August 2002

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Chomsky Cult Radio Program:  Noam Chomsky and his followers have their own radio program, which can be heard, according to their web site, on 125 public radio stations in the United States and Canada.  Here in the Seattle area, "Alternative Radio", as they call the program, can be heard twice a week on the University of Washington station, KUOW.  If you listen, you will hear speeches from Chomsky, Angela Davis, Michael Moore, Vandana Shiva, Howard Zinn, and others that Mad magazine might call "the usual gang of idiots".  I have listened to the program regularly for several years now, although I can't say just why—perhaps a touch of masochism.

They cover a variety of subjects, linked by a common theme of anti-Americanism.  Quoting the PBS mission statement, they claim to be in favor of programming that is "a forum for controversy and debate".  With one exception, I have never heard any debate on the program.   After one Howard Zinn speech, there were a few skeptical questions; that's been the sum total of "debate" in several years.  Factual errors, as well as anti-American bigotry, are common on the program.  Once I heard a professor of religious studies claim that there were six million Muslims in the United States, too high by a factor of three.  I have never heard a single correction.  Sometimes the mistakes are even funnier than simple factual errors.  Since they rebroadcast old speeches, you will sometimes hear a prediction that has already been proved wrong by events.  This does not embarrass them.

For all these reasons, I have decided that the best term for this group is "cult".  The group is extremist, led by a charismatic leader, and closed to factual objections to their doctrines.  What other term besides cult fits?  There is one puzzle for which I have no answer.  Why does this particular cult, unlike all others, deserve its own radio program on taxpayer supported stations like KUOW?  I have written the program manager, but received no reply.
- 3:43 PM, 30 August 2002   [link]

Three Fine Columns:    Michael Barone shows again why I consider him the best political analyst out there, in this examination of the McKinney defeat.   I would add just one thought; Bob Barr, some say, could have won if he had stayed in his old district, even though it was much more Democratic than before.  Incumbency is a powerful advantage.  James Robbins compares the mistaken rhetoric on Iraq in 1991 to the current rhetoric and finds remarkable similarities.  Though the opponents were more on the right than the left, one can also find similarities to the rhetoric before our intervention in Kosovo.  (And I say that even though I would have preferred a different course of action there.)  William Powers compares the Beltway commentary on Iraq to that in the regional newspapers and finds the latter far more serious, and less obsessed with political positioning.
- 2:25 PM, 30 August 2002   [link]

Watchmaker, Come Back:  No sooner does the "Watchmaker" leave the Seattle area temporarily, then the letter writers to the Seattle Times show why we need his critiques of their efforts.   Seven letters attacking the Bush administration on the policy toward Iraq, without a dissent.   The last two were the worst (or the best if you are trying to win the most idiotic contest), one predicting that Bush will attack Iraq at a time chosen for political reasons, and the other preferring to leave Saddam in power, but remove Bush.  Do these people ever think before they send their letters?
- 2:58 PM, 29 August 2002   [link]

Seattle's Own Terrorist?  Maybe.  Here's the story, with a link to the actual indictment.  Judging by the story, James Ujaama was a decent guy, with real accomplishments, before he was corrupted by radical Islamists.   His fate reminds me of some of those poor kids in Pakistan, suckered by their religious leaders into going off to fight for the Taliban.
- 2:31 PM, 29 August 2002   [link]

Kudos To:  Mindy Cameron of the Seattle Times for this column correcting the Seattle Times (and agreeing with this post).   The original editorial claimed that Bush was breaking with the policies agreed to by the Western governors; Cameron shows, point by point, that he was agreeing with them, and with the current fragile consensus on forest management.
- 2:10 PM, 29 August 2002   [link]

Three Space Bits:  Duck!  A fourteen year old girl in England was just hit by a meteorite.   Look!  The International Space Station is surprisingly bright when the morning sun hits it.  To find out when and where to see it in your area, get directions here.   Think!  Rand Simberg explains why we don't need scramjets here, and then has a long discussion with supporters and critics here.
- 11:39 AM, 29 August 2002   [link]

The Guardian's Crooked Poll:  Question wording is one of the most common ways to cheat in a poll, as you can see in this blatant example from the Guardian.  Here's Question 4:  "Which of the following areas do you think is most to blame for pollution and creating climate change?"  The question assumes that climate change is happening and that it is caused by people, rather than nature.  The first is widely accepted, but the second is much debated.  The question mixes pollution and climate change, even though they are quite separate issues.  Some scientists have even speculated that air pollution is preventing or retarding climate change.  Finally "blame" is a loaded word that does not belong in questions like this.  The other two questions have similar problems.

Now, here are two facts that the Guardian does not know.   First, air and water pollution are much lower in the United States than in Europe.  As Gregg Easterbrook has pointed out, air pollution in Houston, with all its oil refineries, is actually lower than that in Paris.  Second, in estimating the effects, if any, of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, one should look at the net amounts, subtracting the amounts absorbed from the amounts produced.  According to Jim Glassman, North America is actually a net consumer of carbon dioxide, absorbing more than it produces, unlike Europe.  (If you are wondering how that can be, look at a map of the forests in Canada.)  If you are looking for a continent to "blame" for the increase in carbon dioxide, then you should start on the other side of the Atlantic.   And, you needn't stop there; China is also a very large net producer of carbon dioxide because its industries and power production are so dirty.
- 10:59 AM, 29 August 2002   [link]

Chastity Houses:  That's the interesting name given, by Iranian authorities, to what most would call brothels.   Some Mullahs have proposed setting them up to regularize their large population of prostitutes, and, as always in these matters, to slow the spread of diseases.   Apparently, the Shiite branch of Islam allows for these "chastity houses" through temporary marriages, which can be very temporary. 
- 4:20 PM, 28 August 2002   [link]

Three Medical Bits:  There may be a new anti-viral drug, discovered serendipitously, while a scientist was trying to clean out some drains.  (It was not that long ago that there were no anti-viral drugs at all.)  Here's why you can't see ads on infertility.   The medpundit discusses the ads further here and gives links to the ads themselves.  She also gives some lucid comments on the latest research findings on allergies.
- 11:10 AM, 28 August 2002   [link]

