Archive:

September 2007, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



The Big Seattle Book Sales:  They happen twice a year, in April and September.

Seattle book sale, September, 2007

I went yesterday and today, and found some worthwhile books both days.  Yesterday, for instance, I bought a copy of of Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin for three dollars, and today I bought a copy of Laurie Mylroie's Bush vs. the Beltway for just fifty cents.

Although the book sales are run as a benefit for the Seattle Public libraries, most books there are priced below market prices.  A portion of the books are put in a separate "Better Books" section and individually priced, with most costing less than five dollars.

The rest of the books cost one dollar for a hardback, 75 cents for a large paperback, and 50 cents for a standard paperback — on Saturday.  On Sunday, all the prices are cut in half.

Naturally these prices — and the large number of books for sale (about 100,000) — attract arbitrageurs, people buying books to sell elsewhere for a higher price.  Eric Lacitis of the Seattle Times describes their scene in this article.  But despite their number, there were still many bargains to be found by the ordinary buyer, especially if, like me, the buyer has idiosyncratic tastes.

But I did find it distracting from time to time to see a book scout zipping through the books, scanning the bar codes into a PDA or cellphone, and looking up the prices instantly.  One woman told me that she was using the prices on Amazon, but according to this company, it is possible to link to a whole set of on-line book sellers, at least with the right software.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(This New York Times article tells us (warns us?) that we will be seeing many more cellphones equipped with barcode scanners in the future.)
- 4:55 PM, 30 September 2007   [link]


Another Victory for campaign finance "reform".   Too bad.  Newt Gingrich would not have won, but he would have been an interesting candidate.
- 7:50 AM, 30 September 2007
Maybe Not:  Or at least it is more complicated than first appeared.   According to Gingrich's lawyer at American Solutions, Gingrich could have stayed head of the organization while he explored a candidacy, as long as he set up a "firewall" between the organization and his exploratory campaign.  That there may have been a temporary way around the McCain-Feingold rules in Newt's case doesn't excuse them, of course.
- 8:05 AM, 5 October 2007   [link]


Mt. Shasta From The West:  First, take a look at last week's picture.  Then, look at this one, which is taken from near the intersection of Route 97 and Interstate 5, almost due west of the mountain.

Mt. Shasta from Weed, California


The two pictures don't look much alike, do they?

What you are seeing in this picture is Shastina, a recent cone on the west side of Shasta.  Because of the way it looks, I like to call it Shasta's evil twin.

Shastina's looks may warn us of real dangers from Shasta.  Alt and Hyndman have this to say about the threat.
Gravity surveys reveal evidence of a large volume of abnormally light rock at shallow depth beneath Shasta and the surrounding area.  Earthquake waves passing beneath the area of the gravity anomaly lose much of their shear wave motion, which means that they are passing through a liquid.  It must be magma.   No one actually knows what kind of magma, but pale andesite or rhyolite seem a good bet because they commonly come in large volumes.  Also, the small eruption of 1786 produced pale andesite.  If that magma lurking beneath Shasta really is a large mass of rhyolite or pale andesite, and if it contains steam, it could cause a horrifying eruption.  The potential may exist for a catastrophe of the kind that quickly converted Oregon's Mazama, a volcano on the scale of Shasta, into Crater Lake. (p. 269)
Cheering thought, isn't it, especially since the main roads and railroads go right by Shasta.

(Need a review on the different kinds of lava?  Most lava ranges from dark basalt to light rhyolite, with andesite being closer to the rhyolite end.  The color change is caused by increased silica, as you go from basalt to rhyolite.  More importantly, the lava becomes more viscous as the silica increases.  Because rhyolite and andesite do not flow as easily as basalt, they are far more dangerous, because they can produce enormous explosions, especially if they contain any water.

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.)
- 5:02 PM, 28 September 2007   [link]


KUOW's Gang Of Four Meets Ahmadinejad:  Today, KUOW's Gang of Four began the Weekday program with Mahmoud's Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia University.  The four journalists agreed on what they clearly considered the main point:  Columbia University President Bollinger was rude to this mobster's mouthpiece.   Bollinger was rude to the representative of a regime that is oppressing women, persecuting homosexuals, executing dissidents, and has threatened Israel with genocide.  (The regime is also supplying weapons to Iraqi terrorists, who are using them to kill American soldiers and murder Iraqi civilians — but I am not sure that all of the four would consider those actions wrong.)  The rudeness was more important than the crimes of the regime — at least for KUOW's Gang of Four.

