April 2007, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Mark Steyn Finds  another gem in Barack Obama's answers during the Democratic candidates' debate.
Everything's difficult, isn't it?  In the Democratic presidential candidates' debate, Sen. Barack Obama was asked what he personally was doing to save the environment, and replied that his family was "working on" changing their light bulbs.

Is this the new version of the old joke?  How many senators does it take to "work on" changing a light bulb?  One to propose a bipartisan commission.  One to threaten to de-fund the light bulbs.  One to demand the impeachment of Bush and Cheney for keeping us all in the dark.  One to vote to pull out the first of the light bulbs by fall of this year with a view to getting them all pulled out by the end of 2008.
Maybe Obama isn't that articulate, after all.  Or perhaps his family has talked about changing bulbs, but hasn't got around to actually changing any.  (For what it is worth, I have changed many of my incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents, beginning with the bulbs that are on for hours each day.)

Obama actually began with a different answer, which you can find in the transcript, saying that he had organized 3,000 volunteers to plant trees.  If planting trees (often a good idea) is the measure of environmentalism, then Weyerhaeuser must be the greatest environmental organization in the world.
- 2:17 PM, 30 April 2007   [link]

Child Abuse:  That was my first reaction to the list of ten books in this Seattle Times article, books recommended by children's librarian Nancy Pearl.  (Or, as the headline in the print copy calls her, our own "rock star librarian".)

That first reaction was too strong.  My second reaction to the list was to think that this woman really hates boys.

That second reaction was also too strong.  There is one book of the ten that a normal boy might like, The Eagle of the Ninth.   It is by far the oldest book on the list — and I don't think that's a coincidence.

But I think it entirely fair to conclude from that list that Nancy Pearl does not understand normal boys.  (And may not understand normal girls, either.   As a one time boy, it is easier for me to guess what boys would like to read than what girls would like to read.  Girls, and those who have been girls, are invited to comment on the list from their perspective.)

Here's the list, with Amazon links and suggested ages, so you can judge for yourselves:  Millicent Min, Girl Genius (9-12), Whales on Stilts (9-12), Blood Red Horse (9-12), The Eagle of the Ninth (teens), Ellen Tebbits (8-10), Duck and Goose (4-8), Clementine (7-10), The Trolls (8-12), Adele & Simon (5-9), and Apples to Oregon. (5-9)

If you look through the list, you will find that all ten books are fiction; boys, as they get out of the primary grades, often prefer nonfiction.   There are no books in the list on dinosaurs, trucks, space travel, history (especially military history), sports, or any of the other subjects that fascinate most boys.  There are no books in the list that tell a boy how to make things, though most boys are intrigued by such books.

Nine of the books are written by women; boys prefer books written by men.  (Science fiction writer Andre Norton, also a children's librarian, chose a male pen name for precisely that reason.)   Many of the books have girls as heroines; boys, as least pre-adolescent boys, do not want to read about heroic girls.

I could continue, but I think you can see my point by now.  Take a look at the books on the list and see if you agree with me.  Are those books that (excluding the one exception) normal boys would even pick up, much less read?  And do you have any recommendations for better choices?  Just to get things started, I'll mention a book about George Rogers Clark, that I linked to here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:14 PM, 29 April 2007   [link]

Credentialism And The Dean:  Yesterday's New York Times had this sad story on the front page.
Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became well known for urging stressed-out students competing for elite colleges to calm down and stop trying to be perfect.  Yesterday she admitted that she had fabricated her own educational credentials, and resigned after nearly three decades at M.I.T.  Officials of the institute said she did not have even an undergraduate degree.

"I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to M.I.T. 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or at any time since," Ms. Jones said in a statement posted on the institute's Web site. "I am deeply sorry for this and for disappointing so many in the M.I.T. community and beyond who supported me, believed in me, and who have given me extraordinary opportunities."
If you read farther down in the article, you found these bits:
On the campus, where Ms. Jones was widely admired, almost revered, for her humor, outspokenness and common sense, students and faculty members alike seemed both saddened and shocked.
. . .
Ms. Jones had received the institute's highest honor for administrators, the M.I.T. Excellence Award for Leading Change, and many college admissions officers and high school college counselors said yesterday that whatever her personal shortcomings, her efforts deserved respect.
So Jones was doing a fine job, even though she was formally unqualified for the position.  Which leads me to conclude that the formal requirements do not match the job.  And that those formal requirements should be changed.  But then I have despised credentialism for years, even though I have sometimes benefitted from it.

