April 2006, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Why Are So Many Misinformed About Environmental Issues?  Partly, it's the fault of the "mainstream" media.
Next time you read a magazine cover story like the one Time just published ("Be Worried.  Be VERY Worried.  Polar Ice Caps Are Melting ... More And More Land Is Being Devastated ... Rising Waters Are Drowning Low-Lying Communities... The climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame") you should remember one little fact: U.S. media companies, including Time Warner, donate more to the environmental movement than any other industry.  Companies like The New York Times, Gannett, Tribune, ABC, CBS and NBC have donated more than a half-billion worth of ad space since the 1990s to raise money for some of the nation's most extreme environmental groups.  And yes, that was billion with a B.

To put that number in perspective, America's media companies donate more to environmental groups every year than the much-feared Olin Foundation's spent annually in its effort to build the institutional foundation of the conservative movement.

The deal works like this: The Ad Council endorses and distributes ads that encourage people to give money to "Earth Share," a fundraising front group whose members include dozens of groups from the moderate Nature Conservancy to the radical Friends of the Earth.  Media companies donate vast amounts of air time and ad space, assuming that Ad Council campaigns follow the charity's standards such as the rule that campaigns must be "non-commercial, non-denominational, non-partisan, and not be designated to influence legislation."
So not only do our "mainstream" media organizations often botch their own coverage of environmental issues — and the errors are almost always in the same direction, toward the claims of environmental extremists — but they give massive amounts of time and space for ads that are even worse.
- 1:27 PM, 8 April 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Steven Malanga explains how "rapacious government withered" New Jersey.
Further encouraging the exodus [from New Jersey's cities] was the widespread awareness that the cities had fallen into the grip of corrupt, rapacious political machines.  After Newark's riots, federal prosecutors bore down on then-mayor Hugh Addonizio, who had given control of much of the city to Mafia bosses Ruggiero "Richie the Boot" Boiardo (whose crime family inspired The Sopranos) and Ray DeCarlo.  After the feds convicted Addonizio and several subordinates for corruption, the "reformers" who took over were anything but.  New mayor Kenneth Gibson, pledging to end the sleaze and revive Newark, faced ceaseless investigations into his administration, resulting in a string of indictments—including his own on charges of providing a no-show job.  Though never convicted, Gibson left office a failure.
. . .
The persistent corruption, vaporizing billions of taxpayer dollars, gave public-sector unions the leverage to wrest control of the state's urban agenda for their own benefit, leading to even greater waste.   Newark's teachers' union, for example, used Gibson's legal woes to seize control of the schools from the mayor and deliver it to a school board—which the union, with more than 4,000 voting members, could easily elect.  The result: a long period of school-system mismanagement and fraud, documented in a damning 1994 state investigation, which culminated in state takeover of the system the next year.
The patronage and corruption at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey that I discussed in this post is found all through the state.  In fact, at least according to what I have read, UMDNJ had milder problems than much of New Jersey.

The combination of corruption, and control by the public service unions, gives New Jersey poor public services at a high price.  It's a wealthy state, but may be approaching its breaking point, fiscally.  (Those hurt most are probably the poor in cities such as Newark and Camden.)

(For comic relief, after reading this Malanga piece, read the last few paragraphs of this E. J. Dionne column in which he applauds the efforts of the current governor of New Jersey, Democrat Jon Corzine, to fix the state's problems by — raising taxes.)
- 10:17 AM, 8 April 2006   [link]

AIDS In Africa was "overstated".
KIGALI, Rwanda -- Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.

But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say.  A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.
And the same is true for many other African nations.

Why were the estimates so bad?  Partly bad methodology; researchers did not do random samples of whole populations, as they should have.  But mostly because the UN set up an agency for AIDS, UNAIDS, which became an advocate.
In the place of previous estimates provided by the World Health Organization, outside researchers say, the AIDS agency produced reports that increasingly were subject to political calculations, with the emphasis on raising awareness and money.