Worth Reading:  Michael Fumento on environmental fraud Vandana Shiva.  (Her policies would result in mass starvation.)  Bill Gertz's three part series, here, here, and here on bureaucratic fumbling in the war on terrorism at the CIA, the NSF, and the FBI.   (Worse than you suspected.)  Peter Finn on the help Iran is giving to al Qaeda.   (Substantial, though motives are unclear.  Meanwhile, the Saudis have changed their policy, and "have seriously stepped up their efforts against the organization and have broken up al Qaeda plots".  Good news, if true.)
- 10:15 AM, 28 August 2002   [link]

Libertarians Versus the Libertarian Party:  One of the more curious phenomena in the war on terrorism is the sharp disagreement between many people who call themselves libertarians, and the official Libertarian party.  Blogger Bill Quick is an example; on his site he has been sharply critical of President Bush for not being forceful enough in the war on terrorism, as in, for example, this post.   At the same time, Quick has had advertisements on his site for books by Harry Browne, the Libertarian party presidential candidate, who opposes almost all effective action against terrorists.  This is not just a quirk of Browne's; the platform of the Libertarian party, adopted just last month, has nothing directly to say about the war on terrorism, and advocates measures that would give substantial help to terrorists.   For example, they favor sharp cuts in defense spending, cuts that might well have made it impossible to intervene in Afghanistan.  They also favor completely open immigration, in spite of the obvious help that gives to terrorists like those who attacked on 9/11.

There are two puzzles here.  First, why does the Libertarian party act like a small child, hiding under the covers, thinking that if it does't look at a threat, the threat will not exist?  Ignoring the 9/11 attack will not make it disappear.  And, if their judgment is so flawed on the issue of national security, can they be trusted on other issues?   Second, why do so many libertarians give the party and Harry Browne a pass?

The Libertarian party is not, despite its small size and irresponsibility, irrelevant.   Their 2000 senatorial candidate here in Washington state, Jeff Jared, almost certainly tipped that race to the Democrat, Marie Cantwell.  After the backroom deal between Jim Jeffords and Tom Daschle, Cantwell gave the Democrats their one vote majority in the Senate.  If you want effective prosecution of the war on terror, you will want Gorton rather than Cantwell in the Senate, and you will want the Republicans, for all their faults, to hold the majority there.
- 9:21 AM, 28 August 2002   [link]

Still More on Muslim Criminality:  Daniel Pipes and Lars Hedegaard give this summary of Muslim criminality in Denmark, supporting what I wrote in this post and this post.  Note that, as in Norway, rape by Muslims against non-Muslims is an especially severe problem.  As before, I should add that Muslims in America, being much more educated, may not be as large a problem, though I would be wary in neighborhoods settled by, for instance, Somalis.  Sadly, a woman should be even more wary in those same areas.
- 4:54 PM, 27 August 2002   [link]

The Economist, Paul Krugman, and Charles Murtaugh, All Wrong:   The Economist is one of the world's most respected business publications.  Paul Krugman is a respected economist (Or at least he was before he became a columnist for the New York Times).  Charles Murtaugh is a researcher at Harvard.   So, it is both amusing and distressing to see them all make the same methodological error, on the same subject, as you can see here, here, and here.   (The Krugman column will cost you a nominal sum.)

The methodological error is the "ecological fallacy".  It is the mistake made when someone infers individual characteristics from group totals. For example, it is a fact that states carried by George Bush have a slightly higher murder rate than states carried by Al Gore.  You commit the ecological fallacy if you conclude, from this, that Bush supporters are more likely to be murderers than Gore supporters.  You can't make this inference because there may be "confounding" variables, as there are, in fact, in this example.  Felons, including murderers, are almost as likely to be supporters of the Democratic party as journalists and college professors, which is why some Democrats are urging that we drop bars against them voting.  (For more on the fallacy, see this definition.

The Economist, Krugman, and Murtaugh all tried to infer characteristics of Bush supporters or "Heartland" inhabitants by using state level statistics.  Nearly all their claims are wrong.  There is individual data on Bush supporters and Republicans generally and it shows that they are much less likely to be criminals, far more likely to attend church, less likely to buy pornography, less likely to be dependent on the government, wealthier, and better educated than their Democratic counterparts.  (At the very top level of education, the PhD, the Democrats have an edge, but the average is higher for Republicans.)  Although the two parties have roughly equal numbers of identifiers, Republicans pay a much higher proportion of our taxes.  Will the Economist, Krugman, or Murtaugh correct their error after I point it out to them?  In Krugman's case, I am sure that he will not.   We'll see about the Economist and Murtaugh.
- 1:54 PM, 27 August 2002   [link]

British Media Bias:  Yes, I know, that's like saying "Arizona summer heat" or "North Dakota winter cold".  It is so expected it isn't news now, if it ever was.  True enough, but that doesn't make it less wrong.  And, the course of the war on terrorism since 9/11 has shown that the biases in the British media are making the war on terror more difficult to fight, and increasing anti-Americanism.  Intentionally, or not, British journalists have provided considerable propaganda ammunition for our enemies.  Meryl Yourish gives one example of the problem in this analysis of pro-terrorism Reuters bias.   (I would add only one point: Reuters once confessed that, to protect their local people, they had to slant their news.  To which there is an obvious reply: If their local people can't provide unbiased news, that can be printed, what is the point of employing them?)

Guardian columnist Hugo Young gives us more examples of this bias in his column on presidential candidate Howard Dean.  According to Young, George Bush is dumb, loud, anxious, evasive, and uncomprehending, with no positive qualities worth mention.  The United States is defiant, haughty and contemptuous of dissenters everywhere.  To which I say to Mr. Young: Some dissenters—yourself included—have earned our contempt.

As usual, Young is not much concerned with facts.  He passes on without comment Dean's claim that Republicans haven't balanced a budget since Nixon; actually the recent balanced budgets came from a Congress controlled by Republicans.   Perhaps coincidentally, they ended when the Democrats took over the Senate.  He credits Dean with health care improvements in Vermont, especially for children.  One of the best measures of health care is infant mortality; Vermont's record there is mediocre with higher rates in 1998 than those in George Bush's Texas.   Interestingly, the lowest rate, for any American state, is found in Vermont's neighbor, low tax New Hampshire.  Under Dean, Vermont has spent far more than New Hampshire for a far worse result.   Finally, Young quotes with approval Dean's claim that there is no "irrefutable" evidence of Saddam's nuclear and biological weaponry.  Apparently, the capture of weapons during the Gulf war, the discovery of weapons by the UN inspectors, the testimony of prominent Iraqi defectors, including a man who ran Saddam's nuclear program, and substantial other intelligence is not enough for Young and Dean.  So what would be "irrefutable" evidence?  An attack on Vermont or London?

