, but it sometimes is here in the United States.   For instance, few think that the current publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., is a good man for that difficult job.  But he is the son of the previous publisher.)

Finally, since bloggers are publishers, as well as editors and reporters, they can indulge themselves from time to time.  Some, for instance, regularly write about their cats, often on Friday afternoons.  At my site, you are more likely to find mountain pictures on Fridays, especially pictures of Northwest volcanoes.  (Sometimes readers see more in my pictures than I intend.)

Now, back to the question that may interest you most:  How has all this blogging affected American journalists?  It has, I think, made their jobs less pleasant, because anything they write or say can become the subject of a critical blog post, which may get picked up by other bloggers, and spread all over the country.  It must feel, some days, like walking through a pack of snapping and snarling little dogs.  And the bloggers have brought about new career risks; Dan Rather might not have been fired from the CBS post that he had held for so many years, if the forged documents he used had not been exposed by bloggers.

But blogging also has changed journalism in positive ways, and a few journalists are beginning to understand that.  For example, the expertise that some bloggers have is an enormous resource that journalists can tap, without much effort.  Although not all reporters understand this yet, some bloggers are, in effect, unpaid researchers, who dig up facts journalists can use.  (Some journalists credit bloggers when they use their work; some journalists don't.)   For example, many journalists have begun to take advantage of the Real Clear Politics site, because it has a handy compilation of current polls.  (Formally, the site is not a blog, though it includes one, but it is put together by a few amateurs, not by professional journalists.)

When I originally wrote that paragraph last year, I was more positive about the prospects for "mainstream" journalists learning from bloggers.  Unfortunately, I think that partisanship has become so strong that it has affected the flows.  As I said a few years ago, our talk show hosts, who are almost all conservatives, have begun using the work of conservative and libertarian bloggers.  But our "mainstream" journalists are much more likely to use work from leftist bloggers.

Bloggers can help journalists in a more controversial way; they can make reporting more accurate.  When I write posts, I sometimes make mistakes, just as journalists sometimes make mistakes in their stories.  When readers spot those mistakes and tell me about them, I correct the mistakes — and I thank the person who caught my error.  I thank them because they have done me (and other readers) a favor by making my work more accurate.

But not all American journalists have come to the same conclusion as I have.  Here's an example from July.  If just one of the people on the Seattle Times editorial board had read that post, they could have fixed a very embarrassing typo.

Finally, many journalists are begining to write their own blogs.  There are two that I would recommend to almost everyone, Michael Barone's and John Tierney's.
- 6:37 AM, 16 October 2008   [link]


Brief Pause:  I've agreed to talk to another group of foreign journalists tomorrow, as I did twice last year.  It will take me an hour or two, at least, to prepare for that meeting, so don't expect any fresh posts until about noon today.
- 9:17 PM, 15 October 2008   [link]


Conservatives Gain, Liberals Lose:  In 2006, the Canadian Conservatives won the largest number of seats in the Canadian parliament and formed a minority government.  In yesterday's election, the Conservatives increased their share of the votes by 1.37 percent and made a big step toward winning an absolute majority in parliament.  The Liberals, often considered Canada's natural governing party, suffered severe losses — again.

The Conservatives made a small gain in their share of the popular vote; they made a big gain in their share in parliament.  In 2006, they had won 124 seats.  They picked up 3 more, net, as the result of by-elections and party switches since then.  And yesterday, they won 143 seats.  (You can find the details in this Wikipedia article.)

The Liberal party lost more than the Conservatives gained, losing 4.0 percent of the popular vote and 19 seats.  This is mildly surprising, because the Conservative victory in 2006 was made possible by a series of Liberal scandals.  One would expect the memory of those scandals to have faded by now.  On the other hand, by governing for two years, Stephen Harper has had a chance to show worried moderates that he does not have horns.

There's fine summary map of the results in that same Wikipedia article:

2008 Canadian election results

The Canadians generally use correct color coding, so the Liberals are shown in red and the Conservatives in blue.  For all of the parties in this map, a darker shade shows a bigger victory.  (I'm using the medium resolution version of the map; if you really want to study it, you should look at the high resolution version.)