"It's pure advocacy, really," said Jim Chin, a former U.N. official who made some of the first global HIV prevalence estimates while working for WHO in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  "Once you get a high number, it's really hard once the data comes in to say, 'Whoops! It's not 100,000.  It's 60,000.'"

Chin, speaking from Stockton, Calif., added, "They keep cranking out numbers that, when I look at them, you can't defend them."
Why does this matter?  Is not the disease still a terrible scourge, and far too common in some parts of Africa?  Yes, to both questions, but without good numbers, it is almost impossible to make an effective campaign against the disease.  Different African countries have tried different strategies in fighting AIDS.  Which strategies have been most effective?  We really don't know.   To help effectively, we must have good numbers.  The junk numbers put out by UNAIDS have set back the fight against AIDS, perhaps by years.

(Those who have been reading this site for some time may recall that I expressed my skepticism about the numbers from Africa in December, 2003.)
- 7:55 AM, 8 April 2006   [link]

Design Failure:  The head of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Lieutenant General Carl Strock, now admits design failures by his organization may explain why some New Orleans floodwalls failed during Katrina.
In the closest thing yet to a mea culpa, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged Wednesday that a "design failure" led to the breach of the 17th Street Canal levee that flooded much of the city during Hurricane Katrina.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock told a Senate committee that the corps neglected to consider the possibility that floodwalls atop the 17th Street Canal levee would lurch away from their footings under significant water pressure and eat away at the earthen barriers below.

"We did not account for that occurring," Strock said after the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing.  "It could be called a design failure."

A botched design has long been suspected by independent forensic engineers probing the levee failures.  A panel of engineering experts confirmed it last month in a report saying the "I-wall" design could not withstand the force of the rising water in the canal and triggered the breach.
(The article does not say whether the same design failure explains the collapse of the floodwalls along the London Avenue and Industrial canals.  As I understand it, the failures along the Industrial Canal may have been caused by the storm surge going over the wall and undermining its foundation.  If I had to guess, I would say that London Canal floodwalls failed for the same reason the 17th Street floodwalls failed.)

So who is to blame for the flooding of New Orleans?  At least in part, engineers at the US Army Corps of Engineers, decades ago.  Those engineers may no longer work for the Corps.   They may not even be alive.  And, of course, the politicians who supervised them, mostly congressmen who are also long gone.  That's not very satisfying for those who want to blame President Bush (or, in a few cases, Mayor Nagin or Governor Blanco), but if we want to avoid similar catastrophes, we need facts, not political targets.

(Here's a simple map showing the locations of the floodwall failures, and here's a diagram showing how the floodwalls along the Industrial Canal most likely failed.)
- 7:34 AM, 7 April 2006   [link]

Some Numbers from Iraq.
81, 76, 50, 49, 43, 25

What are these numbers?  This week's Powerball winners?  A safe deposit combo?  New numbers to torment those poor b*stards stranded on the island in Lost?

No, they're the number of troops that have died in hostile actions in Iraq for each of the past six months.  That last number represents the lowest level of troop deaths in a year, and second-lowest in two years.
You'll want to read the whole post.  And you'll also want to look at these graphs from Dean Esmay.

(For a while, I made a point of covering the quarterly reports on the New York Times op-ed page, which also mostly showed good trends.  But I stopped because they kept changing the variables they displayed.)
- 7:18 AM, 6 April 2006   [link]

What A Perfect Job!  If you happen to be a foreign intelligence agent.
An Iraqi-born U.S. citizen suspected of being a foreign intelligence agent was employed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to rule on asylum applications, including those from unfriendly Middle Eastern nations, according to documents obtained from Congress by The Washington Times.
Not only could you let your own agents through, but you could block some in the opposition.
- 5:07 AM, 6 April 2006   [link]

Britain Will Follow US Lead On Folic Acid Supplements:  Here's the story.
Folic acid will be added to bread within a year to reduce the number of babies born with spina bifida and other defects in a U-turn by the Government's food watchdog.

The Food Standards Agency will recommend this week that the vitamin be added to all loaves and flour, The Times has learnt.  It will be the first time since the Second World War that food manufacturers have been ordered to add nutrients to improve the nation's health.

