February 2006, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
The Vatican Is Calling for reciprocity.
After backing calls by Muslims for respect for their religion in the Mohammad cartoons row, the Vatican is now urging Islamic countries to reciprocate by showing more tolerance toward their Christian minorities.Or, to put it more concretely, the Vatican criticized the Danish cartoons, now Muslim countries should stop murdering and oppressing Christians. Sounds more than fair to me, but it strikes, as I am sure this Pope knows, at the heart of Islamic beliefs.
(The AP article says neutrally that:
At least 146 Christians and Muslims have died in five days of religious riots in Nigeria.In fact almost all of 146 dead were Christians who were murdered by Muslim mobs. But the AP doesn't think you should know that.)
- 9:03 AM, 24 February 2006 [link]
The Resignation Of Harvard President Larry Summers was predicted by Adam Smith more than two centuries ago. In Wealth of Nations, Smith said:
The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters.Larry Summers, who offended many of Harvard's "masters", and who tried to improve the education of its students, could testify to the truth of Smith's conclusion — as could anyone who is even moderately familiar with American colleges and universities. He disturbed the "ease" of the "masters", and they forced him out. (To be fair, I should add that, by many accounts, Summers could have used some help from Miss Manners. But that is not an unusual fault in academia.)
Some might argue that, though Summers' resignation is unfortunate, it is not a matter that elected officials should be concerned with, since Harvard is, after all, a private university. But that would be a mistake since Harvard, like almost all private colleges and universities, receives enormous sums from the taxpayers, directly and indirectly. And the failure of Summers' efforts at reform show — again — that much of that public money is wasted, or worse.
Some legislator, somewhere in the United States, is going to do all of us a great favor — some time. That legislator is going to hold hearings on the governance of our colleges and universities. The legislator will ask the heads of those institutions difficult questions such as: What do students learn at your institution in four (or more) years? The brutal fact is that almost no head of an American college or university could answer that question. (Some departments, especially in engineering, could give rough answers.) Our colleges and universities demand billions from the taxpayer in order to educate students, but they have no idea what, if anything, those students learn. But they could tell you, in detail, what they have done to improve the "ease of the masters".
(More: You can find similar reactions from Gerard Baker, Thomas Sowell, Emmett Tyrrell, and Ruth Wisse. The last, from a member of the Harvard faculty who supported Summers, is my favorite.
Here's the New York Times article on his resignation. And here's that Adam Smith quote with some context.)
- 7:43 AM, 24 February 2006 [link]
Worth Reading: William Bennett and Alan Dershowitz take our "mainstream" news organizations to the woodshed. Here are the first and last sentences of their op-ed:
There was a time when the press was the strongest guardian of free expression in this democracy.And here is their explanation for this surrender, cowardice:
What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. ` They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists -- their threats more than their sensibilities.The arguments won't be new to those who read this site regularly, but they are so important that they should be repeated from time to time.
- 4:42 PM, 23 February 2006 [link]
What Is The Value Of Algebra, asks Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen?
I am haunted by Gabriela Ocampo.What good is algebra? It is essential for every kind of engineering, and nearly every field of science. It is essential in many manufacturing jobs and in almost every kind of construction. It is essential in computer programming. And in cooking, where elementary algebra is needed to convert recipes to different serving sizes.
Algebra has been a requirement for most military careers for many, many years. In his fascinating book on the origins of World War I, Dreadnought, Robert Massie gives this description of the requirements for a British midshipman in the middle of the 19th century:
A prospective cadet had to be nominated by the First Lord before his thirteenth birthday. This achieved, he traveled to Portsmouth for a written and physical examination. Neither exam was onerous, particularly if the boy had some education. A little English, some French or Latin, a "satisfactory knowledge of the leading facts of Holy Scripture and English history, a certain amount of geography, and an elementary knowledge of arithematic, algebra, and geometry" were what was required.So prospective British midshipmen were required to know some algebra, for reasons that I hope are obvious, before they turned thirteen, that is, before they were even old enough to enter an American high school. As Massie says, this was not an onerous requirement.
