Archive:

September 2007, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Want To Buy An Electric Car?  You may have many choices in five to ten years.
Trading the internal combustion engine for batteries could bring well-publicized advantages: reducing pollution, raising mileage, promoting energy independence.  E.V.'s and plug-in hybrids could deliver the gasoline equivalent of 100 miles a gallon or more.  For consumers, that would in effect roll back the clock to buck-a-gallon gas.  Car owners could save money in their sleep, recharging in the off hours when electricity is cheapest.

And compared with hydrogen fuel-cell cars, the infrastructure for electric cars already exists, requiring only more plugs in more places.  Aside from home recharging, it would be easier to install pay-per-use outlets at curbsides and in parking lots than to spawn a network of hydrogen filling stations.  Wal-Mart and McDonald's might offer convenient electricity for customers or employees.

Sounds good?  There is one problem.  There is still not a single E.V. or plug-in hybrid available that can approach the driving range, interior room and performance of a typical gas-powered family sedan, at anywhere near the price that an average consumer would pay.
May.  Read the article if you want to know more about the possibilities, the problems, and the contenders.
- 2:24 PM, 24 September 2007   [link]


Mistaken Scientific Consensuses:  John Tierney's column describing Bjorn Lomborg's arguments on global warming* inspired much outrage, as sacrilegious ideas generally do.  I don't know Tierney personally, but I am nearly certain that he was delighted by the controversy.  That would explain why he has devoted two blog posts, here and here, to discussing it.

In the second post, comenter "alephnaut" asked for examples of mistaken scientific consensuses, and gave several to start the discussion.  Tierney agreed that this was a good question to discuss and asked for more.  I added two myself (see comment 9), as did others.  And I am sure that many others could be added by those who know a little about the history of science.

Let's summarize: Often individual scientists are wrong.  Sometimes most scientists (even enough scientists to make a consensus) are wrong.  And sometimes a scientific consensus is wrong for a very long time.  For example, the uniformitarian** consensus in geology, which I mentioned, though not by that name, lasted more than a century.  And it is easy to find examples of other mistaken scientific consensuses that have lasted decades.

This is discouraging, because it shows that sometimes we can not trust scientists to be right, even when almost all of them agree.  That leaves non-scientists in an difficult position.   (Though not as difficult as the position of the scientists who disagree with a consensus.  They often face serious career problems, especially in fields that require research grants, as almost all now do.)  We seldom have the expertise necessary to evaluate scientific claims ourselves, so we have to rely, to some extent, on scientists — who are not always correct.

There is no general solution to this problem; in fact, I would argue that there can be no general solution to this problem.  But there is one general question that can help non-scientists evaluate a scientific theory:  How good are the theory's predictions?  For example, I make no claim to understand quantum mechanics (and do not know enough mathematics to understand it, even if I tried).  But I can appreciate the fact that quantum mechanics predicts, in detail, how atoms, and their constituent particles, behave.  In contrast, uniformitarianism could not explain many well-known facts about the earth.

This general question leads, naturally, since we were discussing Lomborg's ideas on global warming, to this specific question:  How good are the predictions of the global warming theorists?  I don't know of any formal answers to that question, but I can give you some tentative thoughts.

To begin with, it is misleading to to describe their ideas as theories, at least as scientific theories.  The predictions global warming advocates make come from their computer models, which are based on scientific theories — we hope — but are not themselves testable scientific theories.  That said, they do get predictions from their models, predictions that can, in principle, be tested.  (I say, in principle, because some of the predictions are so long term that none of us will live to see them tested.)  According to news accounts, the models fit the current climate reasonably well, but it is not clear, at least to me, whether the data fits the models, or the models were fit to the data.

And then there is this discouraging fact.  The models from different research groups do not make identical predictions, which means that at least some of the models are wrong.  Perhaps all.

Summing this up, we can be certain that the global warming models are not as good at predictions as quantum mechanics is.  But we can't say much more than that, for certain.  As far as I can tell — let me repeat, as far as I can tell — they have not been fully tested, and can not be until more time passes.

Let me end this post with a request:  If you know of any formal evaluation of the predictions made by the climate models, whether the evaluation comes from proponents or opponents, please let me know, so that I can take a look at it.  Best of all, of course, would be a set of evaluations, from scientists with a range of views on the subject.

