Archive:

September 2004, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



How Good Are The Election Prediction Models?  I have been mentioning these models, notably Ray Fair's, for some time, so I probably should say something about my own evaluation of them, which is not entirely positive.

Let me start with an analogy.  You can build a statistical model for predicting football games in the same way these election models are built.  You pick some variables that you think should predict the winner, turnovers, yards gained per running play, et cetera.  You then fit them to some past games and, if you use enough variables, you will find that you can predict who won past games.  You will even find that the equation you derived will predict future games, with some modest success.

Is there anything wrong with this?  Nothing, if you understand what you actually have in the equation you estimated, some variables that have been correlated with winning in the past, but not a true theory about how to win games, nor a true guide to betting on them.  It is a useful way to explore what makes some teams win and others lose, but not much more than that.

There is an additional difficulty with the election models.  There are simply too few elections to provide a really good test for them.  That's a particularly severe problem when you have, as Ray Fair confesses, tried so many different sets of variables.
Another possible pitfall is the general problem of data mining, which is discussed in the book.  It may be that the equation looks much better than it should because I have tried so many versions in arriving at the current version.
One of his variables, in particular, looks suspicious to me, a plus for the Republican candidate.   It is hard to see how to fit that into any formal theory of voting.  My guess is that Fair is just picking up the personal popularity of Eisenhower and Reagan.

No one would disagree with what I have said so far, but some would disagree with a more fundamental objection that I have to these models.  Economists try to derive theories of markets from simple models of consumer and producer behavior, with some success.  The theories apply to a wide range of markets.  But these statistical estimates have no such theory underlying them.  Instead, they begin with some common notions about politics and then try to fit them to the data for a particular set of elections.  Fair could not, for a number of reasons, use his equation to predict the winner of, for example, the next New Jersey governor's race.  A real theory of voter behavior should work for that election as well as it works for presidential races.

I think the models are fun, provide some suggestions about how voters decide, do have some validity as predictors, but no more than that.  And I should mention that, at nearly every election, one of the models that had worked well in the past fails miserably.

That's probably a good place to stop for now, as I have approached very deep water which I have not explored for years, and where few might want to follow.  Maybe I will say a little more about the simple combination that I have been using, party id, candidate, issues, and incumbency, in a future post.

(If you would like to understand something of the statistics behind these models, try this article by John Allen Paulos.  It gives a good description of the models — and some of their likely weaknesses, statistically.

The article has an unintentionally funny section at the end, where Paulos speculates on how voters might really decide this year.
Furthermore, "voting one's pocketbook" and not "rocking the incumbent's boat" may usually be, but need not always be, the dominant determinants of the vote.  I suspect that other variables — the war in Iraq, cultural and environmental issues, and concerns about civil liberties — will play a more important role in this year's election than in past years, and they are not part of Fair's model.  Even the economic factors in his model fail to reflect anxieties over job losses, huge deficits, and increasingly disproportionate inequalities of income.

The prediction of Fair's model that Bush will win by a wide margin is likely to be disturbing to Kerry supporters and heartening to Bush supporters.  Because of the anomalous nature of this election, the testimony of the polls and the election markets, and the frequent unreliability of regression models, however, I do not believe it.
I have seldom seen a clearer case of projection.  Paulos thinks that the issues that are important to him will decide the election, regardless of what history shows and what voters have been telling pollsters.)
- 5:37 PM, 8 September 2004   [link]


Sixth Election Prediction:  In March, I made my first formal election prediction, that President Bush would win with 59 percent of the two party vote.  I updated it in April and then again in May, that time lowering it to 58 percent of the two party vote.  In July and August, I left it at 58 percent.

As always, I must stress that these predictions are conditional on two assumptions, as I explained in March:
First, my assumptions.  I am going to assume that the consensus among economists is correct and that the next 8 months will show solid economic growth and gains in employment.  I am also going to assume that there will not be anything dramatic like another massive terrorist attack on the United States or a war somewhere that involves the United States.  To some extent these two assumptions balance each other.  If the economy does not perform well, Bush will be hurt; if something dramatic happens, Bush will probably be helped.  (Almost all dramatic foreign events, even disasters like the Bay of Pigs invasion, help the president at least in the short term.)
I think those are reasonable assumptions, but will not quarrel with anyone who says that life is full of surprises.  So far, both have held, but there are still two months to go.

When I made my original prediction, I based it on the latest data on party identification, which showed that the Democrats and Republicans had almost exactly equal numbers of voters.   As I discussed at length in this post, I think that the Democrats have probably, and I stress probably, regained a slight lead.  My uncertainty about the point is because I see a possible disagreement between the Pew polling results and the latest Gallup results on the generic race for Congress, where Republicans now lead by about the amount one would expect if the numbers in the two parties were equal.  (Of course, the changes in party identification, or vote for Congress are so small that I may just be looking at sampling variations.)

Because of that small drop in Republicans, I am dropping my estimate of Bush's share of the two party vote from 58 to 57 percent.  If I were sure that the Pew results were correct, I would drop it to 56 percent, at least; if I were sure the Gallup results were correct, I would leave it at 58 percent.  In a week when everyone else is discussing Bush's surge in the polls, which I have been predicting since March, I am lowering my prediction of his vote share.  As umpires like to say, I call them as I see them.

(As before, let me review some of the other predictions.  There are a whole set of predictions from Ray Fair and others with mathematical models here.  They range from too close to call to a 60 percent vote share for Bush, bracketing my prediction.  None predict a Kerry victory.  (There's a mistake in the table; Fair is now predicting Bush will win 57.48 percent of the two party vote, not 60 percent.)

All other predictions are better for Bush than a month ago.  The Tradesports betters gave Bush a 59.7 percent chance of winning, when I checked this morning, up from from 54.2 percent a month ago.  The Intrade betters, who you can follow at the Chicago Boys had an almost identical result.  (And for still more results from the bookies, you can click on the Oddschecker site.)

Ron Faucheux of Campaigns and Elections has raised his prediction slightly, after lowering it several times, and now gives Bush a 51 percent chance to win, up from 50.5 percent a month ago.  The options market run by the University of Iowa has improved for Bush; as of this morning, Bush had a 55.1 percent chance to win, up from about 50 percent last month.

There are a whole set of predictions on the electoral college here.   I have not made one yet, but I can say that, if Bush gets 57 percent of the popular vote, he will do much better than 300 votes, the maximum prediction in the set.  (Maybe I will do a rough prediction for the electoral college next week.)

