August 2005, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Should We Care About Cindy Sheehan?  I want to answer that in a roundabout way.  I have been slow to write a post on our most famous bereaved mother because it is so hard, at least for me, to say what needs to be said without appearing callous.  But the media circus has gotten so large that I decided I should say something.

Let me begin with the basics.  No one would be paying much attention to Sheehan if she had not lost one of her children.  But she is not the only mother to have lost a child.   If we glance at some population statistics, we can see that many other mothers must have, as well.  Our population is close to 300 million.   Slightly more than half are female and, at a guess, two thirds of that roughly 150 million are mothers, so there are roughly 100 million mothers in United States.  Infant mortality in the United States is now just a little under 7 deaths per 1,000 births.  After the first year, children are much less likely to die, but some do (especially after they get old enough to drive) and so it seems reasonable to guess that at least another 3 in 1,000 will die while their mother is still alive.

What this rough estimate shows is that there are about 1 million mothers in the United States alone who have lost a child.  Nearly all of them deserve our sympathy.  (Nearly all because a few of them caused the deaths of their children through neglect or even violence.)   But does one of those million mothers — Cindy Sheehan — deserve most of our sympathy?   Not to my way of thinking.  No, nearly all of them deserve some sympathy, though we will naturally reserve most of our sympathy for the bereaved mothers that we know personally.

So we should care about Cindy Sheehan, but, unless we know her personally, no more than we care about any of the other million mothers who have lost a child.  And I don't see any reason that I should say more about her, for somewhat the same reason.

The media circus that is cynically exploiting her loss is another matter, and I will have more to say about that in the next few days.

(If you do want to know more about Sheehan, I would recommend this unsentimental piece by Christopher Hitchens,)
- 12:58 PM, 16 August 2005   [link]

Ethicist, Urban Imperialist:  If you grew up on a farm, as I did, you will understand some issues more easily than those who didn't.  (And of course the reverse is true; I missed some of the experiences that someone growing up in a suburb or city would have had, and later found some urban issues harder to understand for that reason.)   This would not be a great problem were it not for the fact that so many from cities think they ought to control rural areas, even though they don't understand them.  These urban imperialists think they can tell farmers and others in rural areas how to live — even though they have never lived in those areas and have no real knowledge of them.

There was a vivid example of that in the most recent column by Randy Cohen, who calls himself the "Ethicist".  (Is the grandiose claim in that title ethical?  I would find it hard to justify.)  Here's the question and his answer:
While visiting my girlfriend's grandmother, I discovered her neighbor's unsavory habit of trapping squirrels -- they eat the fruit on his trees -- and drowning them in a bucket.  Ordinarily I'd call the A.S.P.C.A., but this man is kind and helpful to the grandmother, and I fear jeopardizing that.   Plus, the family is uneasy about our relationship, and I don't want them to resent me even more.   What's a girl to do?  Anonymous, New York

A girl is to phone the A.S.P.C.A. using a saucy French accent.  That is, report this to the proper authorities anonymously.
Here are the facts of life for these two urban imperialists, the nasty girl and the "Ethicist":   As any farmer could have told them, you can not raise crops without killing pests.  The two would starve if farmers did not kill squirrels, rats, mice, and thousands of other pests that would otherwise eat their crops.  And it really doesn't matter whether the man is a full time farmer or not.  Those who raise a little food for themselves have just as much right to defend it as those who make a living from their farms.

And, although I would never have the nerve to call myself "The Ethicist", I don't think anonymous accusations are ethical, in most cases, and certainly not in this one.  The family is right to be uneasy about this relationship — if only because of what this question reveals about the girl's character and knowledge, or rather lack of knowledge.
- 8:54 AM, 16 August 2005   [link]

Want To Encourage Biodiversity?  Use the land for military exercises.
Military exercises are boosting biodiversity, according to a study of land used for US training manoeuvres in Germany.  Such land has more endangered species than nearby national parks.

The land is uncultivated, but also churned up by tank tracks and explosions.  This creates habitat both for species that prefer pristine lands and those that require disturbed ground, explains ecologist Steven Warren of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Military land can host more species than agricultural land, Warren told a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Montreal.  What's more, its biodiversity can also exceed that of natural parks, where species that need disturbance cannot get a foothold.
That last point deserves some comment.  Environmentalists tend to be what I call "preservationists"; they want to keep a piece of land just as it was when they first saw it.  But many species require change, require, for example, land disturbed by fire (or tanks) to live.  The desire of preservationists to keep things just as they are is neither possible nor always desirable.  With the environment, as well as many other things, we often need to adapt to change, not prevent it.
- 7:07 AM, 16 August 2005   [link]

Maybe They Are Starting To Catch On:  Hidden inside the business section of the New York Times I found this article describing a significant interchange between newspaper editors and the Associated Press.

Rosemary Goudreau, the editorial page editor of The Tampa Tribune, has received the same e-mail message a dozen times over the last year.