(Just so there is no misunderstanding, I should add that, once this became known, she did have to resign, not because she couldn't do the job, but because she hadn't told the truth.

She might have been able to stay in the admissions office if, early in her career, she had gone to her boss and admitted fibbing on her résumé.  I have read that, if a person is doing good work, they can usually correct the record and stay in their job.  Of course, she would never have been considered for dean without a degree, regardless of how good her work was.

It would be interesting, by the way, to know who tipped off M.I.T., and why.)
- 12:53 PM, 28 April 2007
More on the subject from University of Chicago professor Saul Levmore.
- 1:56 PM, 30 April 2007
Stranger And Stranger:  Jones did have a college degree, a B.A. in biology from the College of Saint Rose, but that degree never made it on to her résumé.  I can't even guess why she didn't claim the degree she had earned.
- 4:46 PM, 3 May 2007   [link]

Old London Comes To Kirkland:  About three weeks ago, I saw a vehicle in downtown Kirkland that seemed out of place.

Hale's Ales'

It was, in fact, an old London double-decker bus.  And it was on its third life.  (At least.)  It had carried tourists around London and then been shipped to a resort in Oregon.   After a time, the resort became tired of it and no longer kept it up.  It was bought by a local micro-brewery, Hale's Ales, which restored it and converted it into a rolling tavern.  And there were a few passengers in it when I spotted it, seeing the sights, and having an ale or two, on a day that must have reminded a few of them of cloudy London.
- 3:02 PM, 27 April 2007   [link]

Bill Clinton's Civil Rights Record In Arkansas:  One of the books I picked up at last weekend's book sale was Christopher Hitchen's No One Left To Lie To.

So far, I have just glanced at parts of the book, finding some new material, including some on Clinton's civil rights record that surprised me.  Hitchens began his second chapter (titled "Chameleon in Black and White") noting that Clinton has claimed to have been a strong supporter of civil rights, almost from birth.  If so, his record in Arkansas didn't show it:
As against that, at the close of Mr. Clinton's tenure as governor, Arkansas was the only state in the union that did not have a civil rights statute.  It is safe to say this did not trouble his conscience too heavily.
. . .
In the 1992 run for the Democratic nomination that [Souther] strategy became plain for anyone willing to see it.  Clinton took care to have himself photographed at an all-white golf club, and also standing at a prison farm photo-op, wearing his shades in the sunshine while a crowd of uniformed black convicts broke rocks in the sun.  Taxed with his long-time membership in the "exclusive" golf club — "inclusiveness" being only a buzz word away — Clinton calmly replied that the club's "staff and facilities" were integrated, a "legally accurate" means of stating the obvious fact that at least the hired help was colored. (pp. 32-33)
Imagine, just for amusement, what the press would have done to George W. Bush, if he had that record, and had said and done the same things, during the 2000 campaign.

(From what I can tell, Clinton is not himself prejudiced; he is as willing to con a black voter as a white voter.  But he almost never lets mere principle interfere with his quest for power.)
- 10:30 AM, 27 April 2007   [link]

Do You Believe In Magic?  Judging by his comments last night, Barack Obama does.
But, look, we are one vote away -- we are one signature away or 16 votes away from ending this war.  One signature away.

Now, if the president is not going to sign the bill that has been sent to him, then what we have to do is gather up 16 votes in order to override his veto.
When I heard that amazing statement, I briefly wished it were true.  But then I have briefly wished for many impossible things.

To believe this, Senator Obama has to believe, among other things, that Al Qaeda would immediately end all attacks on Americans, and that the warring factions in Iraq, who have quarrels that go back, in some cases, more than a thousand years, will also immediately stop fighting.

