September 2006, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
The Elusive Mt. Jefferson: Mt. Jefferson is said to be one of the most beautiful mountains in Oregon. And so it is. It is easy to see from from the east or northeast. But the road I took across the Cascades, Route 22, gives you only occasional glimpses of the mountain. And so, though I was watching for the Jefferson, I missed several good opportunities for pictures. Finally, I spotted it through a logging area, stopped the car, walked back, scrambled up through some brush, and took several pictures, including this telephoto.
It would have been easier to find a place to stop if I had had a spotter in the car or if there had been less traffic. But I wasn't the only one enjoying the mountains yesterday.
I did get good looks at Mt. Washington and Blue Lake Crater, but I was in a hurry to get to Lava Lands, so I got only a few pictures of the first, and none of the second. (Blue Lake Crater is close to the main highway, but there is no quick way to get down to it.) I had to rush because Lava Lands closed for the season at five PM yesterday. They are planning to do some work on the visitor center, why I am not sure, because it looked fine to me.
And, now off to see the Newberry Caldera. Hope to have a picture or two from Lava Lands for you tomorrow, and maybe even a political post.
- 8:49 AM, 24 September 2006 [link]
Today I Have Been Packing for another disaster area tour. I'll be car camping part of the time, so packing takes longer than usual.
The weather forecasters are predicting excellent weather for the areas I will be visiting. And the odds are on my side, since Septembers are usually quite nice in that part of Oregon.
Though I will be car camping part of the time, I am taking a laptop with me, and hope to put up a post or two almost every day. You should be able to reach me by email, but since this is the first time I have tried this, I won't promise that everything will work.
- 2:32 PM, 22 September 2006 [link]
Think Education Will Reduce Terrorism? Then you will want to find this column in the library. (Assuming you don't subscribe to $TimesSelect.)
Two economists, Efrem Benmelich and Claude Berrebi, studied the "productivity" of Palestinian suicide bombers, productivity being defined as success in mass murder. They found the usual relationships:
. . . for terrorists, just like for regular workers, experience and education improve productivity. Suicide bombers who are older — in their late 20's and early 30's — and better educated are less likely to be caught on their missions and are more likely to to kill large numbers of people at bigger, more difficult targets than younger and more poorly educated bombers.This is an argument that I have been making for years. But I take no pleasure in seeing evidence that supports my conclusion that better educated terrorists are more deadly enemies.
In principle, the right kinds of moral education could reduce terrorism, but those kinds are increasingly rare in the Western world.
(There's nothing new in this argument. For instance, almost everyone who has studied World War II has concluded that the relatively high level of education in Nazi Germany made them far more dangerous. And it is not hard to think of many more examples.)
- 1:14 PM, 21 September 2006 [link]
Americans Are Dissatisfied With Congress: Will this mean that the voters will throw out many incumbents? Not necessarily.
First, the latest poll findings.
With the midterm elections less than seven weeks away, Americans have an overwhelmingly negative view of the Republican-controlled Congress, with substantial majorities saying that they disapprove of the job it is doing and that its members do not deserve reelection, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.But that isn't the whole story, because if you look at the historical poll results, you will find that Americans are almost always dissatisfied with Congress, and that peaks of dissatisfaction do not necessarily coincide with big electoral shifts. For example, just as they say, 73 percent were dissatisfied with Congress in November, 1994, and there was a big electoral shift. But, in June, 1996, 71 percent were dissatisfied (though that had fallen to 58 in the next month) and there was no big shift in that year's election). And you can find other examples as you look through the table accompanying Question 9.
Why do Americans keep re-electing their congressmen, if they are dissatisfied with Congress? Because, as the Times concedes farther along in the article, most are not dissatisfied with their own congressman.