At first glance, you can see that the Liberals have almost been wiped out in the western half of Canada.  As the Toronto Globe and Mail ruefully admits:
The Liberals were on track to be knocked down to only six or seven seats west of Ontario.  A rare bright spot was a small gain in Quebec, where Justin Trudeau, son of late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, won in Papineau riding.
(Note that they immediately follow that admission with a rare gain.)

But if you look more closely at the map, the results are even worse for the Liberals.  They won seats in Toronto, Montreal, a few more urban districts (or ridings, to use the Canadian term), and some poor districts in the Atlantic provinces.  And that's about it.

In Canada, as in the United States, urban areas attract a disproportionate share of immigrants.   (In Toronto, "50 per cent of residents are foreign born".)  That suggests to me that the Liberals have become, more and more, the party of immigrants to Canada.

The opposition parties tried to tie Stephen Harper to the United States, and to President Bush.  Those charges may have limited the Conservative gains, especially in Quebec, but did not prevent them.

Last week, I argued that a Harper win would be mostly ignored by our "mainstream" media.  Later today, I'll check to see how accurate that prediction was.

(You can see the official returns here.)

There are 508 seats in the Canadian parliament, so an absolute majority would be 155.  (If, like me, you are wondering what happens in the event of ties, you can find answers here, near the end of the comments.

The Canadian Speaker, unlike the American Speaker, is expected to preside over their House of Commons, but not lead it.  After being chosen as Speaker, the member will often run as an independent, and usually faces no opposition.   Canada follows the British tradition even in some small details:
The newly elected Speaker, by tradition, feigns reluctance as he or she is "dragged" to the chair in a practice dating from the days when British Speakers risked execution if the news they reported to the King was displeasing.
As far as I know, the Queen has never executed any Canadian Speakers, but I suppose that they prefer not to take any chances.)
- 8:01 AM, 15 October 2008   [link]


Who Wrote Dreams From My Father?  Barack Obama, right?  Maybe not.  Jack Cashill has been investigating and has found circumstantial evidence that the author of the book that made Obama rich and famous is . . . . unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers.

Some samples:
Prior to 1990, when Barack Obama contracted to write Dreams From My Father, he had written very close to nothing.  Then, five years later, this untested 33 year-old produced what Time Magazine has called -- with a straight face -- "the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician."

The public is asked to believe Obama wrote Dreams From My Father on his own, almost as though he were some sort of literary idiot savant.  I do not buy this canard for a minute, not at all.   Writing is as much a craft as, say, golf.  To put this in perspective, imagine if a friend played a few rounds in the high 90s and then a few years later, without further practice, made the PGA Tour.   It doesn't happen.
. . .
Shy of a confession by those involved, I will not be able to prove conclusively that Obama did not write this book.  As shall be seen, however, there are only two real possibilities: one is that Obama experienced a near miraculous turnaround in his literary abilities; the second is that he had major editorial help, up to and including a ghostwriter.
Cashill goes on to argue that (1) Ayers is a fine writer, and (2) there are strong similarities between Ayers' work and Dreams.

I would say that Cashill has found enough evidence so that more investigation is warranted — but I would not go farther than that.  I would be less inclined to think that if Obama were not hiding so much of his past.  (For instance, he has never released his college transcripts, nor has he released a copy of his Columbia thesis, which he has says he lost.)

(Sometimes an author does produce just one significant work, without much warning.  In science fiction, for example, Walter Miller, Jr. wrote a number of short stories, good stories, but not astonishingly so, and then wrote his masterpiece, A Canticle for Leibowitz — and then never finished anything significant, afterward.

You can learn a little more about Cashill by looking at the descriptions of some of his books, Hoodwinked, What's the Matter with California?, and Ron Brown's Body.

Some may wonder whether Cashill has used author software, of the kind that helped uncover Joe Klein.  On Michael Medved's talk show yesterday, he said that he had, and had gotten matches between Ayers and Obama.  But Cashill also said that those programs had fairly high error rates.  I don't know enough about the programs to know whether he is right about that.)
- 1:48 PM, 14 October 2008
Cashill give us more evidence in this post, including selections from a clunky essay we know was written by Obama, and some more comparisons between Ayers' writing and Dreams from My Father.
- 7:15 AM, 18 Oct 2008   [link]


So Much Registration Fraud, So Little Time:  But I do have time to mention this example.
Investigators probing ACORN have learned that an Ohio man registered to vote several times and cast a bogus ballot with a fake address, officials said yesterday, as they revealed that nearly 4,000 registration applications supplied by the left-leaning activist group were suspect.