Finally, here's Scott Elliot's current election projection, which is not a prediction but a measurement of where we are currently. His latest puts Bush ahead in both the electoral college and the popular vote.)
- 11:52 AM, 8 September 2004   [link]


Which Candidate Will Be Better In The War On Terror?  That's not just a legitimate campaign issue, it's a central issue this year.  And, if a candidate argues that he will be better, he implies, whether he says so explicitly or not, that the other candidate will be worse.  Yet when Bush and Cheney make the argument that they will be better in the war on terror, Kerry and Edwards complain that the argument is unfair — even though, as Orrin Judd points out, they make exactly the same argument, that they will be better in the war on terror.

This would be funnier if I didn't sense that Kerry and Edwards believe their own complaint.   Or at least that Kerry does.  I'm not so sure about trial lawyer Edwards.

I think that both tickets should make the argument that they will do better than the other in the war on terror, and that the Kerry ticket should skip the complaints and spend more time explaining how they will do better.

(This will remind some of the complaints from Democrats during the primary season that Republicans were questioning their patriotism.  I can't recall a single instance of a person in the Bush administration questioning the Democratic candidates' patriotism, though Howard Dean routinely questioned the patriotism of John Ashcroft and others.

Despite that similarity, I see the two as fundamentally different.  An attack on a official's patriotism is an attack on his basic motives; it is an argument that the official does not have the best interests of the nation at heart.  Without powerful evidence to support that argument, it should be considered a disgusting smear.)
- 8:44 AM, 8 September 2004   [link]


Most Political Jokes are recycled.   Often all that changes is the name of the politician.  Yesterday, I was leafing through my favorite collection of political jokes, when I ran across this one.
The Cabinet Minister was on his deathbed and the priest was administering the last rites.

'Do you renounce the devil and all his works?' he asked.

'Look here,' said the Cabinet Minister, 'I've always been one for compromise rather than confrontation.  Couldn't we achieve some measure of consensus instead?'
I was about to rewrite it with the obvious current target, but then I decided to leave that as an exercise.  It's easy, isn't it?  Just change "Cabinet Minister" to "John Kerry" and use "nuance" in his reply to the priest.  That Kerry is, at least formally, a Catholic makes it even easier to adapt the joke.  (You also need a set up line to get him to the deathbed, but that's not hard.)  Don't be surprised if you hear this joke from Leno, Letterman, or someone similar.

The jokes stay the same, with only the names changed to indict current politicians, because the faults stay the same.  John Kerry is not the first politician to prefer compromise in all cases, and he won't be the last.

(By the way, do deathbed confessions usually include that dramatic line about the devil?   Or did they at one time?)
- 7:19 AM, 8 September 2004   [link]


Catching Up, but not there yet.  As I mentioned four days ago, a very minor illness put me behind on my email and posting.  I had hoped to get caught up this last weekend, but the weather was just too darn nice to spend all that time in doors.  (There's some encouragement for those who have been patiently waiting in the current forecast.  Rain is expected here for the next week or so.)

There's one long delayed post, Green Republicans, that I should say something about.   Briefly, I will be arguing that environmentalists can be divided into "preservationists" and "conservationists".  The first group tries to protect the environment, as much as possible, from anything man might do; the second group tries to manage nature for our benefit.   Democratic presidents, in recent years, have done more for the first group, Republican presidents for the second group.

That last point will terribly controversial, which is one reason I have been delaying this post.  I want to get as much attention for it as I can, and I want my argument to be as solid as I can make it.
- 2:14 PM, 7 September 2004   [link]


Good News After A Grim Event:  After the Beslan massacre, the Russians are going to cooperate more with Israel.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday that Israel's renewed offer to share its experience of combatting militant groups, in the wake of the Russian school massacre, would give a boost to the fight against global terror.

Speaking to Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres at the start of a whirlwind day of meetings with officials in Jerusalem, Lavrov said terrorism is one of the biggest challenges facing the international community.

"We appreciate the very strong readiness of the Israeli people to help Russia at this hour and this will certainly strengthen the counterterrorist coalition these days," he said.
They will be sharing intelligence, and Israel may treat some of the injured children.
- 1:48 PM, 7 September 2004   [link]


Johann Hari, my favorite liberal British journalist, saw something wonderfully funny while covering the Republican convention.
There was a small group of very aggressive anarchist protestors called the No Police State Coalition.  They were chanting about "the 9/11 cover-up", jeering at the pro-Kerry protestors, and trying to pick a fight with the fairly laid-back police.

I was walking backwards, scribbling down some details about them, when a cop stopped me.   "Excuse me sir — you are obstructing the No Police State Coalition's path. Could you step aside so they can march please?"
Hari cracked up, but the policeman, to his credit, kept a straight face.

(Why is Hari my favorite?  Because he holds old-fashioned liberal values.  For example, he favors democracies over dictatorships and is willing to consider the idea that George W. Bush is not, after all, the worst man in the entire world.)
- 1:27 PM, 7 September 2004   [link]


Suppose That You Were Running A Major Newspaper and you decided that you wanted your coverage of the election to be "fair and balanced".  That's more or less what the Seattle Times executive editor, Mike Fancher, promises in this column.  
Not surprisingly, with so much at stake, political emotions are feverish among true believers in both parties.  The press is squarely in the crossfire from the left and right.  "Beyond saying we're not fair, many voters presume we're not interested in being fair," [Seattle Times political editor Tom] Boyer observed.

Metro Editor Jim Simon agrees the electorate seems sharply polarized, and it is harder than ever to distinguish polemics from journalism.  Our response won't be to crank up the rhetoric and vitriol.

Our aim, Simon says, is to "recapture our own credibility as dispassionate observers of the election."  We need to show that "fact-based reporting and analysis really does have a role.
I don't think Fancher is trying to con the readers here.  If only for competitive reasons, the Seattle Times would like to be more moderate and responsible than the Seattle PI.   (From what I can tell, those running the PI have not figured this out, or do not care that they are hurting circulation by their hard left stances and their refusal to reach out to those who disagree with them.  They could, for example, hire a local conservative columnist for balance, but have refused to do so for years.)

But I can't see how he can be fair and balanced, at least in the short term.  Let me start with world news and work back to show the difficulties Fancher faces.  (Almost all major newspapers in the United States would have the same problems, as you will see.)

The Seattle Times does not have the resources to cover world news by itself.  It can send a reporter to a hot spot from time to time, but it must rely on the news services, and larger newspapers, for most of its world news.  Unfortunately, all of these other sources have problems.  Consider Reuters, or Al Reuters, as it is so often called for its sympathy to Muslim terrorists.  Reuters refuses to call Muslim terrorists by that name, at least when they attack non-Muslim targets — as part of its official policy.  Reuters has admitted that they slant the news coming out of danger spots such as the area controlled by Yasser Arafat, because otherwise their correspondents would be killed.  As a result, Reuters produces, time and time again, supportive ones about the Palestinian authority.  In Israel, where they need fear only criticism from the authorities, they are free to be as nasty as they want.   (Americans can think of many parallels, notably the soft treatment given to Saddam Hussein by many organizations, including CNN, before his overthrow.)