Overall discontent with Congress or Washington does not necessarily signify how someone will vote when they see the familiar name of their member of Congress on the ballot. Thus, while 61 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the way Congress was handling its job, just 29 percent said they disapproved of the way their own "representative is handling his or her job."(As it happens, I am in the minority here; I have mixed feelings about the performance of Congress, but almost entirely negative feelings about my own congressman, Jay Inslee.)
One reason for this gap between views of Congress as a whole and the views of one's own congressman is that many congressmen run for Congress — by running against Congress. And they often do so, even if they are in the majority, sometimes even if they are in the leadership. Some of the strongest criticism of Congress comes from congressman who are trying, almost always successfully, to get re-elected. One congressman might rail against wasteful pork barrel spending, another, representing a different kind of district, will tell his constituents that he has been fighting to get them their fair share of spending. A congressman representing a rural district will talk about how he has been trying to protect family farmers, a congressman from an urban district might rail against the wasteful subsidies to millionaire farmers, and so one. All will criticize Congress in order to appeal to their own constituents. And when you look at the incumbent re-election rates, you can see how successful this strategy is.
(Those who look closely at poll results will note that the respondents were not likely voters, or even voters, but either "Americans", or "adults". (Most likely the respondents were "adults", which, these days, includes many who are not citizens. Fifteen percent admitted to not being registered and a quarter of those who said they are registered admitted that they had not been paying much attention to the election.) Using adults doesn't make the poll meaningless, but it does slant the results toward the Democrats.)
- 9:29 AM, 21 September 2006 [link]
Some Thoughts Are Best Left unexpressed. Especially if you are the chairman of the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
- 6:38 AM, 21 September 2006 [link]
Is Karl Rove just trying to make the Democrats nervous?
In the past week, Karl Rove has been promising Republican insiders an "October surprise" to help win the November congressional elections.Maybe. And I'll bet this deliberate leak does have that effect on some Democrats.
- 6:03 AM, 21 September 2006 [link]
And Now For Something Lighter: Yesterday's column by libertarian John Tierney, hidden, alas, behind the $TimesSelect wall, gives an elaborate equation for predicting the chances of success (or, more likely, failure) of celebrity marriages. Some highlights:
Younger couples have worse prospects than older couples do, particularly if they rush to the altar before getting to know each other.Using this equation, Tierney (and Garth Sundem, author of Geek Logik, who did most of the work) predict that a few celebrity marriages have good chances of lasting, specifically those of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, Matt Damon and Luciana Barroso, and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. But for most other celebrity marriages, definitely including that between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Tierney advises skipping the monograms if you send them gift towels.
Tierney doesn't mention the thing that struck me most about his equation. He may not even have noticed it — he is, after all, a libertarian not much inclined to to credit traditional ideas. But when I looked at the factors that made for success in these celebrity marriages, I was struck by how similar they were to the advice that most of us might have gotten from — our grandparents and great-grandparents.
- 2:21 PM, 20 September 2006 [link]
Democratic Corruption In New Jersey And Senate Control: Most political observers think that, for the Democrats to win control of the Senate, they must win nearly all the endangered Republican seats — and not lose any of their own. But a perennial problem, Democratic corruption in New Jersey, is making the second part of that less likely.
I've mentioned other cases of Democratic corruption in New Jersey, for instance, here and here, but have not discussed the problems of Senator Robert Menendez. (Incumbent, but not elected. When Democratic governor Jim McGreevey was forced to resign because of corruption and flamboyant behavior, Menendez helped then Senator Jon Corzine become governor — and Corzine appointed Menendez to fill his place in the Senate.)
Here's Senator Menendez's latest problem:
But another name has emerged as a major factor in an election that is less than two months away: United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie. Mr. Christie's office extracted a plea agreement on Friday from the former State Senate president, John A. Lynch Jr., one New Jersey's more influential Democratic politicians, and has recently issued a subpoena to examine the records of a community agency that paid rent to Mr. Menendez while getting millions of dollars in federal grants.The New York Times isn't quite sure whether it is fair to investigate an incumbent Democrat for corruption, at least not when the election is this close. As for me, I have no doubt that Menendez is corrupt, whether he is guilty in this case, or not. As the Times delicately says, Menendez is "a veteran of Hudson County's bruising brand of politics". A more honest way to say that would be to say that Menendez is a leader of a political machine infamous for its corruption. (For an example of that corruption, see this post.)