Experts believe that the compulsory addition of folic acid will reduce the number of cases of spina bifida and other defects by 40 per cent.  The vitamin also reduces miscarriages and may help to combat strokes, heart disease and bone disorders in adults.
Our bureaucrats proposed this in 1996, and it was implemented in 1998.  It would be interesting to know why the British bureaucrats took so much longer to take the same step.

Here's my post from March, 2004 on the subject.  Although in both countries, the supplement has been sold to the public as a way to prevent some kinds of birth defects, its effects on cutting deaths from heart disease and strokes may be far more important.   One study found that folic acid supplements prevented almost 50,000 deaths per year in the United States, from those causes.

(For more on folic acid, see this nutritional fact sheet and this moderately technical Wikipedia article.)
- 10:36 AM, 5 April 2006   [link]

Are You Going To The Doctor Or Dentist Soon?  Before you get treatment, you may want to check their diploma.  And if it comes from the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, you may want to choose a different doctor or dentist.

Here's why.
Patronage hiring was so pervasive at New Jersey's state medical school that job applications were marked with a numeral indicating the potency of the applicants' political connections, according to a report released on Monday by a federal monitor.

While political appointees had received favorable treatment at the school for decades, the report says, the practice became so ingrained by late 2004 that it had evolved into a formal ranking system.
. . .
Last week, as a final draft of the report was given to United States Attorney Christopher J. Christie, who has said he may prosecute some school employees for abusing taxpayer funds, two high-level officials of the school resigned: one an administrator who is accused in the report of using an expense account to pay for personal travel, the other the dean of the School of Osteopathic Medicine, whom the report accused of misallocating tens of thousands of dollars "for personal gain."

University officials dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts each year, and the monitor is still investigating reports that millions went to firms that were politically connected, had questionable qualifications and — in some cases — do not appear to have performed any tangible work.
The patronage system at UMDNJ has existed for decades, but was formalized by former president Dr. John Petillo, who has just been paid $600,000 to go away.

What started this investigation? Theft.  Or, if you prefer, "overbilling".
The monitor was appointed late last year after administrators acknowledged having overbilled Medicaid by millions of dollars.
You've probably already guessed which party was asking for patronage appointments, at least in recent years, and you would be right.
Candidates who were recommended by then-United States Representative Robert Menendez, State Senator Raymond Lesniak or a handful of others received the highest rating: 1.

Those referred by less powerful officials, like members of the medical system's board, would receive a 2 or 3.

Some linked to Mayor Sharpe James of Newark were rated 1, 2 or 3: Applicants for entry-level positions were more likely to get a 1, while those applying for medical or research work derived less benefit from their political ties to Mr. James, investigators said.

Mr. Menendez is now a United States senator; Mr. James is also a state senator.  Both are Democrats, as is Senator Lesniak.
The New York Times reporter, David Kocieniewski, is most interested in the patronage part of the scandal.  He even did a follow-up analysis.   And I agree that the patronage scheme is interesting, especially to someone as concerned with the details of politics as I am.  But it isn't as important as the enormous sums that may have been stolen.

(Note that the New York Times reporter did not dig up this scandal himself.   He is simply relaying the findings of the monitor, Herbert J. Stern.  That's often true, though reporters like to pretend otherwise.

Nor does the largest paper in New Jersey, the Star-Ledger, seem to have done much investigation on this scandal.  I looked through the last 14 days of their New Jersey stories and found only this story on the possible barring of former university officials from teaching, and this (probably unrelated) story on a UMDNJ administrator who has been convicted of witness tampering)
- 7:14 AM, 5 April 2006   [link]

Computer Programs Sometimes surprise us.
An Indian movie director said he hopes to persuade Paris Hilton to play the role of Nobel laureate and prospective Catholic Saint, Mother Teresa, in an upcoming film.

"Her features resemble Mother Teresa," director T. Rajeevnath told AFP from the southwestern coastal state of Kerala.