The vote of Darnell Nash, one of four people subpoenaed in a Cuyahoga County probe of ACORN's voter-registration activities, was canceled and his case was turned over to local prosecutors and law enforcement, Board of Elections officials said yesterday.

Nash had registered to vote repeatedly from an address that belonged to a legitimately registered voter, officials said during a hearing at which the subpoenaed voters were to testify.

Board officials had contacted Nash this summer, questioned his address and told him to stop repeat registering.

But still, he breezed into Ohio election offices — the state allows early voting for president — reregistered with a fake address and cast a paper ballot, officials said.
It does not sound as though Mr. Nash is terribly afraid of legal consequences.  (And it is fair to suspect that he might have gotten away with voting in other locations.)
- 12:38 PM, 14 October 2008   [link]


Inconvenient Data:  Bjorn Lomborg makes an important point.  Some of the recent data on global warming is better than expected.  And that's just what we should expect, if the models are any good at all.  Sometimes we should be surprised pleasantly — and sometimes the reverse.  If we are always surprised in the same direction, then we know the models are flawed.

Two samples:
But this is not at all what we have seen. And this is true for all surface temperature measures, and even more so for both satellite measures.  Temperatures in this decade have not been worse than expected; in fact, they have not even been increasing.  They have actually decreased by between 0.01 and 0.1C per year.  On the most important indicator of global warming, temperature development, we ought to hear that the data are actually much better than expected.

Likewise, and arguably much more importantly, the heat content of the world's oceans has been dropping for the past four years where we have measurements.  Whereas energy in terms of temperature can disappear relatively easily from the light atmosphere, it is unclear where the heat from global warming should have gone — and certainly this is again much better than expected.
. . .
We are constantly inundated with stories of how sea levels will rise, and how one study after another finds that it will be much worse than what the IPCC predicts.  But most models find results within the IPCC range of a sea-level increase of 18-59cm (7-23in) this century.  This is of course why the thousands of IPCC scientists projected that range. Yet studies claiming one metre or more obviously make for better headlines.

Since 1992, we have had satellites measuring the rise in global sea levels, and they have shown a stable increase of 3.2mm per year (1/8 of an inch) — spot on compared to the IPCC projection.  Moreover, over the last two years, sea levels have not increased at all — actually, they show a slight drop.  Should we not be told that this is much better than expected?
These changes could be just a temporary pause in global warming, even just a temporary pause in what will eventually be catastrophic global warming.  But they did happen, and, to the best of my knowledge, were not predicted by any of the standard global warming models.

Lomborg ends with:
Of course, not all things are less bad than we thought.  But one-sided exaggeration is not the way forward.  We urgently need balance if we are to make sensible choices.
It is distressing that such an obvious point has to be made — but it does.

(Al Gore and others have been trying to stoke anger on this issue.  Are they wrong to do so?   Not if they believe what they say they believe.

As always, when I discuss global warming, I suggest you read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 8:59 AM, 14 October 2008   [link]


Another "Editing Error" At The New York Times:  Here are the original paragraphs:
Later, a woman stood up at the meeting, held at Lakeville South High School in a far suburb of Minneapolis, and told Mr. McCain that she could not trust Obama because he was an "Arab".

Mr. McCain replied:  "No, ma'am, he's decent family man, a citizen, who I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.  And that's what this campaign is all about."  (He did not correct her false depiction of Mr. Obama.)  At that, the crowd applauded.
And here's their correction:
Because of an editing error, an article on Saturday about the changing tactics of Senator John McCain's campaign misstated, in some editions, Mr. McCain’s reaction to a woman's comment at his rally in Lakeville, Minn., that Senator Barack Obama was not trustworthy because he was an "Arab."  Mr. McCain told the woman, "No Ma'am, he's a decent family man, citizen."  Mr. McCain did not fail to respond to the woman's accusation.
That's just bizarre, because anyone who reads what McCain said can see that he did correct her.

What I think happened is that Bumiller, or some anonymous editor, was so taken by this narrative that they were unable to understand McCain's plain words:
Mr. McCain and his campaign have been harshly criticized this week by Mr. Obama, Democrats, some Republicans and a number of columnists, commentators and editorial writers for stoking angry crowds at rallies, particularly those in which Mr. McCain appears with his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.
Let's start with the obvious:  If McCain and Palin believe that Obama's policies will be bad for the nation, then they should be trying to stoke anger at their rallies.  In fact, I would say that it is their patriotic duty to warn citizens.