"Did you know that 47 countries have re-established their embassies in Iraq?" the anonymous polemic asks, in part.  "Did you know that 3,100 schools have been renovated?"

"Of course we didn't know!" the message concludes. "Our media doesn't tell us!"

Ms. Goudreau's newspaper, like most dailies in America, relies largely on The Associated Press for its coverage of the Iraq war.  So she finally forwarded the e-mail message to Mike Silverman, managing editor of The A.P., asking if there was a way to check these assertions and to put them into context.  Like many other journalists, Mr. Silverman had also received a copy of the message.

Ms. Goudreau's query prompted an unusual discussion last month in New York at a regular meeting of editors whose newspapers are members of The Associated Press.  Some editors expressed concern that a kind of bunker mentality was preventing reporters in Iraq from getting out and explaining the bigger picture beyond the daily death tolls.

"The bottom-line question was, people wanted to know if we're making progress in Iraq," Ms. Goudreau said, and the A.P. articles were not helping to answer that question.

The Associated Press representatives admitted at the meeting that they weren't helping to answer that question.  And Silverman made this admission in an interview:

Other editors said they get calls from readers who are hearing stories from returning troops of the good things they have accomplished while there, and readers find that at odds with the generally gloomy portrayal in the papers of what's going on in Iraq.

In short, the troops think that the AP (and the rest of the media) are getting the story wrong — something that will not come as a surprise to those who read this site regularly.

What can the newspapers do about this, if they really want to make their coverage more balanced?   Rely less on the Associated Press and other "mainstream" sources and more on unconventional sources.  For instance, it would be easy for almost any newspaper to run a regular "best of the milblogs" feature, with a collection of stories from the men and women who are on the front lines, not trapped in a Baghdad hotel.  There are independent journalists, such as Michael Yon, who are doing good work.  And in areas like this one, where there are many military bases, the newspapers could do far more to talk to the troops when they come back, especially those who have won awards for heroism.

Maybe.  We'll know they are catching on if we see the content of our newspapers change.   I'm not holding my breath.  (Though I have to admit that I have seen two stories that surprised me in the last few weeks, one in the New York Times saying that many soldiers in Iraq were living well, and one in the Seattle Times describing the games of football and soccer the troops were playing over in Iraq.)

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.
- 3:10 PM, 15 August 2005   [link]

Here's A Different Reason To Oppose Judge Roberts:  Columnist William Raspberry thinks John Roberts shouldn't be on the Supreme Court because Raspberry wants the court to stay in the mainstream.  (Curiously, Raspberry appears to think that Roberts is out of the mainstream because he may help end our illegal system of racial preferences, an issue where the court is — as anyone who looks at the opinion polls on the subject can tell you — out of the mainstream.  Solid majorities oppose racial preferences, but the court keeps allowing leftist bureaucrats and academics to sneak them in.)

And so Rasberry has been looking for evidence that Roberts will upset the balance of the court, and thinks he has found another piece.
The second thing about balance came from a friend -- black, conservative and Republican -- who was laying out the reasons he opposes the Roberts nomination.

It isn't his conservatism, my friend said, but the too-smooth path by which Roberts has arrived at this juncture.  Son of a wealthy steel executive, Roberts attended private schools, Harvard and Harvard Law School, then held a federal appeals court clerkship, followed a year later by a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice (now Chief Justice) William Rehnquist.

He then was named special assistant to the U.S. attorney general, and associate counsel to the president (at age 27) before joining one of Washington's top law firms.  Then Roberts went to the office of the solicitor general of the United States and, for the past two years, a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
In other words, Roberts should not be on the court because he has achieved too much.  Why is this bad?  Because Roberts' career has been, in Raspberry's words, a "glide path".  In other words, he started high and coasted through life.  Now I don't know what Roberts and his family had to do to get him through the private schools, other than pay tuition, but after that it is absolutely clear that Roberts did not glide through Harvard, through Harvard Law, or through all his positions since.  The competition in those places is simply too fierce for gliders to succeed.

Roberts is not a glider, but a duck, placid on the surface and paddling like hell underneath.

(And so is George W. Bush; Raspberry may think that you can head two oil companies, get a Harvard MBA, and become a fighter pilot (all of which Bush did before he got serious) by gliding through life.   If you still think Bush glides through life, you should read this account of his typical mountain bike ride.
But the truth about the Biker-in-Chief is that the man can really ride. Over the course of a two-hour Tour de Crawford, Bush humbled every rider in Peloton One with a strong and steady pace over scorching hot paved roads, muddy creek crossings, energy-sapping tall grass and steep climbs on loose and crumbling rock.
. . .
Keeping up with Bush — whose fitness level was recently rated in his annual physical exam as being in the top 1% of men 55 to 59 — was as difficult as any race I've entered.
You don't achieve that kind of fitness — at 59 — by gliding.)
- 11:02 AM, 15 August 2005   [link]

How Well Do You Know The American States?  By way of Dave Oliveria, I found this game, in which you drag the states, one at a time, to their correct locations on an outline map of the United States.