And to add a point that Cohen appears to be unaware of, algebra is essential for a rational understanding of most public policy questions. A political journalist can do portraits of individual politicians, can sneer at those he does not like, can be be amusing about trifles, but can not write knowledgeably about most public policy questions without some knowledge of statistics — which requires algebra.
How hard is algebra to learn? In my experience, any student with normal intelligence can learn algebra and geometry, though for some it will be a struggle. In fact, I will go farther and say that any student with normal intelligence can go on to learn calculus and statistics, though, again, for some it will be difficult. That Ocampo and Cohen did not learn algebra reflects badly on them, on their parents, and on the schools they attended. Learning mathematics does require a different approach than learning, for instance, literature. But that approach can and should be taught. Just as students in, say, an English class should be taught to look up words they do not know (or words they just think they know), so students in a math class should be taught that they may not understand the material unless they work the problems as they go.
According to the column, this is the second time Cohen has attacked algebra — and he admits that he learned nothing from the first time. That does not surprise me; like many journalists, Cohen has trouble absorbing information that contradicts his prejudices.
Here's my completely unsolicited advice for Gabriel Ocampo and Richard Cohen: They should go back to school — or perhaps hire a private tutor — and learn algebra. I will warn Mr. Cohen about one possible side effect. As New York Times columnist David Brooks noted during the 2004 campaign, President Bush drew much stronger support from those who work with numbers. Being able to think numerically, and, I would say, logically and analytically, is associated with being a Republican. (Of course, Mr. Cohen will just have to take our word for that, since he admits to not being able to look at such evidence.)
(More: You can find similar reactions to the column from other bloggers here, here, and here.)
- 1:48 PM, 23 February 2006
Still More: Among the comments to Joanne Jacobs's post I found a one from Linda F., who pointed to her own post on the column, which had much information on just how hard Gabriela Ocampo was working, including this:
But Gabriela didn't give [her teacher George] Seidel much of a chance; she skipped 62 of 93 days that semester.What's interesting is not that Gabriela failed algebra, but that she was able to pass most of her other courses, with that kind of effort.
- 8:25 AM, 24 February 2006 [link]
Where Is Dubai? It is one of the United Arab Emirates, which you can see in the Google Earth picture below. Dubai itself is a city state about half way up the coast.
That's Saudi Arabia to the west, and Kuwait and Iraq at the head of the Gulf. And that nation on the north side of the Gulf? That's Iran, which is, though our news organizations have not shown much interest in this minor story, developing nuclear weapons. Dubai and the rest of the emirates are in, as even the most amateur strategist will notice, a strategic position. It is disgraceful that politicians of both major parties are working so hard to damage our relationship with the UAE.
- 10:27 AM, 23 February 2006 [link]
Anything Goes? What kind of criticism goes beyond the bounds of fairness? During the 2004 campaign, the Bush administration was, frequently, accused of calling its opponents unpatriotic. (Unfairly accused, as far as I can tell, since searches failed to show that Bush, or anyone in his team, had made such charges, though some Democrats had charged that Bush and other conservatives were un-American.) Those who made these accusations did so, I assume, because they thought such charges were unfair, that it would be wrong for Bush, or anyone in his campaign, to call Democratic leaders unpatriotic.
In general, I would agree, though there are some minor Democratic leaders that I think can fairly be called unpatriotic.
But adhering to a standard that requires that Bush and his team treat, for instance, John Kerry, fairly also requires us, if we are to be consistent, to require that Bush's opponents treat him fairly. More and more, few of Bush's opponents agree with that position. Consider, for example, what Jay Ambrose found in a Froma Harrop column.
Thus it was that Froma Harrop, a gracious person and a mostly reasonable opinion writer out of Providence, R.I., could not resist a wildly excessive judgment concerning a story about James Hansen of NASA. A scientist who has been in the thick of debate about global warming, he had complained to The New York Times that the agency's public-relations department was saying it wanted to take a look at his scientific papers, speeches and even his interview plans before he conveyed his opinions to others.Now I suppose that Harrop, if pressed, might admit that the routine requirement that a bureaucrat, even a scientific bureaucrat, tell his superiors what he is doing is not quite the same as what Stalin would have done to those who annoyed him. At least I hope so.
