February 2006, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Valentine's Day is more serious for those who are courting, engaged, or married.  For a more serious take than mine, see this post by the very happily married Marty Mazur.
- 1:56 PM, 16 February 2006   [link]

See That Cheerful Person Walking Down The Street?  Most likely, they are a well-off, church-going, married Republican, since all of those groups are happier than their counterparts.  Pew Research asks the obvious question about the partisan comparison and comes up with this answer:
Some 45% of all Republicans report being very happy, compared with just 30% of Democrats and 29% of independents.  This finding has also been around a long time; Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey began taking its measurements in 1972.   Pew surveys since 1991 also show a partisan gap on happiness; the current 16 percentage point gap is among the largest in Pew surveys, rivaled only by a 17 point gap in February 2003.

Could it be that Republicans are so much happier now because their party controls all the levers of federal power?  Not likely.  Since 1972, the GOP happiness edge over Democrats has ebbed and flowed in a pattern that appears unrelated to which party is in political power.
And the Republican happiness edge does not disappear when you control for income and ideology.

The researchers offer no explanation for this, nor do they even guess at the direction of causation.   Does being a Republican make one happier?  Or do happy persons tend to gravitate toward the GOP?  If I had to guess — and this is only a guess — I would say it was the latter.  In recent decades, the Democratic party has come to consist more and more of people who think of themselves (sometimes quite absurdly) as victims.  And if you think of yourself as a victim, you will find it harder to be happy.

(One surprise in the article, at least for me:  Who would you guess is more likely to be happy, men or women?  As it turns out, Men and women are equally likely to be happy (at least within sampling error), which I never would have guessed.  And when you look at the data by age and sex, you learn that young men are the least likely to be happy, which does not surprise me.)
- 1:33 PM, 16 February 2006   [link]

Douglas Reeves Has Some Bad News:  The quality of educational research, never very high, is declining.
"What? Me Worry?" Alfred E. Newman, Mad Magazine's mascot since the late 1950s, delivered this signature line whenever the world around him was going, well, mad.  So, too, it seems, those working in the field of educational research.

That's the upshot of an important study by Peggy Hsieh and Joel R. Levin, which ran in the Journal of Educational Psychology and chronicles ed researchers' continued retreat from accepted research methodology.  In this case, randomized experiments.
And the bad news is not limited to education, or to research.
To be sure, education is not the only field to succumb to the allure of fact-free debate.  Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton report in the January 2006 Harvard Business Review that "thousands of studies are conducted on medical practices and products every year.  Unfortunately, physicians don't use much of it.  Recent studies show that only about 15 percent of their decisions are evidence based."  Pfeffer and Sutton add, "The same behavior holds true for managers looking to cure their organizational ills.  Indeed, we would argue, managers are actually much more ignorant than doctors about which prescriptions are reliable—and they're less eager to find out."

There is, of course, abundant research available for those genuinely interested in effective practices.  But the prescriptions arising from that research—eat less, exercise more, learn phonics, know your math facts, devote more time to literacy instruction, have people who know science teach science, etc.—are so much less appealing than the Ouija board hints that emanate from ersatz research from a variety of fields.  Perhaps this explains why the doctors of medicine and business who write about education are frequently no more helpful than the doctors of education.
Not very encouraging, is it?  We are wasting immense sums on "ersatz research", and even larger sums on practices that good research has shown to be ineffective, or even damaging.

(By way of Joanne Jacobs.)
- 8:08 AM, 16 February 2006   [link]

Bryant Gumbel Doesn't Plan To Watch The Winter Olympics:  And his reason is not entirely respectable.
Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don't care about them and won't watch them ... Because they're so trying ... Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing.  So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.
Isn't that just a little, well, racist?

As it happens, Gumbel is misinformed on both the the GOP convention and the American Winter Olympics team.  About 12 percent of the United States population is black.  Of the delegates to the GOP convention in 2004, 10 percent were black.   And there are 18 "athletes of color" on the 211 member United States Winter Olympics team.  (By the way, one reason that there are few black athletes on the Winter Olympics team is simply geography.  Most of the winter sports are rural, northern sports.  American blacks still live mostly in urban areas and in the South.)

