August 2007, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

And Now, since I need some exercise, Accuweather is predicting a beautiful day, and it's my birthday, I am going for a hike on a nearby mountain.

Back some time this afternoon.
- 5:09 AM, 24 August 2007
This picture should help you understand why I went.

Mt. Rainier, August 2007

The day really was that beautiful, and the hike I chose, up to the end of the trail to Camp Muir, was just the exercise I needed.  (The trail ends at 7200 feet, so I still had a long way to go to get to the camp.)   The flowers, though not quite at their peak, were still quite beautiful, with late season flowers such as Indian paintbrush replacing early flowers such as avalanche lilies.  (I have a few flower pictures to share later, though not as many as I had hoped to have.)
- 12:57 PM, 25 August 2007   [link]

The Disputed Lessons Of Vietnam:  In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Bush replied to those who have been using our defeat in Vietnam to argue for another defeat, this time in Iraq.

Bush said, though not in those words, that those who favored defeat then and and favor defeat now had read the wrong lessons from history.  Max Boot, whose book, The Savage Wars of Peace, has a chapter on Vietnam that argues that we could have won with a better strategy, says Bush is right, but did not go far enough.  Boot draws his own lessons from the Vietnam war (lessons I generally agree with) and ends with this:
This does not, of course, exhaust the possible analogies between Iraq and Vietnam.  Nor is it meant to suggest the parallels are exact; there are in fact substantial differences.  Any historical comparison has to be handled with care and not swallowed whole.  But there are important lessons to be learned from our Vietnam experience, and as President Bush noted, they are not necessarily the ones drawn by the doves who have made Vietnam "their" war.
On the whole, I believe that unbiased historians will agree with Boot, as many do even now.  But his view requires that the doves who lost Vietnam admit their guilt, and few are willing to do that.  Which is why you see such extreme reactions to Bush's speech from generally sensible people such as Jim Hoagland.
- 4:33 AM, 24 August 2007   [link]

Active Military Deaths Under Presidents Carter And Bush:  They are about the same, proportionately, per year.  A serviceman had about the same chance of dying, each year, while Jimmy Carter was president, as while George W. Bush has been president.  In fact, if anything, the serviceman was a little less likely to die, each year, while Bush has been in office.

That's one lesson I draw from this official summary of American military losses, since the founding of the United States.  If you look through table 5, which gives the total active duty military deaths from 1980 through 2006, you learn that 2,392 died in 1980, Carter's last full year in office, and 1,858 died in 2006, Bush's most recent year.

If you are like me, you may have thought that the difference was due, entirely, to the larger size of the armed services in 1980 and that, surely, the per serviceman death rate must have higher in 2006.   But, after looking at Table 4, I found that wasn't so.  In each year, a serviceman had about one chance in a thousand of dying.  The chance was slightly higher in 2007 than in 1980, but it had been considerably lower in President Bush's first three years in office.

Table 5 explains what may seem paradoxical, higher losses in peace time than in war time.   The losses from accidents were far higher in 1980 (1,556) than in 2006 (465).  Is it possible that President Carter deserves some share of the blame for those accidental losses in 1980?  I think so.  The services were in bad shape then and one would expect a higher level of accidents when servicemen are demoralized and poorly trained.  In support of that speculation, note that losses from accidents fell under Reagan to 1,080 in 1988, even though the armed services grew slightly in size, and that the losses fell further under the first President Bush to 676 in 1992.

That trend suggest to me that improved training and morale (and probably higher standards for enlistees) cut the death rate for servicemen sharply during those years, and that President Reagan may deserve some credit for that decline.

Were the deaths under Carter a political issue in 1980?  Not that I can recall.

By way of the Gateway Pundit, who uses part of the data to comment on suicide rates under Clinton and Bush.