Or consider this attack on the Economist and President Bush from Brad DeLong, who now has a faculty position at a once respectable university, and held a minor position in the Clinton administration.
For a surprisingly large part of the time over the past six years, the Economist has been like Austin Powers without his mojo--has spent far too much time on its belly making craven and pathetic excuses for the incompetent, inept, mendacious, and malevolent George W. Bush administration.Now I suppose that DeLong, if pressed, might admit that the magazine had not really spent time on its belly and that, for instance, "craven and pathetic" might go just a little too far. But I fear that, even if pressed, he would not take back a single word of that description of the Bush administration. In fact, I can not think of a criticism of the Bush administration that DeLong would consider unfair. Though I am certain he can think of half a dozen criticisms of the Clinton administration that he would call unfair.
If Harrop, DeLong, and the many others like them continue this abandonment of traditional standards of fairness, Bush supporters will, more and more, be tempted to reply in kind. Harrop's bizarre comparison, or DeLong's abuse, will be answered by similar attacks on them. That may not bother them, though it does me, but there is another effect that they should consider. More and more, Bush suporters, and open minded persons generally, will be tempted ignore any point that they might have. That would be unfortunate, especially if either Harrop or DeLong ever makes a valid criticism of the Bush administration. And they might, despite the evidence from Harrop's column and DeLong's post.
- 4:48 PM, 22 February 2006 [link]
Ethnic Profiling Is Wrong: Unless it it being done by Democrats.
For the past several years, I've been condemned as an "extremist" for advocating nationality profiling — unapologetically applying stricter scrutiny to terror-sponsoring and terror-sympathizing countries in our entrance, immigration, and security policies.But now, as she goes on to say, Michelle Malkin has been joined by Democrats Evan Bayh, Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, and Chuck Schumer in opposing the port deal. And their arguments sound an awfully lot like those that Malkin has been making.
Which should make any sensible person take another look at those arguments. As for myself, I have long thought that profiling — within sharp limits — has a place in the war on terror, and that we should treat nationals from nations that sponsor terror, Iran, for example, very differently than we treat other nationals.
But we should also remember that knowing a person's religion is only one clue in determining whether that person is terrorist, and not a very good clue. And we should remember that we have received considerable help from some Arab and Muslim countries in the war on terror. None have been perfect, which will not surprise those who have noticed that we live in an imperfect world. We need to encourage and — sometimes — reward those countries that are, on the whole, helping us.
That isn't a very complicated argument even if it is, for the moment, beyond senators Bayh, Boxer, Clinton, and Schumer. And one hopes that Malkin, who is more certain about almost everything than I am about anything, will have second thoughts after she thinks about the company she is keeping.
- 10:18 AM, 22 February 2006 [link]
For The Non-Hysterical, here's a defense of the port deal.
The UAE is a strategic US ally in the Middle East. The Bush administration is right to defend the deal and the alliance.We need the support of moderate Arabs in the war on terror. The controversy over this deal must be delighting Osama bin Laden and his allies, since it will tend to drive the moderates away from us. We are not fighting World War II, in which it was reasonable to assume that most German and Japanese citizens were our enemies, and we would do well not to forget that.
(I would feel differently about the deal if a foreign company, any foreign company, were managing port security, but they aren't and won't be. That is still done, as it should be, by the US Coast Guard and other branches of our government, or by firms working directly for them.)
- 4:48 AM, 22 February 2006 [link]
Congreswoman Gets Valentine's Day Proposal: A Republican Congreswoman, naturally.
An elected official never knows whom she might meet at a political event. A constituent? A supporter? A future fiancé?I think she looks awfully sweet in that picture — but then I have always had a weakness for farmer's daughters.
(Wonder if the Democrats will ever catch on to this scheme for increasing the number of Republicans?)
- 6:46 AM, 21 February 2006 [link]
Don't Punish Palestinians For Electing Hamas urges Jimmy Carter.