And a suggestion to those journalists who are certain that global warming is a serious problem requiring immediate action.  Don't tell us about a scientific consensus on the subject (which may be exaggerated), tell us about the evidence that the proponents find most impressive.  In short, give us data, not opinions, even if those opinions come from scientists.  And if you want to be honest journalists, tell us about the data that the scientists who disagree with the global warming theorists use to support their conclusions.

(*Summarizing drastically, Lomborg believes that human-caused global warming is a problem, but that trying to prevent it is a waste of resources, resources that could be spent in better ways.

Here's Lomborg's latest book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, which I have not read, but plan to.

**If you need a review of uniformitarianism, you can find one in this biography of its most important proponent, Charles Lyell.

As always, when I discuss global warming, I suggest that you read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 1:53 PM, 24 September 2007   [link]


"You Are What You Watch"  That's the headline for this Alessandra Stanley article in the New York Times.  And the headline is, on the whole, an accurate description of the article.
What do you watch?"

It is no longer a lazy way to redirect a boring conversation.  Questions about viewing preferences have become fraught; the topic is as intimate, revealing and potentially off-putting as discussing how much money you make.

It's a rich television age and a demanding one.  The selection is now so plentiful and fragmented and good.  And deciding among hundreds of channels, on-demand options, DVR, Internet streaming and iPhones requires so much research, planning and commitment that viewers have become proprietary about their choices.  Alliances are formed, and so are antipathies.  Snobbery takes root.   Preferences turn totemic.  The mass audience splintered long ago; now viewers are divided into tribes with their own rituals and rites of passage.

Some people swear allegiance to "Mad Men," the sleek and brooding AMC series set in the Madison Avenue advertising world at the tail end of the Eisenhower administration.  Others find that show's aesthetic stinting and too trendy, and argue that the summer's best new offering was instead "Damages," the legal thriller with Glenn Close on FX.  And even that show has caused rifts between those who live for Ms. Close's "Devil Sues Prada" star turns and others who think its plot is too knotted up with wretched portence.
My reaction to the headline was despair, considering how much trash is on television.  My first reaction to the article was puzzlement.  I haven't had cable TV for years, and haven't even heard of the programs she names in the first paragraphs.  And when I finished the article, my last reaction was amusement, as I wondered how Stanley talked to men — assuming that she does — without ever watching sports programs.

Does she know that many sports programs still have mass audiences?  Apparently not.

(Full disclosure:  I watch very little television, some sports programs, enough of the local news to get the weather forecasts, the last half of Fox News Sunday — and the couch gags on the The Simpsons (and sometimes an entire episode).  As far as I can tell, there is zero overlap between what Stanley and I watch, except, perhaps, for the The Simpsons.

And I must confess that I feel more than a little sorry for TV critics; it is one of those jobs that I can't imagine doing, unless I received hazard pay.

Minor quibble:  Shouldn't the first sentence begin with a quotation mark, to match the one at the end?  I'd put one there, but the New York Times may have different rules.)
- 8:19 AM, 24 September 2007   [link]


Just In Case You Had Any Doubts:  John Coatsworth ended them.
A Columbia University dean said yesterday the Ivy League school would gladly welcome mass murderer Adolf Hitler to speak on campus.

"If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him," John Coatsworth, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, told Fox News yesterday.
In other words, even if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were as bad as Hitler — he's not, at least not yet — he would still deserve a platform at a once prestigious university.  Glad they cleared that up.  (No word yet on whether elected Republicans would deserve similar invitations.)

Defenders of Columbia's invitation to Ahmadinejad, (and, hypothetically, Hitler) often say they are defending free speech.  In fact, such invitations have nothing to do with freedom of speech.   If I don't invite an evil man into my home, I am not preventing him from speaking.  That's simple enough so that I suspect some of those making the argument are not doing so honestly.

I assume you know — though I am not so sure about Dean Coatsworth — that Ahmadinejad's regime is, even now, supplying weapons to terrorists in Iraq, weapons being used to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

(Here's the video showing the Coatsworth interview, if by some chance you have not seen it.)
- 5:51 AM, 24 September 2007   [link]


Commando Raid Preceded Bombing Raid?  That's what the Times of London says.
Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean.  This raised fears that Syria might have joined North Korea and Iran in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.
And the Times is probably right.