I fully expect us to win the war on terror, but it will be in spite of organizations like Reuters and journalists like Hugo Young.
- 9:32 AM, 27 August 2002   [link]

Hatfill Update:  In this earlier post, I criticized New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and assigned him the task of checking some of the evidence on Steven Hatfill.  He has not done so, but others have and conclude that there is no significant physical evidence against Hatfill.  The good news is that the FBI is now looking for new evidence and has gone back to the Florida newspaper offices where the anthrax attacks began.
- 8:12 AM, 27 August 2002   [link]

Compassionate Conservatives:  Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, drops his usual attitude for a moment, and finds some on the White House staff.   Though this individual problem solving is not uniquely American, I believe it is now predominately American.  I doubt that many delegates to Johannesburg conference, who condemn poverty while drinking champagne and eating caviar, have done anything as humanitarian as these staffers.
- 7:52 AM, 27 August 2002   [link]

Logging Policy:  The Seattle Times, in this confused editorial, misunderstands our National Forests.   From the official Forest Service site, here are the objectives, as set by current laws:
Congress established the Forest Service in 1905 to provide quality water and timber for the Nation's benefit.  Over the years, the public has expanded the list of what they want from national forests and grasslands.  Congress responded by directing the Forest Service to manage national forests for additional multiple uses and benefits and for the sustained yield of renewable resources such as water, forage, wildlife, wood, and recreation.  Multiple use means managing resources under the best combination of uses to benefit the American people while ensuring the productivity of the land and protecting the quality of the environment.
In short, the Forest Service is to manage our forests as a wise farmer manages a farm.   So, when the Times says that the Forest Service is "moving away from its old mind-set of commercial harvest toward preservation of forest health", they miss the central point, that the Forest Service, by law, must keep the forest healthy in order to have a steady commercial harvests, just as a farmer manages his farm to get a sustained yield of crops.  

The underlying isue is a backdoor attempt by some environmentalists to convert much of the land in our National Forests into what are, in effect, Wilderness Areas, by making it too difficult to harvest the timber.   The Seattle Times, and others who favor this conversion, should be honest enough to do it openly and legally, rather than by a bureaucratic fiat that ignores current law.
- 1:17 PM, 25 August 2002   [link]

Kudos  to Bob Young of the Seattle Times for explaining why Seattle is choosing pay for librarians over books and services, including staying open.  The new library building mentioned in the article is another example of sacrificing the public good to a small constituency.  It was designed by trendy architect Rem Koolhaas, who has designed a sculpture to impress other trendy architects, rather than a building to be used by actual people.  Here's a picture and a brief description.
- 11:22 AM, 25 August 2002   [link]

Tiger, Tiger:  According to Robert Jamieson of the Seattle PI,   Tiger Woods can't be just a golfer.   No, he has an obligation to spout the party line on issues, as well, since he is a "person of color".  For the record, Tiger Woods describes himself as "Cablinasian", reflecting his mixed heritage, which includes Thai, American Indian, and white, as well as black.  There is an obvious question here.   Since Jamieson thinks that having some African American ancestry requires one to be a spokesman, does he set any lower limit, or does he adhere to the old one drop rule, traditionally used by racists?  Here's a thought Jamieson may want to struggle with: One's racial ancestry, in whatever proportions, does not, except for racists, require one to hold particular views.
- 10:52 AM, 25 August 2002   [link]

Good Posts:  After a quiet day celebrating my birthday, I'm back with some links, all showing the strengths of blogging versus the mainstream media.  Susanna Cornett combines original reporting with a critique of a leftwing PR campaign.   Eric Lindholm has his September Smarter Harpers Index out, dissecting the latest version of one of the most annoying features in any magazine.  (I find the Harper Index especially aggravating because it ruins a good idea, using numbers to understand issues.)  "Media Minded" catches a Philadelphia paper apologizing for telling the truth.   Matt Welch shows how a journalist can add extra value by combining a blog with a column.  The column, a fine one, shows how the Saudis have corrupted many of our diplomats, in and out of the State Department.  The post in the blog gives links to sources and related articles.
- 7:21 AM, 25 August 2002   [link]

Manufactured Houses for Britain:  There is much we in America have to learn from those in other countries, and if I may say so, sometimes the reverse is true.  This morning I saw this post, on a libertarian site in Britain.  The author appears to be unaware that whole houses are manufactured on a large scale in the United States.   According to an industry association, almost 90,000 were shipped in just the first six months of this year.   And, yes, some are exported.  After a major earthquake in Japan showed the durability of American house designs, the Japanese became much interested and have sharply increased their purchases of manufactured homes from us.   Given the housing shortage in Britain, the British, especially libertarians, should consider doing the same.  They will find our prices remarkably low, by the way.
- 10:48 PM, 23 August 2002   [link]

Horowitz Versus Koppel:  David Horowitz tells his side of a Ted Koppel interview on Nightline.  Andrew Northrup, who saw the interview, but appears not to have read Horowitz's account, smears Horowitz here.   (The words and phrases are almost always a giveaway.  Here are just a few from Mr. Northrup: "raving", "His Nuttiness", "conspiratorial fairy tale", and "tenured thought criminals".  Strangely, he asks us to stop him if he is misrepresenting the story.  Would if I could, Mr. Northrup.) For reasons that I do not understand, Patrick Nielsen Hayden approves these smears.   There's no sign he has read Horowitz's account, either.  A question for Mr. Hayden: Do you really think that Horowitz is raving, that is, insane?
- 10:24 AM, 23 August 2002   [link]

The 200K Restroom:  On August 13th, the Wall Street Journal had an article on a London restroom that is being converted into an apartment, which will sell for the US equivalent of 200,000 dollars.  For that price the lucky owner will get a lavish 350 square feet of space.  As this example suggests, there is a great shortage of housing in the London area, a shortage caused almost entirely by government policy.  Last year, despite the rising demand, only 179,000 dwellings were built in all of the United Kingdom, as compared to 426,000 in the peak year of 1968.