Here's my score, for the third or fourth time I played the game.

Which state did I miss?  On this try, Colorado, which I placed a little too far north and a little too far east.  On my first try, I made a similar mistake with West Virginia.

Luck will affect the scores, as those two examples may suggest.  Arizona is easy to place correctly, and, once it is in place, locates all the states that touch it, including Colorado.  Pennsylvania or Virginia would do the same for West Virginia.  So, if you have a poor score, don't give up after your first try.
- 3:08 PM, 13 August 2005   [link]

Uninformed:  The New York Times op-ed page is having its troubles with absolutes these days.  On Wednesday, Maureen Dowd discovered an absolute moral authority of mothers — but only mothers who had lost a soldier son or daughter in Iraq.  Yesterday, Corby Kummer, who often writes on food for the Atlantic Monthly came up with this absolute.
As with all dietary advice, the fat of the day will change.  But eternal truths will remain: food is always best with little or no processing and eaten as close as possible to where it is grown.
Always?  Has Kummer never heard of cassava, which is poisonous without processing?  Poisonous enough to kill without careful processing?  Or if cassava seems too exotic (though it is the main ingredient in tapioca pudding), how about olives, which are so bitter as to be inedible until they have been soaked in lye or brine?  Or what about an even more common food, potatoes?  To keep them from building up solanine, farmers have carefully selected varieties that have little of the poison and then keep the potatoes covered so that they do not develop the green areas that contain the substance.  You should, as Dr. Weil explains, be especially careful of the more "natural" varieties from Peru.

What about the second absolute, "eaten as close as possible to where it is grown"?  That, too, is not always true.  Foods vary greatly in their stability; I doubt very much that winter wheat tastes different in North Dakota than it does here in the Pacific Northwest.  On the other hand, in my experience, the best tasting sweet corn goes directly from the field to the pot.  And sometimes long processing, though not necessary, greatly improves the taste; that's often true of soups and stews.

If Kummer had said that generally food tastes best when it is prepared with traditional methods, I would have no quarrel with him.  (In fact, I would even supply this argument: Food generally tastes best when prepared in traditional ways because only those ways that produced good tasting food have survived.)  But "always"?  Please.
- 1:01 PM, 13 August 2005   [link]

History That May Be New To You:  (Both examples certainly were new to me.)

Jim Lindgren told me something about the famous Scopes trial I had not known.  The biology book used in that Tennessee classroom included racist ideas, and openly advocated eugenics to an extent that would not be accepted in American schools today.  For instance, it includes these passages:
At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure.  These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.
. . .
If such people [the feeble minded] were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.  Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race.
The book's title is Civic Biology, which seems appropriate, given its content.

(In another post at the same site, Orin Kerr tells us that the picture of the trial that we may have gotten from the play, Inherit the Wind, is just a little misleading.  For instance, it turns out that the town of Dayton, where the trial occurred, wanted the trial because it "would help the local economy" by bringing in vistors.)

Even more surprising — at least to me — was this post by "Callimachus" who explains that France had a much larger part in trans-Atlantic slavery than I would have guessed.
In the history of the Atlantic slave trade, the French turned four times as many Africans into slaves as the Americans did, they used them far more brutally, and French slavers not only got a head-start on Americans, they continued the slave trade -- legally -- until 1830, long after the rest of Europe had given it up.  And they kept at it clandestinely until after the U.S. Civil War.  France officially abolished slavery in its colonies only 14 years before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and then only under pressure from slave uprisings.
In contrast, the United States banned the importation of slaves in 1807 and began to send ships to aid the British effort to suppress the slave trade in 1820.  For the long term results of the French policies, one need only examine the sad history of their colony, Haiti.
- 4:22 PM, 12 August 2005   [link]

Churchill And His Loving Mother:  The title of this post is ironic, as I hope you can tell just from the picture.  (He was 37 at the time of the picture, she, 58.)

I found the picture in Robert K. Massie's Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War, a book better described by its subtitle than by its title, since Massie does not even get to the warship until almost half way through the book.

Among the many subjects Massie touches on is the relationship between Winston Churchill and his parents, Randolph and Jennie.  Winston's own son, Randolph, with fine British understatement, summarized it as follows:
The neglect and lack of interest in him shown by his parents were remarkable, even judged by the standards of late Victorian and Edwardian days. (p. 751)
They sent him to boarding schools beginning at age seven — and then refused almost entirely to visit him, in spite of his pleadings.  When he was seventeen, his mother actually refused him permission to come home at Christmas.  Winston responded to this terrible neglect by adoring both of his parents.

And Jennie herself?  Think of an enormously attractive woman, who took lovers by the score (at least after her husband contracted syphilis) and was more than once described as having a look like a panther.  I had known vaguely that she was American and, after reading about her character, feel as if I ought to apologize to our British friends for her behavior.  (To be fair, after Randolph's death, she became an ally of her Winston and aided his rise in politics.)