The first and second paragraphs aren't consistent; the first says that nuclear material (enriched uranium?) was seized, the second that "nuclear related" material (which could be many things) was seized.  That makes it even harder to speculate on what the Israelis found — and what they destroyed.

(Here's my earlier post on the bombing raid, with more speculation..)
- 7:19 AM, 23 September 2007   [link]


Clark Hoyt Gets It Right:  As regular readers know, I am not a fan of the latest public editor at the New York Times.  But in today's column, on MoveOn's anti-Petraeus ad, he gets it right.
Did MoveOn.org get favored treatment from The Times?  And was the ad outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse?

The answer to the first question is that MoveOn.org paid what is known in the newspaper industry as a standby rate of $64,575 that it should not have received under Times policies.  The group should have paid $142,083.  The Times had maintained for a week that the standby rate was appropriate, but a company spokeswoman told me late Thursday afternoon that an advertising sales representative made a mistake.

The answer to the second question is that the ad appears to fly in the face of an internal advertising acceptability manual that says, "We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature."  Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad, said that, while it was "rough," he regarded it as a comment on a public official's management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for The Times to print.
So, MoveOn did receive a favorable rate, because they got to pick the day for the ad, and — far more important — the ad was a personal attack, or, to put it more directly, libelous.  (Because General Petraeus is a public figure, he probably could not win a libel suit.  But, if he were an unknown, a Private Petraeus, he probably could.)

The second question seems far more important than the first, at least to me.  The favorable rate may have been a "mistake" — though I doubt that.  But publishing a libelous ad, which even Jesperson admits was "rough", was not a mistake.  And almost no one will believe that the Times would have published an equally "rough" ad attacking, for instance, Hillary Clinton.

(In this earlier post, I speculated that the favorable rate was not a special deal.  But we now know that it was, so I have added an update to that post.)
- 6:10 AM, 23 September 2007
More from Roger Simon who, like me, at first gave the New York Times the benefit of the doubt — but no longer does.
- 10:52 AM, 24 September 2007   [link]


The Arithmetic Is Simple:  But too difficult for Al Gore.
Just imagine the infomercial: Have I got a deal for you!  You may not know it, but your house is leaking energy, which means that you are the victim of colossal waste.  In fact, your waste of energy will cost you a total of $22,000 over the rest of your life.  But I've got a package of home improvements we can install to slash that to a mere $10,000.  What?  The cost of these improvements?  It's a pittance really —a mere $34,000.

Sound implausible?  It should, but that's exactly the sales pitch — minus admission of the actual cost — that Al Gore, Sir Nicholas Stern of the U.K. Treasury, and a host of climate doomsayers are pushing on governments around the world.

The significant problems that might be caused by global warming are indisputable; all the major figures in climate economics agree.  Yet they also, with the exception of Sir Nicholas, agree that drastic action now would be even more costly.
And too difficult for most journalists, as far as I can tell.

Here's the simplest way I can say it:  The benefits of preventing man-made global warming are less than the costs of preventing it.  According to most estimates.

(As always, when I discuss global warming, I suggest you read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)
- 2:45 PM, 22 September 2007   [link]


Hummingbirds Like Basil Nectar:  At least one does, anyway.  On Wednesday afternoon, while I was preparing the talk for the Indonesian journalists, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye.  When I looked out on the deck, I saw a hummingbird gathering nectar from the basil flowers.  (I did not photograph it, since it did not stay long enough.)  I would not have guessed that hummingbirds like basil, judging by the look of the flowers.

Which hummingbird?  I'm not sure.  Probably a female Anna's hummingbird.  Possibly a female Rufous hummingbird.

Guess I will have to put up a feeder for her.
- 12:49 PM, 22 September 2007
More:  If you are wondering why this visit surprised me, take a look at three lists of hummingbird flowers here, here, and here.  You'll notice that the list makers don't mention basil, and that they agree that hummingbirds like flowers that are red, tubular, or both.  Basil flowers are white and shallow.  Maybe hummingbirds just like the flavor of the basil nectar.  Or maybe the one I saw was really, really hungry.
- 10:16 AM, 23 September 2007
Another Visit Yesterday:  From a male Anna's and, just a little later, another female.  I think it fair to assume that the yesterday's female yesterday was an Anna's and that it is the same one I saw earlier.