The largest obstacle to house building—though not the only one, by any means—is the environmental restriction against building in the "green belts" surrounding cities.  This has some ironic aspects.  These restrictions are commonly backed by people on the left, but they tend to benefit the wealthy (house owners and real estate speculators) at the expense of the less wealthy (house buyers).  They have been so hard on nurses, policemen, teachers, and other public sector workers that London is looking for ways to subsidize their housing.  Do the "green belts" provide any great benefit to the environment?  Not as far as I can tell.
- 3:44 PM, 22 August 2002   [link]

Tech and Science Bits:  The New York Times describes a new technique for detecting and, possibly, curing anthrax.   The Washington Post has the same anthrax story, and, in the second part of its article, a weird bit on a man with mixed mitochondria.   (For those who know even less about mitochondria than I do: They are small energy producing structures inside the cells of nearly all plants and animals, with their own DNA.  In people, they were thought to be inherited only from the mother.  I have wondered about that last point for some time.   Since the sperm has its own mitochondria, it would seem possible for the father's mitochondria, at least occasionally, to end up inside the fertilized egg.)  The Seattle Times has a description of a robot that does windows, and will do them at the Louvre.
- 3:20 PM, 22 August 2002   [link]

Reid Stott  suggests that, since the Saudis are complaining about our new visa rules, we should impose the very restrictive Saudi visa rules, on them.  Let me suggest just one improvement.  In Saudi Arabia, as everyone knows, foreign women must be escorted at all times, just like Saudi women.  Stott would have us impose this same restriction on the Saudis, but I think we should turn it around; Saudi men should not be allowed in the United States without women as escorts.  Not only would this fair, in a turnabout way, but it probably would have made the September 11th attack impossible.  Most of the attackers were single Saudi men, who could not easily have found the long term escorts they would have needed.

Stotts's idea can be generalized.  For example, I have long favored this rule for Saudi-supported religious institutions in the United States; they should be subject to the same controls here that they put on churches there.   No Saudi mosques here if we can't have a church there.
- 11:06 AM, 22 August 2002   [link]

Correction:  My original article on Maureen Dowd was misleading about her age.  I had said she said she was "approaching 60".  Since she just turned 50 last January, this may be literally true, if you alllow for long approaches, but is misleading.  I have corrected the article.  Thanks to the "Watchmaker" of Horologium for both catching my mistake, and providing the correct information.   Thanks also to Josh Chafetz of Oxblog who provided a link to the post that inspired the article.
- 1:44 PM, 21 August 2002   [link]

Republican or Democrat?  A senator is running an ad claiming that they:
. . . voted with President Bush 74 percent of the time. . . . voted for the tax cut and voted 11 times to abolish the death tax.  And [is] leading the fight against human cloning.
Which party does the senator belong to?  For the answer, look here, where you'll also find some amazing quotes from a prayer(!) by a Democratic party operative.
- 11:09 AM, 21 August 2002   [link]

Ann Coulter, Embarrassment:  In my favorite medieval murder mystery, The Name of the Rose, William of Baskerville, the Franciscan monk who solves the mystery, watches in dismay when one of his allies in a theological dispute, Bishop Jerome, turns the debate into, first a quarrel between holy orders, and then a contest of individual smears.  I probably agree with Coulter on more issues than not, but when I see some of the comments in this interview, I am inclined, like Brother William, to ask for divine help to protect me from my ally.  Yes, I know that she is joking when she says that she wishes Timothy McVeigh had blown up the New York Times Building, but it would be a tasteless joke at a party, and it is an idiotic thing to say in an interview.
- 10:27 AM, 21 August 2002   [link]

"It's the Economy, Stupid":  That was the famous line from the 1992 election, used by the Clinton team to help their troops keep focus.  Washington Post economist Samuelson argues that it shouldn't be, because neither the president nor even the Federal Reserve Board really controls the economy.  Political consultant Dick Morris argues that, in many races this fall, it won't be, that other issues will dominate.  If Morris is right, this shows some maturity in American voters.  Very often, the best economic policies have some short term pain, or some political costs, in return for long term gains.
- 10:12 AM, 21 August 2002   [link]

Finish Getting Well:  Good to hear that Moira Breen is getting better after surgery.  For her health, I suggest she avoid this column on HMOs, until she is completely recovered.  She claims, by the way, that there is no pattern to her link categories, but she may be just kindly redirecting my thinking to more important, and less difficult, problems.
- 4:35 PM, 20 August 2002   [link]

Fonts Update:  In my very first post, I suggested that Linux users download a set of Microsoft Web fonts, if they did not already have them.   Too many Linux users may have done that, because Microsoft has now taken the fonts off its site.  However, they are still available here, and, if I understand the license correctly, are there legally.   (Obligatory disclaimer: I am not, of course, a lawyer.  I do not even play one on the Net.)
- 10:14 AM, 20 August 2002   [link]

Eat the Whales:  Whatever else New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof may be, he isn't consistent.  In one column, he does not quite apologize to Steven Hatfill, after accusing him of spreading anthrax in a number of earlier columns.  In the next, he makes an outrageous argument that the Bush administration is ignoring women's issues.  And today, he writes a column making the very sensible, but politically incorrect, argument that some whaling would be a good thing.  It is enough to make me think he has multiple personalities.

His main argument today is not as clear as it might be.  He notes that some smaller species, like minke whales, are now abundant, and that they may compete for food with other, larger whales, that are still threatened.  This is a common relationship among different species of predators.  Coyotes are more common now in the United States, partly because we almost completely killed off the wolves, which competed with them for small prey, and sometimes killed them.  Similarly, hunting the smaller, abundant species of whales might well help the larger, threatened species, like the blue and right whales.
- 9:34 AM, 20 August 2002   [link]

Kudos To:  Susanna Cornett for this account of racism on the bench, and this note on sites that help you avoid problems on the net.  "Media Minded" for identifying a propaganda effort by the New York Times and NPR.  Professor Volokh for correcting an oft-cited study on murder rates and guns in Seattle and Vancouver, BC.   The "Watchmaker" for his critique of the policies at the Seattle Harborview hospital, where felons are protected against arrest, but other patients and staff are not protected against the felons.
- 4:08 PM, 19 August 2002   [link]

New Joke Ending:  In Isaac Asimov's 1971 Treasury of Humor, I found this joke (no. 406):
It is reported that several men of various nationalities were engaged in writing books on the elephant.