Sometimes we have to hope that a politician is lying to us, and this is one of those times.  It would be far better if Obama were lying to us, far better if his claim that the war could be ended by a signature was a deeply cynical appeal to the far left in the Democratic party.  But he may believe what he said.  If he does, we must wonder what other impossible things he believes, we must wonder if, like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, Obama can believe "as many as six impossible things before breakfast".  Including the magical idea that a signature on an appropriations bill can immediately end a war.
- 9:56 AM, 27 April 2007   [link]

Our Terrorist Enemies Understand How To Use The Media:  And the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah shows just how well they do.  By the usual ways of evaluating wins and losses in wars, Hezbollah lost the war.  But they won the propaganda war, for reasons discussed in this FrontPage article, which describes a Harvard study of the coverage.
When Israel retaliated against Hezbollah during last summer's war, it was forced to fight two battles: one against the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, and one against a hopelessly biased global media.  The first serious study of the media's behavior throughout the conflict has confirmed this impression.

The study, released in February and titled "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media As A Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict" (pdf.), was written not by a partisan watchdog organization that would be expected to arrive at these conclusions; rather, it was produced by a respected journalist, Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

In meticulous fashion, Kalb details how the press allowed itself to be manipulated by Hezbollah.   He also records the mistakes made by Israel in trying to manage coverage, points out several of the outright distortions that were widely reported, and analyzes the impact of the digital media and the fundamental disadvantage a democracy such as Israel faces in a public relations battle with a non-democratic state or terrorist organization.
The study's abstract puts it a little more directly:
Based on content analysis of global media and interviews with many diplomats and journalists, this paper describes the trajectory of the media from objective observer to fiery advocate, becoming, in fact a weapon of modern warfare.  The paper also shows how an open society, Israel, is victimized by its own openness, and how a closed sect, Hezbollah, can retain almost total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda.
But to retain that control, Hezbollah had to have the tacit (and sometimes open) help of the "mainstream" media.  "Mainstream" journalists did not have to accept the Hezbollah restrictions, and they did not have to echo the Hezbollah charges, as they so often did.  For example, "mainstream" journalists could — and should — have refused to go into Hezbollah-controlled territory under the restrictions that Hezbollah imposed.

What those "mainstream" journalists may not realize is that, by aiding Hezbollah in Lebanon, they have made future wars more likely.  And they have made critics of "mainstream" journalists even more critical.  Those who did not trust the reports from, for example, the BBC, have even more reasons not to trust them now.

(I got into a discussion of this article and this study with a man who works for the BBC, John Reith, in the comments to this post.  Reith believes that there is an error in the article(and the study), in particular he is certain that the BBC did far more than 117 articles on the war, as claimed in the study.

Reith is probably right on that point, though he presented no documentation for his claim.   Unfortunately, the study did not come with appendices including the data, so I was unable to trace down the origins of the number.  What I suspect happened is that the 117 is a subset of articles, perhaps the BBC articles that blamed one side, the other, or both.  That may show sloppy writing, or perhaps a touch of the innumeracy that so often afflicts journalists, but I see no reason to think that it says anything significant about the major findings of the paper.

I am hoping to persuade Reith to read the whole paper, but I suspect that, having found his nit, he will be unwilling to actually read what he criticizes.  That's not an unusual reaction among journalists, I have found.  Too many, having found a trivial mistake in a critic's argument, refuse to look at the rest of the critic's argument.

Incidentally, Kalb and the Shorenstein Center are generally on the left, so this paper is not, as I explained to Reith, a product of a "vast right-wing conspiracy".  And there is an interesting detail supporting that point: Kalb claims, without presenting any evidence, that Bin Laden attacked Bush during the 2004 campaign in order to help Bush.)
- 3:24 PM, 26 April 2007   [link]

What Has President Bush Said About Global Warming?   You may be surprised.
Beginning in June 2001, President Bush has consistently acknowledged climate change is occurring and humans are contributing to the problem.  In his words:

"We know the surface temperature of the Earth is warming . . . There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming . . . And the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the increase is due in large part to human activity. . . The policy challenge is to act in a serious and sensible way, given the limits of our knowledge.  While scientific uncertainties remain, we can begin now to address the factors that contribute to climate change." — June 11, 2001
And what has Bush done?  More than you might think — if you rely on our "mainstream" news organizations for coverage of this issue.
To address this challenge, the president has requested, and Congress has provided, substantial funding for climate-related science, technology, observations, international assistance and incentive programs on the order of $35 billion since 2001.  This is far more than any other nation.  Since 2001, the administration has devoted approximately $12 billion of this amount to climate change science observations and research.  Agencies in this administration developed a 10-year strategic research plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) that was developed in full consultation with the climate science community and endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences.
And although the scientific advisors who wrote this article don't say so, Bush has done far more about global warming than Clinton did.

