Jim Miller on Politics
Is Osama bin Laden Dead? Almost certainly, in my opinion. Here's a summary of the evidence. I would add only one thought. He may have died a natural death. According to many reports, he has been in poor health for years. The collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan may have prevented him from getting the medical care he needed to survive.
- 10:33 AM, 30 September 2002 [link]
Leftists and Fascists, Together Again: Congressman McDermott's effort to rescue Saddam Hussein is ironic, considering that Saddam is, in everything but name, a fascist dictator. For decades, the left all around the world has used "fascist" as its favorite epithet. Now, many on the left are, like McDermott, supporting fascist governments and movements, from Saddam to Arafat. Recently, a far left Labour MP, who openly regrets the fall of Communism, also went to Baghdad to express his support for the fascist Saddam. Leftists even tolerate the blatant anti-Semitism in those fascist governments, and are beginning to accept it in their own organizations. It is no accident that institutions on the left in the United States, like most of our universities, are where the worst outbreaks of anti-Semitism have occurred in the last few years.
What this shows about the left is that many are motivated less by a positive program, than by hostility to the West and its main institutions. This is an old story. Paul Hollander showed, in his brilliant book, Political Pilgrims, that the Western intellectuals who supported the Soviet Union in the 1930s and China and Cuba later, were more motivated more by the flaws in the West than the achievements, such as they were, of those Communist countries. Support for the Soviet Union rose among intellectuals during the 1930s as the regime became more brutal and oppressive. It is obvious that much of this support came not from any understanding of Communism, but from the problems of the West during the Great Depression.
For students of history, this tacit alliance of leftists and fascists is less surprising. Many of fascist movements had their origin in socialism. Mussolini was a socialist before he founded the Italian fascist movement and Hitler's party was, after all, called the "National Socialist" party. The two movements often cooperated tactically during the 1920s and 1930s, for all their outward hostility. The German Communists helped the Nazis a number of times during Hitler's rise to power. Most famously, Hitler and Stalin signed the pact which made Hitler's attack on Poland possible. Now, I do not mean that the current tacit alliance between leftists and fascists is leading to anything like the tragedy of World War II. Almost certainly, this strange alliance will produce, this time round, not a tragedy, but a farce, to borrow Marx's famous line.
- 10:27 AM, 30 September 2002 [link]
Congressman Jim McDermott: Seattle's Congressman drew considerable criticism for his claim, from Baghdad, that President Bush may be misleading the American people. The statement did not surprise those familiar with McDermott, or Seattle politics. As the 2000 Almanac of American Politics puts it, McDermott is "one of the most liberal members of the House". Congressmen like McDermott, on the left fringe of the Democratic party, will almost always "blame America first", as Jeane Kirkpatrick put it in her 1984 speech to the national Republican convention. This is not mere hyperbole. In the late 1970s, the Washington Post reported an anonymous poll of Congressmen. They were struck, as was I, by the number of Congressmen (almost 20, if memory serves) who saw the United States as a bigger threat to world peace than the Soviet Union. Though not in Congress then, everything in McDermott's career suggests he would have agreed with that assessment, and still sees the United States as a threat to peace.
McDermottt is a bitter partisan, with not much respect for fair play. He is best known, to those outside of Seattle, for passing an illegal tape recording of a Gingrich phone conversation to New York Time reporter (and another bitter partisan) Adam Clymer. (The partisanship of both Clymer and McDermott warped their judgment, by the way. The conversation that so excited them was innocuous.) So, this personal attack on Bush is like other attacks he has made on Republicans.
McDermott is out of touch with many of the voters. Seattle PI political reporter and columnist Joel Connelly, himself a partisan Democrat, has sharply criticized McDermott for his limited contact he has with voters. Even that limited contact, Connelly reports, is with people on the far left. This may be why he thought, in 1994(!), that the Democrats would make gains that year. Even so, he probably has the support of most Seattle voters on this issue. If you know Seattle only through Frazier or a similar source, you may not realize that politics in Seattle is a pastel version of that found in San Francisco and the Bay area. Politicians in Seattle may not be as gaudy (or corrupt) as those that run San Francisco, but they hold similar views. And, the activists are even more similar. The Washington State Democratic party just passed, unanimously, a resolution taking the McDermott position. The Seattle PI has the full story. Note that most elected Democrats are far more cautious than the delegates and McDermott.
- 9:31 AM, 30 September 2002 [link]
Cut Social Security Benefits for Longer Life? Richard Morin calls attention to a study that found that the social security "notch babies" (born after 1916), who received lower social security benefits than their predecessors, lived longer. Why? Well, no one knows for sure, but it may be the benefits of work, since the notch babies were more likely to stay in the work force. There may be a general point here. As many people, from Newt Gingrich to Mickey Kaus, have argued, welfare is bad for the people who receive it. It may be that any income not coming from our own efforts is bad for us. Be interesting to compare the health of those who inherit millions with those who earned their wealth.
- 9:47 AM, 29 September 2002 [link]
Muslim Criminality, Part 4: In a series of previous posts, which you can read, starting here, I described the remarkably high level of Muslim criminality in Australia and several European countries. A bit later, columnist Mark Steyn made a similar argument, which drew some sharp responses. Some, almost inevitably, called him hatemonger. He replies to them with still more data, and his usual wit, here.
- 9:25 AM, 29 September 2002 [link]
Chomsky Cult Strikes Back: By way of Matt Welch I learned that Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, and other similar intellectuals are unhappy about the criticism they are receiving for their arguments. (Be sure, by the way, to read the comments on the post. They deepen and strengthen his argument, and are easily the most intelligent set I have seen.) As I have argued, in a series of posts, here, here, and here, there is good reason for that criticism. Chomsky, and those associated with him, have not met ordinary standards for debate in two fundamental ways. Again and again, they repeat claims, like the over-estimate of Afghan civilian casualties, that have been disproved. Again and again, they use illogical arguments, for example by criticizing Israel for faults they excuse in Arab countries. Political debate is often rough and even unfair, but those who want to be intellectuals have an obligation to try to be right about the facts, and correct in their reasoning.
- 8:20 AM, 28 September 2002 [link]
Kristof and Casualties: Nicholas Kristof illustrates the points I made in the previous post. Journalists are only as good as the experts they choose, and they often choose poorly. In this column discussing possible casualties in a war with Iraq, Kristof makes one of the worst choices of all, himself. Not surprisingly, Kristof errs badly. With the great accuracy and fire power now available to American troops, the advantages of hiding in a city are not what they once were, as the Taliban could tell him. They actually fared better after they retreated from the cities and dispersed in the countryside. Kristof takes seriously the Iraqi claim that the Al Quds militia has seven million men in it. As it happens, that is more than the entire male population of Iraq between the ages of 15 and 64, according to one standard source.
Michael O'Hanlon, who is an expert on the military, does better on the same subject in this Slate article, but fails in another way. As he mentions, in the Gulf War, against a far larger and better armed Iraqi army, the United States lost about 400 men, most to accidents and friendly fire. So, the most likely result against a smaller, weaker Iraqi army would be even fewer casualties. But O'Hanlon rejects this analogy, and instead uses the invasion of Panama, a rushed and awkward operation, as his model. Having the correct expert information is important, but you must also reason correctly about it.
- 2:37 PM, 27 September 2002 [link]
News Versus Truth: Two posts by members of the blog royalty, though apparently unconnected, show a common problem with our news sources. Joanne Jacobs notes new research showing that students in poor neighborhoods learn best in structured schools. "Jane Galt" asks why, if she can understand immediately that the environmental claims for a hydrogen economy are, to say the least, exaggerated, reporters for major news organizations can't do the same. The common problem in the posts is that neither the success of structured schools, nor the problems with a hydrogen economy, should be news. Similar research on successful schools has been available for decades, and every legitimate energy expert knows the problems with a hydrogen economy. These are news only because journalists (with some shining exceptions like Joanne Jacobs) are not capable of evaluating experts or expert claims.
Since they can't evaluate claims independently, journalists must choose which experts to believe. Most do not much care for William Bennett, and so, when he was Secretary of Education, gave little credence to the summary of research on effective schools his department produced, though it was similar to the research Jacobs found. Many journalists, especially those covering environmental issues, do like Jeremy Rifkin, and so his views on a hydrogen economy get undeserved attention. One sees this problem in almost every area. Most political scientists who have studied elections and election machinery did not think that there was a technological fix for most of the problems found in Florida during the 2000 election. For whatever reasons, journalists did not often consult these experts in their articles on election reform.
There is no easy way to correct for these systematic errors in the news. The best one can do is look at a variety of sources, critically. I hope this modest site will, from time to time, provide some help for you, as well.
- 10:41 AM, 27 September 2002 [link]
Over-Rough? One of the many things that have discredited Pat Buchanan is his willingness to excuse anti-American dictators like Milosevic, Arafat, and Saddam. Orrin Judd, who apparently shares some of Buchanan's views, makes the same error when he apologizes for Milosevic by calling the mass murder and rape of Bosnian Muslims, and Catholic Croats, "over-rough". Milosevic was not the only war criminal in that complex, many-sided conflict, but he was certainly the worst.
- 9:34 AM, 27 September 2002 [link]
Deterring Saddam Won't Work: So says Kenneth Pollack in this New York Times op-ed. Pollack has the credentials to make this judgment. He warned the first Bush administration about Saddam, and was the top CIA expert on Saddam in the Clinton administration. In classic deterrence theory, a person is deterred by a rational fear of consequences. In Pollack's opinion, Saddam's view of the world is so inaccurate that we can not rely on deterrence to control him. There's more on Pollack's views in this Stanley Kurtz review.
- 8:37 AM, 27 September 2002 [link]
Crocodile Blood: The hemoglobin in crocodile blood is far better at holding oxygen than the human variety. That's one of the reasons they can stay under water so much longer than we can. Now, researchers have modified human hemoglobin to be more like that of the crocodile. The modified hemoglobin may provide a replacement for blood transfusions in some circumstances, a replacement that would actually be better than the original in providing oxygen to the tissues that need it. For more details, see this article.
- 10:38 AM, 26 September 2002 [link]
Woollacott and Terrorism, Part 2: In July, Guardian writer Martin Woollacott was justifying the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists. His only objection was that the tactic was unlikely to be successful. Today, he argues that responding to terrorists by trying to destroy them, and the regimes that harbor them, will only make things worse. He presents no historical evidence for this argument and ignores bin Laden's statements that it was perceived American weakness that encouraged him, especially after our retreat from Somalia. Terrorists have often been defeated militarily, or even by the police. The great progress already made in Afghanistan and elsewhere shows that the defeat of al Qaeda is a practical goal.