It is natural for people to want to watch athletes like themselves.  None of us would be surprised to see adolescent girls more interested in women's figure skating than in men's downhill racing.   It is even natural, though not something we should encourage, for people to prefer to watch athletes of their own race.  (The NBA, recognizing that, often promotes white basketball players to please its mostly white audiences.)  But it is crude to say so quite this openly.

And it may be more than a little racist to imply, as Gumbel does, that the best athletes are black.   Here are the facts on this delicate question, as I understand them.  Nearly all the top sprinters in the world are of West African descent.  Many of the top distance runners are of East African descent.  If you want to see the best athletes in those sports, you will want to watch men and women with better tans than mine.

But athletes from those areas do not dominate all sports.  They don't, for example, dominate simple strength tests such as weight lifting, grueling sports such as wrestling, or sports that require incredible combinations of strength and coordination such as gymnastics.  It seems nearly certain to me that the minor physiological differences that allow West Africans to dominate sprints and East Africans to dominate distance running may handicap them in some other sports.  So, to see the best athletes in those sports, you may have to look at people with mediocre tans.

What sports will I be watching at the Olympics?  I like to cross country ski, so I will be watching those events.  And I like underdogs, so I will be cheering for this athlete from Kenya — even if he doesn't look much like me.
- 7:36 AM, 16 February 2006   [link]

Debunking Katrina Myths:  After lunch I spotted a copy of Popular Mechanics with this cover story, "Debunking Katrina Myths".   Remembering the fine job Popular Mechanics had done on "9/11 Conspiracy Myths", I bought a copy of the magazine without even glancing at the article.  I have just had time to skim over the article and I have already decided that I did not waste my money.  Here, for instance, is what they say about the emergency response.
MYTH: "The aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history."--Aaron Broussard, president, Jefferson Parish, La., Meet the Press, NBC, Sept. 4, 2005

REALITY: Bumbling by top disaster-management officials fueled a perception of general inaction, one that was compounded by impassioned news anchors.  In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest--and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall.

Dozens of National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters flew rescue operations that first day--some just 2 hours after Katrina hit the coast.  Hoistless Army helicopters improvised rescues, carefully hovering on rooftops to pick up survivors.  On the ground, "guardsmen had to chop their way through, moving trees and recreating roadways," says Jack Harrison of the National Guard.  By the end of the week, 50,000 National Guard troops in the Gulf Coast region had saved 17,000 people; 4000 Coast Guard personnel saved more than 33,000.
That's not quite the impression the "mainstream" news organizations gave us, is it?

There are other things in the article that appear to conflict with posts at this site.  I plan to do some checking, but I suspect I will be posting some corrections.  And I am nearly certain that few "mainstream" news organizations will make even token attempts to do the same.
- 4:32 PM, 15 February 2006   [link]

Engineers Often Post a sign with this message:
Good, fast, or cheap.  Pick any two.
And what is true for engineering projects is true generally.  When I saw the great rush to get aid to the victims of Katrina, I was certain that the very urgency of the efforts would increase fraud.  Simply put, if you want to rush the aid, then you must make fewer checks on whether the recipients deserve the aid.

But not everyone has that basic understanding.  The very news organizations that complained about the slow pace of the aid are now complaining about the fraud, as you can see here and here.   (And are still complaining about the lack of aid, as you can see here.)

Is there any general solution?  No, and that is the point of the sign.  I think I would have preferred somewhat slower aid efforts (except for the true emergencies) and less fraud.  But I would also say that it is right to tolerate some fraud in such urgent situations.  (And, for much the same reasons, during wars.)

(Most engineers are more optimistic than I am.  In my own experience, "Pick one, and be happy if you get it" would better describe the real world. You can sometimes get one of the three, occasionally get two of the three, but you will almost never get all three in any project.)
- 10:12 AM, 15 February 2006   [link]

Liberals And Leftists, Again:  If you read the Copenhagen Post article I linked to below, you may have been confused by the name of the ruling party in Denmark.  Prime Minister Rasmussen leads the Liberal Party — which is, by American standards, conservative.

