April 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The New York Times Times Taps Nancy Pelosi's wrist ever so lightly.
There is at least one point on which we and the critics of Nancy Pelosi's visit to Damascus can agree: It is the White House, not the speaker of the House, that should be taking the diplomatic lead.
. . .
Ms. Pelosi did not help matters by claiming in Damascus that Israel was ready to talk — an assertion that Israeli officials were quick to deny.  Her job is to spur the Bush administration to pursue active diplomacy, not to attempt to conduct that diplomacy herself.  The more she hews to the careful path, the more useful her efforts will be.
But she ought to notice anyway, since this wrist tap is something like the National Review saying that President Bush is being too conservative.  Reproofs, however gentle, from such unexpected directions, deserve attention.
- 3:03 PM, 7 April 2007   [link]

Which Prominent Politician Taught Courses On The Environment?  Give up?  (I'm not sure I would have gotten it either.)  A former college professor, of course, Newt Gingrich.

And he hasn't stopped being interested in the subject; if I understood him correctly this morning, he is working on a book on the subject, tentatively titled "Contract with the Earth".  The new book, he said, will be about improving the environment with market-based programs based on sound science, just the kind of programs that might work.  (It can be surprising how much entrepeneurs can improve the environment — if they have a chance to make a little money at the same time.)
- 2:44 PM, 6 April 2007   [link]

Playing Hooky:  The Seattle area doesn't get many days this nice — mostly sunny and almost 70 degrees — during early April, so I sucumbed to my inner schoolboy at noon, and went out to enjoy the weather.  Some local beauties were willing to pose for pictures.


Important contruction work was going on at the waterfront.

Marina Park in Kirkland

And attempts at inter-species communication.  One little girl hopefully said "quack" several times, but was ignored by the ducks, as usual.  Still, one had to admire her effort.
- 1:21 PM, 6 April 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  The Washington Post takes Speaker Pelosi to the woodshed for her silly trip to Damascus.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered an excellent demonstration yesterday of why members of Congress should not attempt to supplant the secretary of state when traveling abroad.  After a meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Ms. Pelosi announced that she had delivered a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria.
. . .
Only one problem: The Israeli prime minister entrusted Ms. Pelosi with no such message.
And there's more in the editorial.

(Speakers have intervened in foreign policy before.   Probably the worst recent case was Democrat Jim Wright's interference in Nicaragua during the Reagan administration.  Interestingly, former Speaker Gingrich once stepped over the line — and apologized for that soon after.

According to WorldNetDaily, some terrorists are delighted by Pelosi's trip.

As one might expect, leftists in the blogosphere are not happy about this editorial.  I found the comments after the post both amusing and sad.  Amusing because of the irrationality, and sad for the same reason.)
- 10:16 AM, 5 April 2007   [link]

Why Didn't The British Protect Their Sailors And Marines?  Now that the fifteen British hostages are back from Iran, we, or rather our British allies, can ask why the Iranians were able to seize them in the first place.  If the accounts I have been reading are correct, the British commander of the naval task force, Commodore Nick Lambert, failed to provide protection for the boarding party, and failed to make an attempt to rescue them — even though he had sufficient forces on hand to do both.

Here's an account from EU Referendum that describes some of the mysteries.  And you can find more from the same source, here and here.  The third post makes an interesting point about the coverage:
This may have more than a germ of truth in it and, if it is the case, I suspect much of this lies at the door of Commodore Nick Lambert.  As we unearth more about him, he comes over as one of those "media warriors", who runs his command with more than a weather eye on the media opportunities afforded.   Thus we see (top left) another one of many media shots, this time our Nick entertaining a Sky News television reporting team, and another (right) as he addresses Cornwall's company.

Of course, having made such good friends with the media, they are now less likely to point the finger at him, which might also explain why he is being given such an easy time.
Whether or not Lambert deserves that easy time.

(You may also want to read this account of American barbarity toward Iranians, and this post comparing different media accounts of the return of the hostages.)
- 9:42 AM, 5 April 2007   [link]

Good News From Burkina Faso:  A week ago, I set up a Gmail account as a test, to see whether Gmail could handle my modest email needs.  Already the account is paying dividends.  A gentleman from Burkina Faso sent me an email yesterday, telling me that he wants to send me millions.

Since Burkina Faso is such a poor country, I must, of course, refuse this kind offer.  And I think it best not to reply, since I don't want to offend him by telling him that.  But it was nice of him to think of me.
- 8:28 AM, 5 April 2007   [link]

Pelosi's People:  Speaker Nancy Pelosi took six congressmen with her on her trip to Damascus, where I expect her to cuddle up to the Syrian dictator.  (A dictator who is, even now, providing help to our enemies in Iraq and Syria.)
Her delegation includes Representatives Henry A. Waxman and Tom Lantos of California, Louise M. Slaughter of New York, Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, all Democrats, as well as David L. Hobson, Republican of Ohio.
Why those six?  With one exception, all are strange choices, if you were choosing congressmen who might have some expertise on the Middle East.  Only Tom Lantos serves on the House International Relations committe and only he has any claim to expertise in foreign affairs.  But I don't think that's why he was chosen for the delegation.