Given the scientific uncertainties, I would say these policies are about right.
- 8:01 AM, 26 April 2007   [link]

Sobering:  Our terrorist enemies are still plotting mass murder.
Al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq are planning the first "large-scale" terrorist attacks on Britain and other western targets with the help of supporters in Iran, according to a leaked intelligence report.

Spy chiefs warn that one operative had said he was planning an attack on "a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki" in an attempt to "shake the Roman throne", a reference to the West.
. . .
The report was compiled by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) — based at MI5's London headquarters — and provides a quarterly review of the international terror threat to Britain.   It draws a distinction between Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda's core leadership, who are thought to be hiding on the Afghan-Pakistan border, and affiliated organisations elsewhere.
If you have been reading this site for long you will know that I am not surprised by this report.   When I have said that I expect this war to last at least a century, I was being literal.  And it is a sad fact that wars tend to get more ferocious as they go on, so we should not be surprised to see our terrorist enemies planning ever more ruthless attacks.

(Despite the references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the terrorists are probably not planning a nuclear attack.  The first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993 was intended to topple one tower into the other, starting massive fires in the area.  The terrorists hoped to kill 250,000 people, more than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.  Most likely the terrorists are contemplating something generally similar to that 1993 attack.)
- 7:43 AM, 26 April 2007   [link]

Almost As Good As In The United States:  Der Spiegel celebrates an economic recovery in Germany and makes this telling comparison.
The German government plans to use these estimates in its own forecast, possibly taking a slightly more conservative approach with a 1.7 percent forecast of economic growth, for 2007.  In doing so Berlin will finally be sounding an optimistic note.

German growth is now approaching the level of economic growth in the United States.  The US economy has experienced between three and 4 percent annual growth in recent years, but coupled with strong population growth; whereas population growth in Germany has stagnated.  When the two countries are compared using the more meaningful statistic of per capita growth, Germany and the United States are growing at about the same rate.

Declining joblessness

And if predictions are true, American conditions are also beginning to take hold in the German labor market.  Government experts estimate that the number of jobless will fall to close to the 3-million mark next year.
So, this year, Germany is doing almost as well as the US has for a number of years — and Der Spiegel thinks this is cause for celebration.

Does Der Spiegel credit any particular American with the strong growth in the US?  Well, no, and perhaps we shouldn't either.  But we can say this:  If growth were not strong in the US, most journalists would blame President Bush.

(Back in 2003, I argued that Bush's expansionary policies might have prevented a worldwide recession.  That implies that one of the people Germans should thank for their current expansion is — President Bush.)
- 2:27 PM, 25 April 2007   [link]

Speaker Pelosi Prefers Not To Be Confused by facts.
As the House and Senate prepare to vote this week on the final conference report on the $124 billion troop funding bill — which would also mandate that U.S. combat troops begin withdrawing from Iraq on Oct. 1 at the latest — Gen. David Petraeus is scheduled to come to the Hill tomorrow to brief lawmakers on the progress of the recent troop escalation.

ABC News has learned, however, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will not attend the briefing.
And, as the article notes, the House Democrats had to be shamed into even scheduling this briefing.

Speaker Pelosi seems to have an interesting list of people she will — and won't — listen to.  She is willing to meet with the Syrian dictator, but not with General Petraeus.  And she doesn't seem the least bit embarrassed by those choices.
- 1:17 PM, 25 April 2007   [link]

Worth A Look:  This Michael Ramirez cartoon.  (That link may be good only for a day or so, but this one is, I think, permanent.  For reasons that escape me, cartoon publishers often make it difficult to make permanent links to their cartoons)
- 11:09 AM, 25 April 2007   [link]