(I have been reading Dreadnought to refresh my thinking on the origins of World War I, and would recommend it to anyone interested in that topic, or even just 19th century Europe.)
- 2:23 PM, 12 August 2005   [link]

Compared To Whom?  Compared to other nations, the United States does rather well, as far as cleaning up the air and water go.  For some comparisons, see this Scott Burgess piece. Needless to say, you are unlikely to see headlines such as "Under Bush, US Leads the Way In Environmental Clean Ups".  In fact, you didn't even see many such headlines during the Clinton administration.  But facts are facts; the US has done more than most nations toward cleaning up the environment.

(By way of ¡No-Pasaran.)
- 11:01 AM, 12 August 2005   [link]

Sidney Blumenthal Gets Caught:  The journalist and Clinton hatchetman appears to have committed blatant plagiarism.   Who says so?  Some member of the "vast right wing conspiracy"?  No, the Columbia Journalism Review.
Eight months ago, in its December 2004 issue, the Washington Monthly printed a lengthy profile of Bob Novak by Amy Sullivan.  This morning, Salon printed a lengthy profile of Bob Novak by Sidney Blumenthal.  There were some striking similarities between the two.

The Salon piece does include a link to the Washington Monthly piece, and Blumenthal attributes one quote to Sullivan's work.  The attribution and link were not included in the original piece, but were added sometime after.
And they are "striking", as you can see by looking at the excerpts.

For some time I have thought that Blumenthal was one of those people who discredit their employers by their very presence.  It is no secret that, even while working for such mainstream publications as the Washington Post, The New Republic, and the New Yorker, Blumenthal was a wacky conspiracy theorist.  (For that he won the nickname, "Grassy Knoll".)  Nor is there any doubt that he is a complete partisan and has been all his life.

And during the Starr investigation, Blumenthal demonstrated that he was willing to tell blatant lies.  In one famous incident, after being questioned before the grand jury, Blumenthal came out and claimed they had asked him about his talks with journalists.  This was completely false, but the prosecutor could not say so, because he was bound by secrecy rules.  One would think that incidents like this would discredit Blumenthal for employment at any respectable news organization.  After all, what is the point of a journalist who doesn't tell the truth?

But this history, none of it any secret, didn't discredit Blumenthal completely.  You may not consider the Salon web site respectable, but the Guardian certainly is, and Blumenthal has a regular column there.  (The fact that most American publications were not interested in his work should have tipped them off, one would think.)  It will be interesting to see what the Guardian does after these revelations.

My guess is that Blumenthal will survive just as his fellow lefty, Molly Ivins, did, under somewhat similar circumstances.

(Typically, when plagiarists are caught, they turn out to be serial offenders.  So we should not be surprised to see more revelations that not all the work with his name on it was really done by Blumenthal.)
- 9:24 AM, 12 August 2005   [link]

Here's A Common Mistake:  Christopher Elliot commits a common mistake in this opinion piece, when he argues that gas allowances are too low.
In late 2004, AAA calculated that driving a 2005 Ford Taurus SEL for 10,000 miles would cost 69.1 cents a mile this year, more than 70 percent higher than the 40.5-cent rate allowed by the Internal Revenue Service.

But even that figure is obsolete; it is based on a national average gasoline price of $1.93 a gallon, which is many months out of date.  With the price now averaging $2.33, the highest ever, according to the AAA, the real cost per mile would be about 2 cents higher, or 71 cents.
Why is this kind of calculation wrong?  Because it confuses average costs with marginal costs.  Let me give you an example, using the nearest car, to show you why these average costs per mile are the wrong way to measure the cost of driving your next mile.  I have a Ford Focus hatchback, which I bought just a little over a year ago.  According to Edmunds, it costs me 43 cents a mile to operate.

I don't need a car much, so I put just 5,000 miles on it in the first year.  If I were to take that rate seriously, I would would have to say that the car cost me just a little more than two thousand dollars last year.  As you can see by a glance at the table, that's just a little off.

Now, suppose that I had driven an additional 3,000 miles last year.  Would that have increased my costs by about 1300 dollars?  No, the increase would have been closer to 300 dollars, the cost of the extra gasoline and the cost of an extra oil change.  (I get about 30 miles to the gallon and regular gas currently costs a little more than $2.50 per gallon in this area.)  There would be some additional wear and tear on the car, but it is not clear how much that will cost me, if anything.  The power train has a 100,000 mile warranty and I see no reason not to expect the car to last that long, and probably longer, without serious repairs.

So, in calculating the costs of driving a car, you should think, not in terms of cents per mile, but in terms of fixed costs and per mile costs, or as economists would say, fixed costs and marginal costs.   (For quibblers, I will concede that the fixed costs do vary somewhat with mileage, but they vary more with age, for most drivers.)  This means that my true costs for any single trip are much closer to the cost of the gasoline I use than to that 43 cents a mile.  At the current price of gasoline, at 30 miles to the gallon, that's less than 9 cents a mile.