Incidentally, male Anna's hummningbirds are quite gaudy, perform a fancy courting maneuver — and do not help the females raise the young.  There may be a lesson for us in that.
- 3:46 PM, 24 September 2007   [link]


Mt. Shasta:  With its very own cloud.  As I drove south on Route 97 from Bend, Oregon and got near the border with California, I began to see Mt. Shasta from time to time.  As I drove into California and toward the mountain, it began to dominate the landscape.

Mt. Shasta from Route 97


All of Route 97 is in the rain shadow of mountains, in this area the Klamath Mountains, which is why the foreground is so dry.

That dry climate probably explains the cloud streaming from Shasta that day.  (And on other days during my tour.)  Warm, dry winds blow across Shasta's glaciers and pick up moisture, which they carry off to the east.  Incidentally, Shasta's glaciers have been growing vigorously in the last half century.
When Slawek Tulaczk and Ian Howat of the University of California, Santa Cruz, began a new study of Shasta's glaciers in the early 2000s, they found that these ice streams — unlike those on most other Cascade volcanoes — are vigorously growing.  Between 1951 and 2002, the Hotlum and Wintum glaciers approximately doubled in area, while the Bolum grew about 50 percent, and the Whitney and Konwakiton by about a third (see chapter 22).  Tulaczk ascribes the expansion of Shasta's ice cover to a climate cycle of increased precipitation. (p. 109)
So those clouds may be even bigger in the future.

The guidebooks I have read say that the best views of Shasta are generally along Route 97, but this picture from Google Earth makes me think that aerial views would be even better.

Mt. Shasta from Google Earth


As you probably have noticed already, the Google Earth view is taken from the south side of the mountain.

Next week, I will have another picture of the mountain, along with a brief discussion of its considerable hazards.

(You can find last week's disaster tour post here, with links to earlier 2007 disaster area tour posts.  You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours, here and here.)
- 2:25 PM, 21 September 2007   [link]


Dan Rather Makes People Happy:  By filing his lawsuit against CBS.
Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather filed a $70 million lawsuit Wednesday against the network, former corporate parent Viacom Inc., and three of his former bosses.

Rather's complaint stems from "CBS' intentional mishandling" of the aftermath of a discredited story about President George W. Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard.
"Beldar" can "hardly wait" for the trial.
I haven't seen the complaint yet, but I can hardly wait, and I'd eagerly pay my own way to NYC to watch the trial or even any significant pretrial hearings . . .
. . .
My glee is tempered by my realization that this case is almost certainly going to go away before it gets to any good stuff.  But oh! it would be fun to watch CBS be forced to justify its putting of Rather out to pasture in a not-quite-firing by showing all of the grounds it had.  Usually in a good juicy family court spat, you find yourself in sympathy with at least one litigant.  But here's a case in which I can just cut loose and enjoy the misery and embarrassment of all concerned!
And Jonah Goldberg is positively giddy.
Dan Rather seems divinely inspired to crash more times than a Kennedy driving home from an office party.   The multimillionaire semi-retired newsman is suing for $70 million, $1 million for every year he's been alive since he was five years old.  Which is fitting, because that's what he sounds like.  The gist of his lawsuit is that CBS used him as a "scapegoat" in the Memogate story to "pacify the White House."  The swelled-headed former anchor, who used to brag incessantly about his toughness and independence, also whines in his suit that the network forced him to apologize under duress when "no apology from him was warranted," and that the former managing editor of CBS News "was not responsible for any such errors."
. . .
The beauty of this lawsuit, which has most legal observers laughing so hard that their neck veins look like one-pound sausage casings with five pounds of ground chuck in them, is that if it goes to trial (shortly after unicorns file my taxes), CBS will be put in the position of having to prove that the story was bogus, while Rather will be forced to look even more like a grassy-knoll theorist, climbing back to the top of the laughingstock tree.  So I say again: You go, Dan!  I'll bring the popcorn.
I have to confess that I got a chuckle out of this myself.  And like Beldar and Goldberg, I really, really hope that this goes to trial.