To see why I came to that conclusion, let's go backwards through the Democrats, and see if we can guess why each was chosen.  Keith Ellison is easy; he was picked because he is the only Muslim member of Congress.  Nick Rahall?  He's a pork-barreling congressman from a poor West Virginia district — but he is also of Arabic descent.  Louise Slaughter?  She's originally from Kentucky mine country, but represents an upstate New York district.  But she is also chairman of the Rules committee; she's on the delegation because she's a Pelosi loyalist.  (In recent years, the chairmen of the Rules committee have all been loyalists to the current speaker.)  Tom Lantos?  He's best known as a holocaust survivor.  Henry Waxman?  He's a pork barreler on a grand scale, who has worked hard to spend enormous sums on government-supported health care — without showing much interest in whether those sums improve the health of Americans.  (Mostly, they don't.)  But that isn't why he was chosen for this delegation.  No, I think he was chosen because, like Lantos, he is Jewish.

In short, Pelosi's Democrats were chosen to be ethnically and religiously balanced, selected just as her father, the Baltimore political boss, might have selected a party ticket for the Baltimore city council.  (Slaughter is the token Protestant; she's an Episcopalian.)  The shortcomings of this delegation show why I do not think that a machine politician, such as Pelosi, is a good choice to make foreign policy.

What about the lone Republican on the delegation, Congresman Hobson?  I confess that I had never heard of him before he went on this trip, so I looked him up in the 2006 Almanac of American Politics, and this is what I found:
He also worked to slow down the development of new nuclear weapons.  "We have too much of a Cold War arsenal."  In 2003 he scaled back spending of the bunker buster weapon from $15 million to $5 million and settled for $7.5 million in conference; in 2004 he scaled it back from $15 million to $5 million and, in May 2005, zeroed out funds for the bunker buster.
He has, in other words, opposed the development of a weapon that might let us threaten the lives of dictators — which we may need to be able to do.  (Being able to threaten the life of a dictator is a far better choice than being able to threaten the lives of his people — which we can already do.)  And that opposition is why, I think, that Pelosi took him along on her trip to Damascus.

(There is one other reason that Congresswoman Slaughter may have been brought along on her trip.  She won her first congressional race by attacking a one term Republican for not doing enough to rescue journalist Terry Anderson, then held by terrorists in Lebanon.  She was arguing, though of course she didn't put it in these terms, that we should do more to appease the terrorists.)
- 8:09 AM, 4 April 2007   [link]

Which Side Are They On?  The coverage of the war on terrorism by our "mainstream" media has been so bad that it would be easy to conclude that they are on the side of the terrorists.  That conclusion would be wrong for most "mainstream" journalists, as far as I can tell.  Although they may be, in effect, working for our terrorist foes, they are not doing so because they hope the terrorists win.  (At least a few do want to see Bush lose, and are not willing to face the fact that if Bush loses, the terrorists win.)

But there are a few "mainstream" journalists who, I think, can fairly be said to be on the other side.  As is often the case, a historical analogy can clarify matters.  Suppose an allied journalist, during the World War II, made great efforts to cover the war from the Hitler's side.   Now the Nazis would not have allowed any allied journalist to cover them if they did not think it was to their advantage — something any journalist should know.  I think in those circumstances it would be fair to conclude that the journalist was on the Nazi side.

And I think it would be fair to draw similar conclusions about a few "mainstream" journalists today, who give sympathetic coverage to the terrorists.  For example, the New York Times stringer who took pictures of a sniper trying to kill Americans.  Or Michael Ware, who has passed on propaganda from both Saddam and the terrorists.  At the very least we can say that such journalists act as if they are on the side of the terrorists.  And that our terrorist enemies believe these journalists are helping their cause — which is why they give them access.

(If the name Michael Ware sounds familiar it may because you saw the Drudge report claiming that Ware had heckled Senator John McCain in Baghdad.  That report has been disputed, but the latest information makes me think that it is probably true.)
- 1:29 PM, 3 April 2007   [link]

Guerillas Usually Lose:  That conclusion is not controversial among military historians.  But that conclusion would surprise many journalists.  Yesterday, for example, an editorial writer for the Seattle PI wrote this:

Very well, the troop-surge deployment is still in its earliest stages and, sure, there's a possibility (a slim one, because insurgencies are seldom, if ever, effectively defeated by an occupying force) that things might get better.

Those who believe that guerillas (or, if you prefer, insurgents) are "seldom, if ever, effectively defeated" often come to that conclusion from a mistaken understanding of the Vietnam War.  Here's what Max Boot has to say about the question in his fine book, The Savage Wars of Peace.