The Reuters bias problem occurs in stories where the reporters need not fear for their lives, as well.  Nearly all Reuters correspondents are drawn from the British left, or heavily influenced by the British left, and it shows.  They are often as partisan as an official party newspaper.

Suppose that Fancher chooses to run stories from the Associated Press, instead.  They would be a little better, because the Associated Press draws most of its correspondents from the American left, who are not quite as biased as the British left, but not much.  The recent fake Clinton "booing" story shows that AP (and Knight-Ridder) can't be trusted on basic facts.   (Missed that story?  Check Ed Morrisey's site.)  And this is a long term problem.   In the 2000 election, AP reporter Pete Yost cleverly wrote a story to imply that a leak damaging to the Clintons had come from Republicans — though he knew that it had come, accidentally, from a Democratic judge.

So the major wire services can't be trusted.  What about major newspapers, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Los Angeles Times?  They have the same problems, for the same reasons, as the wire services.  Consider, for example, this point, which Fancher is probably aware of:  Nearly every account from the troops in Iraq says that the news accounts are consistently biased against the war.  The troops are much closer to a cross section of the American public than reporters, and much closer to the subject.  It is only reasonable to think that they may have a more accurate picture of the war than leftist men and women sitting in Baghdad's hotel bars.

(The Seattle Times (and other newspapers) could improve their Iraq coverage simply by printing more stories directly from the troops.  They could, for example, get material from local talk show host Brian Suits, a reservist now serving in Iraq.  His reports from Iraq, carried on KVI, are almost always more interesting, and always more believable, than, for example, stories from the Los Angeles Times.)

So the Seattle Times will, almost inevitably, present an unbalanced and unfair picture of the world and nation.  What about state and local events, where the Seattle Times has its own reporters?  In the short term, Fancher will find the same problems, for the same reasons.  Most reporters are drawn from a narrow and closed-minded group, ideologically, and that shows in some recent stories in the paper.  Consider, for example, what Seattle Times reporter Janet Tu leaves out of articles, a subject I discussed here and here.  (Tu refused to reply to my email requesting an explanation of the bias in the first article.)  She consistently protects the politically correct, whether it is extremist Muslims or an out of control judge.

Or consider the Seattle Times reporter who described an attack by a Kerry supporter on a Bush supporter as a "scuffle", and left out the fact that the Kerry supporter was arrested.   (To be fair, I should add that the Bush supporter replied to verbal assaults with some very provocative language, according to some witnesses.)  Would the Seattle Times have covered the story the same way if the attacker had been a Republican?   No one believes that.

When necessary, the Seattle Times will even bury its own reporting.  Their 1996 profile of Senator Patty Murray, which I discussed here, is devastating, but it disappeared down the memory hole when she faced re-election in 1998, and will not reappear this year.  The Seattle Times will probably not even mention how many times Murray has won the "not a rocket scientist" award, given to the dumbest senator.

Suppose that Fancher wanted to make the Seattle Times' coverage of state and local issues fairer.  It would be difficult for him to do that in the short term.  Janet Tu, a "twofer" judging by her name, is probably untouchable.  Fancher wouldn't ask her to clean up her act for fear that she would move to another newspaper.  Even those reporters who are not protected that way have other protections, such as union rules and traditions of independence.  Fancher can beg them to behave, but he is unlikely to fire anyone who does not.

What about the long run?  Here Fancher could have some effect, but he would have to swim against the current, hiring different people than most newspapers.  He should, for example, avoid hiring those with degrees in journalism, and instead look for independent thinkers.   (Perhaps the worst body of work at the Seattle Times comes from Floyd McKay — a professor of journalism.)  Some of the new hires should be people who can think with numbers, people who can analyze, for example, our enormous gains in cleaner air and water.  And he should dismiss some journalists who have shown their bias only too clearly.  It should be as unacceptable at the Seattle Times for a reporter or columnist to refuse to mix with Republicans socially — as columnist Paul Andrews has said he does — as it would be to refuse to mix with blacks (or whites).

To follow this kind of policy and work toward a more balanced newspaper, Fancher would have to accept much unhappiness from his staff and, I would guess, much criticism from other journalists.  Swimming against the stream is never easy, though the likely gains in circulation would make it worth his while.

In short, Fancher can please the majority in his profession, or the majority of the public, but not both.  The same dilemma faces most editors of major newspapers.  For these editors, it will always be easier, in the short term, to go with the profession, instead of the public, which is why any improvement in their newspapers is unlikely for some time.

(Not familiar with the term, "twofer"?  That's a person who fills two quotas at once, for example, an Asian woman or a handicapped black man.  There are probably a few "threefers", for example, a Hispanic lesbian, but they are so rare that no one seems to use that term.  And I can imagine "fourfers" and even "fivefers" but don't know of any.)
- 11:29 AM, 7 September 2004   [link]


Nobel Winning Economists Endorse Bush Policies:  Here's a brief post from Donald Luskin noting the results of a Wall Street Journal survey of Nobel winning economists at a conference in Germany.  Here's the key finding from the Wall Street Journal article on the survey.
We asked them, among other things, which country in the world comes closest to getting economic policy right today.  It was a tie between Norway and the U.S. . . .
You won't read my headline in your local paper or hear it on the major networks, but I think it is a fair summary of that finding.

(I'll see if I can find the article in the next day or two and give you more.  The link to it in the Luskin post is for subscribers only.)
- 8:31 AM, 7 September 2004   [link]


Fraud In the Venezuelan Referendum?  Some experts, or at least some academics at MIT and Harvard, have calculated that there was a 99 percent chance of fraud in the Chávez recall.
Opposition non-governmental organization Súmate Sunday disclosed a report prepared by independent experts Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard University teacher, and Roberto Rigobon, a teacher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showing that there is a 99 percent of probabilities that a fraud was committed on the August 15 recall referendum on President Hugo Chávez.

The findings have reinforced Súmate's doubts about the transparency of the election results.

Hausmann explained that the study compared the results the National Electoral Council (CNE) published for 340 electoral centers with the number of signatures the opposition collected in November-December last year to demand a revoking referendum against Chávez, and with the exit polls both Súmate and the opposition Primero Justicia party conducted on August 15 at said electoral centers.
I'll have to see if I can find a copy of the report for more.
- 1:45 PM, 6 September 2004   [link]


Now They Tell Us:  Before the American Revolution the colonists objected to taxation without representation.  American moderates — men like Franklin and Washington — wanted representation in the British parliament before they would accept taxes.   From what I have read, almost no one in Britain, even those friendly to the American cause, considered accepting this compromise.  There were practical difficulties, of course, with slow sailing ships being the only way people or messages could cross the Atlantic, but those were not the central objection from the British side.