(One lesson from this affair has gotten less attention than it should have.   If Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, were this delusional — and no other word really fits — on one important story, then it is almost certain that they got other stories wrong, too.   As I have said before, CBS should look through all their work, especially the work they did together.)
- 12:26 PM, 21 September 2007
More:  Dan Rather has even made Charles Lane of the Washington Post happy, though his colleague, Eugene Robinson, seems glum, and even gives the impression that he believes that Rather had the basic story right.   Robinson might benefit — assuming he is open to evidence — from reading this fair summary of George Bush's service, from one of the best reporters in the United States, Byron York.  (And, considering the quality of his work recently, Robinson might consider taking some time off, or even retiring.)
- 4:07 PM, 24 September 2007   [link]


Americans Have Gone Crazy For Cupcakes?  That's what Andrew Gumbel claims.
First came the craze for gourmet coffee.  Then, over the past year, America went nuts for frozen yogurt.  Now, the latest craze is a throwback to childhood, or perhaps a hint of naughtiness disguised as nothing but all-American wholesomeness — the humble cupcake.

Suddenly, cupcakes are everywhere.  In New York, the queues to buy them at an establishment in Greenwich Village called the Magnolia Bakery stretch out of the front door.  In Los Angeles, Oprah Winfrey and a gaggle of other stars frequent a Beverly Hills cupcake emporium called Sprinkles.   Parents are serving cupcakes instead of cake at their children's birthday parties.  Courting couples are planning cupcake weddings instead of the more traditional tiered cakes with white royal icing.   You can buy chai latte cupcakes, mojito cupcakes, cupcakes filled with chocolate ganache and coated in a light dusting of fleur de sel, cupcakes made to look like flowers, even cupcake-motif t-shirts and cupcake underwear.
. . .
Whatever the reason, the craze is unmistakable and, it seems, uncontrollable.  At the latest count, there are now 300 gourmet cupcake outlets across the US — mostly in the coastal cities but also in the heartland.
One gourmet cupcake outlet for every one million Americans doesn't sound like a craze to me, though it may be one in Greenwich Village and Beverly Hills.  But then neither of those places is exactly typical of this large nation.

(This reminds me of the classic Greenwich Village joke:

After being mugged in Greenwich village, a man goes into the nearest police station to report the attack.  The police officer taking his report asks him to describe his attacker.  The man begins, "He was wearing a purple dress, with pink polka dots, high heels, net stockings, a bright green wig, . . .

The police officer interupts impatiently and asks: "Yes, yes, but was there anything unusual about the attacker?")
- 8:00 AM, 21 September 2007   [link]


Many Americans Don't Like Political Parties:  But most American political scientists do.  Political scientist Jay Cost explains why:
E. E. Schattschneider, one of the most insightful students of the political parties, once said that American democracy is unthinkable without them because they set the agenda of our government.  Parties that are responsible set the agenda in a way that is relevant and coherent.  That is, they make it so that our national political conversation regards issues that are of importance to citizens, and that can result in real solutions to these pressing problems.  Weakened parties, like those of today, lack the capacity to set the agenda.  One of the consequences of this is incoherence.  Without the parties managing what gets said, everybody says whatever they want to say, and we have nothing but crosstalk.   Politics reduces to an extended episode of Hardball.  And, just like in Hardball, nothing of importance is ever accomplished.  Everybody just yells across one another.
(This is at the end of a discussion of the MoveOn anti-Petraeus ad.)

I don't entirely agree with his diagnosis; the Democratic party is far weaker than it once was, but I am not sure I would say the same about the Republican party.  (It would depend on the time frame, which he does not specify.)

But the larger point that Schattschneider and he make is one that most American political scientists would agree with.  Political parties play an essential role in mass democracies by setting the agenda, by organizing the debate.

And that helps explain why so many in our "mainstream" media are critical of our parties.  Somehow, many of our unelected journalists have come to believe that they should control the national agenda, and these journalists naturally denigrate their competitors in the political parties.