The difference between the meanings of "liberal" in Denmark and the United States came about because the the meaning here changed radically, while the Danes kept the older meaning.  Here's how William Safire explains it in his Political Dictionary.
liberal  currently, one who believes in more government action to meet individual needs; originally, one who resisted government encroachment on individual liberties.
Which very definitely included economic liberties.

The American meaning changed, Safire says, during the 1920s, but the same change did not occur in most other countries.  By American standards, the Danish party and the Australian Liberal party, and several others with that name, are conservative.  (Just to confuse matters further, the Canadian Liberal party is, by American standards, and unlike most others with that name, liberal.)

That change in meaning, and the different meaning in most other countries, is why I generally use "leftist", where most American poltical commentators would use "liberal".
- 7:11 AM, 15 February 2006   [link]

Standing Firm Against Muslim Extremists Is popular in Denmark.
The Danish People's Party is surging in the political wake of the Mohammed drawing crisis.  The party's gains come at the cost of the opposition Social Democrats, currently the second largest party in parliament.

A Jyllands-Posten/Rambøll poll taken two weeks after the crisis began to escalate found that if an election were held today, the Danish People's Party would gain eight extra seats in parliament, raising their total to 32.  The Social Democrats would loose nine, falling to 38.
. . .
The Danish People's Party, whose votes give the minority coalition government a majority on most issues, has supported the prime minister throughout the cartoon controversy.
As I predicted.

And a moderate Muslim leader in Denmark is urging Muslims there to "move on".
A senior member of Denmark's Muslim community urged followers on Monday to "move on" in the row over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad after holding crisis talks with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"The majority of Muslims may feel offended by the cartoons as they link Islam with terrorism, but let's take it easy and move on now," Naser Khader, a member of parliament and founder of a new group called Democratic Muslims, told reporters.
Prime Minister Rasmussen has encouraged this kind of response by refusing to meet with the extremists.  That's generally the correct approach when extremists use violence and threats of violence to force negotiations.
- 6:08 AM, 15 February 2006   [link]

Clear Type In Windows:  One of the problems with running a dual boot system, and doing almost all my work on the Linux side, is that I forget how to do some things on the Windows side.  And so it was with Clear Type.  After I installed Windows on my new system, I noticed that the text display looked crude.  I remembered that there was a simple way to improve it, but couldn't find it with Help and finally had to go to the net.

The solution, as I am sure at least 90 percent of you know, is to enable Clear Type.  You can do that by going from the Control Panel to Display to "Effects".  There you will find a little control labeled fonts.  Switch it to Clear Type and you will be amazed at how much more readable your text will be.

Why doesn't make Microsoft make Clear Type the default?  I haven't a clue, though it might, very slightly, slow down the display updates.

(Some will wonder how the Linux and Microsoft displays compare.  On the whole, Microsoft still has an edge, after you turn on Clear Type, but the edge is much smaller than it used to be.)
- 3:03 PM, 14 February 2006   [link]

Carolyn Curiel's Charge:  The editorial writer for the New York Times begins with a description of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a movie that I suspect I won't watch, and then swerves into something personal.
For the better part of seven decades, my family has lived without answers in our own case of an immigrant's wrongful death.

My mother's father, 49 years old and seemingly in good health, died after surgeons in Kansas botched an exploratory operation that had been prompted by a pain in his abdomen.
How does she know that the death was "wrongful", that the operation was "botched"?  She doesn't.   The only evidence she gives for that claim is that her grandmother — who spoke no English at the time — apparently believed that, and that the hospital gave her grandmother a small sum.  We don't know why the hospital gave her grandmother money; perhaps it was simply an act of charity to a widow with ten children.  And that is all the evidence that Curiel gives for this slanderous charge.