This difference between fixed and marginal costs has great effects on the efforts to get people to give up their cars and ride the bus or take a train.  Although transit costs are heavily subsidized in this area, it is, with one exception, cheaper for me to drive than to take a bus — now that I have already paid for a car.  (The exception is trips to downtown Seattle, where the savings on parking make up for the cost of the bus fare.)  And, of course, that's without allowing anything for the value of my time, since the car trip is nearly always much quicker.

Not every driver does these same calculations, but most of them act as if they had.  And those who use those 40 to 70 cents per mile averages to condemn drivers who won't switch to public transit are simply wrong.

(There may be situations in which the per mile cost is not wildly wrong.  It is probably roughly right for a business's fleet cars, if they are driven all the time.)
- 2:16 PM, 11 August 2005   [link]

Often, It's What They Don't Print:  Or what they don't show on television that shows the bias of the "mainstream" media.  I showed how the Seattle Times whitewashes CAIR by leaving out everything negative; John Rosenberg shows how a Washington Post reporter omitted all the interesting parts of the speeches made in Atlanta at a rally in support of a renewal of the Voting Rights Act.   For instance, Judge Greg Mathis, who has a TV show, had this to say about the Bush administration:
They all need to be locked up because they are all criminals and they are all thieves....
Doesn't sound judicious to me.  And Mathis was not alone in his extremism at that rally.

This unwillingness to tell the public what leftwing extremists are saying is an old, old problem.   For much of her career, Angela Davis was an open Communist.  In 1980, she even ran for vice president on the Communist ticket.   But the "mainstream" media were mostly unwilling to call her a Communist, preferring the neutral "activist".  Even now, if you do a Google search on her name, you will get almost twice as many hits (about 31,000) when you couple it with "activist", than you do when you couple it with "communist" (about 16,000).

(Oddly, this is one of the places where the radical left sometimes agrees with moderates and conservatives.  They sometimes complain, just as I do, that the leftists in our media refuse to convey their message.

Angela Davis's most famous moment was when she was acquitted of being an accessory to murder after an escape from a California court.  I thought at the time that the evidence pointed strongly to her guilt, and haven't seen anything since to change my mind.  Some California academics must disagree, since she has spent much of her life as a tenured professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz — unless they think that being an accessory to murder is something that really spices up a résumé)
- 9:41 AM, 11 August 2005   [link]

George Will Gives  Jimmy Carter a much deserved spanking.   After showing that Carter has misrepresented their interactions, Will concludes with this:
The role of ex-president requires a grace and restraint notably absent from Carter.  See, for example, his criticism of America when he is abroad, as in England two weeks ago.  Having made such disappointing history as president, Carter as ex-president should at least refrain from disseminating a historical falsehood.

So strong, however, is the human impulse to believe comforting myths, Carter probably will continue to promulgate the fiction that I gave Reagan the utterly unimportant briefing book, thereby catalyzing the 1980 landslide.  But to be fair: As a candidate, Carter promised only that as president he would never tell a lie, thereby leaving himself a loophole for his post-presidential career as a fabulist.
Will mentions Carter's latest sin, but not his worst.  An ex-president, more than most, should understand that we have one president at a time and that only the president has the authority to negotiate for the United States.  But time after time, as ex-president, Carter has tried to negotiate, sometimes secretly, as when he was trying to undermine President Bush's efforts to build a coalition before the first Gulf War, and sometimes openly, as when he showed up in North Korea, and, without any authorization from the Clinton administration, "negotiated" a deal with that evil regime.  I don't know enough about the law to know whether what Carter did in those cases was illegal, but I know enough about our government to know that it was wildly inappropriate.

(I first encountered Carter's loose way with the truth in 1976 when he was campaigning for the Democratic nomination in Iowa.  I went to a public meeting where he and other candidates spoke and was so astonished by his speech that I was unable to question him.  He began, as I recall, with a claim that he had been a nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer, and ended with a promise that he would never lie to us.  As it happens, the training he got in the Navy might be enough so that he could, with a little stretching, call himself a nuclear engineer, but not a nuclear physicist.  And it was true that he raised a few acres of peanuts, but nearly all his income came from his peanut warehouse, not his farming.

But it was the promise that he would never lie to us that stopped me from speaking.  Carter must have heard, at some point in his many years in Sunday school, that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God".  And he must have learned as a small businessman and a politician that all of us tell lies from time to time.  But he was still promising that he would, as president, avoid this universal human failing.