(Some minor technical points:  Although they give only Carter's last year, the numbers are stable enough so that I am willing to assume that the deaths were about the same in 1977-1979.  I used the "full time equivalents" for my calculations.)
- 1:44 PM, 23 August 2007   [link]

Greenpeace Versus Ted Kennedy:  Which one to cheer for?  In this instance, Greenpeace.  (And I like the second video better, too.)
- 12:27 PM, 23 August 2007   [link]

A Country Western Festival:  No big news, you may say.  But in France?
On a recent sunny weekend in the usually sleepy town of Craponne-sur-Arzon, American flags festooned the streets, country music blared amid the sidewalk cafés, and hundreds of people milled about in cowboy hats or even top-to-toe Wild West get-ups.  Dozens of folks turned local squares in this town in the Haute-Loire region of southern France into impromptu, western-style dance floors.

The catalyst for all this was the annual Country Rendez-Vous, a three-day festival of country-western music and bluegrass that takes place here each summer in late July.

Over the past two decades, country and western festivals have sprung up in many parts of France, sparked by an abiding fascination with the trappings of the American frontier as well as by a craze for line dancing.
That is a little different.  A French craze for line dancing.  I admit that I never would have guessed that they even like that part of our culture, much less that some have a "craze" for it.

This one festival at Craponne-sur-Arzon drew an estimated 30,000 people to a town with — 2653 "inhabitants".  And if you look at the article, you will see that they have had some big name American performers, over the years.

By way of ¡No-Pasarán!.

(Here's the festival site if you think you may want to attend.  Judging by the flags there, we Americans (along with Britons, Italians, Germans, Dutch, and Spaniards) are welcome in this small French town.)
- 6:40 AM, 23 August 2007   [link]

Politics In Lousiana Have Always Been Dirty:  So this latest ad is no great surprise.
A Louisiana Democratic Party ad accusing Republican candidate for governor Bobby Jindal of calling Protestants "scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical" has prompted a firestorm of criticism and calls Tuesday from the GOP to take the ad off the air.

Political watchers questioned whether the ad went too far and whether it accurately reflects Jindal's writings on Catholicism.  Republicans and the head of a national Catholic organization called the ad a smear campaign.
A blog at Commonweal, which is not a conservative publication, says the ad is "distorting" the meaning of what he wrote years ago.  And the far left Guardian newspaper agrees with Commonweal.

Given Louisiana's history, I would not go as far as to say that the ad is a "new low", but it is the worst one I have read about this year.

By the way, it is not hard to understand why the Louisiana Democrats are running this ad; just look at these poll results.  And he has been running way ahead of Democrats in other polls.
- 10:47 AM, 22 August 2007   [link]

Another Reason to believe that Osama bin Laden is dead.
A top Taliban commander said Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden is alive and well, according to US-based analysts monitoring extremist publications.

"All praise be to Allah, he is extremely healthy and active," the commander Mansour Dadullah said in a video interview, according to a transcript of the video's English subtitled translation, released Tuesday by the analyst IntelCenter.
What evidence does Dadullah have?  He claims he received a message from bin Laden telling him to take the place of his brother, whom we killed in Afghanistan this year.

But that's not much in the way of evidence, in an era when video tape is so common.  Most likely bin Laden is dead or so disfigured that he can not make an impressive video tape.

(Why would the terrorists lie about bin Laden being alive, if he is dead?  I can only speculate, and when I do, I suspect that they have no leader to replace him with the same charisma, and that they fear that revealing bin Laden's death would be a blow to the morale of their followers.)
- 10:22 AM, 22 August 2007   [link]

Was The New Republic Fooled Again?  Almost certainly.  I haven't said anything about the controversy over the dispatches from Private Beauchamp, because I didn't think there were any large lessons in them.  If his stories were true, all they showed was that, in a large army, there were a few men (including Beauchamp) who behaved nastily and foolishly.  If, as seemed more likely, he was inventing the stories in whole or part, that would show only that an anti-war "journalist" was not committed to telling the truth.  Neither conclusion would be surprising, neither conclusion would say much about the war.

But the second conclusion would say something about the New Republic and its current editor.   And Richard Miniter's careful investigation shows that we should worry about the magazine, in particular that we should be skeptical about any piece that attacks conservatives.  The current editor, Franklin Foer, is, judging by Miniter's piece, unwilling to even listen to criticism from conservatives, however well founded that criticism may be.