Instead, it was the inevitable shift in power from Britain to the United States, where the population was growing so swiftly that people projected that it would surpass that in the mother country within decades.  (It did not happen as quickly as projected.  There were right about the end result, but way wrong on the timing.)  Give Americans representation in parliament and in time Americans would dominate the empire, or so everyone thought.

Now, some Britons on the left are regretting their rejection of that compromise.  Mark Steel of the Independent wants to vote in our elections, and, showing his generous spirit, would allow the Iraqis to vote in them, too.
Given that we do whatever the winner tells us, we ought to have a vote over here.  And, seeing as Iraq is under U.S. occupation, and Bush is eager for them to become democratic, the Iraqis should have a vote as well.
(He says nothing about our voting in British elections, but I'm sure he would agree that fair is fair.  If they get to vote here, we get to vote there.  And as a practical matter, I think that a Blair-Bush coalition would be a potent vote getter in both nations.)

To Steel's argument, I say: You had your chance.  It isn't the fault of Americans that the British government refused to allow us representation in the British parliament.  You made your decision, you should accept the results, and stop complaining.

(Steel's nasty column illustrates attitudes I have seen before.  The spirit of George III has a comfortable home at the more leftist British newspapers, the Guardian and the Independent.  Steel has many of the same objections to Americans that George III did, but most of all, just like the 18th century monarch, he rejects our independence.

I realize that there is great respect for the past across the Atlantic, but, after more than two centuries of American independence, isn't it time for even leftist Britons to accept it?)
- 1:26 PM, 6 September 2004   [link]


Bias, Repression, And Even Violence:  That's what Republicans face in San Mateo county.
Fireman John Darminin has charged into burning buildings, but said his hottest assignment was serving in union leadership as a Republican.

The Redwood City resident and former director of the San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798 said the union ordered him to remove a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker from his car in 2000 and to take down his Web site that was critical of liberal San Francisco politicians.
. . .
The Bay Area prides itself on its openness and acceptance, but many local Republicans said they have been met with intense hostility for their political beliefs.  They said they've endured everything from rude remarks to threats and physical violence.

Some said the McCarthy-era paranoia about Communists aptly describes how they often feel.

"There's a lot of teachers out there that are closet Republicans because they are so afraid if they say anything in their workplace, they will be retaliated against," said Karen King, the chair of the County's Republican Party.  "That's the ugliness that I would like to get rid of.  At the end of the day, I'd like to think the opposition believes in free speech as well."

Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for Republican Assembly candidate Steve Poizner's campaign, said trying to register voters as Republicans in San Mateo County can be a depressing -- or even dangerous -- activity.

"One person had hot coffee thrown on him.  Others have had registration forms torn up or kicked off tables.  They've also been called racial slurs," Kerns said of voter-registration workers.
I'd like to think they believe in free speech, too, but the evidence does not support that idea.

(You could do a similar story, from what I have heard, on intolerance in Seattle.  Don't expect either Seattle paper, or any of the local TV stations, to do it, at least before the election.

Wondering where San Mateo county is?  It's here, just south of that temple of free speech and tolerance, San Francisco.)
- 9:47 AM, 6 September 2004   [link]


Credit Where Due:  I criticize "mainstream" journalists here so often that I find it a pleasure when I can praise them instead.  Here are two cases in which mainstream journalists got it right, both against my expectations.  First, Thomas Shapley's comment in the Saturday PI's "Snark Attack".
Liberal bias gut-check: What if the story had been about a Republican candidate for governor who had been top dog at a UW fraternity that banned blacks and Jews, in violation of university rules?
For those not in this area, Shapley is referring to the recent revelations that Democrat Christine Gregoire, Washington state attorney general and gubernatorial candidate, was the president of an all white (and all Christian) sorority at the University of Washington in the late 1960s.  Most area journalists are willing to give her pass on that history, though, as Shapley suggests, they would not do the same for a Republican man.

(The "Snark Attack" is a set of brief comments, sometimes funny, but often nasty, biased, and misinformed, from the PI's editorial board.  Finding this comment from Shapley there was like finding a rose growing in a hog wallow, beautiful and entirely unexpected.  If you think I am too harsh, look at the other comments from last Saturday's Snark Attack.)

Second, Michael Getler, the Washington Post ombudsman nails the Post for a serious error in their story on Vice President Cheney's convention speech.
"Cheney Calls Kerry Unfit," read the big, front-page headline over a story in Thursday's Post about attacks on the Democratic challenger at the Republican convention in speeches by Vice President Cheney and Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia.
. . .
The problem is that Cheney never used the word "unfit."  Yet the headline can be seen as reinforcing the Swift boat challengers' attack.  The headline writer no doubt drew inspiration from the first paragraph of the story by reporter John F. Harris, who wrote that Cheney "reached back decades" into Kerry's life, "arguing in taunting language that the Democratic presidential nominee has demonstrated through his public statements and votes that he is unfit to be commander in chief in an age of terrorism."

You could draw that conclusion from listening to what Cheney did say.  But that, in my view and those of some readers, was a poor choice of words and headline.  The headline went beyond what Cheney said and then spread the characterization across the front page.
(I assume that headline is what led Kerry, hours later, to charge that he had been called "unfit"; he relied on the Post to get the story right and they didn't.)

This, too, was a pleasant surprise.  I have thought for some time that Getler was demonstrating that, if they must have them, newspapers should not leave ombudsmen in the post for more than a year or two.  And through much of this year, I have thought that Getler was far too emotionally tied to anti-war causes to act as an ombudsman.  I had been planning, in fact, to suggest that he at least take a leave of absence until the election was over.

(In general, I am opposed to newspaper ombudsmen.  They end up, more often than not, protecting reporters and editors from the consequences of their mistakes.)
- 9:19 AM, 6 September 2004   [link]


Worth Reading:  Zev Chafetz explains some uncomfortable facts.   We can not, in fact, "win" a war on terror, because we can not stop all random terrorists.  And our principal enemies are best described, not as terrorists, but as Islamic imperialists.
But America's enemy is not "terrorism."  It is international Islamist imperialism.   Chechnya, Israel, Indian Kashmir, the Balkans, parts of Spain — these are all lands claimed by Islam for reasons of history or theology.  The Philippines, Nigeria, Thailand and a dozen other far-flung places are new fronts in the same expansionist war.

It is simpleminded to imagine the jihadists intend to conquer America or, in this generation, any other Western power.  Their goal is to establish (they would say reestablish) a sphere of dominance — financed by oil, armed with nuclear weapons, governed under the laws of Islam — that includes as much of Ottoman Europe as possible, most of Africa and a good part of Asia.
This ambition seems insane to most westerners because we are not familiar with the original Muslim rise to power.  In 622, Mohamed fled with a small group of followers from Mecca to Medina.  By the end of his life in 632, he had united most of Arabia.  Less than two decades later, Muslims had conquered the Persian empire (with the exception of a small scrap in Tabaristan) and taken what are now Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Libya from the Byzantine empire.  Ninety years later, they had extended their control to all of North Africa, Spain, the Caucasus, and much of central Asia.  If you have grown up on that kind of history, the restoration of the Caliphate can seem a possible dream.