The four, just to show this was no fluke, were also unhappy that 60 Minutes, in their interview with Ahmadinejad, had quoted some unpleasant things that President Bush had said about this mobster's mouthpiece, Ahmadinejad.

None of the four disagreed with what Bollinger and Bush had said; they just thought it was mean to say these things, especially to a gentle soul like this mobster's mouthpiece, President Ahmadinejad.

All this confuses me.  It is wrong, the Gang of Four thinks, to be rude to a man who works for a regime that executes homosexuals and oppresses women (and helps kill American soldiers and murder Iraqi civilians).  But the Gang of Four would not think it wrong to be rude to President Bush, who has freed millions, and who is trying to protect those same Iraqi civilians.   I am no expert on etiquette, so I won't try to explain their rule on who you can be rude to (though I would be pleased if they would).

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(In case you missed it, here is my description of the Gang of Four, along with an explanation for my interest in the group, and my grading scheme for their Weekday appearances.  Susan Paynter of the Seattle PI retired, and was replaced by D. Parvaz, an editorial writer at the same newspaper.  Parvaz was chosen, I assume, to ensure that there was as little diversity in the group as possible, political diversity, that is.

As often happens, I heard a factual error on the program; Knute Berger ascribed the Hitler comparison to President Bollinger, rather than to Dean Coatsworth.   (I noticed another factual error, but I was driving at the time, and couldn't make a note of it.)

Since I had errands to do this morning, I was unable to listen to the entire program, so I can give a grade only for the first part of the program: 0.05.  Surprisingly, D. Parvaz raised their score above zero by noting that Ahmadinejad would have dealt rather roughly with Iranian students who raised the same questions as the Columbia students did.)
- 12:47 PM, 28 September 2007   [link]


But Having The Right Strategy Will Make It Easier To Win:  Yesterday, I argued, as I have before, that we would win in Iraq — if we want to win badly enough.  Today, Frederick Kagan argues that we have found the right strategy for victory.
Many politicians and pundits in Washington have ignored perhaps the most important point made by Gen. David Petraeus in his recent congressional testimony: The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq requires a combination of conventional forces, special forces and local forces.  This realization has profound implications not only for American strategy in Iraq, but also for the future of the war on terror.

As Gen. Petraeus made clear, the adoption of a true counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq in January 2007 has led to unprecedented progress in the struggle against al Qaeda in Iraq, by protecting Sunni Arabs who reject the terrorists among them from the vicious retribution of those terrorists.  In his address to the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also touted the effectiveness of this strategy while at the same time warning of al Qaeda in Iraq's continued threat to his government and indeed the entire region.
According to Kagan, we have found the right strategy, but many in Washington don't realize that.  His argument on both points sounds plausible to me, though I would like to see commentary on it from those who know more about the war in Iraq than I do.

Incidentally, this search for the right strategy is quite common in wars, especially guerrilla wars.

(It is not part of his main argument, but Kagan reminds us of something that does not get much coverage from our "mainstream" media.  Our enemies do not subscribe to the Geneva conventions.
The Sunni Arabs in Iraq lost their enthusiasm for al Qaeda very quickly after their initial embrace of the movement. By 2005, currents of resistance had begun to flow in Anbar, expanding in 2006.  Al Qaeda responded to this rising resistance with unspeakable brutality--beheading young children, executing Sunni leaders and preventing their bodies from being buried within the time required by Muslim law, torturing resisters by gouging out their eyes, electrocuting them, crushing their heads in vices, and so on.
Or even to the rules sometimes used to control Muslim warfare.)
- 8:53 AM, 28 September 2007   [link]


What's Your Sport?  Depends on your body type.
The rules of physics say that distance cycling and distance running are for small people.  Rowing and swimming are for people who are big.  The physics is so exact that when Dr. [Niels H.] Secher tried to predict how fast competitive rowers could go, based only on their sizes and the weights of their boats, he was accurate to within 1 percent.
If, that is, you want to be one of the best in that sport.  If, on the other hand, you just want to enjoy yourself while you are exercising, then pick a sport, or sports, that you like.