(The New Republic had earlier problems with plagiarist Ruth Shalit and with fabulist Stephen Glass, who made up nasty stories about — conservatives.

In contrast, Richard Miniter is a fine journalist.  I would recommend his book, Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror, to anyone who wants to understand the war on terror.)
- 7:29 AM, 21 August 2007   [link]

Exercise Makes Us Smarter:  That's not a new finding, but now scientists are beginning to understand how exercise makes us smarter.  As often happens, the scientists began with mice and then went on to study men.
[neuroscientist Fred H.] Gage's mice proved otherwise.  Before being euthanized, the animals had been injected with a chemical compound that incorporates itself into actively dividing cells.   During autopsy, those cells could be identified by using a dye.  Gage and his team presumed they wouldn't find such cells in the mice's brain tissue, but to their astonishment, they did.  Up until the point of death, the mice were creating fresh neurons.  Their brains were regenerating themselves.

All of the mice showed this vivid proof of what's known as "neurogenesis," or the creation of new neurons.  But the brains of the athletic mice in particular showed many more.  These mice, the ones that scampered on running wheels, were producing two to three times as many new neurons as the mice that didn't exercise.

But did neurogenesis also happen in the human brain?  To find out, Gage and his colleagues had obtained brain tissue from deceased cancer patients who had donated their bodies to research.  While still living, these people were injected with the same type of compound used on Gage's mice.   (Pathologists were hoping to learn more about how quickly the patients' tumor cells were growing.)   When Gage dyed their brain samples, he again saw new neurons.  Like the mice, the humans showed evidence of neurogenesis.
So, when you are out building muscles (or trying to keep the ones you have), you are also building new brain cells.

As the article explains, and as you may already know, this was a great surprise to most scientists, who have believed for some time that for both mice nor men: "after a brief window early in life, the brain could no longer grow or renew itself".  Fortunately for all of us, that isn't true.  We can grow our brains later in life by doing what we should be doing anyway, exercising.

Time to go for a brisk walk — or maybe even a bicycle ride.
- 10:58 AM, 20 August 2007   [link]

John Edwards' Political Promises don't match his investments.
As a presidential candidate, Democrat John Edwards has regularly attacked subprime lenders, particularly those that have filed foreclosure suits against victims of Hurricane Katrina.  But as an investor, Mr. Edwards has ties to lenders foreclosing on Katrina victims.

The Wall Street Journal has identified 34 New Orleans homes whose owners have faced foreclosure suits from subprime-lending units of Fortress Investment Group LLC.  Mr. Edwards has about $16 million invested in Fortress funds, according to a campaign aide who confirmed a more general Federal Election Commission report.  Mr. Edwards worked for Fortress, a publicly held private-equity fund, from late 2005 through 2006.
But then they didn't match while he was a senator, either.   Nor do his calls for energy conservation match his mansion.

(By way of Captain Ed, who has more to say on Edwards, none of it flattering.)
- 6:54 AM, 20 August 2007   [link]

1997:  That's the detail I found most striking in this story.
An illegal immigrant who stayed in a Chicago church for a year to avoid separation from her 8-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, was arrested Sunday and being processed for deportation.

Elvira Arellano, who arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday after leaving her sanctuary to campaign for immigration reform, was arrested around 1:30 p.m. outside Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church where she had been speaking to reporters, said the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist, the Chicago church.

Arellano was "being processed for removal to Mexico based upon a deportation order originally issued by a federal immigration judge in 1997," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a news release.
She was deported once in 2000, but came back almost immediately and got a job cleaning airplanes at O'Hare airport, using a false social security card.

We have been trying to send her home, with only short term success, for ten years.