Woollacott proposes no alternative policy, although he appears to favor a cowardly hiding in some safe place. Putting his July column together with the current one suggests an unpleasant explanation for his current position. He is opposed to the war on terror, not because he honestly thinks it will fail, but because he fears it will succeed. If he sympathized with Palestinian terrorists in July, then it seems likely that he sympathizes with anti-American terrorists now, though he is not willing to say so directly. It is certain that doing nothing, or hiding under the pillows, will help the terrorists. If that is what he wants, he should be intellectually honest enough to say so.
- 9:54 AM, 26 September 2002 [link]
Daschle and the Polls: I try not to be too cynical about politics, since that is just as much an error as being too trusting. But, I can't help but wonder whether Senate Majority Leader Daschle's outburst yesterday may be partly motivated by polls that show he may soon be the Minority Leader. A poll taken Sunday and Monday in South Dakota showed Republican John Thune leading Daschle protege Tim Johnson by 48 to 43 per cent. The switch in title and power could even come in November, as Joel Mowbray explains. The Missouri race between Republican James Talent and Democratic Jean Carnahan is actually a special election, filling the seat left vacant by the death of Carnahan's husband just before his election.
- 9:07 AM, 26 September 2002 [link]
Life on Venus? Maybe high in the atmosphere, according to this article. Researchers have found chemicals there that, on earth, are almost always produced by bacteria. If they exist, the Venusian bacteria may be of more than just scientific interest. Bacteria found in hot springs have provided many powerful tools for researchers and the biotech industry, and those in the extreme environment of Venus might well yield others.
- 8:56 AM, 26 September 2002 [link]
Update on the New "Moon": The new "moon" that I mentioned in this post appears to be a rocket stage, as some suspected at the time of the discovery.
- 8:40 AM, 26 September 2002 [link]
Dowd Steals Unified Dowd Theory? In an earlier article, I explained how Maureen Dowd's columns could be explained by assuming that she was acting as an "alpha girl", using gossip and smears to control social rankings. I hadn't thought Ms. Dowd read my humble site, but now I am not so sure. In today's column, she uses my alpha girl idea to explain, of all people, Donald Rumsfeld.
On second thought, making Rumsfeld an alpha girl convinces me that she did not borrow my idea, or at least that she did not understand it. Men like Rumsfeld have their own ways of controlling social rankings that have nothing to do with the methods of the alpha girls. Still, I think her column provides one more piece of evidence for my theory. It is commonplace that people are prone to accuse others of faults which they have themselves. Perhaps Dowd was not so much borrowing as confessing. Whatever the case may be, it is time for me to find out whether email sent to the address at the bottom of her column is read.
- 4:46 PM, 25 September 2002 [link]
Judicial Litmus Tests, Part 1: It is no secret that the Democratic majority on the Senate Judiciary committee has been imposing a litmus test on judicial nominations, when they feel they can do so without too great a political cost. Some Democratic senators have even been honest enough, as Clinton was, to admit that they use a litmus test, despite the long consensus that such tests are improper. There are two fundamental questions that supporters of this litmus test should answer.
First, the problem of the categorical imperative. Kant put it like this: "Act only on such a maxim that you will it become a universal law". More colloquially, we might say that what goes around, comes around, that if we follow one rule, we should expect others to do the same. This raises an obvious question for defenders of the Democratic litmus test. Are you prepared for Republicans to use their own litmus test for future nominees? Should they have used it in the past; in particular, should the Republicans, then in the majority, have rejected the nominations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer because they, quite obviously, would fail their litmus test? If you reject the idea of a Republican litmus test, then I think you must also reject the current Democratic litmus test.
Second, as everyone knows, Roe versus Wade was legislating from the bench. In democracies, with some important exceptions, majorities should rule on legislation. At most, 25 per cent of the voters favor the extremist view held by the Judiciary Committee Democrats; more likely they are supported by less than 15 or 10 per cent. A large majority of Americans wants to either ban all abortions, or to restrict them in ways not currently permitted by the Supreme Court. (For a brief discussion of public opinion, with a link to the definitive Gallup study, see this post). Why should the minority rule on this subject, rather than the majority?
- 3:37 AM, 24 September 2002 [link]
Banned Book? This is Banned Books Week, which bookstores celebrate with displays of books banned in the past. One book, that was, in effect, banned by those very same bookstores will not be in those displays. I say, "in effect", because bookstores can not enforce a ban, as a government can. The book is Michael Fumento's The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS. In it, Fumento argued that, in the United States, AIDS was spread almost entirely by homosexuals and intravenous drug users. Even when Fumento first published the book, 1990, the case for this argument was persuasive, and more scientific study has only strengthened it since. This is not to say that AIDS is never transmitted heterosexually; rather, that this mode is so rare that we should direct our public health measures elsewhere.
Fumento's message was so unwelcome, especially to gay activists, that the book nearly didn't get published, and almost did not stay in print. Publishers told him that the "cause of curing AIDS" would not be "best served" by publishing the book. After the book was published, it sold out in the bookstores that had ordered it. Did they order more? No. A group of doctors disturbed by the treatment of the book surveyed the bookstores in Washington and Oregon and was unable to find any that carried the book. Even bookstores that officially had it in stock often did not make it available, because clerks in these stores hid it. You might think that Basic Books, the original publisher, would have pleased to have a book that had both strong sales and strong support from many scientists. You would be wrong. They did not publish a paperback version. For that, Fumento had to go to a small conservative publisher, Regnery. One of the two most important scientific journals in the world, Nature, published a review that was, in a word, dishonest. Fumento lost a newspaper job because of the book, and was unemployed for over a year. Angered by this suppression of an important book, I bought four copies and passed some of them to friends. It may no longer be in print, though Amazon is not clear on the point, but you can still find used copies. Buy it and you will learn much about AIDS, and strike a blow for freedom of the press.
- 1:52 PM, 24 September 2002 [link]
Stellar Movie: The supernova explosion that created the Crab Nebula about a thousand years ago left behind a beautiful, strange, and very active remnant, as you can see in this movie.
- 12:11 PM, 24 September 2002 [link]
Another Alternate Explanation: In this post, Orrin Judd makes a point similar to the one I made yesterday. You can not make conclusions about public opinion simply by looking at vote or poll totals, and recent events. What moves journalists may not be what is important to the public. As Judd points out, it is not clear that the fall in Labour's popularity is due to Blair's Iraq policies, just as Schroeder's victory may not have been due entirely, or even in part, to his anti-American stance, as I explained yesterday.
There is a remarkable historical example that shows just how wrong journalists can be. In 1968, Senator Gene McCarthy ran against President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. He received enthusiastic support from those opposed to the war in Viet Nam. Some college students even made the ultimate sacrifice and went "clean for Gene". Although McCarthy did not win the primary against Johnson, who was running as a write-in, he did well enough to energize the anti-war movement. Journalists, almost universally, viewed his showing as a demonstration of anti-war sentiment. They were wrong. A poll taken in New Hampshire showed that McCarthy supporters were actually more hawkish than Johnson supporters, though not by a large margin. Whatever led them to vote against Johnson, it was not a desire for a more dovish policy on the war. (In later primaries that year, the voters did begin to sort themselves out by attitudes on the war.)
- 11:57 AM, 24 September 2002 [link]
Who Listens to NPR? Saturday I listened to the Chomsky cult program; today I added insult to injury by listening to part of KUOW's call-in on the Bush war resolution. They kept a tally of votes and the end result was 185 opposed, 19 in favor, and 7 undecided. Judging by this, the listeners, as well as the programs, are on the far left. Again, I wonder, why this small group, as opposed to, say, Pat Robertson supporters, deserves support from the taxpayers.
- 5:23 PM, 23 September 2002 [link]
The Chomsky Cult Radio Program, Part 3: This last weekend, Rahul Mahajan spoke on "The New Crusade: The War on Terrorism". I listened to most of the program, though it was an effort, and found the outrageous claims that I have come to expect from Alternative Radio. Mahajan began by claiming that Bush official John Bolton is a fanatic for saying that Cuba is probably developing biological weapons. Here's a summary of the evidence that Cuba is, in fact, developing such weapons. Mahajan presented no evidence to the contrary. He then claimed, falsely, that Cuba only sends doctors around the world, neglecting the large military expeditions that Castro has sent to Africa, as well as the secret police he has sent all over Latin America. Che Guevara, one of the Cuban revolution's heroes, died fighting as a guerrilla in Bolivia. Mahajan must know these facts.
From there, Mahajan turned to Venezuela and its current leader, Hugo Chavez, who, according to Mahajan, is a very good democrat in many ways. The efforts Chavez has made to, for example, destroy the independence of the legislature and the judiciary do not, apparently, count against him. Mahajan compares Chavez favorably to President Bush, whom he calls an "unelected American strongman". Mahajan admires the work Chavez has done reviving OPEC, which has been a curse on the world's poor since it gained power over oil prices.
Naturally, Mahajan is opposed to the war in Afghanistan. He makes the usual false charges. The war itself is an "atrocity", even if the Afghans obviously disagree. The attack imperiled seven million people, he says, when actually it saved thousands. Four to six thousand Afghan civilians were killed in the bombing according to "reliable" estimates (which have been completely discredited). No evidence was presented to the Taliban government. (Actually they were given a full dossier, and the Blair government made another public.) Best of all, he says that terrorism presents no threat, something the friends and relatives of the three thousand killed might disagree with.
Finally, he argues—and I am not making this up—that there is not a single person who agrees with the Bush position on Iraq, outside of a few conservative institutions. This neglects a large majority of the American electorate, foreign leaders of such countries as Britain, Italy, and Spain, as well as substantial parts of their electorates. To call this "no one" is a breathtaking attack on reason itself. Mahajan ended with a cheerleading call for opponents of the Bush policies to organize, something completely out of place on a station supported by, after all, your tax dollars.
- 4:57 PM, 23 September 2002 [link]
More on Fragile Comets: In July, I expressed my skepticism that the plans for stopping killer asteroids would work on comets. Here's more data on the fragility of comets, which supports my argument.