The filmmaker said Hilton is on his shortlist after a computer-generated image showed a close facial match between the hotel heiress and the Albanian-born nun.
There may be a little bit of a height mismatch, though.
- 7:07 PM, 4 April 2006   [link]

This Sound Politics post is a reply to a local commentator, Ken Schram, so I didn't post it here.  But if you have any interest in the Gingrich-McDermott feud, you may want to look at it anyway.
- 7:01 PM, 4 April 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Efraim Karsh tells us the harsh truth about the "Imperial Dreams" of the radical Islamists.  Those dreams are, though we may not like it, solidly grounded in Islamic history.
To Islamic historians, the chronicles of Muslim empire represent a model of shining religious zeal and selfless exertion in the cause of Allah.  Many Western historians, for their part, have been inclined to marvel at the perceived sophistication and tolerance of Islamic rule, praising the caliphs' cultivation of the arts and sciences and their apparent willingness to accommodate ethnic and religious minorities.  There is some truth in both views, but neither captures the deeper and often more callous impulses at work in the expanding umma set in motion by Muhammad.  For successive generations of Islamic rulers, imperial dominion was dictated not by universalistic religious principles but by their prophet's vision of conquest and his summons to fight and subjugate unbelievers.
And more than a few of those rulers were also motivated by a desire for slaves, especially young women.

(His argument will seem familiar to those who have read my essay, "What Would Mohammed Do?".)
- 3:27 PM, 4 April 2006   [link]

When I Saw this claim, I had trouble believing it.
Is The New York Times going bi-polar, or what?

The nation's imperial paper recently said it wouldn't engage in off-the-record sit-downs with President Bush, an invitation that other papers have accepted with no twinges of conscience.  Not so the Times.
So I checked and there it is.
Hutcheson said Bush initially sought to speak off the record with reporters on Air Force One shortly after taking office in 2001, but most opposed the idea.  "The consensus was that you can't do that now that you are president, be off the record," he explained. "Air Force One is a pool setting and you are obligated to share with the press corps what you hear.  We always argue to be on the record."

Such concerns apparently prompted The New York Times to decline participation in one of the chats set for Tuesday, the paper reported.  "The Times has declined this opportunity after weighing the potential benefits to our readers against the prospect of withholding information from them about the discussion with Mr. Bush," Times Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman said in Tuesday's edition. "As a matter of policy and practice, we would prefer when possible to conduct on-the-record interviews with public officials."
That was still hard to believe, so I dug up the article from my pile of newspapers.  And that is what Taubman said, but in the next paragraph the article destroyed his argument.
Times editors and reporters have participated in such unreported sessions with several presidents, including Mr. Bush, over the years.  These have included both social situations and substantive discussions.
"Several" is an understatement.  I don't know of a president within the last sixty years who has not had these chats with reporters, even reporters for the New York Times,  One of the presidents who did this most often was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

It is hard to beat what Byrne says about the Times.
Oh, come on.

The Times--like many newspapers--feeds off anonymous sources, especially if the leak trashes the Bush administration.  A Times reporter spent months in jail for refusing to reveal an anonymous source, and the newspaper happily ran leaked, classified information about the wiretapping of international conversations with terrorists.

So, save us the baloney.  The public knows that anonymous sources usually spill information that benefits the spiller or his interests.  Yes, the public understands that an occasional unnamed source is useful in exposing wrongdoing.  But it also understands that the many "high purposes" the media use to justify the unabashed spread of "spin" (it used to be called propaganda) under the cloak of secrecy is just bunk.
Several years ago, I suggested that the New York Times needed a court jester to tell them when they were making fools of themselves.  This latest decision by the Times is more evidence that my suggestion was a good one.
- 3:01 PM, 4 April 2006   [link]

Did Tom DeLay Want To Win Too Much?  I have been wondering about that for years now.  His announcement that he will not run for re-election makes this a good time to explore that question.