A German put out a three-volume tome replete with footnotes, entitled A Short Introduction to the Study of the Elephant.

A Frenchman put out a slim and graceful book entitled The Elephant and His Love Life.

An Englishman put out a heavily illustrated travel guide, entitled Hunting the Elephant in Deepest Africa.

An American put out an advertising brochure, How to Raise Elephants in Your Backyard for Fun and Profit.

And a Jew published a fiery pamphlet entitled The Elephant and Anti-Semitism.

As Asimov notes in his discussion of the joke, it is possible to change the groups in the joke.  He sometimes used a Russian writing The Elephant as an Imperialist Swine as the punch line.  Before World War I, when Poland was divided among the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, you might have used a Pole writing The Elephant and the Polish Question.

With the rise of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, Europe, and American universities, Asimov's punch line no longer works as well as it did in 1971.  So, can you suggest an alternative?  The best I've come up with is a Palestinian writing Converting an Elephant into a Suicide Bomber, but I'm sure there are better ones.  Any suggestions?  And, what about changing some of the nationalities.  For instance, what would a Japanese or Chinese write about the elephant?  (Twenty years ago, the Chinese might have written The Elephant in Chairman Mao's Thought, but now?)
- 3:30 PM, 19 August 2002   [link]

Worth Reading:  Robert Bartley on anthrax (much interesting background), Charles Krauthammer on another New York Times mistake (they keep piling up), Debra Saunders on San Francisco bias against the Boy Scouts (Does anyone believe in freedom of association?), the Israeli Haaretz newspaper on anti-Israel bias in American universities (unthinking is the adjective), and Matt Drudge on some over the top Democratic rhetoric (amazing).
- 9:02 AM, 19 August 2002   [link]

Dowd Article:  The article on Mareen Dowd is now available.
- 8:28 AM, 19 August 2002   [link]

Bon Voyager:  The two Voyager spacecraft, twenty-five years after the first was launched, continue their trips outward to the stars.   Here is another description of their exploits and one of the pictures they took on their way.
- 4:02 PM, 17 August 2002   [link]

Affirmative Action Poster Boy:  Through much of his career, Dr. Patrick Chavis was treated as a shining example of what affirmative action could achieve, since he was one of the black students admitted in the famous Bakke case.  By the time of his death, it was clear that he was a disaster, who had injured a number of patients and killed one.   Michelle Malkin describes his career here.   Contrary to what she predicted in the column, the New York Times did publish an obituary for him—a week late.  They did not even consider the strong possibility that he was a disaster as a doctor all through his career.
- 5:30 PM, 16 August 2002   [link]

Write Your Own Lawyer Joke:  The Seattle Times tells how a public defender got too close to her client.
- 3:38 PM, 15 August 2002   [link]

Not a Joke:  The Minneapolis Star Tribune, a humorless leftwing newspaper, declares in an editorial that it would be more fun to play golf with Bill Clinton than George W. Bush, because Clinton loafs and cheats.  Really, I am not making this up.   Thanks to "Jane Galt" for spotting this one.

Two more notes on presidents and golf. When Clinton played against the elder Bush and ex-president Ford, the elder Bush won, and Ford almost beat Clinton, too.  The Star Tribune claims that Kennedy was the best golfer of our presidents, but I am dubious about that.  Ford was a second string all American as a Michigan football player, and probably the best athlete ever to be president.
- 3:23 PM, 16 August 2002   [link]

Disaster Looms:  Rebecca Blood feels that, in 30 years, our power grid may fail for lack of fossil fuel.  She is not alone in her worries.  A famous writer describes attending a conference at a Midwest university at which literary notables claim that free speech is being threatened, racism is increasing, the poor are worse off, and repression will soon descend. Worst of all, a speaker on the environment told the conference that, in 30 years, the environment will be so damaged that he is not sure he wants to be alive then.  The writer?   Tom Wolfe.  And when was the conference?  About 30 years ago.   (You can read about it in his essay, "The Intelligent Coed's Guide to America", which can be found in his collection, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter and Vine.)

If you look out the window, you can see that all those predictions of disaster 30 years ago were wrong.  Free speech, outside universities at least, is still well protected.  (I am assuming that the Supreme Court will get rid of most of the limits in McCain-Feingold.)  Racism has declined among the majority.  The United States is not threatened by repression, and much of the world is freer now than it was then.  Most of all, by any measure, the environment is far cleaner now than it was 30 years ago, in the industrialized nations.  The one thing that has not changed for the better is the predictions of doom, which have the same 30 year time horizon they had 30 years ago.

What about the specific problem that worries Blood, running out of energy?   First, known reserves of fossil fuels are much larger than most people realize.   We know of enough coal to last hundreds of years, and enough shale oil to provide all our energy, at current rates of use, for thousands.  Second, France now gets the majority of its electricity from nuclear power, and there is no reason we can't do the same.  Using breeder reactors to produce additional fuel would give us power, at current rates of use, for up to 14,000 years.  (If you want to see more on our energy resources, check out Bjorn Lomborg's book.)