Chafetz errs, I think, on one point.  He begins by condemning Islamic imperialists and jihadists.  He switches to a blanket argument that implies that they have the support of all Muslims, something not supported by what little polling data we have.  Many Muslims have only a nominal faith, just like many Christians.  Many others have come to terms with the modern world.  And many others have conflicted feelings about their faith and the terrorists who strike in their name.  One common guess, which seems plausible to me, is that about 1 in 10 Muslims support the terrorists.  The good news is that 9 in 10 Muslims do not support the terrorists; the bad news is that roughly 100 million people do.
- 5:37 PM, 5 September 2004   [link]


Outfoxed!  The major networks, that is.
When President Bush delivered his acceptance speech Thursday night, 7.3 million people saw it on Fox News Channel.  Meanwhile, 5.9 million watched on NBC, 5.1 million on ABC, 5 million on CBS, 2.7 million on CNN and 1.7 million on MSNBC, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Fox also beat the broadcast networks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
. . .
ABC, CBS and NBC are seen in about 110 million homes, while Fox is carried in about 85 million.
Which makes the Fox victory even more impressive.

(Reporters, and Democratic partisans, two groups that are harder and harder to tell apart, claimed during much of the nomination fight that turnout was exceptionally high in the Democratic contests, showing how enthusiastic Democrats were this year.  As I showed here and here, that simply isn't true.  Turnout in the Democratic contests was not exceptionally high this year.  The difference in viewership provides evidence that this year the Republicans may have the edge in enthusiasm.)
- 4:58 PM, 5 September 2004
More numbers here.   Note that the Democratic conventions outdrew Republican conventions in 1996 and 2000, unlike this year.
- 6:16 AM, 6 September 2004   [link]


Nearly Every Sunday Morning I listen to NPR's Weekend Edition.  Nearly every Sunday morning Liane Hansen and company find some way to annoy me with their persistent bias.

This morning, Hansen told us that all the "voices in the news" would be from the Republican convention.  (If you haven't heard that feature, it is a series of recorded voices, without commentary, and usually without a common theme, from the last week's news.)

If you were choosing "voices" from the Republican convention, which one would you begin with?   The easiest choice would be a line or two from Bush's speech, but you might also choose a bit from any of the other prominent speeches, Rudy Giuliani's, John McCain's, Arnold Schwarzenegger's, or Zell Miller's.  NPR chose, for the first voice, a nasty song from some of the anti-Bush demonstrators.

They really do want to be defunded, don't they?
- 10:52 AM, 5 September 2004   [link]


How Cruel Should We Be?  Yesterday's post drew an interesting reply from the Daily Pundit, Bill Quick, which you can read here.  I had ended my list of grim lessons from the long struggles between civilized societies and barbarians with this:
We should expect this to last decades, and probably generations, unless we employ force on a scale and with a cruelty that almost no one would accept. (Though that may change if the Islamic terrorists continue to have "successes" similar to those in Beslan.)
Quick replied that civilized societies have been as barbaric in their use of force as barbarians, citing both ancient and modern examples, Rome's campaigns against the Celts, the Nazi and Soviet barbarities, and our bombing of Hiroshima.  He is right in all those historical examples, but we come to different conclusions about how cruel American forces are likely to be in the war on terror.

Before I consider that, I should say something about the effectiveness of harsh measures in suppressing barbarians, or even other civilized peoples.  Let me begin with an observation from modern history, and then balance that with one from ancient history.  Stalin had far fewer problems with the Chechens than Putin has had.  As much as I hate the Soviet dictator, I cannot deny that Stalin's willingness to use extreme measures against the Chechens kept them from revolt, except when the German armies approached.  If the terrorist leaders feared imprisonment and butchery on Stalin's scale, they would, I believe, stop most of their terrorist attacks.  Sometimes what I have euphemistically called "extreme measures" succeed.

But not always.  Colin McEvedy begins his discussion of the 560 BC Middle East map in The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History with this:
The continual revolts that plagued the Assyrian Empire imply a harshness that the inscriptions of their monarchs amply confirm: they habitually make a boast of terrorism.  Considering the over-extension of Assyrian resources, this seems short-sighted, as well as unattractive.
(McEvedy has created a whole series of historical atlases for Penguin, providing wonderful tools for the amateur historian.  Each atlas consists of a series of simple, almost diagrammatic, maps in chronological order, with a page (usually) of text giving a historical overview for each map.   I recommend them highly.)

And the map shows the consequence of that combination.  The Assyrians who dominated much of the Middle East for centuries are gone and have been replaced by the coalition that defeated them, the Median and Babylonian empires.

Soon after, the Persian king Cyrus II took control of the Median empire in a coup and soon conquered Croesus, eliminated the Babylonians, and founded what was then the largest empire ever.  The Persians had learned from the Assyrians and adopted a milder and more successful policy, leaving their subjects in peace as long as they sent tribute.  The Persian empire lasted from 559 BC until 331 BC and might have lasted far longer had not Macedonia produced both a remarkable army and a military genius, Alexander the Great.   After he conquered the Persian empire, he kept most of its structure and many of its officials.

What I conclude from these two historical examples — and many others — is that stern measures sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail.  I realize that sounds wishy-washy, but it needs to be said because there are so many who believe that either more force, or more concessions, will answer in every situation.

In democratic countries, both more force and more concessions are subject to popular judgments.   This puts limits on our actions that military governments, dictatorships, and monarchies are not subject to.  In my opinion, those limits are narrower than they were when the United States was founded.  We have become more civilized, or, if you prefer, more sissified than we once were.

This has not been a steady change.  In World War II, we and our democratic allies became crueler and harsher as the war went on.  At the beginning of the war, some in Britain objected to bombing of German armament plants because they were privately owned.  By the end of the war, we and the British were attacking cities and their civilian populations.   Dresden and Hiroshima are the most famous examples, but the loss of life was probably greatest in the fire bombing of Tokyo.

Which leads me finally to the point that I alluded to in yesterday's post.  To the extent that terrorists succeed in mass murders such as occurred in Beslan, democratic publics will accept harsher measures toward the terrorists.  We have seen small changes in that direction already, though only small changes.  Greater successes for the terrorists will bring larger changes, something too few moderate Muslims seem to understand.