But Curiel does have another reason for believing the charge, though it is not evidence that could be introduced in a court of law.  Her grandfather was an illegal immigrant from Mexico and it is clear that she feels that fact somehow explains his death more than 65 years ago.  This bizarre bit of "reasoning" by, as I said, an editorial writer for the New York Times, helps explain why the editorials there have been so terrible in recent years.  Mere evidence can not be allowed to contradict strong feelings.

If Ms. Curiel were interested in evidence on these questions, I would suggest that she begin by learning a little about the state of American medicine when her grandfather died.  As it happens, I just picked up a used copy of Dr. Lewis Thomas's The Youngest Science, which has a number of essays describing medicine during that very time.  (Thomas entered medical school in 1933.)  And Thomas makes it clear that medicine was just becoming a science then, that doctors could often do little for their patients, whether they were Park Avenue aristocrats, or illegal Mexican immigrants.  Although he does not discuss this point, the lack of antibiotics then must have meant much greater risks for any kind of surgery especially, I would guess, abdominal surgery.  Ms. Curiel might want to spend some time learning about such matters before she repeats her charges.  If, that is, she is interested in evidence, rather than her feelings, and old family suspicions.

(Curiel has another mark against her.  She worked as a speechwriter for President Clinton.   It seems to me that such experience should disqualify a person from being on an editorial board of a newspaper that did not want to appear partisan, though the same experience would be fine for a columnist.)
- 1:37 PM, 14 February 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Malcolm Gladwell's account of Million-Dollar Murray, a homeless man who cost Reno, Nevada, more than a million dollars as he slowly killed himself with alcohol.

As Gladwell explains, Murray Barr was, in many ways, typical of the homeless who inflict most of the costs on our systems for taking care of them.
It was the last ten per cent—the group at the farthest edge of the curve—that interested [researcher Dennis] Culhane the most.  They were the chronically homeless, who lived in the shelters, sometimes for years at a time.  They were older.  Many were mentally ill or physically disabled, and when we think about homelessness as a social problem—the people sleeping on the sidewalk, aggressively panhandling, lying drunk in doorways, huddled on subway grates and under bridges—it's this group that we have in mind.  In the early nineteen-nineties, Culhane's database suggested that New York City had a quarter of a million people who were homeless at some point in the previous half decade—which was a surprisingly high number.  But only about twenty-five hundred were chronicallyhomeless.

It turns out, furthermore, that this group costs the health-care and social-services systems far more than anyone had ever anticipated.  Culhane estimates that in New York at least sixty-two million dollars was being spent annually to shelter just those twenty-five hundred hard-core homeless.
Gladwell goes on to argue that for the same money we might be able to help people like Murray Barr, though it would not be easy.

I think he is right, but I also think that it would require a fundamental change in our thinking about society, and Murray Barr gives an example of why I think that.  As Gladwell explains, Barr was not completely hopeless during these years that he was killing himself.
[Police officers] Johns and O'Bryan pleaded with Murray to quit drinking.  A few years ago, he was assigned to a treatment program in which he was under the equivalent of house arrest, and he thrived.  He got a job and worked hard.  But then the program ended.  "Once he graduated out, he had no one to report to, and he needed that," O'Bryan said.  "I don't know whether it was his military background.  I suspect that it was.  He was a good cook. One time, he accumulated savings of over six thousand dollars.  Showed up for work religiously.   Did everything he was supposed to do.  They said, 'Congratulations,' and put him back on the street.  He spent that six thousand in a week or so."
There are mentally ill people who behave in a similar way.  They can be decent, productive citizens — if, and only if, they live in a tightly controlled environment where they are forced to take their medicines.

The problem is that we have a binary way of thinking about people, and our laws reflect that.   We behave as if they are either capable of taking of themselves, or not, whether for reasons of crime or mental illness.  But there are people, such as Murray Barr, who are in between those two categories, and I think we should find some way of putting them into a more controlled mode of living than most of us require.  That may sound harsh, but the alternative is to let them be an horrible nuisance to society, at the very least, and, often, to let them slowly kill themselves.
- 10:33 AM, 14 February 2006   [link]

Dick Cheney's little accident.
Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a companion during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, spraying the fellow hunter in the face and chest with shotgun pellets.