Wolfe ends his essay by passing on a modest proposal from the late Lionel Trilling.  Trilling observed that liberal arts students now automatically pick up a set of political and cultural attitudes, untouched by experience.  His solution was to close the liberal arts schools for a generation, so that ideas would be tested against the real world.  It is a solution that, as I meet more and more Rebecca Bloods, I am more and more inclined to support.
- 5:50 PM, 15 August 2002   [link]

Lack of Evidence:  That's how Susan Schmidt, one of the Washington Post's better reporters, summarizes the case against Steven Hatfill, who has been accused of spreading the anthrax spores last fall.  Despite this lack, he still seems to be the principal FBI suspect.  They appear to be following the method described by Dashiell Hammett's detective in The Thin Man, when his wife asks him why the suspect isn't innocent until proved guilty:
"That's for juries, not detectives.  You find the guy you think did the murder and you slam him in the can and let everybody know you think he's guilty and put his picture all over the newspapers, and the District Attorney builds up the best theory he can on what information you've got and meanwhile you pick up additional details here and there, and people recognize his picture in the paper—as well as people who'd think he was innocent if you hadn't arrested him—come in and tell you things about him and presently you've got him sitting on the electric chair."
Of course, if you use this method and you are wrong, you have done someone an enormous injustice, and perhaps given the real culprit time to escape.   Even New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has been spreading the charges against Hatfill, now admits that the only positive evidence against Hatfill, came from, of all things, bloodhounds.  That leads me to add another assignment to my assignment desk.
- 12:42 PM, 15 August 2002   [link]

Worth Reading:  Germaine Greer gives marital advice.   Dell finds a way to escape the Microsoft monopoly.  Mickey Kaus catches the New York Times in another mistake.   And, short people, or at least half of them, are more likely to find love.   The other half have less luck.
- 9:52 AM, 15 August 2002   [link]

Two Cheers for a Partisan Press:  This Washington Times article shows the value of a partisan press.  It is no secret that the Washington Times is as likely to support the Republicans, as the New York Times is to support the Democrats.  This embarrassing story on the hypocrisy of Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle would be unlikely to make the New York paper, and if it did, it would have a far different tone.  It is certainly a story voters should know about.
- 5:02 PM, 14 August 2002   [link]

Building Good Germs:  This Washington Post article describes a remarkable advance.  Scientists have transformed the bacteria that causes tooth decay into one that protects against it.  In a few years, you may be able to get something like a vaccination against tooth decay.

There is, in this story, an example supporting the claim that Lewis Thomas made a quarter of a century ago.  With our aging population, many see rising health care costs as inescapable, but this need not be true.   Thomas put it this way in The Lives of a Cell:
The point to be made about this kind of technology—the real high technology of medicine—is that it comes as the result of a genuine understanding of disease mechanisms, and when it becomes available, it is relatively inexpensive, and relatively easy to deliver.
I would add only one cautionary note.  Precisely because this high technology is inexpensive, it may not attract investors.
- 4:45 PM, 14 August 2002   [link]

Worth Reading:  Michael Kelly on historical precedents for invading Iraq, Joanne Jacobs on relabeling food as "genetically enhanced", and Chris Bertram on the weaknesses of Brink Lindsey's case for unfettered free trade.
- 7:43 AM, 14 August 2002   [link]

One More Detail on the Maps:  The Wall Street Journal and Charles Johnson have had considerable fun over the BMW and Mercedes maps that left out Israel.  When this criticism was published, the two companies tried, in different ways, to adjust their maps.  However, Mercedes still hasn't succeeded.  Looking at their latest try, I noticed a telling detail.  Although the map now has no names, it does have country outlines, and they do not include Israel.  If you look at Israel's location, you will see the outline used by Arafat, that is, Israel plus the Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank and Gaza, shown as a single area.  Official Israeli maps show an entirely different outline, with both Israeli and Palestinian areas.
- 3:20 PM, 13 August 2002   [link]

Technology Beat the Nazis?  That's the claim made by writer Neal Stephenson, according to the Instapundit.   However, as Stephen Den Beste explains in this long post, we (that is, Americans and Britons) did not have better technology than the Nazis, on the whole.  And, I might add, we did not, in every case, have better technology than the Japanese, especially at the beginning of the war.  Their "Zero" fighter was probably better than any we had at the start, and we never matched their "Long Lance" torpedo.   Finally, the Soviets lagged behind the Nazis in technology, on the whole, all through the war.

Den Beste's own explanation is that our matchless productivity made the difference.  This was true for the last two years of the war, but it does not explain how we were able to prevail earlier, before our mass of weapons had been created.  We won four turning point victories, the Battle of Britain, Midway, El Alamein, and Stalingrad, before we had material superiority.  Was there a common reason for these four victories?  I think so.  In each of these battles, we made better strategic choices than our enemies.  Smarts made the difference, but it was the smarts of Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Dowding, Nimitz, Montgomery, and Zhukov, not the technologists.
- 2:58 PM, 13 August 2002   [link]

Republicans Win?  Various news organizations, notably the New York Times, have been suggesting that the Republicans are in trouble and may not hold the House this fall.  Maybe, but that's not what the polls show, as one of the best political analysts, Michael Barone, explains here.   And, as other polls show, they now have at least an even chance to retake control of the Senate.
- 2:11 PM, 13 August 2002   [link]

Thank You:  Thanks to the medpundit and Horologium for their kind mentions of this site.
- 10:31 AM, 13 August 2002   [link]

Arafat, Billionaire:  Yes, that's right.  The European Union's favorite terrorist has been doing other things with the money they send him, besides killing Jewish civilians.  He's also, as this column mentions, been stealing vast sums.  I suppose, everything considered, I would rather have him steal the money than send it to the homicide bombers, but it does lessen my sympathy when I see him complain about the plight of the Palestinians.
- 10:25 AM, 13 August 2002   [link]

Cheers!  Beer is good for your health, or so says this pleasing article, which reviews the medical evidence.  The article omits an important qualification.  The health benefits of beer (or wine) drinking are most important for older people.  If we chose drinking ages for health reasons, we might set them at 40 for men, and 50 for women, when the risk of heart disease rises sharply.   Unfortunately, if people do not start drinking when young, they are unlikely to start later, when their health would benefit.
- 9:42 AM, 13 August 2002   [link]

215-212:  That was the crucial vote, in the House of Representatives, on giving President Bush the same authority to negotiate trade agreements as the five presidents before him.  (President Clinton had this authority early in his administration, but it lapsed in 1994.)   If just two Congressman had changed their votes, the cause of free trade would have suffered a severe setback.  (Or, possibly, three or four more Congressman, since it is not unusual for party leaders to have a few votes in reserve on close votes like this one.)

How did Bush and the Republican leadership achieve this narrow victory?   By taking steps backward on free trade in the previous months, including temporary tariffs on steel imports, a farm bill with heavy subsidies for corporate farmers, and tough bargaining over lumber imports.   Undoubtedly, these steps back provided the slim margin of victory.   They also provided another illustration of Bismark's quip, that, like sausage, legislation is more enjoyable if you don't watch it being made.   Free trade proponents, if they noticed this victory (most didn't), refused to give Bush credit, and refused to face the obvious—that the victory was impossible without the previous steps back.  See this Brink Lindsey post for a churlish example of this refusal.