And of course there are times when a president is required by the obligations of his office to lie, for instance when he is asked about military plans.  Carter must have known that when he prepared that speech — but he chose to promise not to lie — which was itself a lie, and an enormous one.)
- 8:39 AM, 11 August 2005   [link]

Illogical:  Maureen Dowd is back, and her latest column shows that she may have come back too soon.  Dowd begins with the controversy created by Cindy Sheehan, does her usual wander through pop culture, and then concludes with this bizarre sentence.
But his [Bush's] humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.
But concludes puts it far too nicely; she makes no argument for that bizarre "absolute", so it would be better to say that she ends with it, rather than concludes.  If there were a real editor at the New York Times, they would not have let this go into print without getting Dowd to answer at least a few of the obvious questions: What about the parents who bury children killed in Afghanistan?  Or how about the parents who support Bush, as many do?  Or suppose the child had different views than the parents?  Why does his (or her) death invalidate his (or her) moral authority?  (The attentive will have noticed that I did not analyze the whole sentence; the alert will note that the sentence it has other, equally serious problems; the ambitious (or perhaps the compulsive) may want to complete the work I began.)

Would a newspaper with high standards employ Maureen Dowd as a columnist?  I don't think so.  (And just possibly she agrees.  She once confessed that she had not wanted to be a columnist.  Perhaps this botch of a column is like some suicide attempts — a cry for help.)

(Tim Blair had a similar reaction, as you can see here.   And if you are interested in the facts on Cindy Sheehan, facts that don't seem to matter to Maureen Dowd, check out some of Michelle Malkin's posts.)
- 4:42 PM, 10 August 2005   [link]

Haven't Seen Enough Bush Conspiracies?  Create your own with this handy generator.  It does come with this warning, which I think is wise:
This tool may not be used to create Democratic presidential candidate speeches or generate content for without the express permission of
By way of my friends at Mazurland.
- 10:36 AM, 10 August 2005   [link]

Worth Reading:  Joshua Kurlantzick's review of Jay Becker's book on North Korea, Rogue Regime.   The title of the book and the title of the review, "A Marxist Sun King", don't really capture just how bizarre and evil Kim Jong Il and his regime are.  But there is enough material in the review to give you a glimpse
In "Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea," the veteran Asia correspondent Jasper Becker makes a powerful case for defining Kim once and for all -- not as an ordinary, if nuclear-tipped, dictator, but as an extraordinarily skillful tyrant presiding over the worst man-made catastrophe in modern history, worse than Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge or the Soviet Union in the 1930's.
. . .
But after his father's death in 1994, Kim Jong Il transformed North Korea from an odious totalitarian regime into something actually worse, "a Marxist Sun King" state that was ready to oversee an unparalleled orgy of extravagance and absolutism.

Details of that extravagance are drawn from Kim's former lackeys. "For all the immense privileges enjoyed by . . . those who ruled the Soviet Union and China, they did not aspire to a live a life completely alien to their countrymen," Becker writes. "They did not show signs of a consuming desire to emulate the tastes of a jet-set billionaire."  Kim does -- and he has built a stable of 100 imported limousines, as well as an entourage of women who are trained in "pleasure groups" to service the leader sexually.  Kim imports professional wrestlers from the United States, at a cost of $15 million, to entertain him.  And when he decided to build a film industry, he did what Hollywood studio heads could only dream about -- kidnapped foreign directors and actors and forced them to work for him.  His wine cellars contain more than 10,000 French bottles.  He flies in chefs from Italy to prepare pizza.  Meanwhile, his people scrounge for edible roots.

Hunger had been a problem under Kim Il Sung.  But under Kim Jong Il, Becker writes, it became possibly "the most devastating famine in history," with death rates approaching 15 percent of the population, surpassing "any comparable disaster in the 20th century," even China's under Mao.
Fifteen percent would be about three million deaths.  (Other estimates I have seen are lower; one of the more common is ten percent, or "only" two million deaths.)

And many in the eighty-five percent who survived suffered horribly.
To survive has required tenacity.  Koreans are reported even to have murdered children and mixed their flesh with pork to eat.  When I have encountered North Korean refugees in Asia, they look barely human -- stunted figures with sallow, terrified faces.  Some North Koreans have tried to grow their own food, potentially a sign of independent thinking.  But for years Kim had them stopped, though he has begun to open the economy slightly in the past three years.  Those who protested were sent to an extensive gulag system, which may have resulted in the deaths of one million people.   In this internal slave state, Becker suggests, tests of chemical weapons are carried out on prisoners, and pregnant women whose children were tainted with foreign blood have been forced to have abortions.   Kim Jong Il has "resisted adopting every policy that could have brought the misery to a quick end," Becker says, making "the suffering he inflicted on an entire people an unparalleled and monstrous crime."
Becker doesn't claim that there is simple solution to the problem of Kim Jong Il.  And I think we would be wise to recognize the limits on American power in this case.  Kim has some twenty million hostages, whom he is absolutely willing to murder, and there is little we can do, short of a major war, to stop him.  We have not even been able to use our massive food aid to force changes in his policies.  Others could do far more than we can.  The Chinese government could probably end his regime, if it wanted to, and could certainly keep Kim on a tighter leash.  The UN could denounce his monstrous policies.  And South Korea could take in more refugees.