The polls show that the Republican candidate, Tom Kean, Jr., currently has a small lead. And if the corruption scandal continues to simmer, there is good reason to think that he will keep that lead, since he is a good fit for the state. And, if Kean captures this Democratic seat, it is hard to imagine a plausible scenario in which the Democrats take control of the Senate.
(The coverage of this race is so partisan and error-filled as to be amusing — unless you believe that you can trust "mainstream" journalists. For instance, this AP story claims that: "Menendez has never been charged with any wrongdoing during his 32 years in political office." Never? He may never have been indicted, but it is impossible to believe than his opponents did not, from time to time, suggest that his record may have a flaw or two.
And this article from the New York Observer manages to fail both ethically and factually. The author, Steve Kornacki, does not doubt that Menendez — and many other New Jersey Democrats — are corrupt; he just hopes the issue doesn't give Republicans a win. And to make his argument, he has to exaggerate how Democratic New Jersey is. It is true that Republicans have had trouble electing a senator there in recent decades; it is also true that Reagan won the state in 1980 and 1984, George H. W. Bush won it in 1988, and George W. Bush lost it by just 6 points in 2004. And the Republicans controlled both houses of the New Jersey legislature for much of the decade of the 1990's. As I said in this post, New Jersey leans Democratic, but can be won by the Republicans.)
- 11:55 AM, 20 September 2006 [link]
Fish Detectors are helping to protect the water in some large cities.
A type of fish so common that practically every American kid who ever dropped a fishing line and a bobber into a pond has probably caught one is being enlisted in the fight against terrorism.Living things have had billions of years, literally, to devise detectors, and have developed some excellent detectors. It is smart to find ways to use these detectors to protect ourselves, from terrorism and from other hazards. (And these bluegills would probably prefer living in a tank with food supplied, and no predators, to life in the wild — if they were smart enough to understand the choice.)
(Perhaps the most impressive known detector is that found in some male moths.
The first pheromone ever identified (in 1956) was a powerful sex attractant for silkworm moths. A team of German researchers worked 20 years to isolate it. After removing certain glands at the tip of the abdomen of 500,000 female moths, they extracted a curious compound. The minutest amount of it made male moths beat their wings madly in a "flutter dance."The male moths have such good detectors for this compound, which the researchers named "bombykol", that, according to some researchers, they can detect single molecules of the compound, though it takes more than one molecule to stimulate the male moths to begin their mating behavior. I don't think that these moths will be of any great use as detectors, but they give us an idea of what might be possible with other organisms.)
- 2:03 PM, 19 September 2006 [link]
As Usual, the primary election ballot provided by King County was poorly designed and the little wobbly voting stations inadequate. The stations are so small that they provide little privacy, and they wiggle so badly that I have trouble filling in the ovals on the optical ballots. This time, as I was trying to fill out the ballot, the light on the first station I tried kept blinking on and off. This is a wealthy county, which could easily afford decent voting stations.
The lousy voting stations were annoying; the bad ballot design could affect the results of the election. Because of court decisions, Washington state was forced to give up its popular blanket primary. As a result, the ballot actually covered three separate elections, the Democratic primary, the Republican primary, and the nonpartisan races. There is, I think, an obvious way to design a single ballot to cover all three. You put the party choice at the very top, in the middle, by itself. You then put the Democratic primary choices in one column and the Republican primary choices in a separate column. And you separate the three with strong visual clues. The nonpartisan races go on the back.
