August 2005, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

New York Voter Rolls Are In Terrible Shape:  Here's what the New York Sun found.
Dozens of voters have registered in New York City claiming to reside at addresses that correspond to city, state, and federal office buildings, public and private schools, churches and clerical offices, and major cultural attractions, a review of Board of Elections records conducted by The New York Sun found.

In addition to questionable residences, the search unearthed curious names given by registrants, including "Donald Duck," "Elmer J. Fudd," "Isaac Newton," "Napoleon Bonaparte," "Rhett Butler," and "Jesus Christ."
New York state's laws are clear:
By state law, people seeking to vote in New York are required to register from their primary place of residence.  The voter application form provided by the state instructs would-be voters to enroll at the "address where you live.
. . .
Lying on a voter-registration form by listing an address other than one's residence, the director of the New York City Board of Elections, John Ravitz, said, can be prosecuted by the district attorney's office as perjury.
But whether anyone has been prosecuted for lying about their address in New York city is not clear.  No examples are given in the article.

The election officials have an easygoing attitude toward their problems.
The Board of Elections' Messrs. Ravitz and Riley described the phenomenon as a limited problem; said the board does not conduct its own reviews of the voter rolls, and said the board is unable to investigate potential fraud in the absence of a specific complaint.
There are, I have long thought, many costs to this tolerance for vote fraud.  In their editorial on the problems, the Sun comes to some of the same conclusions I have.
It's tempting to make light of these incidents as a few dozen oddities unlikely to make a difference in city elections where hundreds of thousands of genuine voters go to the polls.  But apparently fraudulent or erroneous registrations can undermine public trust in the democratic process.  In unusually close elections - say, Florida in the 2000 presidential election or the Washington state governor's race last year - such irregularities could even affect the outcome.
Having "open elections", that is, tolerating a certain amount of vote fraud, as the New York Times urges us to do, can have great costs in the long run.  It lessens the legitimacy of the winners of close elections — as Washington Governor Christine Gregoire can tell you.  And I believe it discourages turnout, as voters begin to conclude that the system is rigged.  It is not a coincidence, I believe, that places where vote fraud is endemic in the United States usually have low levels of voting.

(Why did the New York Sun beat the New York Times to this story?  My guess is that the Sun cares about honest elections and the Times doesn't — as long as the vote fraud hurts Republicans, as it most likely does in this case.)
- 4:48 PM, 30 August 2005   [link]

Cloned Cats' Kittens:  You can see them here.
A conservation institute in the United States has produced wildcat kittens by cross-breeding cloned adults.

The Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species says this is the first time that clones of a wild species have bred.

Eight kittens have been born in two litters over the last month, and all are apparently doing well.
Both the two mothers, Madge and Caty, and the father, Ditteaux, are themselves clones.

African wildcats are not an endangered species, but the center hopes to learn techniques that might let them save similar species.  And though they don't say so, they may hope to revive some lost species, where we still have the genetic material.

(Yes, I am surprised to see Audubon trying to breed more cats, since some of the members of the society have a distinctly negative view of cats.

I first spotted this story in the Telegraph.   If you glance at their story, you'll see that their science editor thinks that the species is endangered.  It isn't a surprising mistake, given the name of the center, but it is still a mistake.)
- 3:25 PM, 30 August 2005   [link]

Levees Break:  And New Orleans goes farther under water.
A large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new hurricane proof. Old Hammond Highway bridge, gave way late Monday morning in Bucktown after Katrina's fiercest winds were well north.  The breach sent a churning sea of water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing across Lakeview and into Mid-City, Carrollton, Gentilly, City Park and neighborhoods farther south and east.

As night fell on a devastated region, the water was still rising in the city, and nobody was willing to predict when it would stop.  After the destruction already apparent in the wake of Katrina, the American Red Cross was mobilizing for what regional officials were calling the largest recovery operation in the organization's history.
That the levees failed hours after Katrina had passed suggests to me that they had flaws.  It is not unusual for burrowing animals to create holes in levees that allow enough water to leak through to undermine a levee and cause it to break.  And, of course, this being New Orleans, we can't rule out corruption in either the construction or maintenance of the levees.

Most of the deaths appear to have been in a single county in Mississippi, Harrison.  It's a little better off than the Mississippi average, but still quite poor by national standards.

I have been wondering if the concentration on the threat to New Orleans might not have caused authorities to neglect the warnings to the those living on the Mississippi coast.  That's understandable in some ways, given the population in New Orleans and the city's vulnerable location, mostly below sea level and between the Mississippi and Lake Ponchartrain.  But it may also reflect the tendency of our urban centered news media to not even see rural areas, except perhaps from an airplane as they fly over.