This common commitment to eviscerate the government of elected Hamas officials by punishing private citizens may accomplish this narrow purpose, but the likely results will be to alienate the already oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite violence, and to increase the domestic influence and international esteem of Hamas. It will certainly not be an inducement to Hamas or other militants to moderate their policies.Why not? One of the basic principles of a democratic society is that voters are responsible for their choices. When the United States elected Jimmy Carter, we were punished for that mistake and replaced him as soon as we could. Or, to use a closer analogy, the German people (sort of) elected the Nazi party and deserved punishment for that error. The Palestinians, having erred by voting for Hamas, which has a more extreme platform than the Nazis did, also deserve to be punished for their error.
How extreme is Hamas? Michael Oren explains in this odd* dual interview conducted by Gwen Ifill on last night's PBS NewsHour.
MICHAEL OREN: I think I'm going to have to disagree with that. Khaled Meshaal may be making moderate statements to the BBC, but what he's telling his own people in Arabic is very, very different.People who vote for a party with a genocidal platform deserve punishment. And I would deny humanitarian aid to the Palestinians unless they formally surrender, just as we denied food to the Germans and Japanese during World War II until they formally surrendered.
(*What I found strangest about the interview is that the spokesman for the Palestinians, Ali Abunimah. never denied that Hamas has a genocidal platform — and that Gwen Ifill never pressed him on that point.
Carter, as you will see if you read the whole column (or this transcript of his Wolf Blitzer interview on CNN), does not want the aid to go directly to Hamas, but through the UN. If anything, that would be slightly worse than direct aid, because it would allow Hamas to avoid responsibility for the administration of the money, which will, almost certainly, be corrupt.)
- 4:42 AM, 21 February 2006 [link]
Worth Reading: Thomas Smith's interview with Iraqi legislator Tanya Gilly-Khailany. She fled Iraq with her family at the age of eight to the United States, and now has returned to help her native country. These excerpts should be enough to make you want to read the entire interview.
Iraqi National Assemblywoman Tanya Gilly-Khailany is witnessing a transformation of her country she has dreamt of all her life: Men and women are working. Boys and girls are going to school. Millions have been immunized against polio and other life-threatening diseases. Construction is on the rise, as are new business startups. And the Iraqi gross domestic product has grown from $18.9 billion in 2002 to $33.1 billion in 2005. More importantly, fear throughout the country is dissipating.Doesn't sound much like the Iraq shown to us by ABC, CBS, and NBC, does it?
- 3:28 PM, 20 February 2006 [link]
What Gun Safety Rules Did Dick Cheney Break? Charles Fergus has the answers. After explaining them, he finishes with this confession.
I have an idea of what Cheney may be feeling, because I nearly made a similar mistake once. I was in my 20's, out trying to find a grouse, when I came upon a patch of snowy ground marked with wild turkey tracks. I heard a turkey calling from behind some brush. Turkeys were in season, and I had visions of securing Thanksgiving dinner. Sneaking toward the brush, I saw a turkey flying upward. But as I raised my gun, I realized there was something strange about it: it didn't make any sound.The "turkey" was a hunter wearing camouflage.
In reading about Cheney's accident, I got the impression that bird hunters may be more casual about these safety rules because they use shotguns loaded with birdshot, which are much less dangerous to another person than deer rifles loaded with bullets.
- 3:00 PM, 20 February 2006 [link]
Another Suspicious Fire in Alabama.
A fire destroyed a warehouse where Christian-themed clothing was manufactured and religious phone-banking was conducted, authorities said.Premature, but not implausible. It would be interesting to know whether this firm specialized in items for Baptist churches, since all ten of the churches are Baptist
- 1:35 PM, 20 February 2006 [link]
Patty Murray And Pork: The senior senator from Washington state has a position on pork; she's in favor of it. For those who have doubts about that, read this interchange in a George Will column:
Note that Murray does not even claim that these projects meet cost/benefit tests, which is, as I said in this post, how you can tell whether a project is pork. If the costs of a project are greater than the benefits, then the project is pork.