- 9:14 AM, 23 September 2002 [link]
Alternate Interpretations of the German Election: The standard TV newscaster explanation of the German election on Sunday goes something like this: The Social Democrat chancellor was losing until he began attacking United States policies toward Iraq. The attack drew enough additional support so that he was able to squeak through to one of the narrowest victories since World War II. This explanation may have some truth to it, but it is easy to find alternate ones in the election data. Without in depth studies of the voters, it is not possible to know which explanation, or mix of explanations, is correct, so I will just outline three of the main possibilities.
First, German voters are conservative in the most basic sense. They have reelected every government they have had since World War II, at least once. The gains that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made may have been the socialist voters coming home, and the marginal voters resisting change, as they have done for decades. Schroeder was, most observers agree, helped by his role in fighting the floods that plagued Germany, along with much of central Europe. German voters love their welfare benefits and their protected jobs. Although the Christian Democratic candidate, Edmund Stoiber, promised to protect all these, voters may have felt he was a risk to their jobs and benefits in a country with nearly 10 per cent unemployed.
Second, the voters may have been attracted to the personality of Joshka Fischer, the leader of the Green party and the foreign minister in the Social Democrat coalition. The Green party ran their campaign completely around Fischer, who is the most popular politician in Germany. Their main campaign signs simply said "Joshka", on a green background. (I should add that I do not share their regard. He has a strong connection to violent protests in the past, and may have been partly responsible for the death of a policeman, and others. For some reason these facts about his background do not matter to many voters in Germany.)
Third, the Free Democrats may have failed. (For those unfamiliar with the parties in Germany, here's a simplified sketch. Germany, like most European nations, uses proportional voting to choose most of its parliament. They put a 5 per cent limit to keep out nuisance parties and prevent complete fragmentation, so a party that receives less than 5 per cent of the total may get no seats at all. Before the election, there were five parties with seats in the parliament. From left to right on economic issues, they were the Democratic Socialists (reformed Communists), the Greens, the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Free Democrats. The Free Democrats have often been in coalition with the Christian Democrats, just as the Greens are now in coalition with the Social Democrats.)
The conservative parties got a break when the Democratic Socialists failed to reach the 5 per cent quota; all their votes were, in effect, wasted. However, this did not make up for the weakness in the support for the Free Democrats. They had hoped to get 10 to 11 per cent of the vote, but received only 7.4 per cent, less than the Greens. It is not clear, without polling data, why they did so poorly, but one obvious explanation is the anti-Semitic slurs of their deputy leader, Jurgen Mollemann. In May, he got into a nasty fight with a Jewish talk show host, and, just before the election, circulated a flyer reviving the issue. The party leader of the Free Democrats thought Mollemann was hurting his vote and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle him. So, it is possible that the Social Democratic victory was due as much to German distaste for anti-Semitism as to German anti-Americanism.
All three of these explanations are just possibilities, but so too is the standard newscaster explanation. Possible, but not necessarily so. Years of reading election studies has shown me that those confident newscaster explanations are, almost as often as not, wrong.
- 9:01 AM, 23 September 2002 [link]
Blind: That's the word many Afghan women use to describe their own illiteracy. It's a good metaphor since, even in Afghanistan, being illiterate may make a person helpless in common situations, like finding a public restroom or recognizing money. This New York Times story describes how many of these women are rushing to adult literacy classes since the overthrow of the Taliban. The city of Mazar-I-Sharif alone has hundreds of these classes.
- 7:42 AM, 23 September 2002 [link]
Secularist Democrats: That's what political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio call an important segment of the Democratic party. Since 1992, non-religious people have formed a key part of the Democratic coalition, providing about as many votes nationally for the Democrats as union members. They are even more important in the leadership, constituting a very large share of the delegates to Democratic conventions. Bolce and De Maio argue that the religious polarization we now see in the electorate was caused, not by the rise of the "religious right", but by the secularist takeover of the Democratic party. The voting gap between them and religious traditionalists is very large, averaging 42 per cent in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections. In contrast, the much discussed gender gap averaged only 9 per cent in the same elections.
The secularists, especially in the leadership, have a hostility toward fundamentalists that comes close to bigotry, and may sometimes cross that line. Delegates to the 1992 Democratic convention gave fundamentalists an average score of 11 on a 0 to 100 warmth scale. (By contrast, conservatives got a 34 from the same delegates.) This was the coldest view toward any group by the delegates at either convention. More than half of the Democratic delegates gave Christian fundamentalists a 0 score, rating them, in effect, with Hitler and Stalin. (Well, perhaps not with Stalin. It is not a big secret that there are still people in the Democratic party with some warmth toward socialist experiments.) What makes these low ratings even more striking is that they come from political people, who one would think would be inclined to like, or pretend to like, every potential voter.
The religious traditionalists themselves have largely dropped the attitudes toward other faiths that were so important just 40 years ago. White Christian fundamentalists gave Jews a warm 66 rating in the 2000 American National Election Study, essentially the same rating that Catholics and mainline Protestants did. The choice of Lieberman probably helped Gore with this group. And, as every one knows, they often form alliances with Catholics on political matters, something that would have been unheard of just decades ago.
Bolce and De Maio argue that we know little about these secularist Democrats because the mainstream media have chosen to minimize their importance, partly because so many journalists are in the category, and partly because they realize discussing the issue would hurt the Democratic party.
- 7:41 PM, 22 September 2002 [link]
Kudos to Harvard president Lawrence Summers for his forthright denunciation of campus anti-Semitism. It is a growing problem, reflecting the influence of radicalized Islam, and the shift of the left away from support for Israel. It has already resulted in more than one riot at North American colleges, and many attacks on Jewish students.
- 6:54 PM, 22 September 2002 [link]
Unintentional Programming: One of Microsoft's most famous programmers, Charles Simonyi, is leaving the company to found a small startup, which will develop tools for "intentional programming". From which, I infer that, to this date, they have been doing "unintentional" programming. Tools like this are certainly needed, if they are possible, but having seen the naming style he invented, "Hungarian" code, and a picture of his house, I am not convinced that, for all his brilliance, he has the necessary design skills.
- 10:17 AM, 22 September 2002 [link]
Ladies, Wear Jeans or Pantsuits: Not that women in the United States don't have gripes, too. The Washington State Supreme Court just ruled, in a decision that may be legally correct, but is clearly idiotic, that photos taken, without permission in public places, up skirts, are legal. So, a man cannot take a picture of a woman's face in a public place and sell it, without her permission (unless she is part of a crowd), but he can take a picture of her bottom and sell it. If the law says that, then, as a Dickens character put it, "the law is an ass".
- 10:06 AM, 22 September 2002 [link]
Feminists Against Moslem Women: No sooner do I mention that many modern "feminists", unlike Betty Balsam, are willing to sacrifice actual women to the dogma of multiculturalism, then the always reliable Guardian provides me with this example. Ms. Viner objects to the liberation of Afghanistan, with all that it has done for the women there, because, well, it also helps George Bush. So what if schools for girls are now open in Afghanistan, and older women are now attending literacy classes. So what if women in Afghanistan can now go out in public by themselves. So what if women in Afghanistan can again have the small pleasures of fixing their hair and putting on make up. These are as nothing, compared to the loss in influence for extremists like Ms. Viner. Those women in Afghanistan should just suffer silently so as not to interfere with their betters, like her.
Ms. Viner is consistent. Just as she opposes the liberation of Afghanistan now, she opposes the efforts by British governments to improve the welfare of colonial women during the Empire. If we must respect their culture now, at whatever cost to women now, then we should have respected their culture then, as well. She does not quite say that the British officials in India should not have interfered with suttee, the practice of burning widows after the death of their husbands, but it is a logical consequence of her argument. And, by the logic of her argument, she should also oppose the long efforts by the British government to suppress the slave trade, which was, after all, very much part of the culture in much of Africa. The enormous harm that it did to women (and men, if they count with Ms. Viner) would not matter, when measured against the importance of upholding the multiculturalist dogma.
The people of Afghanistan may have their own views on this subject. A girls school there was recently attacked by the Taliban in an effort to close it. The villagers did not respect the Taliban culture; instead they posted extra guards, being willing to fight, and perhaps to die, to protect their girls' right to an education.
- 9:45 AM, 22 September 2002 [link]
Worth a Chuckle: By way of Susanna Cornett, I found this suggestion for those confused Florida voters.
- 10:44 AM, 20 September 2002 [link]
Sex and Terrorism: Last night I went to the Parkplace Book store to hear Betty Balsam's talk about her latest book, Veil of Terror. In the book, Ms. Balsam makes the argument that the roots of Arab terrorism are in the disturbed relations between the sexes in much of the Arab world, especially among the Wahabbis. A culture that separates a man from every woman, except his mother, at a very early age, produces men who are warped, as well as women who are oppressed. According to her, the segregation is so severe that, for example, after the age of 7, brothers and sisters may not even attend each other's birthday parties.
This is not a class of explanations that, in general, I respect. Those who tried to locate the source of Hitler's evil in the too severe toilet training of German families were looking in the wrong place, as were those who tried to find Stalin's evil in his relationships with his father. In this case, however, I am inclined to think that there is something to the argument. I doubt that, after having thought about the matter more, I will think that it is the explanation, but I think it is one large part. Too many terrorists are like Mohamed Atta, unable to form a normal relationship of any kind with a woman, for me to not see this as, at least, a contributing factor.
Balsam herself is an interesting mixture. Born in Syria, she grew up in Lebanon and was, for many years a nurse in Beirut, and, later, Tehran. An older woman, she combines two missionary impulses that most would separate, the old desire to improve the lot of those outside the West (or enclaves like parts of Christian Lebanon), and the new feminist desire to see women given the status everywhere that they have attained in much of Europe and the United States. The two make her completely impervious to the claims that one must, after all, "respect their culture", as so many would argue. In these days, that's a refreshing attitude.
- 10:29 AM, 20 September 2002 [link]
Bugs Dino? Everyone is comparing this dinosaur to Bugs Bunny, on the basis of its front teeth. This makes the Cretaceous sound even more interesting, since Bugs is one of my favorite cartoon characters.
- 3:37 PM, 19 September 2002 [link]
Cutting Out Paper Dolls: That used to be one of the pointless activities given patients in mental hospitals. Now, by way of Joanne Jacobs, I learn that it is also an assignment in an advanced class at the University of California, Berkeley. Well, perhaps it keeps them out of trouble.