(Similarly, American economists are likely to think better of speculators than most Americans.  The economists often think that the speculators serve useful functions — whatever their motives may be.)
- 7:28 AM, 21 September 2007   [link]


Welcome To Four Indonesian Journalists:  Welcome to Mr. Amran Nawir Amier (National Broadcasting correspondent, Central Sulawesi), Mr. Agung Setia Bakti (Editor, Suara Merdeka CyberNews), Mr. Ahmad Ibrahim (Chief Editor, Ambon Express Daily), and Mr. Rizanul (News Editor, Harian Medan Bisnis)  Welcome also to the interpreters, Ms. Komariah Kosasih and Ms. Wendy Gaylord.   It will be an honor to meet all of you

And I hope that I will be able to answer some of your questions about American bloggers.  As I did last April when I met another group of journalists, I will begin with two general observations, tell you a little bit about what I have done, and then come back to more general questions, in particular how American bloggers are affecting our journalists.

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

How much does it cost to have an on-line "press" like my site?  About $40 a month for a fast internet connection, site rental, and electricity.  The cost of equipment adds a little more.  I would have a desktop computer even if I did not have a blog, though I might not have a laptop.  I expect to replace each about every four years, and expect to spend about $600 for each computer when I do.   The digital camera that I just bought, mostly for the site, cost about $340 (including memory and a spare battery).  I expect the camera to last about four years, as well.  And I do use printers and scanners for my site, from time to time, so I should allocate a little for them as well.  Finally, there are some minor travel costs, from time to time, when I cover an event.  All together these add about $35 a month to my costs, so the total cost of the site is, at most, $75 a month.  Or much less if I allow for the fact that I would have the connection and most of the equipment even if I did not have a blog.  The extra costs for having the site are almost certainly less than $20 a month.

Money may not matter, but expertise does.  Charles Johnson, who writes the popular blog, Little Green Footballs, was able to help break the Dan Rather forged documents story because, as a programmer, he had become an expert on fonts.  When I want to know something about Supreme Court decisions, I can read Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times, but I think I get better analyses from UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.  When I want to know something about military questions, I often turn to one of the "milblogs" or to Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister — and a former artillery officer.

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, since bloggers are publishers, as well as editors and reporters, they can indulge themselves from time to time.  Some, for instance, regularly write about their cats, often on Friday afternoons.  At my site, you are more likely to find mountain pictures on Fridays, especially pictures of Northwest volcanoes.  And once, just because it is so impressive, an ancient Indonesian volcano.

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

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

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

Similarly, the blogger who (correctly) needles a journalist about a mistake is doing that journalist a favor, though it may not feel like a favor.  But if journalists want their stories to be accurate, they will understand that, however it feels, a correction is a favor — even if the correction comes from a blogger.

Finally, many journalists are begining to write their own blogs.  For examples, you might look at Michael Barone's blog or, locally, David Postman's blog.
- 5:00 AM, 20 September 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  K. C. Johnson co-authored the book on the Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape.  He wrote a pair of posts describing the sins of the Group of 88, the 88 members of the Duke faculty who pronouced the athletes guilty — without any regard for evidence or even procedural fairness.  His first post describes their attitudes.
The Group of 88 Professors like to think of themselves as aggressive defenders of due process.  In theory, the academy exists for the pursuit of truth.  And faculty members are, in an ideal world, more inclined to embrace the dispassionate evaluation of evidence than the passions of the mob.

The behavior of activist members of the Duke arts and sciences faculty during the lacrosse case contradicted all of these myths about the academy.  And most other professors at Duke elected to remain silent as their extremist colleagues rushed to judgment and refused to reconsider their actions.
His second post describes the effects of those atttitudes.  (Johnson has three earlier posts on this scandal, and is promising more.  His co-author, Stuart Taylor, wrote a post today, discussing the behavior of journalists.  If Taylor is right, the editors at the New York Times behaved disgracefully.)

(This post, and several others I read in the last few days, made me realize that I should start a new category: "University Reform", which you can find on the right.  I'll be adding posts to the category shortly.