And physics, I suppose, explains why the top gymnasts are short.  The taller you are, the harder it will be to do flips.
- 2:13 PM, 27 September 2007   [link]


How Many Terrorists Have We Killed In Iraq?  Roughly 19,000.
More than 19,000 militants have been killed in fighting with coalition forces since the insurgency began more than four years ago, according to military statistics released for the first time.

The statistics show that 4,882 militants were killed in clashes with coalition forces this year, a 25% increase over all of last year.
You'll want to take a look at the graphs accompanying the article to see the trends.

How good are the numbers?  Hard to say without knowing more about how they were collected.  If anything, I would suspect they are underestimates, since the US Army has become so wary, since Vietnam, of using body counts to measure progress.  (And the article doesn't say whether the total includes deaths inflicted by Iraqi forces.)

And we can be reasonably certain that many terrorists have been disabled in combat, so that they are no longer capable of fighting, at least as regular infantry.

I had not seen these estimates before — USA Today says they were released for the first time — but I was aware that their losses were far larger than ours.  Which is why I have always believed that we can win — if we want to.  In the worst case, we could win through attrition.

Note that I am not arguing in this post that we should persevere, though I do believe that, just that victory is certain, if we are willing to pay for it.  Nor, I must emphasize, am I saying that we should try to win through attrition.  That's almost always the worst way to win, especially in a guerilla war.  But General Petraeus appears to understand all that far better than I do, probably far better than almost anyone else does.

What I am saying is that it is simply bizarre, given the military odds, to say that we must lose in Iraq.  Bizarre, but commonplace on the left.

(Is it legitimate to call them terrorists?  In most cases, yes, since they target civilians.)
- 1:29 PM, 27 September 2007   [link]


It's A Start:  Or, to be more precise, a restart.
In a bid to take the lead in the race to revive the nuclear power industry, an energy company will ask the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday for permission to build two reactors in Texas.

It is the first time since the 1970s and the accident at Three Mile Island that an American power company has sought permission to start work on a new reactor to add to the existing array of operable reactors, which now number 104.

The company, NRG Energy, based in Princeton, N.J., wants to be the first to pour concrete in the main section of the plant, allowing it to qualify for the maximum federal benefits, David Crane, its chief executive, said in a telephone interview.
If you think that global warming is a threat, want the United States to be less dependent on foreign sources of energy, or just want cleaner air, you should applaud this proposal.

We won't catch up with France soon, but this may be a start.  (France gets more than 75 percent of their electricity from nuclear plants, and could get almost 100 percent if they did not export so much electricity.)

The Times article mentions the problem of delays that prevented so many plants from being built in the 1970s, some delays from lawsuits by opponents, and many more from excessive regulation.  According to the article, the federal government is doing something about about those delays.
Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the first two reactors qualify for $500 million in "standby support," or insurance against regulatory delay; the next four units are eligible for $250 million each.
If I understand that correctly, the federal government is buying insurance against the costs of regulatory delays for the first six reactors since the 1970s.  Those regulatory delays would come, mostly, one presumes, from — the federal government.  Bizarre, but perhaps easier than trying to fix the regulatory process entirely, so that delays are unlikely.

(Incidentally, the people of Bay City, where the reactors will be built, are mostly quite positive about the proposal.)
- 7:56 AM, 27 September 2007   [link]


Does Affirmative Action Hurt Minorities?  Almost certainly.  But that is not a question a state agency, the State Bar of California, even wants investigated.
Imagine, for a moment, that a program designed to aid disadvantaged students might, instead, be seriously undermining their performance.  Imagine that the schools administering the programs were told that the programs might be having this boomerang effect -- but that no one investigated further because the programs were so popular and the prospect of change was so politically controversial.

Now imagine that an agency had collected enough information on student performance that it might, by carefully studying or releasing the data, illuminate both the problem and the possible solutions.   What should the agency do?

This is not a hypothetical question.  The schools involved are dozens of law schools in California and elsewhere, and the program is the system of affirmative action that enables hundreds of minority law students to attend more elite institutions than their credentials alone would allow.  Data from across the country suggest to some researchers that when law students attend schools where their credentials (including LSAT scores and college grades) are much lower than the median at the school, they actually learn less, are less likely to graduate and are nearly twice as likely to fail the bar exam than they would have been had they gone to less elite schools.  This is known as the "mismatch effect."
Those who care about these minority students, who want to see them succeed, would want this problem investigated.  According to the authors, the State Bar has the "best data in the nation" on the mismatch effect.  That the agency is unwilling to release this data shows that those running the agency care more about ideology than about minority students.