But for Bumiller, and her editors, that's a no-no.  (And, no, I can't recall them worrying much about Democrats "stoking anger" against President Bush, or about their own columnists and editorial writers doing the same thing.)
- 7:25 AM, 14 October 2008   [link]


Last Week European Leaders Were blaming America for the financial crisis.
A week ago, European leaders said they knew who was responsible for the global credit crisis.

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, blamed a "capitalism of adventurers" in the United States, a group that encompassed risk-taking investment bankers and home buyers who borrowed more than they could afford.  The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, pointedly noted that the crisis had "come from America."
This week they are raising vast sums to bail out their own banks.

Which, in some cases, have behaved even more recklessly than their American counterparts.
By some measures, in fact, European banks exposed themselves to even higher levels of debt than American banks did.
. . .
But according to one commonly used yardstick to measure borrowing — the ratio of assets to equity — European banks employed more than twice as much leverage as their American counterparts, Mr. Moreno, the analyst, said.
Which may help explain why European governments are raising those vast sums of money.

(You can find my posts on the first large bank to fail,Northern Rock, here and here.)
- 4:39 PM, 13 October 2008   [link]


Well, That was exciting.
Wall Street stormed back after its worst week ever and staged the biggest single-day stock rally since the Great Depression on Monday, catapulting the Dow Jones industrials to a 936-point gain and finally offering relief from eight consecutive days of stock market carnage.
. . .
The Dow gained more than 11 percent, its biggest one-day rally since 1933, and by points it shattered the previous record for a one-day gain of 499, during during the waning days of the technology boom in 2000.
Even if you aren't an active investor.
- 3:00 PM, 13 October 2008   [link]


Chuckle:  I don't usually vote in internet polls, but I made an exception for this one.

And for the same reason, today is a good day to recycle one of my favorite posts:
Anyone who knows a little about graduate schools knows that graduate students often do much of a professor's work.  Those who know a little more about graduate schools know that the graduate students often feel cheated of credit by their professors.  And those who have heard some graduate school gossip know that a few graduate students take revenge by sabotaging the work of the professors they feel are abusing them.  With this understood, it is easy to see what is happening.  Professor [Paul] Krugman, not caring to actually write the [New York Times] column, assigned that duty to a graduate student.   The student, feeling abused, has been writing columns that will, in time, completely demolish Krugman's reputation.
I was joking, of course, but since 2003, my joke has come to seem more and more plausible.
- 1:05 PM, 13 October 2008   [link]


Worth Reading:  (Even if you don't live in Washington state.)  High school calculus teacher Ted Nutting explains why so many of our students are failing to learn math.

The problem is national in scope, but in Washington state our difficulties can be traced principally to Terry Bergeson, superintendent of public instruction for the past 12 years.  She oversaw the writing of our state's weak, vague math standards, basing them on a "reform" idea to promote "discovery" learning.  This has turned teachers into "facilitators" who "guide" children in learning activities.  It has promoted "differentiated instruction," placing students of wildly differing abilities together where some students cannot do the required work, often to the detriment of those who can.

She has moved away from rigorous testing.  The "reform" math she champions encourages such things as journals, portfolios and group projects that tend to form large parts of classroom grading systems, while test results are relegated to a lesser role.  The math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), aligned to her faulty standards, tests math skills at a low level.  Even so, about half our 10th-graders fail it.

If you care about math education, read the whole thing.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can find some background on this controversy here, here, and here.   In the first of the three posts, I described, briefly, the particular "reform" movement that dominates Washington's schools, "constructivism".  You may think, on reading that brief description, that "constructivism" is a joke.  But you should know that it is orthodoxy in many education schools.)
- 9:39 AM, 13 October 2008   [link]


This New BBC Drama sounds uplifting.
The series, which has been likened to a horror film, depicts a man possessed by the devil and being skinned alive in a gay sauna.

Another episode shows a father threatening to sexually assault his daughter while in another, Mother Teresa is seen on her death bed.

In other scenes blood drips from the eyes of those supposed to be possessed by the Devil.