Harry Whittington, a millionaire attorney from Austin, was "alert and doing fine" in a Corpus Christi hospital today after he was shot by Cheney on a ranch in south Texas, said Katharine Armstrong, the property's owner.
I haven't said much about it because it did not seem that important, at least not compared to, for instance, the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons.  And because my second reaction was not entirely honorable.*

But I will say these three things.  First, it is good to hear that Mr. Whittington was not seriously injured, especially since he sounds like a decent and interesting man.  Second, I hope that, before the vice president goes hunting again, he will review the basic rules of firearms safety.   Third, as one has come to expect, many journalists made absolute fools of themselves over this minor incident.  For evidence, see here, here, here, and here.  Or find the video of yesterday's press conference.

(*My second reaction was to hope that this would generate some new lawyer's jokes.  But I suspect I will be disappointed.  After all, some years ago I recall reading about a legislator (in Virginia?) introducing a bill to regulate the hunting of lawyers, with a season, bag limits, and the other things that usually go with laws on hunting.  He was joking, but the joke was good enough so that he got a fair amount of support from other legislators.)
- 9:51 AM, 14 February 2006   [link]

Happy Valentine's Day!  Unless, as I said last year, and the year before, you are a resident of Saudi Arabia, a Hindu extremist, or a radical feminist.

But Happy Valentine's Day to everyone who does want to celebrate.
- 7:14 AM, 14 February 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Dean Esmay has good news from Muslim nations.  In his longish post, he asked three questions and came up with good numbers to support his three answers.  Here's the first:
1) Is having a lot of Muslims around a threat to democratic freedoms?  It can't be much of one, given that democracy is growing in the Muslim world, and that most nations with substantial Muslim populations have been growing more free over time.
I made a somewhat similar argument, using election data, last April.
- 1:57 PM, 13 February 2006   [link]

Meet Your New Editor, says cartoonist Michael Lukovitch.   Judging by the new editor's looks, there won't be any more cartoons even the least bit disrespectful of Muslims in that publication.

(By way of Kate McMillan.)
- 10:55 AM, 13 February 2006   [link]

DSL Performance:  So far, so good.  I ran the speed test at Broadband Reports and found that I am getting 2,777 kbps down and 708 kpbs up, which is about 90 percent of what Verizon claims — and about as good as one can expect.

By the way, the site that I used to make this test is a fine place to get information on broadband connections.  They have user reports on different providers, broadband news, and tools such as the speed test.  I also used their port checker, and would advise anyone with a broadband connection to use it, or a similar tool.

One oddity:  I first tried running the speed test under Windows XP.  It requires an up-to-date version of Java, which I installed.  Even then, the Java applet would not quite work.  One would almost think that Microsoft was trying to handicap their competitors at Sun.  Have to install Firefox on Windows and see if I have the same problem.  The test worked fine under SuSE Linux 10.0, which comes with a current version of Java.
- 6:57 AM, 13 February 2006
Follow Up:  I installed Firefox 1.5 in Windows yesterday and ran the test with no problems (and similar results).
- 7:30 AM, 14 February 2006   [link]

Are Ann Coulter And Al Gore "Stuck On Stupid"?  That's what Tom Bevan of RealClear Politics thinks.  I would say "stuck on irresponsible", but I agree with Bevan that Gore has done far more damage with his statements, whether you call them stupid or irresponsible.
- 5:32 AM, 13 February 2006
More: Michelle Malkin has a few sharp words for the former vice president, and links to many others with similar thoughts.
- 11:06 AM, 13 February 2006   [link]

How To Argue On The Internet:  Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, gives seven methods for winning.  Of the seven, this is my favorite:
6. Hallucinate entirely different points.  For example, if someone says apples grow on trees, accuse him of saying snakes have arms and then point out how stupid that is.
In a milder form, I see that one all the time.  There are some lefty commentors who frequent the groups sites I contribute to who routinely change the subject — especially when the author of a post has made a telling point.  Are these commenters doing that deliberately?  In some cases, I am almost certain that they are.  However, the careful reader, on seeing this tactic, will suspect that the person changing the subject is conceding the post's argument.