I have decided to emphasize this subject because, as I have said before, our universities are in desperate need of reform.  As I add posts, you will be able to see why I have come to that unfashionable conclusion.)
- 8:31 AM, 19 September 2007   [link]


Some Endorsements aren't helpful.
Crooked fundraiser Norman Hsu, video vixen Jenna Jameson, Hustler founder Larry Flynt, and Perfect 10's Norm Zada have all backed Democratic 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  But how will she clinch that key murder demo?  With her glowing O.J. Simpson endorsement, of course!
Which, let's admit, would be a plus with some people, though probably not overall.

(Endorsements don't usually make much difference; from what I can tell, George Bush was not helped much by the endorsement from brain surgeons, nor was John Kerry hurt much (or helped) much by the support he received from the porn industry.)
- 7:06 AM, 19 September 2007   [link]


What A Great investment!
You bought Google at $100 and 3 years later is nearing $600 a share? Big deal. Microsoft has gone up 28-fold over the last 20 years?  Yawn.  You want to make the big bucks?  Rent a congressman.  Your return on your investment can be as high as $75 for every dollar invested.

Just ask the good folks at PMA Group, a lobbying firm.  They sank $1,333,074 into the campaigns last year of 3 Democratic members of the House defense appropriations subcommittee and walked away with $100.5 million in defense earmarks for PMA clients, Roll Call reported.

That means for every buck they spent, their clients got back $75.39.  In less than 1 year.

The 3 Democratic rent-to-own congressmen are John Murtha, Jim Moran and Peter Visclosky.  These antiwar Democrats see nothing wrong with steering military money to PMA clients.
We should expect others to copy these successful investors, expect, in other words, more open corruption.

The Democratic House leaders are unlikely to put many limits on these investments.  As you may recall, Nancy Pelosi (1) promised to clean the House and (2) tried to make unindicted Abscam co-conspirator John Murtha majority leader, which shows that she has lower standards for a clean house than most bachelors.

(Congressman Moran has had his own ethical lapses.  I don't know of any ethical lapses by Congressman Visclosky, but I wouldn't expect him to have a clean record, given his association with Murtha and Moran.)
- 11:04 AM, 18 September 2007   [link]


There Goes TimesSelect:  As of midnight tonight.
The New York Times Co said on Monday it will end its paid TimesSelect Web service and make most of its Web site available for free in the hopes of attracting more readers and higher advertising revenue.

TimesSelect will shut down on Wednesday, two years after the Times launched it, which charges subscribers $7.95 a month or $49.95 a year to read articles by columnists such as Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman.
. . .
Starting on Wednesday, access to the archives will be available for free back to 1987, and as well as stories before 1923, which are in the public domain, Schiller said.
My own reactions to this decision are mixed; most of what I want at the New York Times is already free, and I took some pleasure in the fact that they were, though they didn't see it this way, protecting some readers from their worst columnists, Rich, Dowd, Krugman, and Herbert.  (As well as one of their best, David Brooks.)

Now, it will be easier for me to scold their bad children — and more important to scold them, since the bad children will be getting more attention.  The partial opening of their archives should make some critiques far easier to do.  Be interesting, for instance, to look at Krugman's predictions over the Bush years.  And I am sure that I will find some interesting history in the older archives.

(I still wonder why they didn't try the Wall Street Journal model, charging for the news, and giving away the opinions.  The Journal has been doing that long enough so that you have to conclude that it is not a failure, at least not an obvious failure, as a business strategy.  Perhaps the Times thought that, since it has been able to sell those columns to other journalists, it would be able to sell them to ordinary readers.

Some copy editor missed that second paragraph in the Reuters story.  I am quoting it correctly, though it may be fixed later in the day.)
- 10:08 AM, 18 September 2007
Rupert Murdoch, who knows a little about the economics of publishing a newspaper, is thinking of making the online version of the Wall Street Journal free.  So perhaps the Journal strategy of charging for news on line is not the best strategy.   But I will, for now, stick with my claim that the strategy was not an obvious failure, since Murdoch says he has to think about it.
- 6:26 AM, 19 September 2007   [link]


Another Curious Coincidence:  The leader of the third party in Britain, the Liberal-Democrats, thinks that taxes should be raised on the rich.
Sir Menzies Campbell yesterday pledged to "hammer" households earning more than £70,000 with higher taxes.

The Liberal Democrat leader said the rich have done "too well" under Labour and agreed the wealthiest 10 per cent should pay more taxes.
Coincidentally — and I am sure it is a coincidence — that £70,000 is just slightly larger than Campbell's own salary of £60,227.