Instead, whoever designed the ballot put the party choice in the left hand column, just above the Democratic party choices. The Democratic choices extended into the right hand column; the Republican choices extended on to the back of the ballot. This was needlessly confusing. (Though they did color code the two parties, using, as is now common, blue for Democrats and red for Republicans.) And, unfortunately, these kinds of design mistakes are what I have come to expect from King County.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(I said as usual because this was exactly the same experience that I have had in previous elections, for instance, in 2002 and in 2004.)
- 1:16 PM, 19 September 2006 [link]
AccuVote Versus My Ballot: This morning I voted in the Washington state's primary election and had my ballot rejected, multiple times, by an AccuVote optical scanner. It wasn't because of any mistake I made; the ballot was rejected long before the machine even got to my filled-in ovals. Finally, one of the election workers got it to work by pressing on some contacts at the front of the machine.
I like this kind of voting system better than most, but I have to admit my experience made me wonder about the design — or, possibly, the maintenance — of this particular machine.
- 12:34 PM, 19 September 2006 [link]
More On The Scandal At UMDNJ: The monitor appointed to investigate fraud at University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Herbert Stern, continues to investigate — and continues to find open corruption.
A powerful southern New Jersey politician was paid for a no-work job at a scandal-ridden state university while helping the school garner millions of dollars in new state funding, according to a report released Monday.Nice work if you can get it.
Stern estimates that "losses from fraud and abuse there could exceed $243 million", which isn't chump change, even for a state as wealthy as New Jersey.
(You can find more about the scandal in this New York Times story. From it, I learned that Senator Bryant is not a lazy man; he "has held as many as four government jobs simultaneously".
You can find earlier posts on this scandal here and here. And for those who live in Washington state, I'll just mention that we, too, have a state senator with a university job. I have no reason to believe that Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles is as openly corrupt as Senator Bryant appears to be, but her two positions have resulted in ethical conflicts.)
- 9:15 AM, 19 September 2006 [link]
John Kerry is Running For President In 2008: How do I know? Because he is now claiming to have returned to the Catholic Church almost two decades ago.
Kerry said in Malibu, Calif., that he "wandered in the wilderness" after the Vietnam War but came back to the Roman Catholic Church after a sudden and moving revelation in the late 1980s.That's a touching story, but it would be more believable if his "revelation" had been followed by any change in his behavior. But, as far as I know, Kerry did not stop being pro-abortion, did not begin attending church outside campaign season, did not even begin contributing modestly to the Catholic church.
I'll repeat the advice I have given before. Politicians such as John Kerry would be better off if they did not pretend to hold religious beliefs. Instead, they should show some respect for those who do.
(I suppose that it is possible that Kerry is telling the truth about his "revelation". If so, we must conclude that his "revelation" made Kerry feel better, but had no effect on his behavior otherwise. I am not an expert on Catholic doctrine, but I am fairly sure that few Catholic leaders would be impressed by that kind of "revelation".)
- 7:37 AM, 19 September 2006 [link]
What Interrogation Techniques Does The CIA Want To Use On Terrorists? The Guardian — which is no friend to the Bush administration — has a little list.
The techniques sought by the CIA are: induced hypothermia; forcing suspects to stand for prolonged periods; sleep deprivation; a technique called "the attention grab" where a suspect's shirt is forcefully seized; the "attention slap" or open hand slapping that hurts but does not lead to physical damage; the "belly slap"; and sound and light manipulation.Are those techniques torture? Some would say they are. My own opinion is that it depends on the individuals being questioned and how severe the techniques are. There are, for instance, medical conditions that make standing for even short periods of time quite painful. There are levels of sound that are physically painful and would certainly be torture if they were continued for any length of time.
Saying that it depends is, as I have said before, unsatisfactory. For many reasons we would like to have a clear definition of torture — but no such definition is possible. To begin with, reasonable and decent persons will disagree on the definition, even when they agree on the facts. And what is torture to one man will not necessarily be torture to another. Unsatisfactory, but inescapable. Most discussions of this subject assume that we can find a clear line between torture and tough interrogation, but there is no such line, however much we might wish otherwise.