- 3:26 PM, 19 September 2002 [link]
What Do the Iraqis Want? In the discussion on policy toward Iraq, not much attention has been given to that question. Amazingly, NBC broadcast a report from Iraq that treated opinions there as if Iraq were a free country, rather than one where one can be shot for having the wrong ones. This demonstration by Iraqis in Detroit, where people can criticize Saddam without being shot, is probably a more accurate reflection of Iraqi opinion. And this eloquent column (in, of all places the Independent) by a man who fled Iraq explains why the Detroit demonstrators want Saddam removed. Most likely the vast majority of Iraqis would be delighted to see him gone.
- 3:05 PM, 19 September 2002 [link]
Making Vote Fraud Easier: In 1993, the Democratically controlled Congress passed the "Motor Voter" act, which backers said would increase participation. Opponents claimed that it would increase fraudulent voting. Judged by the results since, the opponents have the better case. There has been no increase in participation, and there has been an increase in reports of fraud, and almost certainly, actual fraud. Fraudulent votes have certainly determined a number of close Congressional contests, and came close to tipping the 2000 election to Al Gore. (If you would like to see some details, read my analysis of the 2000 presidential election.)
Undeterred by this bad experience, some are now backing another potent avenue for fraud, same day registration, as the Wall Street Journal's John Fund explains.. In my humble opinion, if you don't believe in honest elections, then you don't really believe in democracy, but I may just be hopelessly old-fashioned.
- 10:08 AM, 19 September 2002 [link]
Minority Rules: The two Boeing Machinist votes here last week, on the contract offered by the company, and a strike authorization, produced a strange result. The strike vote received more than 60 per cent of the vote and the contract was rejected by an even larger margin. The result? The contract was ratified. and there will be no strike. In short, the minority won. They won because the union rules require a two-thirds majority for a strike. These "super" or "special" majorities are required in many decisions, especially, as far as I can tell, in the United States. Sometimes they have profound consequences; for many years, civil rights bills were blocked in the United States Senate by the requirement that shutting off debate took a two-thirds majority. (It now requires a three-fifths majority, which is much easier to achieve.) Sometimes they are not required where they would seem appropriate. In Canada, Quebec has voted, at least twice, on secession from the rest of Canada. In each case, in spite of the profound changes the vote might produce, the majority required was a simple 50 per cent. I don't know of any general principles that govern when special majorities are appropriate, except that most would favor them for constitutional changes and similar changes in the underlying rules.
- 9:48 AM, 19 September 2002 [link]
Saddam Good, Bush Bad: So says the Guardian's Simon Tisdall in this contemptible column. Tisdall claims, falsely, that Saddam is now agreeing to "compliance with weapons inspections resolutions". This is so far from the truth that one must wonder about Tisdall's ability to read. For example, consider this key quote in William Saletan's analysis of the deception in the Iraqi letter: "Iraq is ready to discuss the practical arrangements necessary for the immediate resumption of inspections". In other words, Iraq agrees to discuss inspections, not permit them, contrary to what Tisdall claims. One can make a series of similar points about other Tisdall claims.
What Tisdall leaves out of this column is just as revealing as his false claims about the Iraqi letter. It has now become common for those who oppose effective American action against Saddam to cover themselves by mentioning some of his less attractive qualities, like his penchant for torture. Tisdall can not be bothered with such distractions; in this column, at least, Tisdall does not mention a single reason to think that the Iraqi people, and the world, might be better off without Saddam.
He is quite clear, however, that the world would be better off without Bush. From the US, Tisdall tells us, we should expect "pretexts for escalation, fake and insincere negotiations, and false horizons". He gives us a long list of motives for Bush's actions, not one of them honorable, and some demonstrably false, like the claim that Bush is acting to cover up domestic policy weaknesses. (Before 9/11 Bush was running considerably ahead of where Clinton had been at the same time in his first term, in both accomplishments and public opinion polls.
There is one good thing to be said about the column. In his famous essay, "Politics and the English Language", George Orwell explained how to detect false arguments from the prose used to justify them. If you want to practice with Orwell's methods, Tisdall gives you a wonderfully bad example to work on. I suspect it will be used in many a composition class for just that purpose. Teachers who choose it will be rewarded by many a chuckle, and even the slowest students will see just how pretentious and false phrases like "pseudo-epiphany", "angst with all this blethering" and "schismatically chasmatic" are.
- 7:27 PM, 18 September 2002 [link]
Nation Building for Dummies: I read Moira Breen's thoughtful post on nation building, and the equally thoughtful comments posted on the site, and immediately thought of this old light bulb joke:
"How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?"So, too, it is with nation building; if the people, especially the leaders, in the nation want to change, it may not take much help from the outside to build the nation. To put this in the usual social science terms, nation building will be easier where the local culture supports change, and harder where it does not. In Somalia, for example, nation building will be very hard, since it would require replacing the primary loyalty to the clan with loyalty to the nation.
The right institutions can help, as the natural experiments during the Cold War showed. Germany and Korea were divided; in both cases, the free portion of the country, West Germany and South Korea, respectively, progressed far more rapidly than their Communist counterparts. Without a supportive culture, the formal institutions will make little difference, however. Evelyn Waugh's hilarious 1937 novel, Scoop, describes the mythical African nation, Ishmaelia, that had a constitution, with all the best ideas of the time, from a bicameral legislature to religious liberty, imposed by the European powers. It almost immediately degenerated into a tyranny, tempered by corruption and incompetence.
Change is possible, even against the grain of a culture, but it requires considerable cleverness, considerable force, considerable time, or some combination of the three. For the most part, I don't think we are clever enough to change cultures in many of the places we wish to. The "science" of Isaac Asimov's Second Foundation, which allowed them to guide cultures in the correct paths, is still uninvented. (And probably impossible, given what we now know about some physical problems, like weather prediction.) That leaves force and time, probably in combination, like a years long military occupation. That combination can succeed, but it may require great costs of all kinds. For a historical example of both success and the costs, see the dismal history of the Scottish Highlands after the battle of Culloden.
- 4:06 PM, 18 September 2002 [link]
The American Gulliver: In Part I of Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver is cast ashore among the Lilliputians, people a few inches tall. They find him unconscious and tie him down with a multitude of threads. From their point of view, this is entirely reasonable. Gulliver is so large, relatively, that his very size makes him dangerous, even if he wishes them well. In time, they learn to trust him, at least until the unfortunate incident of the fire, which Gulliver extinguishes in an undignified male way. During the period of trust, Gulliver agrees to a treaty with the king of Lilliput, with eight articles. The first three protect the Lilliputians from accidental harm. The last five obligate Gulliver to help them in various ways, including their war with Blefuscu.
Americans can understand the reactions to us around the world better by putting themselves in the place of the Lilliputians. The United States is now so large, in the ways that count, that many see us as Gulliver, dangerous from our size alone. Like the Lilliputians, others seek to confine us with many small threads, the Kyoto treaty, the procedures of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and so on. Also, like the Lilliputians, they sometimes see our size as something they can use to solve their own problems. Like Gulliver, we need not submit to confinement by these threads. But, also like Gulliver, we should do our best to walk and talk carefully in world affairs.
- 10:03 AM, 18 September 2002 [link]
Smacking: I can't remember who said that the United States and Britain are divided by a common language, but it often seems true. Recently a British journalist was surprised by Bush's "crawfished", a usage most Americans would find familiar. (It is, by the way, despite claims to the contrary, in dictionaries, at least American ones.) I was similarly surprised, a few days ago, when I saw the British newspapers report that the Scottish parliament had decided not to outlaw "smacking". The British, it turns out, use "smacking" where Americans would say "spanking". We also use "smack" in an entirely contradictory way; an American aunt who gives a small boy a "big smack" would have kissed him, not swatted him. I suspect that onomatopoeia explains that usage, which conflicts with the primary one of a blow.
- 9:34 AM, 18 September 2002 [link]
Worth Reading: Josh Marshall gives this contrarian view of Bush's UN speech. I don't agree with him, but he does help bring some perspective. The speech was the easy part; now we must negotiate the far more difficult part, defeating Saddam's fake promise to cooperate with inspectors. If you want to see why it is fake, read this Saletan article. John Perazzo has this summary of the horrific language coming from the Arabs, including calls for the slaughter of Jews and Americans by mullahs in a Gaza mosque. William Tucker reminds us of a chance to reduce pollution that was defeated by environmentalists. Facilities like the one he describes would have greatly lessened California's energy problems. I generally avoid linking to posts with coarse language, but make an exception for this "Watchmaker" commentary on a piece of moral idiocy from a British newspaper.
- 9:10 AM, 18 September 2002 [link]
Is Seattle Unpatriotic? That's what a news report on New York's WNBC implied, after questioning a few people in the Pike Place Market. Seattle Times columnist Jean Godden jumped to the defense of her city, arguing that Seattle could not be unpatriotic because it had "empathy" for the victims. Well, many people outside the United States have empathy for the victims too, but that doesn't make them American patriots. Although WNBC's methodology would not impress Gallup, they are on to something. Seattle is a city in which school classes often do not pledge allegiance, and schools do not welcome military recruiters. Seattle provides considerable support for anti-American programs on the local NPR station, KUOW. The Seattle City Council often chooses its sister cities from nations that are hostile to the United States. Seattle may not be unpatriotic, but it certainly is less patriotic than most of the nation.
- 2:26 PM, 17 September 2002 [link]
Good Posts: Damian Penny has the best summary of the strange 9/11 warning story that I have seen. A Muslim teenager in New York reportedly predicted that the World Trade Center would fall a week before the attack. Penny gives the details, with just the right amount of skepticism. Rand Simberg, speaking of skepticism, is dubious about the claim that Buzz Aldrin hit a man who denies the moon landings happened. "N. Z. Bear" dissects arguments against action in Iraq, in his Inactivist's Guide. Tony Adragna has had a series of solid posts on Scott Ritter and his claims. Here's the most recent. Derek Lowe has written an informative series of posts on the dangers of chemical weapons; here's the first. Scroll up for more.