(For some numbers on our food aid, along with a proposal to put controls on it, see this column by Roberta Cohen of the liberal Brookings Institution.  Cohen never says what we should do if Kim refuses those conditions on food aid — as he almost certainly would.  Should we let Kim's people starve?  If we aren't willing to do that — and matters are so desperate that I would not automatically reject that policy — then Kim will call our bluff.

It is possible that Kim's regime will collapse — and there have been some odd happenings inside North Korea that suggested that Kim was in trouble.  In the 1990s, Nicholas Eberstadt predicted that it would collapse.  In this data rich article he explains why it did not.  He believes that aid from the United States (and South Korea) from 1996 through 2002 may have saved the Kim regime from collapse.  That just may have been a mistake.)
- 8:43 AM, 10 August 2005   [link]

Science Bits:  (You'll want to look at the first three items quickly, before the New York Times starts charging for them.)
  • There are many bird vocalists, and there are a few bird drummers, and, I have just learned, there are birds that make music by shaking their wings.   The male club-winged manakin, a South American bird, has odd shaped feathers that produce a sound in somewhat the same way a spoon on a washboard does.

  • String theorists have great theories, but no practical way, as yet, to test them.  (I have seen the claim that some parts of the theories could be tested in a really big accelerator, say one the size of the solar system.)  So, now the theorist are taking votes at their conferences.  This reminds me of the story I once read about a grade school classroom that had just acquired a pet rabbit.  The teacher asked the children how to tell whether it was a boy rabbit or a girl rabbit.  One of the kids, showing a democratic spirit, suggested resolving the question with a vote.

  • You are younger than you may have thought, thanks to the continuous replacement of your cells.
    Whatever your age, your body is many years younger. In fact, even if you're middle aged, most of you may be just 10 years old or less.

    This heartening truth, which arises from the fact that most of the body's tissues are under constant renewal, has been underlined by a novel method of estimating the age of human cells. Its inventor, Jonas Frisen, believes the average age of all the cells in an adult's body may turn out to be as young as 7 to 10 years.
    Some cells last just days and some in the brain are never replaced.

  • Wolves are wolves to wolves.   The biggest threat to the wolves introduced to Yellowstone turns out to be other wolves.  This is true for lions, too, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it is true for many other top predators.

  • Forests have been planted to help improve water supplies.  Now, a study has shown that planting trees can be "counter-productive", something that will not surprise Westerners who are familiar with willow trees.

  • Want to see what Mars might look like when we get around to terraforming it?  You can find some imaginative pictures here.

  • It's cows, not cars, that are the biggest polluters in the San Joaquin Valley, or so say local officials.

  • The lobster population is booming in the waters off Maine.  No one seems to know why, something to remember the next time you see an article about an animal population crashing.

  • The malaria parasite has still another nasty trick.  It makes the people it has infected smell better to mosquitoes.
- 5:43 PM, 9 August 2005   [link]

Just Added Three Sites  to the Northwest section of the blogroll.   One of the three sites, Seattle Bubble, has an unusually narrow focus.  (Especially compared to your scattershot host.)
Welcome, planetoids to the new blog, "Seattle Bubble." This blog was created to post news stories and generate discussion about the real estate/housing bubble and specifically how it affects the Seattle area.
Narrow, but tremendously important, especially in this area.

My general rule is to include all significant political sites in the Northwest, as long as they meet my somewhat old-fashioned language standards.  I probably should look for a few more on the left, though I have trouble finding leftist sites that are both interesting and fit for family reading.  (And I have found that those who routinely use crude or even obscene language to make their points usually don't have much to say.)

If you know of a site that I should include, let me know.
- 1:48 PM, 9 August 2005   [link]

The Investor's Business Daily Nails CAIR:  This brief summary says what needs to be said about the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
War On Terror: An American Muslim pressure group has come out strongly against police profiling of young Muslim men behaving suspiciously at train stations.  But the group doesn't have our best interests at heart.
. . .
CAIR's national spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, says police should ignore such obvious terror traits and search riders at random, while paying close attention only to people "sweating."  Never mind that during New York's balmy summer months, that would include folks who don't remotely fit the terrorist profile.

CAIR should know better than anyone who does fit the terrorist profile.  Three of its own officials were recently convicted of terror-related crimes.  One even worked for Hooper.   He's now in prison for conspiring to kill Americans.
. . .
Tellingly, CAIR after 9-11 refused to single out al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden for condemnation.   After the London bombings, it endorsed an anti-terror edict so broad it was meaningless -- and one that was loaded with qualifiers.

Instead of condemning attacks against British or American or Israeli non-Muslims, it hedged by denouncing "all acts of terrorism targeting civilians" and "innocent lives" -- leaving non-Muslims to wonder if they fall into those categories, knowing that jihadists don't necessarily consider them innocent or civilian.
. . .
CAIR may talk a good patriotic and moderate game. But it has a secret agenda to Islamize America.