Are the techniques "humiliating and degrading"? Some certainly are. In fact, the purpose of the grabs and slaps is to humiliate the prisoner, to show him that he is helpless. It is forbidden by the latest Geneva Conventions, as I said yesterday, to treat prisoners from a regular army in a "humiliating and degrading" fashion. Should that same protection be given to terrorists? I don't think so.
- 6:42 AM, 19 September 2006
More: This New York Times correction illustrates my point about the lack of agreement on what constitutes torture.
- 10:51 AM, 19 September 2006 [link]
Why Are Gas Prices Falling? Mainly because the summer driving season is over.
As for the drop in gasoline prices, which a number of readers also attribute to an election-related conspiracy, the case is even clearer. For starters, that $15 drop in the price of a barrel of crude works out to about 36 cents a gallon. Since oil accounts for about half the price of making a gallon of gasoline, there's 18 cents off the price at the pump right there. The seasonal drop in demand, a milder-than-expected hurricane season and the flight of money out of the gasoline futures market has also helped drive pump prices down by 40 cents since the start of August.Even though gas prices fall almost every year at this time, some leftists will still conclude that the Bush administration and the evil oil companies are trying to rig the election.
(Oh, and here's a prediction for you: Heating oil prices will rise during the coming winter. How much will depend (partly) on how severe the winter is.)
- 6:14 AM, 19 September 2006 [link]
Here's Something Different: Muslim victims of terrorism — and they weren't killed by Muslims.
Suspected Tamil Tiger rebels hacked 10 Muslim laborers to death and badly wounded another in eastern Sri Lanka at the weekend, the army said on Monday, the latest in a string of mass killings and abuses.The Tamil Tigers come close to matching Muslim extremist groups in their terrorist tactics. The Tigers are, if you are wondering, Hindus, and they have been fighting the dominant Buddhists in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) for decades.
- 5:31 AM, 19 September 2006 [link]
If You Don't Stop Calling Us Violent, We'll Kill You! That's the message coming from many Muslim extremists after the Pope offended them. (And he is not the first to become the target of that kind of threat.) Some Muslims have already followed through on the threats, so we can not consider them idle talk.
I suppose that it isn't easy for reporters to ask such questions, but shouldn't at least one reporter ask one of the spokesmen for these extremist groups if he doesn't realize that this combination is both crazy and morbidly funny?
For a longer take see this post by Reverend Sensing, who makes this sobering point.
But we also need to understand that violence does not occupy the same theological space in Christianity as it does in Islam. Christianity has historically had to justify the use of violence even for just reasons, such as the maintenance of public order, punishment of criminals or making war. Violence just does not have a natural place inside the world view of the New Testament. It can be justified, but only uneasily, with great caution and no little difficulty. The times in history when Christian societies or Christian armies embraced violence as a means of propagating the faith are not held as exemplars today.And this little historical tidbit will strengthen his point: As far as I can tell, after Mohammed came to power in Medina, he fought battles in every year of his life, and in most of them he was the attacker. And his four immediate successors, the Caliphs accepted by both Sunnis and Shiites, built a vast empire by conquest. In short, all five were almost continually engaged in aggressive war. The limits on their attacks were not theological, but practical.
- 2:25 PM, 18 September 2006 [link]
The Red Hot Chili Peppers is not a group that I know much about. In fact, before today, I could not have named a single song they have done. But after reading of their effect on one audience, I am becoming a fan of the group.
According to unnamed sources in the [New York] Times article, the FBI and CIA clashed over whether to use soft or tough questioning methods on the captured terrorist. Because it had jurisdiction, the CIA took over and the inquisition began. Agency interrogators stripped [al Qaeda operative Abu] Zubaydah, put him in a freezing room and subjected him to Red Hot Chili Peppers.Not a big enough fan to buy one of their CDs, but a fan nonetheless.