One final thought for Lindsey and others like him.  It is easy to support free trade if you do not, like the Congressman in this article, risk your job.  Or, for that matter, the factory workers in the same article, who also can lose their jobs to free trade.  It would be nice, if, just once in a while, proponents of free trade spared some thoughts for these people.
- 7:27 PM, 12 August 2002   [link]

Worth Reading:  Charles Krauthammer on just what Dick Cheney is supposed to have done wrong at Halliburton (nothing), Nick Schulz on one more reason that rich is better (the weather), the Washington Post's editorial on the Democratic hold up on federal judges (worst in recent times), and more evidence from Media Research that New York Times head, Howell Raines, is unlikely to be confused by facts.
- 5:27 PM, 9 August 2002   [link]

One Solution for NIMBYs:  Natalie Solent's post on opposition to an airport reminded me of a neat solution to the NIMBY problem I saw some time ago. (About 15 years ago in a Public Interest article, by two authors from Oak Ridge, if I recall correctly.)  The usual way, here in the United States, to decide where to put some necessary, but objectionable, project is for the technical people to find a site or sites.  Then, political leaders get to fight the locals in court, and politically, in a process can last for years, and add enormously to the project's cost. It may also lead to less than the best site choices, since the politicians will tend to choose sites partly for political reasons.  When I lived in Chicago, it was widely believed that one expressway had gone directly through the Greek neighborhood, because they had the fewest votes of any significant ethnic minority.

The solution uses incentives instead of force, relying on an auction to set the size of the incentive.  ("Reverse Dutch" is the term for this kind of auction, I believe.)   Here's an example of how it would work.  Suppose that a large county needs a new dump.  Naturally none of the towns in the county want it.  So, the county offers .5 million dollars to any town that will accept it.  If no town accepts, then the offer is increased to .6 million, and so on, until a town decides that the offer is worth the cost, to them, of the dump.  An auction could have been used even with something as controversial as the Nevada nuclear waste storage site.  Many states have rock formations that met the technical requirements.  If the federal government had offered a billion dollars to any state that would accept it, it might have had a taker years ago.   Politicians in the state that accepted would have been boasting about the money they saved taxpayers, instead of demagoguing about the—almost nonexistent—dangers of nuclear wastes.

This auction idea is not a universal solution to the NIMBY problem.  Sometimes, for example, there is only one best place for a site, and one can think of other objections that would apply to some cases.  It would, often, be better than current methods.
- 3:18 PM, 9 August 2002   [link]

Two Million Deaths:  Matt Rosenberg tells the story of a local effort to alleviate the incredible misery of the Sudanese civil war.  I have just one observation to add; as far as I know, the Christians and animists in the Sudan have never received any aid from any Moslem government or charity.  Not a bag of wheat, not a single bandage, not a dime.
- 4:26 PM, 8 August 2002   [link]

Braking for a Penguin:  Took some time out these past two days to install and set up a new Linux distribution.  (I'm replacing SuSE 8.0 with Red Hat 7.3, for those curious about such matters.  And, for those really curious, there'll be a comparative review in a few weeks.)
- 4:13 PM, 8 August 2002   [link]

Thank You:  Thanks to Meryl Yourish for her compliments on this site.  And, I'll try to get some permalinks installed real soon.  Promise.
- 11:20 AM, 6 August 2002   [link]

Election 2000 Update:  In my analysis of the 2000 presidential election, I speculated that the Democrats may have done a better job at turning out their voters than the Republicans had.  The national Republican party has confirmed that guess, after an extensive study, described here.   Remarkably, they even did some experiments in local races to confirm their study.
- 10:48 AM, 6 August 2002   [link]

Israel is Winning:  Or, so says Daniel Pipes, here.  I would go farther and say that, were it not for the aid that the EU has given Arafat, this war would be over and serious peace talks would be in progress.
- 10:32 AM, 6 August 2002   [link]

Baited Versus Bated:  As the American Heritage Dictionary explains:
The word baited is sometimes incorrectly substituted for the unfamiliar word bated ("abated, suspended") in the expression bated breath.
For example: He baited his hook, threw it in the water, and then waited with bated breath for the fish to strike.  (IMHO, there are nearly always better choices than "bated breath".  In most cases, I would substitute the phrase, "holding his breath", since it is clearer.  In a few cases, where a change in word order changes the emphasis, I will write "breath abated", using the longer form of the word. For example:  I am not waiting for Clinton to tell the truth about Monica Lewinsky, with breath abated.)
- 9:01 Am, 5 August 2002   [link]

Thank You:  Thanks to Steven Chapman for his mention of this site, and I'll try to keep the "good stuff" coming.  Chapman's own site is well worth regular visits.  
- 8:19 AM, 5 August 2002   [link]

Hamburger in the Sky?  The Hubbell telescope has photographed a planetary nebula that looks so much like one of America's favorite foods, that it has been nicknamed Gomez's Hamburger, after its discoverer.  For an explanation and a picture go here.   (By way of SciTech Daily.)
- 7:36 AM, 5 August 2002   [link]

Worth Reading:  The Washington Post is hot today, with two articles and four Outlook pieces that deserve your attention.  Dan Eggen describes how Director Mueller is trying to remake the FBI, and the difficulties he is facing.   David Von Drehle and Dan Balz describe how Minnesota's ideologically rigid parties produce independents and may elect another independent governor.  Susan Blaustein explains why sanctions, even "smarter" ones haven't and won't work in Iraq.  The sanctions, which many anti-American critics have accused of strangling Iraq, are, in fact, a "charade".  Richard Morin recounts several interesting studies.  One, done in Sweden, suggests divorce may be contagious.  (Actually, the results suggest other possibilities, as well.)  Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski describe the threat from North Korean reactors—which we are helping them build.  Finally, David Brown gives a good introduction to "evidence-based medicine", which is making treatment more of a science and less of an art.
- 9:48 AM, 4 August 2002   [link]