(There is no reason to suspect that she means Americans any harm — though she doesn't have much respect for our laws — but it is disturbing to see how easy it was for an illegal to get a job with that kind of access to passenger airplanes.  It is mildly encouraging to learn that she was arrested at O'Hare in 2002.)
- 6:10 AM, 20 August 2007
More:  Debra Saunders adds details that were not in that CBS article.  One reason that it took so long to send Arellano home may have been the support she received from powerful Democrats.  Dick Durbin, the second ranking Democrat in the Senate, even introduced a "private bill" to allow Arellano to become an American citizen.  (It did not pass, and he has not re-introduced it.)
- 6:32 AM, 21 August 2007   [link]

Are Oregon's Roads Better Than Washington's?  I haven't seen a formal comparison of the roads in the two states, but that's certainly my impression after driving through Oregon on my third disaster area tour.  (For the curious, I traveled on Oregon roads in this order: I-205, I-5, Route 22, Route 97, Route 199, I-5, Route 140, Route 97, Route 62, Route 138, Route 97, Route 58, I-5, and I-205.)

I did not encounter really terrible road conditions anywhere along those roads, no terrible pavement conditions such as you will find on I-5 near the Sea-Tac airport, no bizarre intersections such as the one between Route 167 and I-405, and no crazy restrictions, such as the low occupancy* lane on I-405.  (Oregon's comparable route, I-205, has no such restriction.)

In some ways, this is puzzling.  Oregon has a larger area, fewer people, and a lower per capita income than Washington.  All three of those would lead one to expect that Washington, not Oregon, would have the better roads.  But that wasn't what I found.

Is there a political explanation for this difference?  Possibly.  Oregon is more conservative, or, to be more precise, less leftist than Washington.  (For example, Al Gore carried Oregon in 2000 by just 6,765 votes; Washington wasn't nearly that close.)  In general, leftists prefer not to spend money on roads, though they are usually happy to spend money on cargo cult projects, such as (un)Sound Transit's light rail boondoggle.  (As I have said before, leftists want people — or at least other people — to take buses and ride light rail, rather than drive.)

And leftists are far more likely to impose union rules on road building, rules that make road building significantly more costly, so even when leftists spend money on roads, they get less for the money than conservatives would.

If this speculation is correct, then one would expect to see better roads in states where leftists are less influential, better roads, for instance, in Texas than in California.  (And in the Northwest, better roads in Idaho than in Washington.)  On the average, anyway, since a single governor can almost always have a very large effect on a state's roads, if the governor is determined.

If you live in other parts of the country, or have traveled in them recently, I would be interested to hear if your experience is similar to mine.  I'd be especially interested in hearing about the road conditions in pairs of states that differ in ideology, but are similar in other ways, such as New Hampshire and Vermont.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*These are generally called "High Occupancy Vehicle" lanes, or, informally, car pool lanes.  But anyone who looks at them outside rush hour in this area can see that my term is more accurate.)
- 2:39 PM, 19 August 2007   [link]

How Willing Are Journalists To Make Corrections?  Not very, as I have been saying for years.  And this time you don't have to take my word for it, you can look at the results of an academic study.
The average newspaper should expand by a factor of 50 the amount of space given to corrections if Scott R. Maier's research is any guide.

Maier, an associate professor at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication, describes in a forthcoming research paper his findings that fewer than 2 percent of factually flawed articles are corrected at dailies.
Maier's research is consistent with my experience; I have found that journalists will rarely make corrections — when those corrections come from outside the news organization.  (Exception: In my experience, journalists will usually correct a misspelled name, even if the correction comes from an outsider.)

Be interesting to see if Maier has any explanation for this reluctance to correct errors.  You would think that journalists would realize that correcting errors increases their credibility, however painful it may be at the time — but apparently they don't.
- 12:53 PM, 19 August 2007   [link]

Has The NYT Censor Been Fired?  Or maybe their letters editor, Thomas Feyer, whom I like to call their censor, is on vacation.  Some one at the Times let two letters slip through, letters critical of the Times and supportive of the Bush administration.  That, I can tell you from long experience, does not happen every day.