Even more strangely, congressional proposals to tax the rich here in the United States almost always define the rich as people who make slightly more than congressmen.  But life is full of coincidences, so we probably should not draw any conclusions from that fact.
- 4:10 PM, 17 September 2007   [link]


Ever Get The Feeling You Are Unwanted?  I do, after reading this article.
So should Democrats really be all that worried about Bubba?  After snubbing him during primary season, should they revert to form during the general election, and begin their familiar, unrequited quest for his affections?  Republican pollster Whit Ayres has a clear preference.  "I would dearly love for the Democrats to spend millions of dollars trying to persuade NASCAR fans to vote for the Democrats," Ayres chirped last summer.  "They tend to be disproportionately southern, disproportionately white and disproportionately male, which pretty well defines the core of the Republican Party."  In other words, it's a waste of time and resources for the Democrats to pursue them -- a classic sucker's bet.
The author of the article, Thomas F. Schaller, switches back and forth confusingly between white males and white working class males, or even white working class males in the South.  He thinks that Democrats can win without increasing their share of white males, which is technically true, but risky politically.  He assumes, for instance, that the Democratic share of the black vote will continue to stay where it is, something I consider almost impossible, given the cultural conservatism so common among blacks — and so unwelcome in the Democratic party.

But what I found most interesting is his claim that the Democratic party has been pandering to people like me.  Maybe I have missed this pandering, but I have thought for decades that the party of "affirmative action", and other forms of discrimination against white males, was not really all that interested in my vote.  Democrats (most of them, anyway) would accept my vote, of course, but they aren't willing to do much for it.

(Almost everyone reading this article will wonder whether Schaller is either female or non-white.   Unless this picture deceives, the answer is no, to both questions.

By the way, I will give him, out of charity, this bit of advice:  Don't show this article to other political scientists, especially those who study voting behavior.  They are likely to notice the shifting definitions of the group Schaller is discussing — and think less of him for his lack of rigor.)
- 3:36 PM, 17 September 2007   [link]


Do Male Chauvinist Pigs Have Free Speech Rights?  Some of the faculty at the University of California think not.
Lawrence Summers, the controversial former president of Harvard University, has been replaced as the planned speaker at a UC Board of Regents dinner next week after complaints from faculty members.

"(UC Regents) Chairman Richard Blum and Dr. Summers talked last Thursday and agreed that the regents would have a different speaker," Trey Davis, director of special projects for the UC system, said Saturday.

Davis was unable to say whether a protest letter signed by more than 300 people from the university system had any effect on the decision to find a different speaker for the regents' dinner in Sacramento on Wednesday.  He referred those questions to Blum, who is out of the country.

Summers, who was Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, resigned from Harvard last year after a long-running clash with some faculty members over his questioning whether women might not have the same innate ability as men in disciplines such as science, math and engineering.  He also had thorny relations with minority faculty members during his time at the university.
Attacks on freedom of speech now come mostly from the left, and very often from leftist academics.   If you are as old as I am, you can remember a time when the left was somewhat more supportive of freedom of speech, and leftist academics especially so.

Note that these protesting members of the the faculty think they have the right to tell the regents — their nominal bosses — who they can listen to.  Seems a trifle arrogant to me.

(The reporter, John Wildermuth, makes a couple of common errors here.  First, Summers did not say that men have more ability than women at science and math; instead he said something more subtle — and completely supported by scientific evidence: Men vary more than women.  This means that there are more men with very high IQs and more men with very low IQs, more men in the tails of the distribution.   There are some occupations, such as mathematics and theoretical physics, that can not be mastered unless you are far above the average (at least three standard deviations, if you want to be a little technical).  There are more men in those occupations for the same reason that there are more men with IQs far below average.

Wildermuth also errs in his claim that Summers had "thorny relations" with minority faculty members.   Summers did have a conflict with Cornel West; Summers thought that those on the Harvard faculty should uphold academic standards and do academic work, ideas that struck West as intolerable.  But it would be a mistake to inflate that conflict (or even one or two others) into the generality that Summers got along with minority faculty poorly.)
- 2:31 PM, 17 September 2007   [link]