Or take a look at her ratings from the National Taxpayer's Union. Those ratings are not a perfect measure of how much a representative wastes our money but they do give you a rough idea. In 2003, the NTU gave Murray a 16 and in 2004, a 13.
What's the worst pork project Murray has supported? My guess would be Sound Transit's light rail program, which she has been pushing hard. The spending there is already greater than the proposed spending on Alaska's famous "bridge to nowhere". The waste in this light rail program will be at least one order of magnitude greater than the waste would have been for that bridge, and if there are cost overruns, may be two orders of magnitude greater.
Sadly, I must admit that Murray's wasteful ways may well have helped her with the voters. Even the light rail project may work to her advantage, although I think that a majority of the state's voters would now oppose it. The minority that favors building the light rail system (instead of my more practical alternative, toy trains for the politicians who have been backing it) are probably more intense, more likely to vote on that issue.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.
(To help kill the wasteful light rail program, we need good nickname for it. That Alaskan bridge might still be in the budget if it were not for the "bridge to nowhere" nickname. If you have any suggestions, pass them on. We want something both funny and tasteful.Thanks to a reader for telling me about that George Will column.)
- 10:43 AM, 20 February 2006 [link]
Did Bill Clinton Say That Publishers Of The Danish Cartoons Should Be Convicted? That's what a prominent Pakistani newspaper said.
Former US president Bill Clinton on Friday condemned the publication of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) caricatures by European newspapers and urged countries concerned to convict the publishers.And that report got picked up in this country by WorldNetDaily. (Although careful readers will note that WorldNetDaily is not saying that Clinton said that the publishers should be convicted, but that newspapers are saying that he said it — which is true, but may be misleading.)
I was skeptical about the story, partly because foreign newspapers are generally even worse about getting the facts right than American newspapers. And newspapers in Muslim countries tend to be especially, shall we say, imaginative. And partly because, though I don't care for Clinton, I would not expect him to go this far in pandering to his audience. (Though Jimmy Carter or Al Gore might.)
Mark in Mexico was also skeptical, and more energetic than I was. He investigated and came to this conclusion: "This story looks like it's not true." McQ comes to the same conclusion.
Bottom line: Clinton was pandering, but almost certainly did not say that the publishers of the cartoons should be convicted. Possibly the Pakistani newspaper needs a reporter with a better command of the English language.
- 7:45 AM, 20 February 2006 [link]
Is Shani Davis One Of The World's Greatest Athletes? Most people would come to that conclusion.
As Shani Davis took a final lap around the speedskating oval Saturday to celebrate his victory in the 1,000 meters, the first individual Olympic gold medal won by a black athlete in a Winter Games, an overwhelmingly Dutch crowd set aside color and nationalism to celebrate a spectacular performance.Though Bryant Gumbel might disagree.
- 7:03 AM, 20 February 2006 [link]
Book Worth Reading: During this last year, the book that I have spent the most time with is an oldie, Garrett Mattingly's Armada.
There are more recent, and perhaps better, accounts of the battles between the English and Spanish fleets in 1588, but Mattingly's account of the diplomatic background is as vivid, and as fair-minded, as when the book was first published. He tells you, among other things, how the execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, helped trigger the launching of the Armada, how the Spanish launched a civil war in France to protect their rear in Flanders, and how the Pope learned about the doubts of the most experienced Spanish commanders.
This is not to say that Mattingly's account of the battles during the campaign is bad. In fact, anyone who is new to the subject can learn much from his account. He tells you about, among other things, the crucial barrel staves that Drake destroyed with his preemptive raid, the bravery and discipline of the Spanish forces, the fatal flaw in the Spanish plan, and much more. Along the way, he debunks many of the myths that have grown up around the Armada, especially the central one, that the English were underdogs.
The book is an admirable work of history, but what drew my attention to it this last year is that it is an account of a religious war — though later historians often described it as more national than religious. But Englishmen fought on the side of Spain in this conflict, and Spaniards fought on the side of England. For both sides, a critical element in their calculations was the Catholic minority in England. The Spanish expected them, not without reason, to join their cause. And the English increased their repression of Catholics as the Spanish fleet neared.