The series, called Apparitions, was the idea of the actor Martin Shaw, who also stars in it as a Roman Catholic priest.
No word on whether they plan a Muslim version.  But they will have it out in time to brighten Christmas this year for everyone in Britain.

By way of the Biased BBC.

(In the article, Martin Shaw mentions a BBC program, Songs of Praise.  According to this article, the program is what you would expect from the name.  As far as I can tell, Songs of Praise has never shown anyone being skinned alive.)
- 8:57 AM, 13 October 2008   [link]


Would Obama Govern As A Leftist?  Paul Mirengoff has a good summary of the evidence for that proposition.  Here's point one of six:
First, it's all he really knows.  Obama grew up in a left-wing household, attended elite left-wing dominated universities, and spent the remainder of his formative years as a community organizer alongside the likes of Wright and Ayers.
And chose to live in a left-wing university community, where his ideas would almost never be challenged.
- 7:12 AM, 13 October 2008   [link]


Mark Steyn Has A Little Fun with his own book — while making a serious point.
Actually, that last point reminds me that, with a little light rewrite, the second edition of America Alone will hold up pretty well.  If Obama is elected in November, at G7 meetings, for the first time since they began, America will have a more left-wing leader than any other member of the group - Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Britain (and that's before Gordon Brown loses to David Cameron).   Right-of-center government throughout the western world - except Washington.
- 6:42 AM, 13 October 2008   [link]


Buy Low, Sell High:  Or keep for personal use.  That's a pleasant dilemma to be in.  A month or so ago, I happened to see a C. M. Kornbluth short story collection, The Marching Morons and Other Famous Science Fiction Stories for sale in a Half Price Books store.  The price was right, just 25 cents, half the original price.

It struck me as a bargain, considering how much I like Kornbluth's work.  But I didn't realize just how big a bargain it was until tonight when I looked at the four copies for sale on Amazon.  As I write, the four sellers are asking either 85 or 100 dollars for my little 25 cent paperback.  (My copy is in relatively good condition, considering its age.  The cover is a little worn around the edges, and there is a visible crease on the front cover, from the pages being turned.  And it is yellowed with age.  But that's it.)

Should I sell it, I would get a decent profit, and a very good annual rate of return.  (Calculate it, just for fun.)

I could then use that profit to buy this collection, which includes all of Kornbluth's stories, and still be way ahead.   I probably won't get around to doing that — but I will take a lot better care of my little book in the future.

(More on C. M. Kornbluth here.  I probably should warn the delicate that some of his stories, notably The Marching Morons, are not easy to read.  But they will make you think.)
- 8:54 PM, 12 October 2008   [link]


David Broder Has Heard Of Newt Gingrich And Bob Dole:  He even knows that the Republicans won control of Congress in the 1994 election.  But he gives all the credit for the balanced budgets of the late 1990s to Clinton and other Democrats.

Sample:
A few forward-looking Democrats have begun to focus on what could be the first test for a President Obama with a Congress controlled by his own party: whether to insist on a pay-as-you-go rule for the budget.

That rule, which provided the discipline behind the Clinton administration's balanced budgets, was abandoned by the Republicans -- with disastrous fiscal results.  Pay-go was revived last year when the Democrats took over Congress.  But the requirement that any new or increased spending be offset by comparable cuts or new revenue has been a source of frustration for many in the party.  And it will pinch much harder if applied next year.
Clinton did not offer a balanced budget, or even a very serious plan to get to a balanced budget until after the Republican take over in 1994.  Apparently, David Broder has forgotten that, although it got a little coverage at the time.

(To his credit, Broder recognizes that Obama's plans are far too expensive for the nation.  So are McCain's, but the senior senator from Arizona is far less irresponsible than the junior senator from Illinois.

On the other hand, you have to be delusional to believe that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will actually try to enforce "pay-go", especially after watching their performance in the current Congress.)
- 6:51 PM, 12 October 2008   [link]


Songs For Candidates:  The songs candidates choose for themselves are rarely the songs I would choose for them.  For some candidates, it's easy to find an appropriate song.   For years, even before he ran for the presidency, I knew that John Edward's song should be the Chiffon's Sweet Talkin' Guy.