- 1:55 PM, 17 September 2002 [link]
Compared to What and If at First You Succeed . . . This Salon interview with Alan Dershowitz will draw the most attention for his argument that torture should be authorized by judges, in some circumstances, against terrorists. This is quite unlikely to happen, but there are two other arguments in his new book that deserve more attention. First, he concludes, as any fair minded person should, that the arguments often made against Israel, and for the Palestinians, are not impressive, when compared to many other conflicts. Why, to take an obvious example, were so many European leftists obsessed by the non-existent "massacre" at Jenin, but indifferent to the recent killing of perhaps 10,000 Christians by Moslem jihadists in Indonesia, or two million Christians and pagans by the Islamic government of Sudan. Why, to take one of Dershowitz's examples, are so many convinced that the Palestinians should have a state, but indifferent to the Kurds desire for one? There is, in most of the world, an outrageous double standard applied to Israel, which is blamed for actions that draw no blame anywhere else, and judged against a standard that no nation could meet.
Second, as Dershowitz establishes by a review of history, terrorism grows when it is allowed to succeed. The New York Times reviewer points out an important qualification to Dershowitz's argument; overall, terrorism has fallen slightly in the last thirty years. But this only strengthens the general point; by rewarding Palestinian terrorism, time after time, the world has encouraged Palestinians to continue in their destructive, and even self-destructive, path. When, for example, West Germany released the Palestinian terrorists who murdered the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, without even a trial, they made more terrorism likely. This was not, by the way, how they treated their own terrorists in the same time period.
- 9:53 AM, 17 September 2002 [link]
Unilateral European: The chattering classes in Europe criticize George W. Bush endlessly for what they see as his unilateralism. They object to his positions on the Kyoto treaty (rejected by the Senate 97-0) and the International Criminal Court (a treaty we have never ratified). Most of all they object to his willingness to go it alone, without the sanction of the United Nations, when it comes to protecting our security. The leader of the European country with the largest economy, German Chancellor Schroeder, has now declared that he will ignore the United Nations, and that "existential" questions of German politics will be made "in Berlin and nowhere else". This is a far more "unilateral" position than any that Bush has taken. Chancellor Schroeder has the most obvious motive for this; he hopes to win re-election. He may succeed; polls now show his party with a slight lead after trailing through most of the campaign.
But, assuming he wins, what then? As this Washington Post editorial notes, Schroeder and Germany will have no credit with the allies they refuse, in advance, to help. The chatterers in Europe may not note, or criticize this German unilateralism, but informed people in the United States will now give almost no weight to the views of a Schroeder government, especially on matters of security.
- 8:08 AM, 17 September 2002 [link]
Did You "Misunderestimate" George W. Bush? More than one person, especially since 9/11, is beginning to think they may have underestimated our president. If you are in that category and want to know more about the man, you might find this essay comparing him to Al Gore of interest. It was written before the 2000 election, but holds up well, if I do say so myself.
- 4:25 PM, 16 September 2002 [link]
Deterrence Works Both Ways: Those who oppose an American invasion of Iraq usually agree that Saddam is a menace, but then argue that he can be deterred, as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. The threat of nuclear attack from the United States (and Israel) will, they say, keep Saddam in his box. Maybe so, though no one should be happy at the idea of returning to a nuclear balance of terror, especially in the Middle East.
There is, however, one great cost to this strategy. If our nuclear weapons constrain Saddam, then his will constrain us, as well. If, 5 to 10 years from now, Saddam has a small arsenal of nuclear armed missiles, then much of what we now do in the Middle East will look too risky. We may not be able to protect either the Kurds or Kuwait. The Iranians will almost certainly try to match Saddam, no matter who rules in Tehran. The Israelis may feel their very survival requires a preemptive strike. The Turks, who, as far as I know, do not have a significant nuclear weapons program, will almost certainly start one. The many small countries in the Middle East that side, more or less automatically, with the dominant power there will seek some kind of deal with Saddam. If the missiles have enough range to reach Europe, then millions there will be subject to nuclear blackmail. Those who favor a strategy of deterrence toward Iraq should admit that there are great risks to the strategy. The sad truth is that we have no safe choices.
- 7:08 AM, 16 September 2002 [link]
The Chomsky Cult Radio Program, Part 2: As I explained in this post, anti-American linguistics professor Noam Chomsky and his followers have their own NPR program. This week, they had Edward Said, in one of those "interviews", in which a series of leading questions give the interviewee an easy way to present an argument . Those familiar with the old Soviet Union, or other totalitarian states, will recognize the format. I did not listen to the whole program, but Said made a number of amazing statements. He got both the party and the current office of Carl McCall, the Democratic candidate for governor in New York, wrong. He mis-stated the current ratio of casualties in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He smeared Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator, by saying that he had always been a paid member of the Israeli lobby. The "interviewer", David Barsamian, got in some licks too, for instance by comparing American evangelicals to the Taliban. Your tax money and donations at work.
- 2:37 PM, 15 September 2002 [link]
Artitorial? With the increase in editorials, disguised as articles, especially in the New York Times, we need a word for them. How about "artitorial"?
- 2:09 PM, 15 September 2002 [link]
More Alpha Girls: In a brief article, I described the practices of alpha girls, including one who writes for the New York Times. Last week, the science section of the Times had an item on alpha girls of another species. The parallels between the two kinds of alpha girls are eerie, though one group uses gossip, and the other chemicals, to smear their rivals.
- 1:59 PM, 15 September 2002 [link]
European Ancestors: This long, back and forth, Gene Expression post wonders about the mix of genes in Europe. There's an answer to that in The Great Human Diaspora by scientist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and his son, film director Francesco Cavalli-Sforza. The elder Cavalli-Sforza used "principal components" analysis to identify the main contributions to the European gene pool. The most important component comes straight from the Middle East; Cavalli-Sforza believes that it shows the migration of neolithic farmers. The next four components, in order of importance, show the influence of Uralic groups, like the Finns, the spread of Indo-Europeans from the Ukraine, the spread of Greeks from their homeland, and the survival of the Basques in the Pyrenees.
There's also a small error in the post. The Basque language is not the only non Indo-European language to survive in Europe. Finnish and the closely related Estonian are also non Indo-European languages, and I think there are several other languages in that category. (The language spoken in Hungary is Indo-European, but most do not consider it a "survivor" since the Magyars brought the language into Hungary from the east.)
- 9:20 AM, 15 September 2002 [link]
Still More on the Florida Fiasco: In an earlier post, I pointed out that the Florida election problems were in counties controlled by Democratic election boards. The (very Democratic) Palm Beach Post explains how the Broward county election supervisor failed.
- 8:29 AM, 15 September 2002 [link]
Vote for the Crook - NYT: In this editorial disguised as an article, the New York Times argues that New Jersey voters should, as the famous Louisiana bumper sticker put it: "Vote for the crook". (If, by chance, you have not heard of the bumper sticker, it was used in the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial race between since convicted Edwin Edwards and neo-Nazi David Duke. The full slogan was: "Vote for the crook. It's important." Since Duke had ethical problems of his own, an even more accurate slogan would have been: "Vote for the crook that isn't a Nazi.") Thus, for the New York Times, giving the Republicans the senate majority is morally equivalent to electing a neo-Nazi. Really. Perhaps we should send them mirrors the next time they condemn extremists.
- 2:52 PM, 14 September 2002 [link]
More on the Florida Fiasco: The Washington Post supports my argument that people, not technology, caused the voting problems in Florida. In fact, in this last election, the new technology contributed to the problems. Amazingly, many of the election volunteers failed to show up, or left during the voting. So far as I can tell, the problems occurred almost entirely in areas controlled by Democratic election boards, but that small fact doesn't bother the New York Times, which blames Jeb Bush. In the same editorial, the Times calls again for passage of a national election reform law, but neglects to mention what is blocking its passage. The Senate Democrats had agreed to some modest anti-fraud measures, in fact had voted for them earlier, but now are refusing to pass a measure that includes them. The New York Times, again, as I suggested here tacitly favors fraudulent votes—as long as they continue to go predominately to Democrats.
- 2:32 PM, 14 September 2002 [link]
Live Long and Prosper: According to a report released yesterday, life expectancy in the United States has reached a new high of 76.9 years. As you'd expect, the Medpundit has a fine analysis of the details in the report. Men and blacks gained more than women and whites, respectively, decreasing the gaps in life expectancy between men and women, and between blacks and whites.
- 9:01 AM, 13 September 2002 [link]
Shadow Wolves: Sometimes old methods are still useful. Here's an account of American foreign aid that provides training in very old skills. American Indians, or Native Americans, as they are more commonly called now, are over represented in our armed forces, by the way, as well as in special units like this one. One oddity in the article: Is the terrain in the Baltics really like that in the Arizona desert?
- 8:32 AM, 13 September 2002 [link]
Some Follow Ups: Susanna Cornett says that, since I believe that men are more likely to be interested in war than women (and less likely to be interested in babies), I must also think that women are more delicate, and less tough minded, than men. She makes a reasonable inference, if you adhere to common stereotypes, but I don't. Actually, I have thought, for many years, in spite of sharing it, that much of the male interest in war is more romantic and less realistic than it ought to be. And, I have long known that, on some matters, women are more likely to be realistic and tough minded than men. As John Bodanis notes in The Secret Family, beautiful women are likely to marry wealthy men—and to dump them if the men lose their wealth. So, I don't think that men are inherently more tough minded than women, though they show it in different ways, nor do I think that being tough minded is always a good thing. You can see an example of the first point in my brief article on Maureen Dowd, and of the second point in this post on our policy toward Iraq. For what it's worth, I find both babies and war fascinating.
(If you want some evidence for my generalization about sex differences in war interest, look at the authors and readers of books on war. I have half a bookshelf filled with books on war; only one, Roberta Wohlstetter's wonderful Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, is by a woman. In a quick glance at several John Keagan books on Amazon, I found no customer reviews by any woman. In contrast, the reviews of the paperback version of Spock's baby book were, where I could identify the sex, mostly by women.)
Orrin Judd points out that Noam Chomsky is being oxymoronic when he complains, in a column that is printed all over, about his ideas being "suppressed". It is even worse than that, because, as I explained in this post, Chomsky's views are actually being subsidized by the taxpayer. Suppression doesn't get much better than that.
In this lead editorial from the Wall Street Journal former senator Bob Kerrey fills in the details in my argument that we are already at war with Iraq.
Charles Murtaugh replied by email to my methodological critique of this post by saying that he was writing partly in jest. Perhaps, and I thought that was partly his intent at the time, but I still think he should post a correction. Suppose some one claimed, against the evidence, that Harvard researchers are less moral and less competent than others. Would Murtaugh be satisfied with a private admission that the claim was a joke?