Before 9-11, its founder and chairman, Omar Ahmad, also a Palestinian American, told a Muslim audience: "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant.  The Quran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth."
So there you have it.  CAIR, which poses as a civil rights group, has direct links to convicted terrorists, persistently apologizes for terrorists, opposes nearly all practical methods for preventing terrorist attacks, and openly favors making Islam the only religion in the United States and the world.  (By the way, they are currently refusing to testify, under oath, about these matters before Congress.)

Would you know these facts from reading your daily newspaper?  Not if it is like the Seattle Times — and I suspect most American newspapers are in their coverage of CAIR.   I did a quick search on "CAIR" at the Seattle Times site and found article after article depicting CAIR as an innocent civil rights group.  The only negative material I found on CAIR came from syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, a letter from a reader, Tym Parsons, and another letter from a reader, Alex Myrick.   And, just in case you took Myrick's letter seriously, the Times printed an official reply from CAIR's legal director, Arsalan T. Iftikhar.

In short, in my quick search, I could not find a single word critical of CAIR from anyone at the Seattle Times.  Not one word.  But I did find many supportive pieces.  In this article, the Seattle Times lists CAIR as a neutral information source.   Here they publish a letter from Ibrahim Hooper, in which he pretends to condemn terrorism.   Here they defend Muslim worship of the Koran, and quote a CAIR spokesman in support of that argument.  Here, they give an entire guest column to Parvez Ahmed, a CAIR board member.  Ahmed uses the column to claim, falsely, that CAIR opposes acts of terrorism such as cutting off heads.  (If they oppose those acts, they do so for tactical reasons, as he more or less admits.)  Here, the Seattle Times presents CAIR as an innocent vote registration organization.   Here, the Seattle Times gives Parvez Ahmed another guest column, in which he calls for John Kerry to promise not to fight terrorism effectively.   Here the Seattle Times describes a CAIR banquet as if it were a mostly nonpolitical affair — even though they awarded Seattle's extremist Congressman, Jim McDermott, their public-official-of-the-year award, and cheered when they learned that the King County Democrats had backed their attack on Israel.   Here they give uncritical support to dubious claims of anti-Muslim attacks, locally.  Here they do the same to dubious claims of anti-Muslim attacks, nationally.  (Not that there have not been such attacks, but that CAIR routinely exaggerates their extent.)  Here the Seattle Times includes CAIR in a list or organizations that offer "spiritual sources of support in time of war".   That may be true, though I think we have reason to wonder which side in the war gets CAIR's support.  Here, the Seattle Times more or less reprints a CAIR press release, describing it as a "civil rights" organization and attacking the Bush administration policies.   No attempt is made at balance.  Here, the Seattle Times again uncritically relays CAIR's claims of discrimination and attacks.   And there are a few others I could add to this list, but I think you can see the pattern.

But there is one article, from 1999, that deserves some comment.
Muslims across the country are outraged over a Senate foreign-policy aide who wrote articles depicting Islam as a religion with a "mandate for violence, war, terror" that poses a threat to the West.

The articles "are just shameless, bare-faced bigotry," said Jeff Siddiqui, a Seattle Muslim who has written protest letters to the White House and several senators.  "This is a person who writes foreign policy for the United States, and his statements are not far from what the Nazis said about the Jews.
(Actually, the Nazis had rather different criticisms of the Jews.  And I might add that I never read anything by Mr. Siddiqui, or hear anything from him on the radio, without feeling a little more hostile to him and those he claims to represent.)

The aide, James George Jatras, is a member of the Eastern Orthodox church, which has good historical reasons to distrust Muslims.  Assuming that his views are being represented correctly here — however unlikely that may seem — I would say he may have gone too far, and that he should qualify what he said by limiting it to some Muslims.  At the same time, we must admit that, considering the events since 1999, Jatras's views sound more than a little prescient.

Why does the Seattle Times give CAIR such one-sided, and often inaccurate, coverage?  I don't know, but it certainly would be interesting to find out.
- 1:08 PM, 9 August 2005   [link]

DEBKAfile Has An Exclusive:  So exclusive that I have to be skeptical, but it is interesting.
Coded electronic signals bandied in recent days among al Qaeda Middle Eastern elements across secret Internet sites all carry the same message: the supreme leader, Osama bin Laden, has come out of hiding in Afghanistan and set out, or is about to set out, for Iraq.  This is the sense gained from this correspondence by DEBKAfile's exclusive counter-terror sources.

Some of the signals schedule his date of arrival as the second half of September when Ramadan is estimated to begin.  His arrival in Iraq is planned to signal the launching of the biggest offensive his organization has ever launched against the US army.  If these signals are a true representation of bin Laden's plans and not a red herring, what is planned is a dramatic landmark battle in the global war on terror and the Iraqi conflict.
Off hand I can't think of anything American strategists would like better than to have bin Laden come out of Afghanistan (or, more likely, Pakistan) and into Iraq, where we can get at him more easily.
- 7:09 AM, 9 August 2005   [link]