(For more, you might start with this Michelle Malkin post.  Here's a set of maps and diagrams that show why New Orleans is so vulnerable.  And here's Yahoo's collection of storm pictures.)
- 8:27 AM, 30 August 2005   [link]

Maybe A Wall On The Border Won't Be Enough:  It wouldn't have stopped this border crosser.
David Smith Sr., who already holds a world record for the longest distance traveled by a human fired from a cannon, added to his list of cannonball coups Saturday by shooting across the U.S-Mexico border.
. . .
He took flight from a popular beach in Tijuana, Mexico and soared about 150 feet over a line of black metal poles about 20 feet high and spaced six inches apart.  He landed uninjured in a net in Border Field State Park in San Diego with U.S. Border Patrol agents and an ambulance waiting nearby.
It's only fair to add that he had permission for this shot.

And don't call the shot a stunt, because it was art, and art in service of a fine cause, at that.
The feat was the brainchild of Venezuelan artist Javier Tellez and is part of a series of public art projects in the two border cities.
. . .
Tellez organized the cannonball launch with psychiatric patients at the Baja California Mental Health Center in Mexicali, Mexico, as a therapeutic project.  The event is part of an art series that started Saturday and will run through the fall, sponsored by inSite05, a binational arts partnership in the San Diego-Tijuana region.

Tellez called the project "living sculpture" and said it was about "dissolving borders" between the United States and Mexico and between mental health patients and the rest of the world.
I'm sure we all hope those patients feel better now.
- 3:08 PM, 29 August 2005   [link]

Media Priorities In The War On Terror:  The September issue of the American Enterprise magazine has three interesting numbers that suggest what those priorities are.

The Medal of Honor, America's highest decoration for selfless valor, has been awarded only three times in the past three decades.  On April 4 of this year, Army Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, a 33-year-old married man with two children, earned the latest medal, for high gallantry under fire during the initial invasion of Iraq at the cost of his life. (p. 13)

Judging by the numbers below, the US media did not see his story as nearly as important as the stories on Lynndie England, the court-martialed Abu Ghraib guard, or the false story of Koran abuse at Guantanamo.

Mentions in Major US Media

Lynndie England5,159
Koran abuse4,677
Paul Smith90

The American Enterprise author used the Lexis-Nexis database to search for the stories to get those counts.  That isn't freely available to all of us, but you can do similar searches on most major newspapers and get similar results, if you want to check their numbers.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.
- 11:23 AM, 29 August 2005   [link]

Katrina Comes Ashore:  And threatens New Orleans with catastrophe.   Earlier this morning, I heard parts of this apocalyptic warning from the Weather Service on our local TV news.




That seems clear enough.  How badly New Orleans will be affected will depend on the exact path of the storm.  According to current reports, the eye of the storm will pass just to the east of New Orleans, which means that the city will not be hit by the very strongest winds on the east side of the hurricane.

(For more coverage, see this link rich post from Michelle Malkin.  For an explanation of what makes New Orleans so vulnerable, see this Popular Science article.   And here's a table of hurricanes that have hit the United States since 1851, by strength.  We can expect category 4 storms like Katrina about once a decade.  We have had just three category 5 storms since 1851, for which we may be grateful.)
- 6:38 AM, 29 August 2005   [link]

Is The Pope Catholic?  That's what I have always thought.  But I just learned, by way of Kate McMillan, that some Muslims object to that.  Or at least to the Pope being public about his beliefs.
Following the threats against the Vatican faxed to a Spanish TV station and newspaper this week, the Catholic Church remains the target of Islamic extremists, this time in a report posted on an Islamic Internet forum under the heading "The Pope of the Vatican goes to War".  The message, signed under the name D. Abdouh, discusses the Vatican's entry in the war between al-Qaeda and the Western world, with a speech Pope Benedict XV! gave during his recent trip to Cologne in Germany.

After this, the document directly quotes the Vatican, claiming that after years of neutrality the Vatican, with the ascent of Joseph Ratzinger to the pontificate, has decided to come out in defence of the West, against the Islamic world.

The message reads: "The Vatican, which is nothing but a government placed within a building, has moved to support the Christian side of the countries in the world, and if possible, the Catholic side.   The tendency of the Vatican was not to take part in the numerous wars there have been."
Think of that.  Abdouh is troubled because the Pope is supporting the Christian side, "and if possible, the Catholic side".  That may seem weird to us, but it is, in fact, traditional Muslim doctrine.  Non-Muslims can be allowed to live, and to practice their religion in private, but they must not speak publicly in defense of their religious beliefs.  Abdouh no doubt believes that the Pope can be allowed to be Catholic, but not to say anything publicly in support of Catholic doctrines.
- 1:49 PM, 28 August 2005   [link]

Sunnis And State's Rights:  In the United States, minority factions generally favor state's rights because they do not expect to control the central government, but do expect to control some of the states.  That was true, most notably, of Southern Democrats after the Civil War, but it has also been true of other minority factions.  And it is still true.   It is no coincidence that, more than ten years since they lost control of Congress, some Northern and Western Democrats are beginning to see something to admire in state's rights — and Republicans are seeing less reason to respect them.