- 12:18 PM, 12 September 2002 [link]
Scheer Hypocrisy: Left wing LA Times political columnist Robert Scheer argues, correctly, that the FBI and CIA failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks. He avoids his own responsibility in that failure, not mentioning that, for decades, leftists like himself have been trying to limit and reduce both organizations. Since he would have opposed many of the measures that might have prevented the attacks, it is disgusting that he now blames those he helped handicap. Warnings about the radical Muslims in flight schools got less attention than they should have because any effective action would have required the "racial profiling" so hated by those on the left. People on the right are not guiltless here, either; many were too satisfied to see FBI director Louis Freeh investigating the Clinton administration to notice that he was botching the protection of our national security.
- 9:47 AM, 12 September 2002 [link]
Some Progress: That's how I would summarize the war on terror, one year since the 9/11 attack. The overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the extensive casualties that al Qaeda suffered there, have greatly reduced their strength. The loss of their base makes some operations, like large scale military training, impossible, and many others far more difficult. Setting aside the anthrax attacks, since we don't know who the perpetrator was and what his (their?) motives may have been, there have been no significant terror attacks in the United States since then. The foreign attacks, on, for example, a synagogue in Tunisia, and a church and school in Pakistan, have been small. They were unable or unwilling to make attacks either yesterday, or on the 4th of July. Perhaps most important, the intelligence from the captives, from Afghanistan and elsewhere, is beginning to give us the knowledge we need to track them down. In Churchill's phrase, we may be at "end of the beginning", already.
- 9:03 AM, 12 September 2002 [link]
Need a Chuckle? On this somber anniversary, you may feel, as I do, a need for something to lighten the mood, if only for a moment. Here's a basketball game that will do the trick.
- 5:21 PM, 11 September 2002 [link]
New Moon? A Canadian amateur astronomer has discovered a small (20-50 meters in diameter) object circling the earth. It is probably an recently captured asteroid, but may be part of a rocket.
- 8:24 AM, 11 September 2002 [link]
People, Not Technology: Florida had a primary election yesterday, and it was another fiasco, in spite of using entirely new technology. This does not surprise me. As part of a study of the 2000 election, I noted that Washington state used the same mix of technology as Florida, punch cards, paper ballots, and optical ballots, but had none of the problems counting and recounting the vote that Florida did. (Several counties in Florida did use a brand of punch card machine that seems to have more problems than most.) So, the problem in Florida was not the technology, but the people using it, and the procedures they used. Changing the technology won't fix those.
Though Washington state did not have Florida's counting problems, it (and every other state) does have another problem, ineligible voters. There may have been enough of them in the 2000 election to tip the balance in the close Gorton-Cantwell race, as I explain here. This problem does not have a technological solution, either.
- 8:06 AM, 11 September 2002 [link]
The World Trade Center: I visited the World Trade Center just once and then only for a few hours, in a day that began with the Statue of Liberty and included the New York Stock Exchange. So it was a quick look, but it left lasting impressions. The buildings and their shared plaza struck me as exemplifying the grandiose and sterile architecture that Nelson Rockefeller built in so many places. The large plaza between the two towers had few people in it, and those few almost all hurrying to their work. Then came the fast elevator ride to the top and the spectacular view, which did not erase the sterility of the design, but more than counter balanced it. It was not a perfect day, but it was clear enough to see the Statue of Liberty and the ships in the harbor, the New Jersey coast line, and the Manhattan buildings to the north, with the Empire State towering above the rest, and my favorite, the gaudy Chrysler building, shining brightly in the morning sun.
That view was, to my mind, the best thing about the World Trade Center, by far. When bin Laden and his terrorists decided to attack the World Trade Center, they did it to kill thousands of us. But they may also have wanted to rob millions of the pleasure I had that day, looking out over what so many have built.
- 7:18 AM, 11 September 2002 [link]
Cambodian Torment: The tormented life of Cambodian painter Vann Nath reminds me of the horrors inflicted by the Khmer Rouge, horrors that people like Noam Chomsky denied while they were occurring. (He made at least some of the denials in such a devious way that I am convinced that he knew some of the truth about the killings.) This ghastly error, or fraud, by Chomsky has done little to affect his stature in part of the left. I plan to send him an email suggesting he send some money to Vann Nath as part of his penance.
- 3:43 PM, 10 September 2002 [link]
Canals on Mars and Venus: As nearly everyone knows, astronomer Percival Lowell thought that he saw canals on Mars. He also, which I hadn't known, thought he saw canals on Venus, which is even more astonishing since all visible features there are covered by dense clouds. Why he saw the canals on Venus is explained here, in a triumph for a remarkable inter-disciplinary effort.
- 3:18 PM, 10 September 2002 [link]
Don't Forget the Sudan: This Washington Post editorial gives credit to the Bush administration for some progress toward ending the war on the Christian and pagan inhabitants of the southern part of that country, and offers some tough-minded advice for further progress. The horrors of that long running war, and the indifference of the world community to them are almost impossible to believe. Two million dead, by some estimates, and the return of slavery somehow leave the hearts of the politically correct untouched. The war has continued for decades, and is a direct descendant of similar wars that lasted hundreds of years, interrupted only when the country was conquered by the British.
- 12:05 PM, 10 September 2002 [link]
Copyrights and Fair Use: Am I missing something? As I understand it, one can not post a copyrighted article or column, in full, without permission. Yet, I see this done almost every day by bloggers, including a law professor. Now, there are times when I would love to post an entire article, with line by line comments, but I understood that to be illegal. Is there a loophole, or are some bloggers just getting a bit casual? I seem to recall that the Free Republic Web site got sued over just this issue.
-11:50 AM, 10 September 2002 [link]
Peace with Iraq is Not an Option: Let me begin by giving you a little background on my thinking. Over the last two decades, I have been opposed to or skeptical about many of our military interventions. I was opposed to both Reagan interventions in Lebanon, first to help Arafat, and second to restore some sort of government there. I was skeptical about the need for the Grenada invasion. I was opposed to George Bush's invasion of Panama, staged on flimsy grounds after a headline hunting prosecutor indicted Noriega for drug trafficking. I was skeptical about the rescue mission in Somalia, and absolutely opposed to both the mission creep and our heavy handed tactics there later. I was opposed to the Clinton intervention in Haiti, seeing no value in replacing a pro-American despot with an anti-American despot. I was opposed to the Clinton intervention in Serbia, in the form it took. I can think of only one intervention during this time period that I am certain that we should have made, but did not. We should, I believe, have intervened to stop the genocide in Rwanda.
I was not opposed or skeptical about these interventions because I am anti-military; for much of this period, I was working on defense projects, quite happily. Mostly, I objected because the means did not match the goals, as in Lebanon, or we had not pursued peaceful policies first, as in Serbia. (There was, I think, a good chance that we could have worked out a deal with the Russians to give a joint ultimatum to all parties. Madeleine Albright, having inherited the Austro-Hungarian distrust of Russians, never made a serious effort at this.) So, I do not come to this debate as a reflexive hawk like, for example, John McCain, or a reflexive dove, like many on the left.
Now, to my central point, that peace with Iraq is not an option. We do not have peace with Iraq now. Even now, American and British planes carry on a desultory campaign to suppress his air defenses, and Saddam continues to try to destroy those planes. Even now, about 15 per cent of his territory is under the control of the Kurds, protected by our military. Could we stop that campaign and withdraw entirely? Only if we were prepared to see Saddam recover control of the Kurdish areas and again be able to threaten Kuwait and our fairweather "friends", the Saudis. So, at the very least, we must be prepared to continue this low level, off and on war with Iraq.
If withdrawal is not a plausible option, what about restoring the inspections for biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs? Perhaps there is some combination of threats and bribes that will induce Saddam to keep the agreements he made with the United Nations for inspections. We should certainly try this option, and it looks like France's Chirac will propose just such a plan. I think it unlikely that Saddam will accept a plan that will be comprehensive enough to actually find most of his weapons programs. In particular, biological weapons research is so easy to hide, or to disguise as legitimate medical research, that it is nearly impossible to devise an inspections system that would work. We know, from a defector, that we missed much of his biological weapons research during the previous round of inspections.
Suppose, as I think likely, that Saddam rejects returning to the agreements he made with the United Nations on inspections. Then what? We have three main strategic choices at that point. First, we can continue with this low level war and rely on deterrence to prevent Saddam from using his biological and chemical weapons. (As part of this low level war, we could, of course, try to promote a coup in Iraq, or an assassination of Saddam. These has been tried for years by his internal opponents with no success, obviously.) Sometimes deterrence works, as in the Cold War, and sometimes it doesn't, as in the Pearl Harbor attack. One of the largest reasons we were surprised then is that we knew how much smaller the Japanese war potential was than our own. From our more rational point of view, the Japanese attack was crazy; we did not understand that the Japanese leaders were not rational. Is Saddam rational? Maybe not, as Don Kates explains (by way of Eugene Volokh) in this review of his military decisions. Certainly we can't simply assume that he is and will be rational, as this column in the Guardian does. It is revealing that Ms. Williams chooses to describe arguments against deterrence as not wrong, but unfashionable, "passé", to be exact.
Deterrence is less effective with biological and chemical weapons, than with nuclear weapons. Even now, only eight nations are known to have nuclear weapons (including Israel). Biological and chemical weapons are much easier to acquire and their origins much easier to disguise. The Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, with modest resources, was able to create both biological and chemical weapons. When the Rajneeshee cult spread disease to their neighbors in Oregon, it was months before investigators were able to establish their responsibility. In the first attack on the World Trade center, the attackers had cyanide compounds, as well as explosives, in their truck. Although there are some suggestive links to Iraq among the attackers, we have never established for certain either that Saddam was involved, or that he was not. Suppose the attack had succeeded and that we had come to an 80 per cent certainty that Saddam had supported it. Would our Guardian columnist then have been willing to see us use nuclear weapons on Iraq, as deterrence would require? Or would she then decide that deterrence was now "passé"? Somehow, I suspect her sense of fashion would change.
Second, we can again try an air campaign, as we have before, to change Saddam's policies and to reduce his capabilities. This did not succeed before but our weapons are now more accurate and his conventional strength has been reduced. It is not impossible that a long air campaign would succeed this time, as it did against Serbia. How realistic this strategy is requires more knowledge about Iraq and our capabilities than I have. Whether it succeeded or not, it would certainly take a long time, kill a large number of Iraqis, and impose political costs on us around the world.