Some harsh measures will help us defeat the Islamic terrorists; some will not.  Again, I apologize for being wishy-washy; again I offer the excuse that too many think that only greater harshness, or less, will be successful.  (And in the next week or so, I hope to have a post with some historical examples of the right mix.)  At the moment, I think that, on the whole, we have not been as harsh, or even as stern, as we should have been.  There's a small example of that in our willingness to let nearly all newspapers publish in Iraq and to let Al Jazeera, if not an enemy, certainly an enemy sympathizer, operate in Iraq.   During war, censorship is common, and we should have imposed it.

Finally, there are harsh measures that might succeed but I would oppose because they are wrong, even in war time.  We can, I believe, defeat our enemies without using Stalin's methods.
- 10:27 AM, 5 September 2004   [link]


Barbarians, And How To Defeat Them:  Few of us would have any difficulty calling the terrorists who brutalized and murdered hundreds of Russian children barbarians.  I think they are barbarians both in the common meaning of the word, and in a more technical sense.  Anthropologists have a number of terms for the pre-civilized societies that they study, bands, tribes, and chiefdoms, with different terms used for groups with different levels of organization.  Although pedants might object, we could call them all barbarians, since they are not literate and not organized into states.

These barbarians differ greatly, of course, but nearly all engage in warfare, as I learned from a remarkable book, War Before Civilization, by Lawrence M. Keeley.

Although barbarians differ in the ways they fight, the different groups do tend make war in similar ways.  For most barbarians, warfare is sporadic, with regular small raids, and an occasional massacre, perhaps once a generation.  Although the losses in individual raids are usually small, the overall toll is much higher than for civilized warfare, as a percentage of the population.  Generally, barbarians consider all members of an enemy population, women and children as well as men, legitimate targets for war.  Sometimes women, especially young women, will taken as captives, and occasionally children will be.  (And in very rare cases, young men are allowed to replace lost warriors.)  Aside from those exceptions, it is usually impossible to surrender to barbarians, since they do not take prisoners.

Wars between barbarians may last years and even generations.  If a group believes that the death of a kinsman must be avenged — a very common belief among barbarians — then there may be no way to stop a war without total victory for one side.

Civilized societies have been warring with barbarians for millennia, not always successfully, in spite of the advantages of resources and numbers that civilized societies almost always have.  Civilized societies sometimes build walls to keep out the barbarians; Israel's security fence has hundreds of precedents from Hadrian's Wall to the Great Wall of China.   Civilized societies sometimes pay bribes to keep the barbarians out; for a time, Attila the Hun received enormous subsidies from both halves of the Roman empire.  As Kipling reminds us, English has a word for the bribes paid to one set of Vikings, Danegeld.  Civilized societies sometimes hire one group of barbarians to control another.  That was how the Byzantine empire kept the Arabs in line until a disastrous war with Persia sapped their resources and led them to drop the subsidy, opening the way for the Muslim armies.

Perhaps the most successful technique for civilized armies has been to enlist barbarian auxiliaries as allies, or as part of their armed forces, using barbarians to fight barbarians.   Custer, to use a famous example, had Crow Indians for scouts — and might have survived if he had paid more attention to their warnings.  General Crook defeated the Apaches in the 1870s and 1880s with forces that consisted mostly of other Apaches.

(Civilized societies also sometimes defeated barbarians with disease, though usually unintentionally.  The denser and large civilized populations allowed diseases to establish themselves in civilized areas; over time the civilized peoples developed immunities that the barbarians lacked.  Disease, more than anything else, was the advantage that Cortez had over the Aztecs.)

Finally, civilized societies have sometimes defeated barbarians, not with warfare, but with conversion.  The gradual cessation of Viking raids was partly caused by the spread of Christianity in Scandinavia, and there are other examples of the same process.

There are lessons for us, mostly grim lessons, in this long history of the warfare between barbarians and civilized peoples.  We should not expect the Islamic fanatics who have declared war on us to fight according to civilized rules; they may know how to use computers and cell phones, but they have the values of barbarians.  They will not meet us in what we would consider fair combat, and they will target all of us, women and childrem as well as men.  Their attacks will be sporadic, most causing few deaths, but some great massacres, as just occurred in Russia.  We should expect this to last decades, and probably generations, unless we employ force on a scale and with a cruelty that almost no one would accept.  (Though that may change if the Islamic terrorists continue to have "successes" similar to those in Beslan.)

And we can learn something from the strategies that succeeded against barbarians in the past.   For example, we should look, as the Bush administration has been doing, for barbarian allies.   That succeeded brilliantly in Afghanistan and may be succeeding in Iraq, as we build up a new Iraqi army and police force.

(For some, the most interesting part of War Before Civilization will be Keeley's description of how anthropologists, including himself early in his career, refused to face the abundant evidence of primitive warfare.
Like most archaeologists trained in the postwar period, I emerged from the first stage of my education so inculcated with the assumption that warfare and prehistory did not mix that I was willing to dismiss unambiguous physical evidence to the contrary.
And that prejudice was widely shared in his profession.  Keeley found it difficult to obtain grants for digs that would search for evidence of war, and so had to conceal his intentions for some of them.  From what I can tell, the prejudice is still widely shared, though some anthropologists and archaeologists are beginning to be more open minded.

If you can stand it, you can find much more on the barbarities at Beslan, including many photos, here.)
- 4:19 PM, 4 September 2004
Update:  I've rewritten the post slightly in an attempt to improve the clarity.
- 5 September 2004   [link]


Catching Up:  Last week, I had a one day bout with some bug.   Nothing serious, just a little fever and some tiredness.  I thought it was over the next day, but was wrong, as I have been tired and a little shaky for the past week.  That's put me behind on a number of things, including email.

As far as I can tell, I am fully over whatever it was by now.  In fact, I am about to go out for a forty minute bicycle ride.  And I hope to be all caught up with everything, including the email, by next Tuesday.  Thanks for your patience.
- 9:11 AM, 3 September 2004   [link]


Bush's Jokes:  I did not listen to the entire Bush speech and watched only a small part of it, but I caught his jokes, and thought they were pretty good.   Here they are, if you missed them or need a reminder.
America has done this kind of work before, and there have always been doubters.  In 1946, 18 months after the fall of Berlin to allied forces, a journalist wrote in the New York Times wrote this: "Germany is a land in an acute stage of economic, political and moral crisis.  European capitals are frightened.  In every military headquarters, one meets alarmed officials doing their utmost to deal with the consequences of the occupation policy that they admit has failed," end quote.

BUSH: Maybe that same person is still around, writing editorials.

(APPLAUSE)
. . .
BUSH: You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too.  People sometimes have to correct my English.

(LAUGHTER)

I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it.

(LAUGHTER)

Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called "walking."