(Thanks to anti-discrimination Proposition 209, the authors have some striking data on the "mismatch effect".
Still, certain facts are indisputable.  Data from one selective California law school from 2005 show that students who received large preferences were 10 times as likely to fail the California bar as students who received no preference.  After the passage of Proposition 209, which limited the use of racial preferences at California's public universities, in-state bar passage rates for blacks and Latinos went up relative to out-of-state bar passage rates.  To the extent that students of color moved from UC schools to less elite ones (as seems likely), the post-209 experience is consistent with the mismatch theory.
When Proposition 209 was passed, it was widely condemned as an attack on minorities.  But it appears to have helped them, assuming that you think that it is better for a black or Hispanic law student to become a lawyer from a second rank school, than to fail after attending a first rank school.)
- 5:36 AM, 27 September 2007   [link]


Outsourcing Outsourcing:  Here's the story.
MYSORE, India — Thousands of Indians report to Infosys Technologies' campus here to learn the finer points of programming. Lately, though, packs of foreigners have been roaming the manicured lawns, too.

Infosys employs workers in Brno, Czech Republic.

Many of them are recent American college graduates, and some have even turned down job offers from coveted employers like Google.  Instead, they accepted a novel assignment from Infosys, the Indian technology giant: fly here for six months of training, then return home to work in the company's American back offices.

India is outsourcing outsourcing.
And Infosys isn't the only Indian firm outsourcing outsourcing; others are, including Wipro:
Wipro, another Indian technology services company, has outsourcing offices in Canada, China, Portugal, Romania and Saudi Arabia, among other locations.

And last month, Wipro said it was opening a software development center in Atlanta that would hire 500 programmers in three years.

In a poetic reflection of outsourcing's new face, Wipro's chairman, Azim Premji, told Wall Street analysts this year that he was considering hubs in Idaho and Virginia, in addition to Georgia, to take advantage of American "states which are less developed."  (India's per capita income is less than $1,000 a year.)
I suspect Lou Dobbs has not covered this development.

(Incidentally, I think Premji is smart to set up facilities in states with lower costs.  Though some programmers prefer big cities in expensive states, many others like places where costs are lower and nature is more accessible.)
- 10:31 AM, 26 September 2007   [link]


NPR Suppresses Dissent:  Howard Kurtz has an amazing story.
The White House reached out to National Public Radio over the weekend, offering analyst Juan Williams a presidential interview to mark yesterday's 50th anniversary of school desegregation in Little Rock.

But NPR turned down the interview, and Williams's talk with Bush wound up in a very different media venue: Fox News.

Williams said yesterday he was "stunned" by NPR's decision.  "It makes no sense to me.   President Bush has never given an interview in which he focused on race. . . . I was stunned by the decision to turn their backs on him and to turn their backs on me."

Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news, said she "felt strongly" that "the White House shouldn't be selecting the person."  She said NPR told Bush's press secretary, Dana Perino, that "we're grateful for the opportunity to talk to the president but we wanted to determine who did the interview."  When the White House said the offer could not be transferred to one of NPR's program hosts, Weiss took a pass.
Amazing, even for NPR.  One would almost think that NPR doesn't want their listeners to hear what President Bush might say to Williams.  (Who is not a Bush supporter, but is a decent man.)

By way of Tim Graham, who reminds us that Weiss used to attend dinners at the Clinton White House — with her far left husband, Rabbi David Saperstein.

Captain Ed has the transcript of the program, if you want to see what NPR missed.

Kudos to Fox News for broadcasting this interview.
- 7:39 AM, 26 September 2007   [link]


Did The New York Times Break The Campaign Finance Laws?  Maybe, and that possibility amuses George Will.
In June, the Times was in high dudgeon -- it knows no other degree of dudgeon -- about the Supreme Court's refusal to affirm a far-reaching government power to suppress political speech.  The court ruled that a small group of Wisconsin residents had been improperly refused the right to run an issue advocacy ad urging the state's two senators not to filibuster the president's judicial nominees.
. . .
Less than three months after the Times excoriated the court for weakening restrictions on issue ads, the paper made a huge and patently illegal contribution to MoveOn.org's issue advocacy ad.  The American Conservative Union, under Chairman David Keene, immediately filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, noting that the purchaser of the ad, MoveOn.org Political Action, is a registered multicandidate political committee regulated by the mare's-nest of federal laws and rules the multiplication of which has so gladdened the Times.