Moreover, it is simply hard to believe that the U.S.—which in cooperation with its allies had defeated the combined might of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan a scant two decades earlier—could not defeat a tiny, preindustrial society on the edge of Asia.  Advocates of the unwinnable-war school reply that the North Vietnamese were masters of guerilla tactics, a type of warfare that is virtually impossible to defeat.  Indeed, thanks to Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevera, and other famed leaders of "national liberation" struggles, the word guerilla has acquired an almost mystical connotation.  It is all too easy to overlook the fact that most guerilla campaigns do not succeed.  Since World War II, guerillas have been stymied in Northern Ireland, Israel, Italy, Germany, Spain, Greece, the Philippines, Malaya, Turkey, Kenya, El Salvador, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, and numerous other countries.  Even the famous Che Guevera was hunted down and killed in 1967 by a Bolivian unit assisted by American Special Forces advisers.  And as we have seen, the U.S. in the past had considerable success against guerillas in the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and elsewhere.  It is quite possible that Vietnam was sufficiently different from all the prior instances that the U.S. could not have won.  But at the very least, this assumption needs to be treated skeptically, especially since the U.S. despite all the mistakes made along the way, came tantalizingly close to winning at least a conditional victory. (p. 314)

(The suppression of the Philippine insurgency after the Spanish-American War, which Boot mentions, may have some lessons for us now.  Note, for example, the number of casualties that most Americans accepted then.)

So guerillas usually lose.  The reason they usually lose is not difficult to discern; ordinarily they choose guerilla tactics because they do not have the strength to win in open conflict.  The horrific terrorist attacks we see on schools and markets, and other civilian targets, are, among other things, a confession of military weakness.

That we can win in Iraq is, I think, obvious, at least to anyone who knows even a little about military history.  But I am not arguing here that it would be in the best interests of the United States to win there, or that a victory would be compatible with our values.  Those are separate questions, questions that I may address in later posts.  What I am saying is simply this:  If we want to win in Iraq, we can.  And I think that anyone who totals the forces on each side, and the resources supporting those forces, would come to the same conclusion.

We do, and here I come back to the editorial, suffer one enormous disadvantage that we did not have in most earlier wars.  Most journalists in our "mainstream" media have become so psychologically invested in our defeat that they can not report the war honestly.  And they have become all too willing to convey enemy propaganda to us.  Think, for example, of their absurd coverage of the minor Abu Ghraib scandal — and their almost complete indifference to terrorist attacks on civilians by our enemies.  (I can't help but think that some of that indifference may show bigotry.  I fear that many of our journalists do not expect decent behavior from Muslim extremists, especially if those extremists have darker skins than most Americans.)  Putting panties on the head of an enemy combatant may be silly and demeaning, but it is not an atrocity.  Driving into a crowd of boys getting candy from American soldiers with a car bomb is.  It is embarrassing to have to make that point, but necessary.

Despite that disadvantage, we can still win, since the sides are so uneven.  And journalists who believe otherwise need to read a little military history.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Resources:  There are a number of books that have shaped my thinking on this question; among them are Guenter Lewy's America in Vietnam and Lawrence Keeley's War Before Civilization.

Journalists who think they know what happened in Vietnam should read Peter Braestrup's The Big Story, which shows, unequivocally, that most American journalists got the biggest story there wrong, wrong, wrong.   And, as far as I know, most journalists never corrected the errors they made in covering that story.   Never.)
- 8:43 AM, 3 April 2007   [link]

Backing Up Isn't Hard To Do:  Usually.  Last Friday, I was doing my usual weekly back up when I ran into a strange problem.  (Well, actually two problems.  I had forgotten to keep enough temporary space available, but that problem was easily fixed.)  When I tried to write my back-up file to a blank DVD, I got an error, and then the DVD drive refused to disgorge the DVD.  I finally rebooted so that I could remove the DVD.  (I could have used the paper clip trick, sticking one end of a paper clip in the hole in the DVD writer, but I was curious to see just how stuck the blank DVD was.)

A quick experiment produced the same result in Windows as I had gotten under Linux; the PC was unable to write to the disk — and unwilling to give up the disk after the error.  Some experiments this morning convinced me that I had gotten a bad batch of blank DVDs, so I threw them away.  But that isn't what interests me about this incident.  I think that it is a design error for the DVD drive to refuse to give up the DVD.  I'm not sure whether the design error is in the firmware of the drive, or in the driver software of the two operating systems, but it does seem like an error to me.  It seems to me that I should be able to eject a DVD when a write has failed, after being warned, of course.   Or am I missing something here?

Despite this annoyance, I intend to continue making regular back-ups, and you should, too, if you put anything on your computer worth saving.