The two letters, from Patrick Hunter and Howard F. Jaeckel, make an obvious point, that the conviction of terrorist Jose Padilla was a victory for the nation, not just the Bush administration.  Obvious, but a point the editorial writers missed.

(The Wall Street Journal had a sensible discussion of the case, which you can find excerpted here, along with some reactions even more absurd than those from the New York Times.)
- 12:41 PM, 18 August 2007   [link]

Third Time Is The Charm:  Mostly.  In 2005, on my first disaster area tour, I saw a lovely view of Mt. Jefferson, but didn't stop because I expected to see other views along Oregon's Route 22.  In 2006, on my second disaster area tour, I knew that was the best view along the route, but found it awkward to stop when I spotted it, because of the traffic.  (By stopping later and scrambling up a bank, I did get this picture, which I don't much care for.)  This time I was ready and traffic was not a problem, so I stopped and took the picture I had missed in 2005 and 2006.

Mt. Jefferson 2007

But you will have to take my word for it that Jefferson looked more beautiful in the two previous years.  Oh well, I'll just have to go back for another picture next year, preferably when there is more snow on the mountain.

(More on Mt. Jefferson here and here.

You can find the last 2006 disaster area tour post, with links to earlier posts, here, and the last 2005 disaster area tour post, with links to earlier posts, here.)
- 1:01 PM, 17 August 2007   [link]

About Three Inches A Year:  That's how fast the Nacza Plate moves — on the average.  But that's fast enough to cause the earthquake that devastated part of Peru.
The death toll along Peru's earthquake-ravaged southern coast climbed to 510 today, a top fire department official said, with at least 17,000 people displaced and wide areas without power, telephone service or road access.
The catch is in that innocent phrase: "on the average".  Tectonic plates often do not move at all for years, and then suddenly break lose, which is almost certainly what caused this earthquake.

Geologists are fond of saying that tectonic plates move about as fast as fingernails grow, which is true — again, on the average.  But most of us would be shocked if our fingernails did not grow at all for years, and then suddenly added a foot or two.

In the short run, there is not much to do except rescue the living and mourn for the dead.  In the medium run, Peru, and other areas subject to devastating earthquakes, should have building codes that do not allow vulnerable kinds of construction.  In the long run, we may be able to prevent some large earthquakes.  (The most promising idea I have seen is to lubricate plate boundaries to allow a series of small movements to replace one very large movement.  Needless to say, the legal difficulties for doing experiments on earthquake prevention are tremendous, at least in the United States.)

(You can find an explanation of plate tectonics here, a set of speed estimates for continental drift here, and a set of maps showing current guesses about the past positions of the continents here.  Incidentally, the speed given for the Nazca plate in the first article is not supported by its reference, the second link, which is why I have given a different number.)
- 10:03 AM, 17 August 2007
More:  A natural lubricant, talc, appears to be preventing large earthquakes along one segment of the San Andreas fault.  So, just possibly, we may some day prevent large earthquakes with — baby powder.
- 7:57 AM, 19 August 2007   [link]

What Does Michael Barber Think Of Bush's Educational Policies?  Blair's educational adviser, mentioned two posts down, likes Bush's policies.
Sir Michael said that he considers No Child Left Behind to be an outstanding law, perhaps one of the most important pieces of education legislation in American history, he said.
Though he would like to see the law strengthened; in particular, he would like to see school inspectors to supplement the testing.
- 9:04 AM, 17 August 2007   [link]

Chuckle:  There are special hazards to campaigning in Nevada.  As Bill Richardson just learned.

And as Hillary Clinton may learn.   (Warning: Some links there are not work safe.)

Perfectly legal businesses in Nevada do not always get respect elsewhere, and some voters even think employees of those businesses are tainted.

(Second link by way of Kate McMillan.)
- 7:14 AM, 17 August 2007
More:  The Clinton campaign was lucky enough to avoid one hazard of campaigning in Nevada; former madam Heidi Fleiss showed up too late for the event to get in.  Even though she missed the event, Fleiss says she's a "big fan" of the junior senator from New York.
- 12:58 PM, 20 August   [link]