Finally, we could attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam. There are military risks to this, too, besides the obvious ones. Although a bit hysterical, William Raspberry was not wrong when he described some of the unpleasant possibilities. Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that this is probably our best strategic option, or, rather, our least bad option. The other options are just too dangerous in the long run. In a later post, I will have something to say about the political costs in the Arab countries, and around the world, and how we can reduce them.
- 8:24 AM, 10 September 2002 [link]
Links Policy: This angry post from Dawn Olsen, followed by Meryl Yourish's thoughtful reply, which in turn drew interesting comments from N. Z. Bear and J. Bowen, made me think that I should state my own policy for linking to other bloggers. I link to sites that I find interesting, amusing, or informative, providing they meet my rather old fashioned standards of taste. Period. If others wish to link to me, for whatever reason, then I give them my thanks.
Olsen made one charge that deserves more discussion. She asserted that some prominent bloggers do not link to her because they are sexist. A charge this serious requires serious evidence. Years ago, when an acquaintance of mine was applying for a job at the English department where he had received his BA, he was told directly that he would not be considered because he was not a woman or a black. That shows sexism (and racism), and was, and is, quite illegal. (That kind of discrimination is found in nearly all universities, and most large bureaucracies, despite quite explicit laws against it. Need an example? Here's one from Salon, which has some obvious relevance to the war on terror.) I would wager that Olsen has never publicly protested this kind of sexism.
By way of comparison, Olsen's complaint does not seem very serious. Even so, it may be true. Other than the glimpse you get by reading their posts, I don't know the men she complains about. I can say that one of them, "Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds, didn't even bother to reply to me when I pointed out a fatal error in one of his posts. (He was totally confused about political scientist Robert Dahl, if you are curious.) Was this because he is prejudiced against people from the Northwest? More likely, he felt too busy to take the time to answer a complaint.
Still, she is right when she mentions the disparity between men and women in links, and as bloggers, generally. There is a general explanation for this difference, which I will discuss soon, under "Common Mistakes". In this case, there may also be an obvious specific explanation. There is a simple experiment that demonstrates one well known difference between men and women. When you are interested in something you see, your pupils enlarge, just like that. When women see a picture of a baby, four out of five, if my memory is correct, have this involuntary reaction, but only one out of five men do. (Men do react strongly to pictures of their own babies.)
With that in mind, consider this simple thought experiment. Suppose that the surge in blogging had come as a result of, not an enemy attack, but, for whatever reason, an increased interest in babies. What would the blogosphere look like then? I think most bloggers would be women, not men, in this hypothetical blogosphere. And, I would go a step further and say that some of the women would show just a touch of condescension toward the men, thinking that they could not really understand about "birthing babies" and similar subjects. There is at least as strong a difference between the sexes on war as there is on babies; by and large, men are fascinated by it and women are, if anything, repelled by it. Given this, it is hardly surprising that one sees the sex disparities that trouble some. It is not even surprising if, from time to time, some of the men have a bit of the condescension toward women discussing war, that some women have toward men discussing babies. But does this amount to sexism? Not by my definition.
- 1:13 PM, 9 September 2002 [link]
Beautiful and Strange This picture of the Hoag Galaxy, which has the theorists arguing over its origin. Even stranger, the picture shows another galaxy like it in the background.
- 9:16 AM, 9 September 2002 [link]
Hard Evidence: Barbara Amiel looks at the people that ask for more evidence against Saddam Hussein and concludes that they are intellectually dishonest. At this point in the debate, you can argue that we should not attack Iraq, but you can not claim that Saddam does not have biological and chemical weapons and is trying to acquire nuclear weapons, without making a fool of yourself. To make that claim, you have to ignore all the evidence summarized here.
- 2:37 AM, 9 September 2002 [link]
Think You Know What Happened on 9/11? Then go to Edward Jay Epstein's Web site and learn how much is missing from the public record. For example, how did the hijackers take control of the four airplanes? Boxcutters were reported as weapons on one airplane, but a bomb and a disabling chemical are reported on another. Or, why were eight highly trained men, four pilots and four co-pilots, unable, as far as we know, to get off a single radio message during the takeovers? There's much more at the site, all worth study.
For those not familiar with this author, let me mention several fine books by him. Epstein wrote the best study of Lee Harvey Oswald I have seen. His collection of essays on journalism, Between Fact and Fiction is the best book on journalism I have read. In one essay, he shows that the press, despite the mythology, did not uncover Watergate; in another he demonstrates that the New York Times got the Pentagon papers all wrong. These two books are, sadly, out of print, but you can still buy his recent devastating expose of Armand Hammer.
- 6:50 AM, 9 September 2002 [link]
Worth Reading: The Instapundit's discussion of Sweden (not a beacon to the world), Michelle Malkin's advice to nubile women (some guys aren't suitable for marriage), Mary O'Grady's summary of the evidence that Cuba is developing biological weapons (some evidence, but no certainty), Professor Volokh's dissection of Robert Wright's argument (appeasement encourages the bad guys), and Matt Welch's dismissal of the claim that dissent is being suppressed.
- 2:37 PM, 8 September 2002 [link]
GWSB Howell Raines? Andrew Sullivan brought back an old idea when he suggested that New York Times executive editor Howell Raines is on the far left because he is a Guilty White Southern Boy, whose ideas are still formed by the civil rights era in the South. This idea drew interesting comments from, among others, Virginia Postrel and Mickey Kaus. This would explain Raines's far left politics and his arrogant dismissal of anyone on the right.
But, Sullivan and company miss one aspect of this guilt, at least as far as Raines is concerned. Most GWSBs feel guilty collectively, but not individually. Their guilt is something that they can share with any other white person, or perhaps any other southern white person, but not something they feel applies to them personally. In fact, by being on the side of the angels, as they see it, they are absolved of any obligation to do something personally. Raines showed this in his 1992 article, "Grady's Gift", in which he described how racism, when he was growing up, had hurt his family's black housekeeper, the "Grady" of the title. (The article won a Pulitzer prize, something most charitably explained by assuming that no one on the prize committee read it.) As I read through the article when it was published, my irritation mounted. Raines seemed oblivious to the obvious question: If he thought his family had exploited Grady, why hadn't he sought her out to make amends? At last, I concluded that he simply did not feel any individual guilt, or even family responsibility, in the matter.
- 2:37 PM, 8 September 2002 [link]
The Guardian, Not Always Wrong: Readers of this site know that I am quite critical of the Guardian, and think that it is making the war on terror more difficult. So, it is an unexpected pleasure when I see something there I admire, like this Polly Toynbee column. She makes the counter-intuitive, but correct, claim that people who do not wish the United States to attack Iraq, like herself, should try to make an attack seem likely. At some point, a new sanctions regime will be proposed as an alternative to an American invasion. Saddam is likely to agree to this, only if he is convinced that there is no alternative.
But Usually: Just a few days later, however, they publish this Mo Mowlam column, in which she claims that there is no "hard evidence" that Saddam has biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. So, for the former Labour party official, the discovery of actual chemical and biological weapons, during the Gulf War and during the inspections, does not, somehow, constitute "hard evidence" of weapons. (Excuse me while I scream in agony at the "logic" here. There, now I feel better.) The rhetorical question is, I think, obvious: If weapons are not "hard evidence" of weapons, what possibly could be?
An unimportant digression: Sharp eyes may have noted that I used "Labour", the English spelling, rather than the American, "Labor". This is, from what I have seen, against standard practice, but it makes more sense to me. Labour, in this case, is a proper name, or part of one, and so, I have long thought, should be given its English spelling. For the same reason, in Britain, I would argue that one should write "American Federation of Labor", again, because it is a proper name.
- 3:44 PM, 6 September 2002 [link]
Privacy and the Net The New York Times published this article on the privacy problems caused by net access to public documents. For example, divorce filings have, as I understand it, generally been public. But, they have not been easy to access, since you had to go down to the courthouse and dig through files to see them. Now that many governments are putting their public records on the net, one can snoop with a few clicks, rather than spending an afternoon or more digging through papers. The right path in these matters is not obvious; for some of the complications, see the posts by law professor Volokh, here, here, and here.
Here's an example that shows still more of the difficulty. Suppose we propose, as a principle, that we post the name of anyone who receives more than a trivial amount (a thousand dollars, for example) from the government, and how they performed for that money. It is easy to see advantages for the citizens in such a system; we would be able to monitor public spending much more closely. (Which may be why Tom Daschle recently acted to block that kind of access to farm subsidy payments.) This is not an unprecedented idea; more than two decades ago, while I was living in Iowa, I was amused and disturbed to see the Des Moines paper publish the salaries of every public school teacher in the city.
The principle would require that teacher salaries be available; it would also require posting the subsidies given to students, if they are of age, and their grades. Would this be a good thing? Maybe. It would certainly put extra pressure on the students to perform for the taxpayers who pay their way. It may surprise Americans, especially younger ones, but the privacy almost universally given to grades here is relatively recent, and not found everywhere. While browsing the net, I found, in a regional Australian newspaper, all the grades from the local university. It would be interesting to know how public grades affect the students there. If you object to the suggestion that payments to students and their performance be public, then what about payments to small contractors? Where is the essential difference in principle?
Even the divorce filing I began with is not that simple a question. Suppose you are dating some one who has been divorced. Would you like to be able to see the filings before things got too serious? I might.
In some ways, the net is taking us back. I grew up on a farm and know the lack of privacy in small towns well. In most, it is best to operate on the assumption that anyone who wants to know something about you, will be able to. This can be stultifying, as many novelists have claimed. On the other hand, that lack of privacy is a significant check on crime, and may help build community feeling.
- 10:21 AM, 6 September 2002 [link]
Four Science Items: A lucid explanation of pebble bed reactors from J. Bowen (many advantages over current designs), an astronomy quiz (I didn't get them all.), a new method for killing mosquitos, and using empty virus shells to deliver drugs to cells. (This might provide a powerful new weapon against cancer.)
- 2:52 PM, 5 September 2002 [link]
Belated Thanks to Professor Volokh for his kind mention, and to Iain Murray for his plug of this site.
- 2:48 PM, 5 September 2002 [link]
Green Quotes: In this post, I mentioned that Greens are sometimes indifferent to famine, or even in favor of it. Here's a compendium of examples supporting that argument.