The bad DVD blanks came from a 100 unit "cakebox" of Memorex disks, 16x, -R, to be specific.  They are also printable DVDs; one side has a white coating that can be written on by many Epson inkjet printers.  I have used printable CDs for some time with my Epson printer and have found them a nice way to distribute photos.  You write your photos to the CD and then print a label on the other side with a collage made of some of the photos.  But I can't recall whether I have ever used any of the printable DVDs before.

My main DVD writer is a Plextor PX-716, which has never given me any problems.  This morning, I got similar errors when I tried to write using an external Samsung DVD writer.

The blank DVDs may have been OK when I purchased them. I have had them for some time and stored them near the heating element in my office.  I haven't noticed them getting hot, but I don't check them regularly.  It is possible, I suppose, that the dye in them got cooked over time.
- 1:32 PM, 2 April 2007   [link]

President Pelosi?  In November, 2004, the United States re-elected President George W. Bush.  It is not simplifying very much to say that that vote, and the US constitution, put the conduct of foreign affairs in his hands until he leaves office in January, 2009.  The election, last fall, of a Democratic congress, makes no constitutional difference in President Bush's position, though it does add practical difficulties.

Speaker Pelosi does not seem to understand that the Constitution puts the president in charge of foreign affairs.  If she did understand that, she would not be traveling to Syria to negotiate with our enemies.  (And with a regime that has a terrible human rights record.)
As part of the trip, Pelosi and the delegation will visit Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.  The Syria stop has irked the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, which considers the country a sponsor of terror.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the speaker "should take a step back and think about the message that it sends."

"This is a country that is a state sponsor of terror, one that is trying to disrupt the Saniora government in Lebanon and one that is allowing foreign fighters to flow into Iraq from its borders," Perino said.  Fuad Saniora is prime minister of Lebanon.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said the delegation "intends to discuss a wide range of security issues affecting the United States and the Middle East with representatives of governments in the region, including Syria," as recommended by the Iraq Study Group.
There is a an overwhelming practical reason for putting one person in charge of foreign affairs; that way our enemies (and even our friends, from time to time) can not play off one faction against another.  This visit of Pelosi to the Syrian dictator will make it more difficult for us to change his regime's behavior, more difficult to discourage his regime from interfering in Lebanon and Iraq.  And that should be obvious to any serious person.

Democrats were outraged in 1968 when they thought that representatives of Richard Nixon were interfering in peace negotiations by telling the South Vietnamese government that they could get a better deal by waiting.  (As far as I know, Nixon authorized no such talk, though some of his supporters made those arguments.)  Democrats — if they care about our country — should be outraged now by this open effort to undermine our current president, in a time of war.

Perhaps Pelosi knows about the president's constitutional position and just doesn't care.  After all, one of her Democratic predecessors, Tammany Congressman Tim Campbell, once asked: "What's the constitution among friends?"  And Pelosi's career gives us more than one reason to think that Pelosi shares his sentiment.

(Wonder how Pelosi intends to conduct foreign policy?  You can find my analysis here and here.   In brief, I think that she will try to please particular constituent groups, just as her father did in Baltimore — without any consideration of how pleasing those groups affects our interests, or fits our values.  She is, after all, the daughter of a machine politician and seems content to follow in her father's footsteps.)
- 10:01 AM, 2 April 2007
More:  Thomas Sowell makes a similar argument, at greater length, and with more eloquence.
- 10:30 AM, 3 April 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Architectural writer Lawrence Cheek has second thoughts about Seattle's new Central Library, which was designed by trendy architect Rem Koolhaas.  The new library has, Cheek admits, some minor defects.

This library, incredibly, is an uncomfortable place to read.  The third-level "Living Room," which has the feel of a vast indoor park, is not conducive to intimacy with a book.  It harvests and energizes routine noise; conversations from hundreds of feet away coalesce as ambient babble.  The vast overhead space, a thrill to library visitors, works against readers -- most of us instinctively crave small, private spaces when curling up with a book.  And "curling up" here is no fun.   The foam seats are decidedly unpleasant and are looking shabby -- cracked, torn, stained -- after three years.

And he has much more to say along those lines about other parts of the library.  And so do the readers at the Seattle PI, as you can see in the comments below the article.

It's "an uncomfortable place to read" — but it does attract lots of tourists who come to look at the building.  Perhaps Seattle should just declare it a piece of sculpture, and build a new building for residents who want to read.  (And as a precaution, write the contract with the architect so that he has to refund his fee if the new building wins any architectural prizes.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Some of us suspected all along that Koolhaas's design would not work well as a library, as you can see here, here, and here. Kudos to Cheek for catching up with us, partly, however late.

I may be too suspicious, but I suspect that the offices of City Librarian Deborah Jacobs work very well as offices — and are isolated from the noise and messes below.)
- 7:33 AM, 1 April 2007   [link]