Now, to be more serious for a moment, let me ask these questions: Was what was done to Zubaydah "humiliating and degrading treatment", which is forbidden by the latest Geneva Convention? Was it, perhaps, even torture?
O'Reilly is sure that it is not torture. But I would give high odds that one could find, without much effort, international lawyers who would disagree. And I am certain that it would be easy to find international lawyers who would argue that it was humiliating and degrading treatment. As for me, I don't think it was torture, and I don't see any moral problem with subjecting terrorists to "humiliating and degrading treatment". In fact, I think that's what they deserve — at the very least.
When you read high-minded discussions about this subject in "mainstream" newspapers, you should know that those who disagree with me think that Zubaydah should not have had to listen to the Peppers. If that is your view, we'll just have to agree to disagree. And I will hope, for your own safety, that your view does not prevail.
(If you are as unfamiliar with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as I am, you can learn more here and here.)
- 10:18 AM, 18 September 2006
Correction: A sharp-eyed emailer noticed that I had one too many negatives in the first sentence of the next-to-the-last paragraph of the original post. I've corrected the the mistake. I think Zubaydah should have to listen to the Peppers, but there are some who think that goes too far.
- 1:51 PM, 18 September 2006 [link]
AP Stringer, Enemy Agent: There isn't much doubt that Bilal Hussein, who has been working for the Associated Press in Iraq, has also been working for the enemy. Consider the latest evidence from — an AP story.
The military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, including Hamid Hamad Motib, an alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. "He has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on coalition forces," according to a May 7 e-mail from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, who oversees all coalition detainees in Iraq.And there's much more evidence against Hussein, as you see in these posts from John Hinderacker and Michelle Malkin.
American journalists generally seem to think that Hussein is a fine photographer; in fact, he shared a Pulitzer prize with other Iraqi photographers. The Associated Press is trying to get him released. They say, charged or released, but I can't find any reason to think that they actually want him charged — in spite of the mountain of evidence against him.
This statement from the Associated Press explains what may seem, at first glance, bizarre:
That Hussein was captured at the same time as insurgents doesn't make him one of them, said Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor.In the war between terrorists and the civilized world, the AP prefers not to choose sides, prefers to be neutral between those who murder innocent civilians and those who try to prevent those murders. Remember that the next time you read an AP story or look at an AP photograph.
(Any chance the Pulitzer Prize will be retracted? Somewhere between slim and none, but closer to none. If Hussein were shown to have been working for the Republican party, the chances might be greater.
You can find my earlier posts on Hussein here and here)
- 7:19 AM, 18 September 2006 [link]
When I Heard About The Contaminated Spinach, my first reaction was to think that Popeye wasn't going to like this one bit. But then I recalled that Popeye always ate canned spinach, which is not affected by the recall.
My second reaction was more serious. I suspected that the contaminated spinach was raised on "organic" farms. And the first reports suggest that second reaction was correct.
An outbreak of E. coli has been linked to a California spinach processor, but government investigators are looking into other producers as well.My reasoning was simple. Strains of E. coli that are harmful to people often come from animal manure, especially cow manure. And where is cow manure used as a fertilizer on modern farms? Why, on "organic" farms. Most "organic" growers are aware of the risks from manure, but there are many places in the production chain where a single careless worker can introduce contamination. Most likely, that's what caused these illnesses and, so far, one known death.
(As you probably know, most strains of E. coli are harmless; in fact, the strains that nearly all of us have in our lower intestines make vitamin K, so they are, to some extent, beneficial.
You can find more on E. coli here and here.)
- 6:12 AM, 17 September 2006
More: After I wrote this post, I ran across this New York Times article, which tries to minimize the possibility that the contaminated spinach came from "organic" farms. I continue to think that's the most likely source, and another New York Times article gives additional support for that conclusion. The most likely source of the bacteria, according to an expert on food safety is "water that has been contaminated by animal waste".
- 5:41 AM, 18 September 2006 [link]