(By way of Dave Oliveria, who almost always argues honestly.

For those who want to argue honestly, here's a list of logical fallacies to avoid.)
- 5:20 AM, 13 February 2006   [link]

Librarians Have Changed:  At one time we thought of them as stalwart defenders of order and peace.  Now we learn that a Newton, Massachusetts librarian did what she could to protect a possible terrorist.
One example came from Newton, Mass., on Jan. 18, after someone used a public-library computer to email a terrorist-attack threat to Brandeis University.  Many school buildings were evacuated, and FBI agents rushed to the library hoping to track down the email sender in time to prevent an attack.   Once there, however, they were held off for some nine hours by library director Kathy Glick-Weil--because they didn't have a warrant.  Newton's mayor later praised Ms. Glick-Weil for "protecting the sense of privacy of many, many innocent users of the computers."  More important, it seems, than protecting the lives of many, many innocent people who could have died if the threat had turned out to be imminent.
I have never figured out why the users of public libraries have any right to expect that their use of these public facilities will be private.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the librarians, at least the librarians who run the American Library Association, do not think that the Cuban users of independent libraries should have the same protection.

I am not surprised, though I am a little disappointed, to learn that the Seattle libraries are protecting criminals and perverts.
Seattle's new $169 million downtown library has attracted national attention for its design and beauty.

It has also attracted perverts, mental patients, and other security problems.

KIRO Team 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne has an exclusive look inside the Central Library.

Getting expelled from this library is no easy task, but hundreds of patrons have already accomplished it.  Many are kicked out for repeatedly getting drunk or sleeping here, but KIRO Team 7 Investigators also discovered some more serious matters, like threats, sexual misconduct and assaults.
What happens if you commit a crime in that library?  Not much.
There are certain incidents that go on inside that you might consider a crime, but KIRO Team 7 Investigators checked and Seattle police aren't called very often to make that official determination.  So, instead of going to jail, someone may threaten to kill a librarian or do drugs at a book table and the city will impose it's own kind of justice.  Library patrons can loose their privileges for up to a year.
Which is not what would happen to them in the courts, even here in Washington.

I'm not sure what caused this change in librarians.  But I suspect that the colleges and universities that train librarians just might have something to do with it.
- 1:22 PM, 12 February 2006   [link]

"Referred Imprecisely":  The New York Times is determined to show that the Bush administration failed in its response to Katrina, so determined that they claimed, in this article, that President Bush was vacationing in Texas at a crucial time during the hurricane.

In fact, as they admit in this correction, President Bush was in "San Diego that morning, giving a speech and meeting with soldiers".  So how do they describe their error?  They say they "referred imprecisely to President Bush's whereabouts" that morning.  Does anyone at the Times realize how silly that sounds?  If a newspaper makes a mistake, they should admit it forthrightly and correct it honestly, not with weasel phrases.

And I should add that Texas is probably the best place for President Bush to be when he is coordinating rescue efforts for a hurricane that hits Louisiana.  When he is in Crawford, he has all the communication equipment that he does in Washington, D. C., and fewer distractions.  And, he is closer to the scene.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.

(You can see from these angry letters that the article had the effect intended.)
- 5:09 AM, 12 February 2006   [link]

New System, New Connection:  Yesterday, I assembled my new computer and today I have been getting DSL working on Windows and Linux.  Both went well, with only a few hitches.  But, I just learned that the backup format I had used for my Linux files was not as accessible as I had thought.  (There almost certainly is a way to read it.  I just haven't figured it out yet.)