Baby Killers:  Every time I think the Palestinian terrorists can't get lower, they prove me wrong.  This Jerusalem Post article (by way of Charles Johnson) has a gruesome detail.  A woman who intended to be a suicide bomber told the Israelis that the planners wanted her to use a baby as part of her disguise.  In other words, to kill innocent Israeli citizens, the planners were willing to kill not just the girl, but a Palestinian baby.
- 8:36 AM, 4 August 2002   [link]

Coyotes in the Bronx:  Wildlife are coming back all over the nation, not just Seattle.  Even in the Bronx, there is a resurgence, as this article describes.   Besides the coyotes, inside the city limits of New York live wild turkeys, deer, bluebirds, bald eagles, egrets, herons, and snapping turtles.  On just one hill in the Bronx, 130 species of butterflies have been seen.  Not quite the picture one got from the movie, Fort Apache, is it?
- 2:54 PM, 3 August 2002   [link]

Motives at the NYT?  This subject is both unpleasant, and unavoidable.  The New York Times has been conducting a Bush-bashing campaign for months now.  In the last few weeks, the newspaper has begun another campaign against a war with Iraq.  Today, for instance, it published one of those interview pieces in which, surprise, surprise, the reporter just happens to find a majority of interviewees who support the newspaper's views.  Here is the unpleasant part: Are these two campaigns related?  Is the Times' opposition to settling with Saddam Hussein motivated partly by their opposition to anything that might benefit Bush politically?  Let me be precise.  I do not think the editors at the Times are consciously motivated to oppose the war by their hatred for Bush.  But, I do think it is at least possible that they are, in part, unconsciously motivated by it.  Certainly their motives need an explanation, since they have not made the strategic case against overthrowing Saddam.
- 2:38 PM, 3 August 2002   [link]

Class Struggle in the Democratic Party:  For decades, there has been a struggle inside the Democratic party between leaders who mostly represented production workers and those who represented middle and upper class ideologues.  Since unionized production workers are declining in number, while middle and upper class professionals are growing in number, influence has shifted from the first group to the second.  At least since the nomination of George McGovern in 1972, the second group has won most inter-party battles.  At one time the Democrats worried about groups with initials like UMW (United Mine Workers) and UAW (United Auto Workers), now they worry more about NOW (National Organization for Women) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).  This Washington Post article describes one of the more dramatic recent battles between the factions.
- 4:08, 2 August 2002   [link]

What's in a Name?:  A little over forty years ago, a couple on Long Island had two sons, a few years apart, whom they named "Winner" and "Loser". You can find learn how the names have worked out so far in this article on the two.
- 3:47 PM, 2 August 2002   [link]

Sub-Editor Miller Reporting:  A month ago, Brendan O'Neill criticized the quality of many blogs, arguing that the "blogosphere" needed, among other things, sub-editors to clean up the prose and fix the mistakes.   Some thought this was just a troll to create controversy and attract visitors.   Others, myself included, thought he had missed the point.  If he thinks a particular blog is poorly done, he should just avoid it.  And, there is the matter of manners; I see mistakes in blogs all the time, but, unless the blogger asks for help, generally think it out of place to offer corrections.  (I will sometimes send an email if I see a funny mistake or a factual error.)  For the record, if you see a mistake here, you will do me a favor if you tell me about it.

But, even though I disagree with O'Neill on the subject, I like to be helpful, and so I will try, this once, to help in his effort to clean up the blogosphere.   In particular, I will make some constructive suggestions for a particular site.   Since the author has not asked me for advice, I will not identify it.  (If you think it might be yours, send me an email and I will let you know.)

The site I am critiquing has a poor design.  The author seems to have forgotten that a Web page needs a good visual design, as well as content.   The main font is too small for easy reading, and the colors seem chosen to make it even worse.  The margins in the center column are too large, while there are no margins in either the left or right columns. 

The writing on this site is verbose.  Many of the posts read as though the author were being paid by the word.  Although the author argues for short posts, many of his own are too long.  (I think it best, in general, to keep posts small enough to fit on a single screen, at a readable font size.   Longer pieces I put under articles or columns so that readers can download them.)

The thinking behind the writing often lacks clarity.  Here's an example with a general lesson.  The author argues that "opinions are like arseholes—everybody has one", attributing the quote to Clint Eastwood.   (The English spelling is because the author is writing from England, not because Eastwood said it that way.)  What we have in this simile is a common rhetorical trick, which we can see if we change the simile slightly to "opinions are like navels—everybody has one".  In that version, you can see immediately that the simile makes no sense, for many reasons.  (We each have one navel, but typically many opinions.  It is often useful to hear a variety of opinions, and so on.)  The vulgarity of the "arsehole" simile shocks most people so that they don't see that it is as nonsensical as the navel simile.   The general lesson is this: The shock is like a matador's cape, an attempt to distract you.  Disregard it, and look for what's essential, the matador and his sword, the logic of the argument.

Well, that's my good turn for the day.  If Mr. O'Neill wants further help, he need only write me.
- 10:40 AM, 1 August 2002   [link]

TIPS Again:  Dahlia Lithwick of Slate has a sensible piece on the TIPS program, comparing it to current laws requiring teachers, doctors, and others, to report suspected child abuse.  Like TIPS, these laws are subject to abuse.   And these laws have been abused; for instance, one family got in serious trouble after their two year old daughter ran out on the family lawn, without clothes.  This is not exactly unusual behavior in kids that age.  Still, as Lithwich argues, most of us do not want to see these laws dropped; we want to see them fixed, so that real child abuse is reported.

Similarly, asking people to report possible terrorist behavior seems, in itself, unobjectionable.  Some system that encouraged good tips, and discouraged bad ones, would probably help, in a small way, as we fight the war on terror.   It is, I think, intellectually lazy not to look at the details of the TIPS program before condemning it.  For more information, see blogger Lynxx Pherret's site, starting here.
- 9:42 AM, 1 August 2002   [link]

Market Levels Again:  Here are some price-earnings statistics for the S&P 500, for recent years.  Historically, the PE ratio for the S&P 500 has averaged about 14 to 16, so levels greater than 40 would appear to be unsupportable in the long run.  For a contrarian view, see this piece (registration required) by the authors of Dow 36,000.
- 9:18 AM, 1 August 2002   [link]