DeLay became famous for his vote counting ability, first as whip and then as majority leader.   Here's part of what the Almanac of American Politics has to say about his operation.
As whip, his job was to assemble majorities on the House floor, and he proved himself a master of that.  Over his eight years as whip he built a massive and loyal organization of as many as 67 deputy whips.  Through them he could keep in close touch with Republican members of all stripes.  He became known as "the Hammer," for his ability to hammer out majorities on the floor of the House over eight years when there were never more than 236 Republican members and at one time as few as 221 — just three more than the majority of 218.  He kept the Republicans together not just by hammering them, but by serving their needs. . . . As one Republican member said, "His whip operation is a cross between the concierge at the Plaza and the mafia.  They can get you anything you want, but it will cost you."
This was not new; as the Almanac says, DeLay was just doing what Democratic whips had done before him, but more effectively.

DeLay's victories, on vote after vote, had a long term cost.  Very often, he would achieve a win by obtaining a few votes at the last minute.  Usually this can be done legitimately; a leader can compromise slightly on a measure to win the few votes needed.  Sometimes it can be done by promising help in a campaign, especially funds.  Unfortunately, that may lead you to fund raising excesses, as you try to accumulate a large war chest for these contingencies.  And quite often it will lead you to promise support for some member's pork barrel project.  Doing this a few times may not matter much to the nation, but when it is done many times, it begins to erode the budget seriously.

DeLay would have been better off in the long run if he had been more willing to lose votes in the House.  It was, I think, his desire to win on every vote that led him to step too close to the line that separates ethical from unethical behavior, and too close to the line that separates desirable from undesirable legislation.  In the long run, that desire to win every vote was not good for DeLay, the Republican party, or the nation.
- 1:09 PM, 4 April 2006   [link]

The Story From Saudi Arabia, just below, is amusing, but this story, from Kuwait, is important.
Polling is taking place in a Kuwaiti council by-election in which women are allowed to vote for the first time.

Two women are also among eight candidates running for the seat in the Salmiya district, south of the capital.

The 28,000 eligible voters, 60% of whom are women, are voting in segregated polling booths, a condition demanded by Islamist and tribal MPs.

Women were granted equal political rights last year and will vote in full legislative polls in 2007.
And this story is almost certainly true — even though it does come from the BBC.
- 9:10 AM, 4 April 2006   [link]

H'mmm:  Here's a curious story from Saudi Arabia.
Tired of playing second fiddle to men in conservative Saudi Arabia, five women decided if you can't beat them, join them.

Al Watan newspaper said the five women underwent sex change surgery abroad over the past 12 months after they developed a "psychological complex" due to male domination.
Is the story true?  I have no idea — and a great distrust of most newspapers in the Middle East.  But it is interesting that a paper in Saudi Arabia published it.
- 6:42 AM, 4 April 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Here's that famous 1975 Newsweek article, "The Cooling World".
There are ominous signs that the Earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production -- with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth.  The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now.
. . .
To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world's weather.  Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions.  But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.  If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic.  "A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale," warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, "because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century."
I don't suggest that you read this to laugh at these failed predictions, or to conclude that those making similar predictions about global warming will be proved wrong, too.  But I do think that the failure of these confident predictions should lead us all to be a little less certain that we can predict the climate to within a tenth of a degree, one hundred years from now.  Our computers are far more powerful than they were in 1975.  Our theoretical understanding of climate is, most likely, far better than it was then.  (Unless we have been wasting a lot of tax money on bad research.)  But are the computers powerful enough, the theories good enough, to support precise predictions about our climate even ten years from now?  I have my doubts.