I mention this because it will delay me retrieving my old email for a few days.  I have a new DVD burner ordered and expect it to be delivered Monday or Tuesday.  Rather than move my Plextor back to the old system and make a new backup, I decided to wait for the new drive.  So I won't be able to get to older email until Tuesday at the earliest.  If you need a reply sooner, just resend your email.
- 5:18 PM, 11 February 2006   [link]

Anatole Kaletsky Is Puzzled by this apparent paradox.
For the past five years, America has been led by a president who is clearly not up to the job — a man who is not just inarticulate, but lacking in judgment, intelligence, integrity, charisma or staying power.  Yet America as a nation seems to be stronger, more prosperous and self-confident than ever.
. . .
But now comes the paradox.  While America has been run by one of the most doltishly ineffectual governments in history, it has forged ever further ahead of Europe in terms of wealth, science, technology, artistic creativity and cultural dominance.
Kaletsky goes on to argue that Americans expect less from government and so do more themselves.  And that many our institutions are more competent than their European equivalents.  I wouldn't quarrel with either point, although I don't know enough about many European institutions to be certain that he is right on that comparison.

But it is his opening premise that interests me, because it is so common, and because it is so easily checked.

Let me review some basic facts about Bush's accomplishments.  By the time Bush was forty years old, he had earned a bachelor's degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard.  He had become a fighter pilot.  And he had founded two independent oil companies.  Neither was especially successful, but then independent oil companies usually aren't.  (And his companies were hurt by the success of the Reagan administration in driving down oil prices, which they did to damage the Soviet Union.)

Bush considers this part of his life to be something of a failure, though most of us would disagree.  In fact, I would say, if this brief biography is correct, that Bush did more during that period of his life than Kaletsky did in the same period of his life.  And it is simply a fact that Bush's academic achievements are more impressive than those of either Al Gore or John Kerry.

Almost no one denies that Bush had real accomplishments after he turned forty.  He was an outstanding success as the managing partner of the Texas Rangers, a job that requires both political and business skills.  He unseated a popular governor of Texas and then got most of his program enacted, even though the Texas governor has few powers.  In particular, he did much to improve the Texas schools.

Since Kaletsky is trained as an economist, I will add just one more accomplishment that he should be able to appreciate.  During the 2000 campaign, the Bush team was skeptical about the strength of the economy.  If I recall correctly, most economists did not agree with them that we were in danger of a recession.  We now know that Bush and his team were correct and that the American economy was sliding into a recession and that Bush's plan for a stimulus was the correct general policy.  (Though one can argue, of course, about the specifics.)

I don't see how a man can earn a Harvard MBA, become a fighter pilot, make millions running a baseball team, have a successful political career, and still be a dolt.  But some want more direct evidence and that is available, too.  Bush's SAT scores were leaked and his military test scores were released.   One can construct a decent estimate of Bush's IQ from either.  if you do, you will find that Bush is a bright fellow, though not a genius, and, if anything, smarter than his 2004 opponent, John Kerry.

Politicians who have met Bush personally have generally come to the same conclusions that I have; Bush is a smart man and an effective politician.  Kaletsky may be interested in this conclusion from a British politician, Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell:
Mr Campbell, stressing that the President was "totally at odds" with his media image, went on: "I was not persuaded by what he said, but I was most certainly surprised at the extent to which the caricature of him was inaccurate."
Perhaps if Kaletsky were to meet President Bush, or even to take a fresh look at the evidence, he would change his mind, just as Campbell did.

(I suspect that Kaletsky gets Bush wrong because he is thinking too much like a journalist, and not enough like an economist.  Journalists tend to give far too much credit to verbal facility and to ignore accomplishments.  Former senator John Edwards provides a powerful example.   He had literally zero accomplishments during his six years as a senator, but he speaks well.  Most journalists seem to think that the second outweighs the first.)
- 7:14 AM, 10 February 2006   [link]

Is Ann Althouse's experience typical?
I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm a political moderate.  More than any ideology, I care about rational discourse.  In the year that I've been blogging I've taken a lot of different positions, some left and some right.  What I've noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the right link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the left link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you're evil/stupid/crazy, and don't even seem to notice all the times you've written posts that take their side.  Why is this happening?  I find it terribly, terribly sad.
I don't know whether her experience is typical, but it is similar to my own experience.