The Times, a media corporation that is a fountain of detailed editorial instructions about how the rest of the world should conduct its business, seems confused about how it conducts its own.  The Times now says the appropriate rate for MoveOn.org's full-page ad should have been $142,000, a far cry from $65,000, which is what the group paid.  So the discount of $77,000 constitutes a large soft-money contribution to a federally regulated political committee.
And may be an illegal contribution from the New York Times.

May, because we still don't know exactly how MoveOn got the discount, or even who gave it to them.  (To the best of my knowledge, the Times has not released the name of the salesman who gave the discount.)  It is possible, though unlikely, that an individual salesman made a mistake.  It is also possible, though still unlikely, that the salesman acted on his own.  In either case, one would expect Times to fire the salesman — and soon.  Until that happens, we have good reason to think that the salesman was not acting on his own.

This is enjoyable, but I have to add that I agree with this Wall Street Journal editorial, which argues that even the New York Times should have the right to free speech — though they are all too willing to deny it to others.
- 5:15 AM, 26 September 2007   [link]


23 Percent Of Americans Think Libel Against Petraeus Is Acceptable:   That's the discouraging finding in this Rasmussen poll.
Twenty-three percent (23%) of Americans approve of an ad run in the New York Times "that referred to General Petraeus as General Betray Us?"  A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 58% disapproved.  Those figures include 12% who Strongly Approve and 42% who Strongly Disapprove.
That's about the same percentage, according to polls I have seen, that believe that the 9/11 attack may have been an inside job.  It is a little dismaying to see just how many Americans hold political ideas that are vile, nutty, or both.

Though I must admit that these people, who are concentrated in the Democratic party, are one of the reasons that the Republicans have a real chance in 2008.  The Democratic candidates must, to some extent, pander to them in the primaries.  As they do so, they will store up ammunition for the Republican candidate.
- 2:27 PM, 25 September 2007   [link]


Worth Reading:  Michael Totten's report from Iraq.  Here are the concluding paragraphs, where he asks Colonel Mike Silverman for a summary:
"What's the most important thing Americans need to know about Iraq that they don't currently know?" I said.

"That we're fighting Al Qaeda," he said without hesitation.  "[Abu Musab al] Zarqawi invented Al Qaeda in Iraq.  The top leadership outside Iraq squawked and thought it was a bad idea.  Then he blew up the Samarra mosque, triggered a civil war, and got the whole world's attention.  Then the Al Qaeda leadership outside dumped huge amounts of money and people and arms into Anbar Province.   They poured everything they had into this place.  The battle against Americans in Anbar became their most important fight in the world.  And they lost."
The whole world should celebrate this victory.
- 10:53 AM, 25 September 2007   [link]


Want To Know More The Ahmadinejad Visit?  Then you can read these link-filled posts by Michelle Malkin and the Gateway Pundit.

But before you do, I would suggest reading this New York Times article on Iranian views of their president.
Political analysts here say they are surprised at the degree to which the West focuses on their president, saying that it reflects a general misunderstanding of their system.

Unlike in the United States, in Iran the president is not the head of state nor the commander in chief.  That status is held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, whose role combines civil and religious authority.  At the moment, this president's power comes from two sources, they say: the unqualified support of the supreme leader, and the international condemnation he manages to generate when he speaks up.

"The United States pays too much attention to Ahmadinejad," said an Iranian political scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.  He is not that consequential."
But he has become the official spokesman for the regime, especially to the West.  We should think of him as the mouthpiece for a criminal gang, not as a gang leader.
- 10:20 AM, 25 September 2007   [link]


Some Voters May be skeptical about this campaign proposal.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who made his fortune as a trial lawyer, says attorneys should have to show their medical malpractice cases have merit before filing them.

He also said attorneys with a history of frivolous suits should be barred from filing new cases.
I don't worry about those voters, but I do worry about the voters who take Edwards' proposal seriously.
- 4:57 AM, 25 September 2007   [link]