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

Now and then I come across as a little too blunt, and for that we can all thank the white-haired lady sitting right up there.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)
In the first joke, he deftly attacks the New York Times (and by implication the rest of the "mainstream" media).  The serious argument under the joke is powerful.  The New York Times was wrong before, and is wrong now.  Because the "mainstream" media is so hostile to Bush, he must counter them from time to time, but very deftly, as he did with this joke.  To see just how deft it is, try to imagine writing an effective editorial in reply.  It would not be easy.

In the other jokes, he is self deprecating, answering the common charge that he is arrogant.   That will help with all those voters who worry that he is too confident, too certain.

One unusual thing about the jokes:  Usually speakers begin with jokes, to relax an audience and to get their attention for the more substantive parts of their speeches.  These jokes were in the later part of the speech, deliberately, I am sure, though I am not sure why they changed the usual order.
- 8:54 AM, 3 September 2004   [link]


Kerry's Record On Defense:  Yesterday, while listening to the Michael Medved show, I heard Al Franken try to defend Kerry against the criticism that the senator has been weak on defense.  Medved and Franken went back and forth on whether all the charges made by Zell Miller were fair.  Probably some were not, I would guess, since it often happens that a vote does not mean what it seems to mean later.

But the central truth of the charge, that Kerry opposed much of the Reagan build up and that he favored even bigger cutbacks after the end of the Cold War than George H. W. Bush did, is simply indisputable.  Here's the summary from the 1992 Almanac of American Politics.
He has been a reliable vote for lower defense spending and a less assertive foreign policy.  
The Almanac doesn't elaborate about lower defense spending because that conclusion was uncontroversial, something no informed person would disagree with.

They do elaborate on the less assertive foreign policy, and their example is telling.
On the Persian Gulf, he called for providing diplomatic "wiggle room" for Saddam Hussein in a 1990 newspaper interview, and in January 1991 voted against military enforcement of the UN resolution against Iraq.
Kerry was less willing to use force against Saddam in 1991 than France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and nearly all the other nations in the United Nations.  (He was not alone in that; the final vote in the Senate was close, with most Democrats opposing the resolution authorizing Bush to use force.)  Kerry was even less willing to use force than Howard Dean, who supported the decision to remove Saddam from Kuwait.

The decision to remove Saddam from Kuwait in 1991 was an easy one, far easier than the decision to remove him from power in 2003.  It was so easy that it was even popular for a time, after the fact, with much of the anti-American European left.  That Kerry was wrong on the decision shows something about his thinking in 1991.  Has he learned from his mistake?   Possibly, though often he still seems stuck in his own private Vietnam quagmire.
- 6:52 AM, 3 September 2004   [link]


Fox Surges, but that's just because it is partisan, explains the New York Times.
In a shift in the usual pecking order of television news, the Fox News cable channel proved a bigger draw for viewers of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night than any of the broadcast networks.

It was the first time that Fox had beaten all other news outlets for coverage of a major news event, Fox executives said.

At the same time, CNN, which invented the all-news cable channel 24 years ago, fell to last among the three cable news channels, beaten even by MSNBC, the longtime also-ran.

"At a time when conventions are not appealing as much to general viewers but instead to a small coterie of intensely interested political viewers, this is not that surprising," Nicholas Lemann, the dean of the Columbia University Graduate of Journalism and a former political correspondent, said.  "When Republicans are looking for convention coverage on television, they are looking for something that feels Republican to them, and that's Fox News."
Wonder if Lemann, a liberal, would say that CNN and PBS, which did much better during the Democratic convention, "feel Democratic"?

There's another fact that I have not seen discussed anywhere else.  Viewership was more than 2 million higher for the Republicans on their first night of coverage than for the Democrats on their first night.  I say more than 2 rather than something more precise because they have no numbers for CSPAN, which is what I would watch if I had cable.

I'm not sure what to make of the higher viewership for the Republicans.  Perhaps it is more evidence that, despite what many on the left believe, it is Republicans, rather than Democrats, who are energized.
- 3:52 PM, 2 September 2004   [link]


John Kerry Doesn't Have Much Of A Legislative Record:  Who says so?   Republicans, to no one's surprise.   Here's what former Senator Alan Simpson told bloggers about Kerry's record.
It was a big goose egg.  I never saw anything Kerry did in the Senate.  What were his accomplishments?  Nothing.  Kerry isn't an evil man, but he never did anything that I remember.  I didn't see any leadership.  I think Kerry is basically a shy person, and they've got him into a role that is uncomfortable for him.
(There's more from Senator Simpson here.)

It may surprise some, but some (most?) Democratic senators agree, though they can't bring themselves to say so.
On a conference call with reporters, shortly before the Michigan Democratic primary, Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow endorsed Kerry.  I asked them what single piece of legislation stands out as Kerry's signature accomplishment in the U.S. Senate.  Levin and Stabenow hemmed and hawed about how there were so many that it was hard to choose just one.  When asked for a couple of examples, they gave it their best shot.
But the best that they could come up with was that he had fought for bills, which, as Jim Geraghty goes on to say, Kerry did by making speeches on the Senate floor.

The Associated Press studied his entire Senate career a year ago and came up with this summary.
And The Associated Press last July found that only eight laws had Kerry as their lead sponsor, five of them "ceremonial," two relating to the fishing industry, and one providing federal grants to support small businesses owned by women.
That's not impressive for a career that has lasted almost two decades.

To be fair, a senator can contribute in other ways than sponsoring legislation.  They can be party leaders, they can contribute to the budget process, or they can do investigations.   Kerry has not been a party leader or contributed much to the budgets, but he has held some important hearings.  Here's what the 2004 Almanac of American Politics has to say about that part of his career.
In the majority, Kerry made a name as an investigator, spending some time up blind alleys with klieg lights, but also producing some important information.  He used his Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, Narcotics and Terrorism subcommittee to investigate the infamous Bank of Commerce & Credit International scandal.  He also brought forth evidence that Manuel Noriega of Panama was involved with drug-dealing.  Kerry's other great investigation was as chairman of the select committee on POW/MIA Affairs, on whether Americans were left behind in Vietnamese hands in 1973.  Kerry and Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire went to Vietnam and attempted to turn up new evidence.  He concluded that there is evidence "that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number," after 1973, but also said, "There is at this time no compelling evidence that any American remains alive in southeast Asia." (p. 777)
(That conclusion has become both the official position and the conventional wisdom, though there are those who disagree.  I don't know enough about the subject to have an opinion.)

Considering his record, one might choose Kerry to do an investigation — he was a prosecutor for a few years, after all — but one wouldn't choose him to lead on legislation.  For a president, the latter is far more important.

(Kerry does have a stronger record than John Edwards, who accomplished almost nothing in his single term in the Senate.  (That Edwards was a great favorite of journalists, in spite of this, shows something about that profession.)  I have been wondering whether that was one reason Kerry chose Edwards, so that he would look better by contrast, and avoid the charge that he led a "kangaroo" ticket.