For instance, there are two group academic sites that I read regularly, the Volokh Conspiracy, and Crooked Timber.  The first is written by libertarians and conservatives, the second by leftists.  The quality of the posts and the comments is much higher at the first site than at the second.

There are, of course, exceptions on both sides.  On the whole, I think that Chris Bertram, who writes for Crooked Timber, is as devoted to rational discourse as most of the contributors to the Volokh Conspiracy.  Kevin Drum and I have had some civil exchanges.  And I can think of conservative and libertarian bloggers who are just as abusive as the worst offenders on the left.

Despite those exceptions, my own experience is, as I said, similar to Althouse's.  So I am inclined to think that what we both have seen is typical.  And I will have more to say about why the difference exists, in the next week or so.
- 4:35 AM, 10 February 2006   [link]

Barbaric:  There is no other word for the Iranian regime.
Tehran, Iran, Jan. 07 - An Iranian court has sentenced a teenage rape victim to death by hanging after she weepingly confessed that she had unintentionally killed a man who had tried to rape both her and her niece.

The state-run daily Etemaad reported on Saturday that 18-year-old Nazanin confessed to stabbing one of three men who had attacked the pair along with their boyfriends while they were spending some time in a park west of the Iranian capital in March 2005.
Can't say much for the boyfriends, either, since they ran away when the attack began.
- 2:23 PM, 9 February 2006   [link]

Something Rotten In Denmark:  This 2002 post from Daniel Pipes explains why radical Muslim clerics in Denmark decided to create the controversy over the cartoons.   First, the Muslims in Denmark became a serious problem for the rest of the nation.  Pipes gives a whole list of reasons; his first two are given below.
  • Living on the dole: Third-world immigrants - most of them Muslims from countries such as Turkey, Somalia, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iraq - constitute 5 percent of the population but consume upwards of 40 percent of the welfare spending.
  • Engaging in crime: Muslims are only 4 percent of Denmark's 5.4 million people but make up a majority of the country's convicted rapists, an especially combustible issue given that practically all the female victims are non-Muslim.  Similar, if lesser, disproportions are found in other crimes.
In November 2001, the Danish population, appalled by this behavior, replaced the socialists who had ruled Denmark for decades with a center-right coalition that has followed modestly different policies toward Muslim immigrants.  (One could say modestly "tougher", but only if you understand that the policies are by no means tough.)  The furor over the cartoons was intended to cause trouble for the new government.  As it has.  But I suspect that it also has increased support for the government in the Danish population.

(Americans will wonder whether the Danish lessons apply to us.  Jay Manifold, noting that there are many American Muslims (though his estimate is probably twice as high as it should be), argues that Muslims here are different.  I would agree — to some extent.  American Muslims are much more likely to be professionals who have come here in search of economic opportunity, rather than uneducated refugees who live on welfare and cause the host country no end of problems.

But not all American Muslims are middle class professionals.  For instance, we have a number of Somali refugees.  I am sorry to say this, but I expect Somalis to contribute disproportionately to our crime problem for decades.  And our Muslim converts often join the religion in prison, which does not suggest that they will be model citizens.

And we also should remember (this includes you, Senator Murray) that our professional Muslims, when they do become radicalized, can cause far more problems for us than the illiterate refugees do.

The lessons that I draw from the different experiences here and in Europe is that we should limit welfare, even to illiterate and unskilled refugees.  And that we should be much slower to admit Muslims than most others.)
- 9:47 AM, 9 February 2006   [link]

Those Danish Cartoons were published in an Egyptian newspaper last October — and nothing happened.  No deaths, no riots, no boycotts, no demonstrations, nothing.  That's more evidence that most Muslims are more sensible about such things than many think, and that the whole controversy was created by cynical clerics and governments, for their own purposes.
- 8:08 AM, 9 February 2006   [link]