(Here's my disclaimer on global warming.)
- 6:27 AM, 4 April 2006   [link]

Immigrants And The Servant Problem:  I first learned of this connection when I read Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic, his account of a party given in 1966 to benefit the Black Panthers, or at least their legal defense fund, by Leonard Bernstein.  Here's the scene as the Black Panthers come in:
And here they are, right in front of you, trucking on into Bernsteins' Chinese yellow duplex, amid the sconces, silver bowls full of white and lavender anemones, and uniformed servants serving drinks and roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts—

But it's all right.  They're white servants, not Claude and Maude, but white South Americans.  Lenny and Felicia are geniuses.  After a while, it all comes down to servants.  They are the cutting edge in Radical Chic.  Obviously, if you are giving a party for the Black Panthers, as Lenny and Felicia are this evening, or as John Simon of Random House and Richard Baron, the publisher, did before that; or for the Chicago Eight, such as the party Jean vanden Heuvel gave; or for the grape workers or Bernadette Devlin, such as the parties Andrew Stein gave; or for the Young Lords, such as the party Ellie Guggenheim is giving next week in her Park Avenue duplex; or for the Indians or the SDS or the G.I. coffee shops or even the Friends of the Earth—well, then, obviously you can't have a Negro butler and maid, Claude and Maude in uniform, circulating through the living room, the library, and the main hall serving drinks and canapés.
So Radical Chic set off a "desperate search for white servants".  And the Bernsteins were helpful.
Well, many of their friends can, and they ring up the Bernsteins and ask them to get South American servants for them, and the Bernsteins are so generous about it, so obliging, that people refer to them as the "Spic and Span Employment Agency," with an easygoing ethnic humor, of course.
After giving another example of how the wealthy coped with this servant problem then, Wolfe asks the obvious question:
Just at this point some well-meaning soul is going to say, Why not do without servants altogether if the matter creates such unbearable tension and one truly believes in equality?  Well, even to raise the question is to reveal the most fundamental ignorance of life in the great co-ops and townhouses of the East Side in the age of Radical Chic.  Why, my God! servants are not a mere convenience, they are a psychological necessity.
And so they are now, for many more people.  And that's true whether those people believe — theoretically — in equality, or not.  The servant problem, or more specifically, the "nanny problem", derailed the first two Clinton nominees for Attorney General, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, and derailed other nominees in the Bush and Clinton administrations since.

That "psychological necessity" allows many to overlook what should be obvious injustices.  Not that long ago the Atlantic ran an article describing the practice of wealthy American women hiring a Mexican or Central American nanny to look after their child, or sometimes children, while they continued their careers.  More often than not, these nannies (almost always illegal immigrants) had to leave their own children back in their home countries.   The article, judging by the reactions to it, inspired anguish — and rage at the author for even discussing the subject.  The psychological need for servants was so strong that many of these women (who almost all thought of themselves as feminists) could ignore how unfair their relationship with their nannies (and sometimes other servants) was.

I think that same "psychological necessity" helps explain why our elites are so out of step with average Americans on immigration policies.  Many in our elites have come to depend, psychologically, on their servants, just as the Bernsteins and their friends did.  And they would rather tolerate illegal immigration than give up that "necessity".
- 4:14 PM, 3 April 2006   [link]

There Were Some Fine April Fool's Jokes This Year, as you can see here.  (And there have been some wonderful ones over the years, as you can see in this 100 best list, which I found at Mazurland.)

But there was also a very sick joke at the University of Washington this last Saturday.   Conspiracy theorists Barrie Zwicker and Webster Tarpley brought their freak show to the University of Washington.  The title of Zwicker's film, "The Great Conspiracy: The 9/11 News Special You Never Saw", should give you an idea of what they had to say.

It is tempting just to laugh at this kind of foolishness, especially when it comes on April first.  But that would be a mistake because their ideas, or similar ideas, are commonly held in many parts of the world, including much of Europe.  (So much for the idea that Europeans are sophisticated.)  And in my quick search, I found this positive article from the Toronto Star, a respectable newspaper.  And the article had been republished by Common Dreams, which is part of the semi-respectable left.

Know someone who has bought these conspiracy myths?  You probably do, though they may not have told you.  If so, you may want to gently suggest that they read this fine Popular Mechanics article, which patiently dissects the most common myths about 9/11.

(Zwicker also appears to support a new conspiracy theory on the JFK assassination: The Bush family did it.  Or was involved somehow.)
- 1:40 PM, 3 April 2006   [link]

Iowahawk Was Able To Get Harry Reid And Nancy Pelosi to explain the Democratic plan for improving US security.  It is, they say, smart and tough (or maybe tough and smart).