It has been harder for me to find the right song for Barack Obama.  Some days I think that it should be Carly Simon's You're So Vain.  (Some of us think that two autobiographies are a little excessive for a man of his age and accomplishments.)  Other days, when I find out how little he knows about Iowa farms, physics, chemistry, or many other subjects, I think that the best song for Obama would be Sam Cooke's Wonderful World.  (That video may not last, but you can find the lyrics here.)

And I am still thinking about songs for Senator McCain, Senator Biden, and Governor Palin.   Any suggestions for those three?  Or for any other candidates, even the candidate who must not be named?  (I'm feeling generous today.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:40 PM, 12 October 2008   [link]


Here's A Mostly Cheerful Op-Ed:  Not counting financial companies — which are getting almost all the press — prospects look good for the American economy.
It turns out that John McCain, who was widely mocked for saying that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong," was actually right.  We're in a financial crisis, not an economic crisis.  We're not entering a second Great Depression.

How do we know?  Well, the economy outside the financial sector is healthier than it seems.

One important indicator is the profitability of non-financial capital, what economists call the marginal product of capital.  It's a measure of how much profit that each dollar of capital invested in the economy is producing during, say, a year.  Some investments earn more than others, of course, but the marginal product of capital is a composite of all of them — a macroeconomic version of the price-to-earnings ratio followed in the financial markets.

When the profit per dollar of capital invested in the economy is higher than average, future rates of economic growth also tend to be above average.  The same cannot be said about rates of return on the S.& P. 500, or any another measurement that commands attention on Wall Street.

Since World War II, the marginal product of capital, after taxes, has averaged 7 percent to 8 percent per year.  (In other words, each dollar of capital invested in the economy earns, on average, 7 cents to 8 cents annually.)  And what happened during 2007 and the first half of 2008, when the financial markets were already spooked by oil price spikes and housing price crashes?  The marginal product was more than 10 percent per year, far above the historical average.  The third-quarter earnings reports from some companies already suggest that America's non-financial companies are still making plenty of money.

The marginal product has accurately reflected hard economic times in the past.  From 1930 to 1933, for instance, the marginal product of capital averaged 0.5 percentage points per year less than the postwar average.  The profit per dollar of capital was also below average in the year before the 1982 recession and the year before the 2001 recession.  Sure, the financial industry has taken a hit, and so have cities like New York that depend on that industry.  But the financial system is more resilient today than it has been in the past, because it's a much easier industry for companies to enter than it was in the 1930s.
I have no idea if economist Casey Mulligan is right, no idea even how he measures the "marginal product of capital".  But I don't see anything implausible about his argument.  (Although I do think the collapse of the housing bubble is net, a good thing.)

(Here's his blog if, like me, you want to read more of his thoughts.)
- 1:02 PM, 10 October 2008   [link]


The Wall Street Journal Thinks The Culprits In The Mortgage Mess Should Be On The Witness Stand:  Including the senior senator from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd.
Former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld was under oath Monday when he was grilled on Capitol Hill about his role in the current financial meltdown.  But if Members really want to understand the credit mania, they should also call Chris Dodd.

The Connecticut Senator has been out front denouncing the "companies that form the foundation of our financial markets," for "their insatiable appetite for risk."  He has also decried "reckless, careless and sometimes unscrupulous actors in the mortgage lending industry" and he has proclaimed that "American taxpayers deserve to know how we arrived at this moment."  To that end, we propose he take the stand -- under oath.
Good idea.  He could bring along copies of his Countrywide mortgages, which he promised to release months ago, but somehow hasn't gotten around to actually releasing.

(I must say that I have a sneaking admiration for Dodd's nerve, considering what we already know about his role in creating these problems — and the rewards he received from some dubious organizations.)
- 10:23 AM, 10 October 2008   [link]


More Good News for our economy.
Oil prices lost altitude Friday as the cost of a barrel of liquid gold dropped below $80 US for the first time since September 2007.

Crude for November delivery slipped by as much as nine per cent in morning trading, hitting $78.61 US a barrel, a drop of $6.98 from the previous day's level.
And for the economies of most of our friends.  But not the economies of most of our enemies.

(If you want to follow oil prices in almost real time, you can do so here.)
- 10:02 AM, 10 October 2008   [link]


Krauthammer On Obama:  The syndicated columnist comes to conclusions similar to my own.  Obama is both a cynical con man, and on the left, possibly the far left.
But that does not make these associations irrelevant.  They tell us two important things about Obama.