As a religious war, this conflict, of which the defeat of the Armada is the most dramatic part, still has much to teach us. The defeat of the Armada was less the end of the war than the beginning. It continued another fourteen years, all the rest of Queen Elizabeth's life. And the war was, as Mattingly reminds us, no more than a draw, despite the English victory over the Armada.
This kind of indecisive and decades-long struggle is common in religious wars. Think, for example, of the Thirty Years War, which devastated Germany from 1616 to 1648. There were dramatic victories for both sides, or perhaps I should say, almost all the participants, but at the end the Protestant and Catholic areas of Germany were about the same as they had been at the beginning of the conflict. And it is that characteristic of religious wars that keeps bringing me back to Mattingly's Armada. As I have said more than once, I believe we face a long struggle against Islamic extremists, one that may well make the Thirty Years War look brief.
That's not an agreeable conclusion, but I think it best to face that horrible likelihood directly. My best guess, though only a guess, is that this conflict will last another century. And I don't see any way to greatly shorten that time, even with a mobilization like that of World War II. (Which I think would be the wrong strategy.)
- 2:37 PM, 19 February 2006 [link]
Rick Moran misses Hubert Humphrey.
Humphrey was a gentleman, a patriot, a dedicated public servant, and great legislator. We may look upon many of his ideas today as wrong headed. But his advocacy for those less fortunate among us was heartfelt and genuine. If he failed to see the consequences of creating a welfare state, a culture of dependency, and other nightmares that have come about as a result of a government grown too large, it was not out of a desire for personal power. He was a humble man who was motivated to do good.So do I. And in that next to the last sentence I see the reason that the Democratic party is no longer producing Hubert Humphreys. Many Democrats are now motivated more by the desire for power than the desire to do good. And to gain power, they have become less and less scrupulous about what they do and say. Some are openly tolerant of vote fraud. Others make nasty charges they must know are false, as when Howard Dean questioned the patriotism of a whole set of Americana conservatives. And Dean wasn't the only Democratic leader to do that.
What is ironic about this shift is that it has helped drive voters away from the Democratic party. Honest Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans will find it hard to vote for candidates who put the pursuit of power ahead of any ideals they might still have.
(I discussed the Democratic desire for power here, here, here, and, at greatest length, here,)
- 11:05 AM, 19 February 2006 [link]
Return Of The Disaster Area Tour: In my next to the last disaster area post, I regretted that I could not find a picture that showed you all of the enormous Newberry Caldera. Now, thanks to Google Earth, I have one:
The two "eyes" in that "skull" are the two lakes in the caldera, Paulina Lake on the left and East Lake on the right. The "nose" is the Great Obsidian Flow, which I showed in several pictures in last November's post. The flow covers about one square mile, which should give you some sense of size of the caldera.
Considering the destruction that this volcano has caused, it seems appropriate that, at least in this picture, it looks like a skull.
(You can find my previous disaster area tour posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
- 1:32 PM, 17 February 2006 [link]
Hate Crimes? Jeff Jacoby asks a good question.
In the past two weeks, 10 Baptist churches have been burned in rural Alabama. Five churches in Bibb County -- Ashby Baptist, Rehobeth Baptist, Antioch Baptist, Old Union Baptist, and Pleasant Sabine -- were torched between midnight and 3 a.m. on Feb. 3. Four days later, arsonists destroyed or badly damaged Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Greene County, Dancy First Baptist Church in Pickens County, and two churches in Sumter County, Galilee Baptist and Spring Valley Baptist. On Saturday, Beaverton Freewill Baptist Church in northwest Alabama became the 10th house of worship to go up in flames.Not to the "mainstream" media or to those investigating these crimes.
- 8:46 AM, 17 February 2006 [link]
Sensitive: Belgium cartoonist Joep Bertrams illustrates what does not bother Muslim extremists, and what does bother them.
(By way of Michelle Malkin, who got it from the Brussels Journal. "Gevoelig", they say, means "sensitive".)
- 8:20 AM, 17 February 2006 [link]