Here's the opening:
HARRY: Hello, I'm Harry Reid, leader of the Democrats in the United States Senate.

NANCY: And me Nancy Pelosi.

HARRY: Like millions of patriotic Americans, Nancy and I, along with our Democratic colleagues in Congress, are concerned about our rapidly deteriorating national security situation.  Nearly five years after the tragic events of 9/11, not only is our country wracked by record economic misery, low teacher salaries, expensive senior prescriptions, and widespread leprosy, it also remains at risk for illegal attacks from the terrorist Osama bin Laden.  Meanwhile, the Bush administration has us mired in a disastrous unrelated civil war in Iraq, consuming billions of your taxpayer dollars that could be spent on preserving Social Security and community health care block grants for America's starving teachers.

NANCY: We can better do!
(Some of us wonder whether House Democrats could have made a better choice for their leader than Nancy Pelosi — assuming they do care about improving our national security.)

"Armed Liberal" is not as funny, but is almost equally dismissive of the Democratic plan here and here.

Here's a bit of advice for my Democratic friends:  If you want the American people to believe you are serious about national security, then be serious about national security.  (And Democrats may want to note that George W. Bush will, almost certainly, never run for office again.  So there isn't much point in continuing to run against him.)
- 12:42 PM, 3 April 2006   [link]

So Far, So Good, for the Canadian Conservatives.
Four out of five Canadians expect opposition parties to give Prime Minister Stephen Harper some breathing room over the next year to implement his Conservative agenda, a new poll shows.

The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted from March 28 to 30 for CanWest News Service and Global National, found little public appetite for an election.

Only six per cent of respondents wanted the new Conservative minority government to be defeated "as soon as possible," while 81 per cent said they wanted it to survive for at least a year.
And 58 percent are willing to give them two years or more.  Considering how narrow their win was, that's not bad at all.

(For more on the Canadian elections, see these posts:  The first explains who can't vote in Canada, the second gives a brief history of the rise of the Conservatives, and the third has two maps showing where the Conservatives made gains.)
- 10:31 AM, 3 April 2006   [link]

No, Bill Gates And Paul Allen did not invent BASIC.  While searching for information on Forrest Mims, I found that bogus claim.  Dartmouth professors John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz designed BASIC in 1963, when Gates and Allen were still in grade school.  What Gates and Allen did was port BASIC to an early personal computer, the Altair — and they weren't even the first to do that.  Here's a Wikipedia article with a history of BASIC.

Nor, as everyone familiar with early personal computers knows, did Gates and Allen invent MS-DOS, their first operating system.  Instead, they bought it from another firm.

(Microsoft stopped installing their BASIC automatically some time ago.  But I believe that a version of BASIC is still available in Windows, though I haven't checked recently. —Might be fun to dig it up some time.)
- 8:33 AM, 3 April 2006   [link]

Ninety Percent Of You Have To Go:  So said radical environmentalist Eric Pianka — who is also a professor at the University of Texas.
AUSTIN — A University of Texas professor says the Earth would be better off with 90 percent of the human population dead.

"Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine," Eric Pianka cautioned students and guests at St. Edward's University on Friday. Pianka's words are part of what he calls his "doomsday talk" — a 45-minute presentation outlining humanity's ecological misdeeds and Pianka's predictions about how nature, or perhaps humans themselves, will exterminate all but a fraction of civilization.
Although Pianka may seem radical to you and me, there are even more extreme environmentalists, who would want to see a far larger proportion of us eliminated, and even a few who think it would be better if humanity were to become extinct.

Now what makes this story especially interesting is that Pianka is far from an outcast among other scientists.
But there was a gravely disturbing side to that otherwise scientifically significant meeting, for I watched in amazement as a few hundred members of the Texas Academy of Science rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation to a speech that enthusiastically advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth's population by airborne Ebola.  The speech was given by Dr. Eric R. Pianka (Fig. 1), the University of Texas evolutionary ecologist and lizard expert who the Academy named the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist.
And what makes it even more interesting is what the Academy thinks of taxpayers:
Something curious occurred a minute before Pianka began speaking.  An official of the Academy approached a video camera operator at the front of the auditorium and engaged him in animated conversation.  The camera operator did not look pleased as he pointed the lens of the big camera to the ceiling and slowly walked away.