- 10:06 AM, 5 September 2002 [link]
Worth Reading: Kimberly Strassel on an environmental group playing dirty politics, George Will on a dirty politician, and the Washington Post on Saddam's new ways to wage dirty war.
- 9:52 AM, 5 September 2002 [link]
Saddam and Other Attacks? Ever since the Gulf War, there have been theories about Saddam's links to acts of terrorism. In one case, there is no doubt; the Kuwaitis caught his people trying to assassinate former President Bush there early in the 1990s. In two other famous cases, the theories have stayed just that, neither proved nor disproved, with not enough evidence to prove him guilty or absolve him. Micah Morrison summarizes the evidence, found by two determined women investigators, that Saddam was involved with both the first attack on the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah federal building. Originally, I was skeptical about the connections in the second case, but now think there is enough there to warrant a full scale investigation. If Saddam was involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center, it would give us another reason to think that he may have assisted in the second, last September 11th.
- 8:28 AM, 5 September 2002 [link]
Showing Up, according to Woody Allen, is 80 per cent of success. If true, we have a simple explanation for many of the failures in urban schools. In many urban schools, as Matt Miller points out, in his August 28th column, 10 per cent of the kids are absent on any given day. Perhaps 2 to 3 per cent are missing for legitimate reasons like sickness; the rest are just skipping. In the early 1980s, I learned that Seattle schools had very high levels of absenteeism on the day before a big concert, as kids took time off to get tickets and to prepare for the concert. The 10 per cent missing are not the same kids every day, of course; more likely 20 to 30 per cent of the kids are regularly missing classes.
Miller expresses surprise at something known to anyone who has ever been in front of a classroom. Teachers and schools often welcome the absence of disruptive kids. In his column, Miller proposes the traditional remedies to improve attendance. I have no quarrel with these, but think that we should also recognize that many of the students in traditional schools do not really belong there. It should be easier for students, after the age of say, 14, to leave school for apprenticeships or even jobs. Some students are disruptive because they are uncivilized jerks, others because they sense, correctly, that they are gaining no benefit from more academic study.
Bad effects from the students who really shouldn't be there can also be seen in most colleges and universities, although it takes different forms. Mostly, one sees many students wasting time and money, with little interest in the subjects they are supposed to be studying, and no real plans for the future. These students, too, would often be better off elsewhere.
It is not, contrary to what Woody Allen claimed, usually enough just to show up; you need to show up in the right place. For many, that place is not a traditional academic school.
- 7:52 AM, 5 September 2002 [link]
New York Times, Extremist? In this editorial, the New York Times attacks Priscilla Owens, President Bush's nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as out of the mainstream. The editorial recycles all the dirt that far left groups have been able to dig up on Owens, but it is obvious that abortion is the issue that provoked the editorialists. On that issue, polls make it clear that the New York Times, rather than Owens, is out of the mainstream. (For a fine summary of public opinion on the issue, see this Gallup report.) Very roughly, one can say that one fourth of the public wants to see all abortions legal, one half wants to see them restricted, and one fourth wants to see all abortions illegal, when the choices are put that bluntly. I would guess that, were the people on both extremes pressed, the fourths would shrink. Nearly all pro-life candidates make exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. (I think even the Catholic church allows the last exemption, though I could be wrong.) Similarly, most pro-choice politicians get squeamish about procedures like partial birth abortion. So, the Times position, that abortions should be legal in all circumstances is held by, at most, one fourth of the public, and probably a smaller fraction than that. Does that make the Times extremist? Perhaps.
There is one important asymmetry in public opinion on the abortion issue. Those opposed to all abortions are more likely to decide their vote on the issue, than those in favor. Nationally, though not in every state or Congressional district, a candidate will benefit by being pro-life. In the past five presidential elections, the Republican candidate has gained, net, about 2 to 3 per cent of the vote from the issue, by Gallup estimates.
- 1:26 PM, 4 September 2002 [link]
Another Side to the Jackie Mason Story: You may have heard the unpleasant accusation that Jewish comedian Jackie Mason had refused to appear with a Palestinian. Here's the other side of the story from Mason's partner. Obviously someone is not telling the truth here.
- 11:07 AM, 4 September 2002 [link]
Kitty, Kitty: Speaking of cognitive therapy, most of the owners of these pet tigers would seem to be in need of it. It is startling to learn that there are probably about 5,000 pet tigers here in the United States, about as many as there are wild tigers in the entire world. As seven deaths show, they are not pets for the average person.
- 4:53 PM, 3 September 2002 [link]
Cognitive Therapy: There's an old American joke about Freudian psychoanalysis: Why does analysis take 6 months longer in Britain than in the United States? Because the British take longer to catch on to a joke. As study after study showed that classic psychoanalysis and related "talking cures" were no likelier to help patients than placebos, psychiatrists switched to drugs. As this Washington Post article shows, that may have been hasty. One kind of talking cure, cognitive therapy, appears to be at least as effective as drugs for some psychiatric conditions. Cognitive therapists, rather than listening to their patients complain about their past lives, try to show them ways to think more rationally, and deal with their problems logically. Courses of treatment typically last months or even weeks, rather than years.
HMOs, condemned by so many, are on the right side here. Since cognitive therapy provides fast, effective help for many patients, the HMOs prefer it to the more expensive, less effective alternatives, like classic psychoanalysis.
- 4:23 PM, 3 September 2002 [link]
Michael Ledeen gives us this sketch, from his forthcoming book, of one of the world's worst terrorists. Like many such leaders, he killed far more of his own adherents than he did of his presumed enemies.
- 3:53 PM, 3 September 2002 [link]
Two Cheers for the Europeans: Seeing this column by Guardian writer Martin Kettle was like looking in a mirror; all the lefts and rights are reversed. Kettle argues that, despite stereotypes common in Europe, Americans, or at least many of them, are actually decent, sensible people. It is a mistake, he thinks, to judge us by our current national government. Even there, he sees hope, since he thinks it likely that Republicans will soon return to what he sees as their appropriate status, a minority party.
This is exactly the view I have had for some time of Europeans, reversed. Most Europeans, judging from what I have seen in polls, or those I have met in my own limited travels, are decent sensible people, despite often having foolish governments. Even there, I see hope because, in the natural alteration common to democratic countries, the more conservative and more rational parties are beginning to return to power, a trend I expect will continue throughout the continent. Conservatives now head Italy and Spain, and are leading in Germany. Conservatives took control, by a very large margin, of the French parliament in the latest election. Even Tony Blair's popularity in Britain is a bit misleading, since, especially in the first few years, he governed as a conservative, fiscally, and has shown no interest in going back to the discredited Labour platform of nationalization.
Where politics in the United States and Europe differ is that the United States is far more populist, far more willing to put power in the hands of ordinary citizens, rather than elites. One sees this in, for example, the death penalty, common in the United States, but almost unknown in Europe. As Josh Marshall has shown, in a review of public opinion, this is not because European populations are much less supportive of the death penalty than American citizens. Majorities in many European countries, in fact, favor the death penalty. American politicians, being more responsive to public opinion, have kept it in force, despite powerful elite pressure against it, especially in the law schools and newspapers.
The euro is another example. Polls showed that majorities in many of the countries that adopted it were opposed to giving up their own currencies. (Those opposed were correct, in my opinion. If workers can not freely move from country to country within Europe, then each country needs to control its own currency so as to find the right balance between unemployment and inflation.) The leaders imposed it anyway, and are still backing it, in spite of growing public discontent.
There are exceptions, where our policies are less responsive to public opinion, notably abortion. Nearly all European countries permit abortion, with many restrictions. But the abortion policy has been set here, not by elected officials, but by the Supreme Court. If the court had not usurped the issue, most of the United States would now have policies much like those in Europe; abortion would be allowed, under restrictions that varied from state to state.
This populist strain gives the United States both advantages and disadvantages. As Alexis de Toqueville observed more than a century and a half ago, populist democracies like the United States have trouble conducting consistent long term foreign policies. As public opinion changes here, we may feel no obligation to keep promises that our leaders made just a few years ago. Some of the wariness toward the United States in the rest of the world is an understandable reaction to our fickle ways. On the whole, however, I think the advantages of our populism outweigh the disadvantages. Our referendums and initiatives, our primary elections, the general openness of our political system all provide needed checks on political elites here. Though seldom actually easy, it is often easier for American politicians to abandon or change policies that have failed. If nothing else, it is far easier here for outsiders, with new ideas, to enter the major parties and win public office.
- 3:18 PM, 3 September 2002
Correction: The original version of this post cited a Telegraph article with the remarkable claim that 98 per cent of the Dutch now opposed the euro. That article was incorrect; instead opposition has risen from 38 to 44 per cent. Natalie Solent has the details here. More evidence for the principle that extraordinary claims should get closer attention before they are accepted.
- 8:02 AM, 4 September 2002 [link]
Fun Science Items: The Washington Post summarizes four recent science findings. Kids benefit from pets when they are very young, perhaps because the pets make the homes dirtier. (However, pregnant women should avoid contact with cats.) Baby babbling is practice for talking (not a big surprise), chimpanzees may have survived an AIDS epidemic millions of years ago (possible), and gecko lizards use the van der Waals force to walk on walls and ceilings (cool, with likely applications).
- 8:53 AM, 2 September 2002 [link]
Green Superstition Starves African Children: African countries facing famine are rejecting American grain because, as Sebastian Mallaby explains, it is genetically modified, just like the food we Americans have been eating with no ill effects for years. The African countries are motivated by the bans imposed by Greens in European countries, fearing both the food and the possible loss of their export markets if the genes should spread to their own crops. The horrific consequences of much environmentalist dogma is seldom so clearly seen. (It has not received much press coverage, but a number of prominent environmentalists have said that population losses from famine and disease in the Third World are a good thing. Many favor declines in human population. So, it is not entirely surprising that Greens would be, at best, indifferent to African children starving.)
Since Mallaby is on the left, he must also take a crack at conservatives over global warming in the column. Even if you accept the theory that global warming is caused by human actions—and some part of it may well be—it is obvious that Greens have the wrong solutions. The Kyoto agreement, for example, would impose enormous costs on the United States and make little difference in global warming. At the same time, Greens almost unanimously oppose nuclear power, which, unlike coal, oil, and natural gas fueled plants, has negligible effects on the atmosphere.
- 8:11 AM, 2 September 2002 [link]