First, his cynicism and ruthlessness.  He found these men useful, and use them he did.  Would you attend a church whose pastor was spreading racial animosity from the pulpit?  Would you even shake hands with -- let alone serve on two boards with -- an unrepentant terrorist, whether he bombed U.S. military installations or abortion clinics?

Most Americans would not, on the grounds of sheer indecency.  Yet Obama did, if not out of conviction then out of expediency.  He was a young man on the make, an unknown outsider working his way into Chicago politics.  He played the game with everyone, without qualms and with obvious success.

Obama is not the first politician to rise through a corrupt political machine.  But he is one of the rare few to then have the audacity to present himself as a transcendent healer, hovering above and bringing redemption to the "old politics" -- of the kind he had enthusiastically embraced in Chicago in the service of his own ambition.

Second, and even more disturbing than the cynicism, is the window these associations give on Obama's core beliefs.  He doesn't share Rev. Wright's poisonous views of race nor Ayers' views, past and present, about the evil that is American society.  But Obama clearly did not consider these views beyond the pale.  For many years he swam easily and without protest in that fetid pond.
But Krauthammer — in my opinion — has farther to go, before he really understands Obama.  He ends his column with this:
Obama is a man of first-class intellect and first-class temperament.  But his character remains highly suspect.  There is a difference between temperament and character.  Equanimity is a virtue.  Tolerance of the obscene is not.
What I think Krauthammer will learn — in time — is that Obama's intellect is over-rated and that Obama is enough of a narcissist so that is a mistake to say that he has a "first-class temperament".
- 9:37 AM, 10 October 2008 [link]


Learning From 1992, Part 1:  Here's what Bill Clinton promised in 1992:

Back when Mr. Clinton was campaigning for president in 1992, he made a pretty direct pitch:  Raise taxes on people making more than $200,000, and use those revenues to fund tax relief for the "forgotten middle class."

In an October presidential debate, then-Gov. Clinton laid out the marginal-rate increase he wanted and some of his plans for the revenue that would be brought in.  He followed with a pledge:

"Now, I'll tell you this," he said.  "I will not raise taxes on the middle class to pay for these programs.  If the money does not come in there to pay for these programs, we will cut other government spending, or we will slow down the phase-in of the programs."

Not everyone believed him, but some voters did, possibly enough to give him his winning margin.

Here's what he did in 1993:

Mr. Clinton, of course, won that election.  And as the inauguration approached, he began backtracking from his promise.  At a Jan. 14, 1993, press conference in New Hampshire, he claimed that it was the media that had played up a middle-class tax cut, not him.  A month later, he announced his actual plan before a joint session of Congress.

On page one of the New York Times, the paper described the fate of the middle-class tax cut this way:  "Families earning as little as $20,000 a year -- members of the 'forgotten middle class' whose taxes he promised during his campaign to cut -- will also be asked to send more dollars to Washington under the President's plan."

By the way, one of his tax increases, on gasoline, is regressive, hitting poor people harder than the well off.

The speed of Clinton's reversal makes it reasonable to conclude that he never intended to keep his promise of a middle-class tax cut.

Some politicians undoubtedly learned from Clinton's success.  Not only did he win in 1992, but he was able to win re-election in 1996.  (Though his supporters in Congress had a little trouble in 1994.)  Since politicians imitate other, successful politicians, we can expect that other candidates, especially other Democratic candidates, will emulate his simple strategy.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(One oddity:  If I recall correctly, one of the things that helped Clinton win re-election in 1996, in spite of his broken promise on middle-class tax cuts, is that many voters had decided, even in 1992 that Clinton did not always tell the truth.  So they gave his promises less weight than they might have given to promises from a more honest politician.)
- 3:37 PM, 9 October 2008   [link]


Being An Asylum Seeker in Britain pays better than I would have guessed.
A council has sacked three officers after it was revealed an Afghan family was living in a £1.2million home paid for by the taxpayer.

Mother-of-seven Toorpakai Saiedi, 35, receives £170,000 a year in benefits, a staggering £150,000 of that is paid to a private landlord for the rent of a seven-bedroom house in West London.

The detached property in Acton has two large reception rooms, two kitchens, a dining room and a 100ft garden.
The three officers say they were just following standard procedures — and they may have been.