This curious incident came to mind a few minutes later when Professor Pianka began his speech by explaining that the general public is not yet ready to hear what he was about to tell us.
That is, to say the least, an interesting position for a scientist to take — especially a scientist on the public payroll.

Is Pianka right when he claims that the earth can only support one tenth of the current human population?  Not as far as I can tell — and I think I know as much about this question as a lizard specialist.  Pianka's ideas come, as far as I can tell, not from an analysis of the facts, but from his religious beliefs.  Like many other nature worshipers, he sees humans as unnatural, and an intrusion on his paradise.  A scientist, as opposed to an environmental priest, would understand that humans are just as much a part of nature as any other species, and that it is no more wrong for us to build cities than for beavers to build dams, or lizards to dig burrows.

(The name of one of Pianka's critics, Forrest Mims, may seem familiar, at least if you are my age, or close to it.  Mims has written many books for the electronics hobbyist.  In 1990, he wrote some "Amateur Scientist" columns for the Scientific American.  The magazine liked his columns, but did not give him the position permanently, after they found out about his religious and poltical beliefs.  This brief Wikipedia article gives the standard explanation, that Mims was rejected because he believes in intelligent design.  When I followed the controversy, I came to a different conclusion, that he had been rejected because he was pro-life.)
- 7:56 AM, 3 April 2006   [link]

KUOW Has Finished Their Spring Fund Raiser:  Our local "public" radio station just finished their spring fund raiser.  I didn't contribute.  For the same reasons I won't buy from organizations where I can't work (with a few legitimate exceptions), I won't contribute to organizations where I can't work.  And it is simply a fact that KUOW does not have anyone on the air that shares my political views.  In fact, I would go farther and say that their on-air employees come entirely from the left side of the polticao spectrum.  In effect, two-thirds, or perhaps three quarters, of the American public has views that are too moderate, or too conservative. to be acceptable at KUOW.  (Which is why I put "public" in quotation marks.)

Though conservatives and moderates are excluded from KUOW, those on the far left are not.  KUOW gives an entire hour each week to Alternative Radio, the voice of what I call the Chomsky cult.  Though — to put it mildly — the views on that program are debatable (and factual errors are common), to the best of my knowledge KUOW has never given any time to those who might disagree with the cult, or even to those who might want to make factual corrections.

KUOW's more mainstream programs often are heavily weighted toward the Democratic party.  They often give time to Democratic officials — without giving equal time to their Republican opponents.   Judging by the emailers and callers to their talk shows, Republicans know they are not welcome, because so few of them contact the programs.  (That's not, by the way, because this area is completely Democratic.  In the Seattle metropolitan area, broadly defined, Democrats have, at most, a three to two advantage over Republicans.  And, of course, there are many, many independents in the area.)

The better commercial talk show hosts, for example, Michael Medved, or in this area, Dori Monson, provide the public a much wider spectrum of views.  They often bring on guests with views that sharply contrast with their own, and they make a point of taking calls from those who disagree.  Their shows are — and some might find this ironic — far more diverse than those on KUOW.

What is to be done?  I see no solution other than ending the public subsidy to KUOW.  (And tossing them off the University of Washington campus.)  The station manager at KUOW is, in my experience, unresponsive to complaints from moderates or conservatives.  The NPR ombudsman is, again in my experience, part of the problem.  The prospects for reform in such a hardened bureaucracy are tiny.  Best just to recognize that the experiment has failed and end the public label and the public subsidy.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you go to the KUOW web site, you'll see a picture of Mt. Rainier, briefly.  Here's a better picture, taken from almost the same place, and here are four recent winter pictures.)
- 2:32 PM, 2 April 2006   [link]