Kangaroo ticket?  That's the term for a ticket in which the vice presidential candidate is more impressive than the presidential candidate, because it is stronger in the hindquarters.   It was probably first used in 1932, when some thought John Nance Garner was more impressive than the lightweight governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In recent years, the term has been applied to both the 1988 Dukakis-Bentsen ticket and the 2000 Bush-Cheney ticket.)
- 10:15 AM, 2 September 2004   [link]


Black Representation At The Conventions:  This is curious.   I was a bit suprised, back in July, to learn that blacks were under represented at the Democratic convention, relative to their share of the Democratic voters.  About 28 percent of Democratic voters are black, but just 18 percent of this year's delegates were.   (Though a full 10 percent of the delegates answered "other" when asked the race question.)

Now, from the graphic accompanying this article, I learn that blacks are over represented at the Republican convention, again relative to their share of Republican voters.  Just 2 percent of Republican voters are black, but 10 percent of the delegates are.  What makes this especially curious is that many Democratic state organizations have racial quotas for delegates, but, to my knowledge, no Republican state organizations do.
- 7:33 AM, 2 September 2004   [link]


Charles Cook Agrees With Me:  The very respected political analyst says that Kerry must win two out of three crucial states, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania.
Matthew Dowd, the chief Bush campaign strategist, made the argument on Monday that whichever presidential candidate wins two out of a crucial three states -- Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- will probably be the next president.  The next day, without knowing about Dowd's prediction, former Clinton White House Political Director Doug Sosnik made the very same forecast.

While there are certainly other important battleground states, Dowd and Sosnik are likely to be right.  The electoral votes in Florida (27), Ohio (20), and Pennsylvania (21) total 68, plenty more than the 52 electoral votes in the seven other states that can be considered toss-ups right now: Iowa (7), Minnesota (10), Missouri (11), Nevada (5), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (5),
Which is what I said here.

The very latest polls give Bush narrow leads in all three states; as I write, Bush leads by 4 points in Florida, 6 points in Ohio, and 2 points in Pennsylvania.   (Caveat: All three polls were done by Strategic Vision, a Republican polling firm.  Their results may be correct, but partisan polling firms do tend to produce polls that favor their own parties.)

Cook, more than anyone else, is responsible for the recent conventional wisdom that the race was Kerry's to lose.  Cook appears to have reconsidered that position, judging by this article.
- 6:56 AM, 2 September 2004   [link]


Mysterious Signals:  From outer space.  Here's the article from the New Scientist, a very respectable publication.
In February 2003, astronomers involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) pointed the massive radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, at around 200 sections of the sky.

The same telescope had previously detected unexplained radio signals at least twice from each of these regions, and the astronomers were trying to reconfirm the findings.  The team has now finished analysing the data, and all the signals seem to have disappeared.  Except one, which has got stronger.

This radio signal, now seen on three separate occasions, is an enigma.  It could be generated by a previously unknown astronomical phenomenon.  Or it could be something much more mundane, maybe an artefact of the telescope itself.

But it also happens to be the best candidate yet for a contact by intelligent aliens in the nearly six-year history of the SETI@home project, which uses programs running as screensavers on millions of personal computers worldwide to sift through signals picked up by the Arecibo telescope.
There have been false alarms before, both from the instruments and from unknown astronomical phenomena.  When pulsars were first detected in the 1960s, more than one scientist wondered, though not loudly, whether they were signals from aliens.  (They are rapidly rotating neutron stars.  After Thomas Gold figured that out, astronomers realized they had been predicted in the 1930s.)

I don't know enough about signal processing to say more, but would be interested to hear from those who do.
- 6:04 AM, 2 September 2004   [link]


On Monday, Former President Bush did a long interview with CNN.   The New York Times found this part fit to print.
Former President George Bush fanned doubts yesterday about Senator John Kerry's service in Vietnam, sustaining a decades-old debate that has dominated the presidential campaign in the last few weeks.

In an interview with CNN, Mr. Bush did not directly challenge Mr. Kerry's record but rather, with the subtlety of a seasoned pro, parried questions in a way to gently bat the controversy aloft.
The New York Times found this part unfit to print.
Like many U.S. presidents, the elder George Bush has had a love/hate relationship with the nation's so-called paper of record, The New York Times.

But Monday, Bush told CNN's Paula Zahn that he has "given up" on the paper. He said that his son, President Bush, may have as well.

"The thing that troubles me is, in my opinion, their news columns are getting to show a certain bias," Bush said.  "There is a new way you do it now: 'Reporter's Notebook.'  That gives you a little chance to be an advocate in the news column.  Or 'Washington Whispers' or something like that.  And that relieves the reporter of objective reporting. ... I've given up on them."
I think it is news when a former president of the United States rejects our "newspaper of record" because of bias, even if the New York Times doesn't.

(If you read the entire New York Times article, you'll notice that they also attempt to refute what he said about the 1992 campaign — without giving him a chance to reply.  You can see why he has given up on them.)
- 11:18 AM, 1 September 2004   [link]


Do American Parties Keep Platform Promises?  I know of only one formal attempt to answer that questions, a study done by political science professor Gerald Pomper.  Out of his study came several papers, which made their way, in the usual course of things, from the professional journals to a book, this one, I think.  (I am pretty sure I still have the book — and that it is buried so deep in a storage closet that it would take me an hour to find it.  But I will look for it, soon.)

What Pomper found in his examination of a series of party platforms is that parties do keep most of their promises, almost 4 out of 5, if my memory is correct.  Is that good, or bad?   I would say it is fair.  The American political system is designed to make actions difficult, and to provide many opportunities to block legislation.  It is worth noting that Pomper found that parties were especially likely to keep promises that required only executive orders, not legislation.  (They kept, again if my memory is correct, almost 90 percent of those promises.)

The parties kept most promises in every area except one.  Pomper's study covered platforms in the 1950s and 1960s, when civil rights was at the center of American politics.  During this time, before the mammoth civil rights bills of 1964 and afterwards, both parties promised action, but neither delivered.  The reason for the failure is simple; Southern Democrats, though a minority, were able to block action in the Senate with filibusters, or the threat of filibusters.

If parties keep most promises, why do so many people feel otherwise?  Because we remember the ones they break and forget the ones they keep.  Nearly everyone remembers that George H. W. Bush broke his promise on taxes; almost no one remembers that he kept promises on the environment, education, and civil rights.

Because the platforms matter, I will be doing some comparisons of the Democratic and Republican party platforms in the months before the election.

(If you are looking for the study, you could start with the back issues of the American Political Science Review, circa 1970, where at least some of Pomper's work was published.

There may be more recent work on the subject.  I have not looked at the literature for more than two decades.)
- 10:44 AM, 1 September 2004   [link]