The same support for decentralization by minority factions is often found in other nations — at least in nations where the minority factions are majorities in some provinces.  So I have been a little surprised to see Iraq's Sunnis objecting to what we would call state's rights.
The latest draft includes only slightly revised language on two critical issues - proposals to create autonomous regions within Iraq, and the status of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party - that have infuriated many Sunnis.  If this last chance for consensus is missed, some Sunni leaders say, the document that was meant to unify Iraq could instead provoke more sectarian violence.
. . .
The issue that has provoked the greatest anger among Sunnis is a proposal to create a vast Shiite autonomous region in southern Iraq.
You would think that the Sunnis would want greater decentralization because they will be a minority in the Iraqi central government, but they will have majorities in their own provinces.  The only explanation I can come up with for their stance on this issue is that, having controlled the central government for so long, they have not quite grasped that they will not control it in the future.

Their resistance on this point may lead to the break up of Iraq, which would not necessarily be a bad thing either for the Iraqis or for American interests.
- 1:17 PM, 28 August 2005
Maybe Sunnis Think They Are The Majority:  By way of this Donald Sensing post, I learned that Sunnis may not understand Iraq's demographics.
{Major] David [High] also offered an interesting and enlightening observation about the Iraqi constitutional issue, based on his tour there that ended earlier this year.  The Sunnis in Iraq, he said, believe they are numerically the majority Muslims in Iraq.  Even well connected and well educated Sunnis are generally skeptical at best, if not downright scornful, of the notion that Sunnis comprise only 20 percent or so of the Iraqi population.
Which would explain why they expect to dominate a future elected central government in Iraq.

Is such ignorance plausible?  Yes.  Here in the United States both whites and blacks tend to overestimate the proportion of blacks in the population (12.3 percent in the last census).   And it is easy to find similar mistaken estimates both here and in other democratic countries.   Since Iraq was a dictatorship dominated by Sunnis for many years, it would be especially easy for Sunnis to believe that they are a majority, even though most estimates put them at about 20 percent of the population.

If you are interested in Iraq's constitutional process, you'll want to read the whole post.
- 8:42 AM, 29 August 2005   [link]

Mt. Rainier From Sunrise:  Paradise, the most popular tourist spot on Rainier is due south of the peak.  Sunrise is northeast of the peak and gives you an entirely different look, although Gibraltar Rock, just to the left of the peak in this picture, looks much the same from either location.

That 11,138 feet high "spur" to the left of the main peak is Little Tahoma.  As I understand it, at one time geologists projected its slope upward to estimate at how high Rainier once was — and came up with astonishing heights. Now, according to Stephen Harris, they estimate that, at its highest, about 75,000 years ago, Rainier was about 16,000 feet high, still impressive, but not as high as the estimates I read when I was younger.

Emmons Glacier ends in an enormous moraine on the left side of the picture.  Camp Sherman, the usual base camp for climbs from this direction, is behind that wedge in the center of the picture.  (Which is called, unimaginatively, the Wedge.)  We could see part of the main climbing path that goes up from Sherman, though I don't think you'll be able to find it in this low resolution picture.

As usual, I had some interesting talks as I hiked on the mountain.  Met an older couple who had misplaced the cell phone they were using for pictures, so I took a couple of pictures for them with my little Olympus digital camera and will email them copies.

(For pictures of the mountain from earlier this year see here, here, here, and here.   And if you want to plan your own trip, here's the official site.   In the summer, I advise getting there early in the day if you can.  The mountain looks prettier then, and the hiking is much more pleasant before it gets hot.  I always check the weather forecast for the mountain just before I take off.)
- 3:48 PM, 27 August 2005   [link]

Weather Permitting, I will be off to Mt. Rainier for a hike tomorrow, partly to celebrate my birthday, which was yesterday.  The weather should be much nicer tomorrow than on Saturday or Sunday.  Plan to catch up with some of the email on the weekend.

(Why do I say weather permitting?  Because the forecast, as I write, is for excellent weather, but the sky has been getting cloudier here since noon.)
- 4:14 PM, 25 August 2005   [link]

Michael Medved spots some out of touch journalists at the Washington Post.
An extensive profile of [Supreme Court nominee John] Roberts in the Washington Post emphasized the "devout" Catholic faith of the nominee and his wife, and then declared: "Roberts certainly looks the part of a conservative.  He had a priest over to his home for Christmas Eve."

Is it possible that the Post doesn't understand that for most Americans, it would be perfectly normal to have a priest or minister visit on Christmas Eve — or to share a Rosh HaShanna meal with a rabbi?
Apparently it is possible.  They really are that out of touch.

(And I should add that there are many Catholic families and Catholic priests who are not conservatives, another thing the Post seems not to know.)
- 7:05 AM, 25 August 2005   [link]