Let's see.  At current exchange rates, they are giving this family close to $300,000 a year.  On the other hand, prices are much higher in Britain, so, in terms of what it could buy, this stipend might be worth only $200,000 or so in the United States.

Wonder if I could claim political asylum in Britain, should Barack Obama win the presidency?

(Most Britons thinks this is nuts, too, as you can see in the comments after the article, or in this opinion piece.

Neither piece explains why this family is still in Britain.  I can understand why the family sought shelter in 2001 from the Taliban, but most of Afghanistan has been free of the Taliban for years.  Perhaps asylum in Britain is always open-ended, regardless of changed circumstances.)
- 3:05 PM, 9 October 2008   [link]


This Is Probably Good News:  Here's the news:
Sellers of protection on mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae (FNM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) (FNM.P: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Freddie Mac (FRE.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) (FRE.P: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) will be repaid between 91.5 percent and 99.9 percent of protection they sold, based on the results of an auction on Monday to determine the value of the contracts.
And here's Tom Maguire's tentative conclusion.
Now, this is good news if we can infer that FNMA and Freddie bonds were worth more than people might have expected, since it suggests that the underlying mortgages are maybe not as bad as we think.  But I need some time to digest this and I am relying on some cogent commenters to do the heavy lifting here.
Sounds right to me, but I will again warn you that I know little about this subject.

(You may want to read first fifty or so comments after Maguire's post for more, though the discussion drifts off topic fairly soon, as most internet discussions do.)
- 2:03 PM, 9 October 2008   [link]


Barack Obama And The New Party:  The New Party has ideas that were old a century ago.  It's on the left, some would say the far left. Others aren't so sure, thinking it may only be on the left.  (And it may be that the differing opinions just reflect different definitions.  For instance, some reserve "far left" for organizations and individuals that reject democracy, as practiced in the United States.  Others use different dividing lines.)

The party endorsed Barack Obama on his first run for state senate.  They also claimed he was a member.
Still, it appears clear that as of 1996, the New Party and its parent organization the Democratic Socialists of America considered Barack Obama to be their guy--one of a handful of avowed socialists running for office at any level in the United States.  It strikes me that Obama has some explaining to do.
But as John Hinderaker implies in a follow-up post, our "mainstream" news organizations are not likely to press him for an explanation.

We have been discussing for months whether Obama was on the left, or whether he has just been conning leftists all these years.  I see people I respect on both sides of that question.  But, if Obama was a member of this organization when he first ran for office, then I think we have to conclude that he was then on the left, and possibly the far left, depending on where you draw the line.  And he may still be, considering that there is no evidence that he has changed his views much in recent years — except in obvious political moves.

(My own view, which I have come to over time, is that Obama is on the far left — and is conning people, including many on the left.  And I don't really know whether he rejects American democracy in principle — while seeing a way to use it in practice.  His record, such as it is, is that ambiguous.)
- 1:41 PM, 9 October 2008   [link]


Different Political Consultants use Different Tactics:  In Georgia, one of them may have used voodoo rituals.
High voodoo priestess George Ann Mills prays the gods will cleanse a Georgia woman who she says asked her to perform a death ritual on a political opponent.

Cobb County, Ga., Commissioner Annette Kesting asked Mills to cause the death of longtime political rival Woody Thompson, Cobb County police said.
Note that I said "may".  Mills says that she refused to do a death ritual, but did try to help Kesting with other rituals.  But she did not report Kesting to the police until Kesting's checks bounced.  (Kesting denies the charges.  I assume the police have seen the bounced checks, but I could be wrong about that.)

Offhand, I can't think of another use of such tactics in the United States, though I suspect they are common in some other countries.  Political tacticians will be interested to learn that Kesting lost the Democratic primary to Thompson.

(Theologians may be interested in Mills' mix of beliefs:
Mills, a former rootworker Muslim who has dabbled with voodoo practices for more than three decades, was initiated into the religion five years ago by her godfather, who is from Nigeria, she said.

She advertises that she can heal cancer or any type of sickness as well as release loved ones from jail.  All work is done on a contract basis with a guaranteed warranty.
I am no expert in Islamic theology, but that combination does not sound orthodox to me.

Incidentally, Cobb County is not some little rural place; as of 2006, it had a population of nearly 700,000 and was growing rapidly.)
- 7:53 AM, 9 October 2008   [link]