February 2006, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Basic Data On American Fertility:  At the Chicago Boyz site, there are two interesting posts on what causes the changes in fertility, the first by Lexington Green, and the second by "Ginny".  They are discussing the claim, made by "Spengler", that religious beliefs are the principal explanation for the changes.

The subject has interested me for years, but it is not one on which I have reached many firm conclusions.  To begin with, there is the fact that women who have the most resources available for their children often have the fewest children — if you make comparisons between nations.   But you generally find the reverse relationship within nations.

But I do have some data from a useful little book, Caplow, Hicks and Wattenberg's The First Measured Century, which has a whole set of graphs for the United States during the 20th century, including this one:

Each simple graph in the book, like the one above, is accompanied by a page of text explaining it.  The page accompanying the fertility rate begins and ends as follows:
Early in the century, the total fertility rate stood at 3.8 children per woman, down from about 8 children per woman in 1790.  The total fertility rate is an artificial measure of the average number of children that women have during their lifetimes.  Specifically, it is the average number of children that a woman would have if, thoughout her childbearing years, she experienced the prevailing fertility rate for each age group.
. . .
Reliable statistics about abortion in the early part of the century are impossible to obtain.  The gradual state-by-state legalization of abortion accelerated suddenly in 1973, when the Supreme Court struck down most restrictions in its Roe v. Wade decision.  The number of legal abortions began a steep climb, reaching about 1.5 million in 1980, then declining somewhat to 1.4 million in 1996.  The principal effect of abortion was to reduce the number of nonmarital births; more than 80 percent of abortion patients were unmarried.
(That's a typical combination for the book, a little, not too technical, explanation of the statistics, along with a discussion of causes for the changes.)

If Spengler's religious explanation for fertility rate changes were the only explanation, then we would have to conclude that religious beliefs declined in the United States from 1790 until late in the 1930s, grew rapidly from then until the late 1950s, declined again from then until the 1970s, and grew slightly since then.  That seems implausible to me.

The decline in fertility rates until the 1930s does have a generally accepted explanation, urbanization.  As people moved off farms, they had fewer and fewer children.  Neither the baby boom, nor the bust that followed it do, though the legalization of abortion certainly played an important part in the decline.  I think it may be significant that the American baby boom was greater than that in Europe during the same period, and that it coincided with the exodus of millions of Americans to the suburbs.

And there is another possible explanation for the decline in European fertility rates that I discussed last March.  Some researchers believe that the increase in pension benefits caused the baby bust in both the United States and Europe.  And it is at least an interesting coincidence that both private and public pension benefits grew sharply in the United States during the 1970s.  (I haven't looked at the original research, but I suppose that I should.)
- 11:09 AM, 28 February 2006   [link]

What Happened When The Western Standard Published The Danish Cartoons?   Mostly, says the publisher of the Canadian magazine, good things.
The response from our readership and the general public could not be called a frenzy -- but it was large.  Our magazine had four people answering our phones non-stop for a week.  To our delight, the calls were more than 10 to one in our favour.  We sold several hundred new subscriptions, which more than made up for the handful of newsstands that refused to carry that issue.  I must have been copied on at least a 100 angry e-mails to Chapters/Indigo, criticizing them for censoring our magazine.  Just as we have freedom of the press, Chapters has freedom of association and freedom of contract -- they have no obligation to carry our magazine.  But they certainly paid a price for their decision amongst their customers, who saw the ban as a slap in the face to their freedom to read.
And there was one important, mostly anonymous, reaction.
Perhaps the most interesting development over the course of the week was the number of "off the record" phone calls and e-mails I received from other columnists, reporters and even editors and producers who supported our decision to publish, even though their own media companies didn't.

It was bracing and particularly heartening so many left-wing journalists took time to send their support.  That was particularly gratifying, since freedom of speech and a secular media free from religious law have historically been issues for the left.
And a small poll of Canadian journalists, he goes on to say, showed that a large majority supported the Western Standard's decision to publish the cartoons.  It is good to hear that many left-wing journalists still support freedom of speech — even though they may prefer not to say so openly.
- 7:55 AM, 28 February 2006   [link]

Hugs Are OK With Bin Laden:  Kisses aren't.  That's what the BBC emphasizes in their story on an Australian who converted to Islam, and was just convicted of helping al Qaeda.
Australia's "Jihad Jack", convicted of receiving funds from al-Qaeda, says Osama Bin Laden does not like being kissed but is happy to be hugged.
I'll admit that I found that (and the conflict between Jack's taste for beer and Islam) amusing, but I have to wonder why the BBC chose to make that the center of their story.

My guess is that the BBC made this a frivolous story so as to reduce the importance of the threat that the trial revealed, the threat of Western converts, even if they are as unimpressive individuals as "Jihad Jack".
- 6:32 AM, 28 February 2006   [link]

Richard Cohen Says Attention Must Be Paid:  To George Bush, whom, I think it fair to say, the Washington Post columnist did not vote for in 2004.
There are times when George Bush sorely disappoints. Just when you might expect him to issue a malapropian explanation, pander to his base or simply not have a clue about what he is talking about, he does something so right, so honest and, yes, so commendable, that -- as Arthur Miller put it in "Death of a Salesman" -- "attention must be paid."  Pay attention to how he has refused to indulge anti-Arab sentiment over the Dubai ports deal.
. . .
Maybe because Bush is a Bush -- son of a president who got to know many Arabs -- or maybe because he just naturally recoils from prejudice, his initial stance on this controversy has been refreshingly admirable.  Whatever the case, the president has done the right thing.  Attention must be paid.
But won't be.  For instance, here's the casual dismissal of Cohen's column by Kevin Drum, one of the more rational leftist bloggers.

And I will say in turn that although Richard Cohen is, by his own admission, innumerate, and sometimes bigoted, as when he called this same President Bush an "American Ayatollah", he is right from time to time, and he certainly is right in this column.

And I will give Cohen one small suggestion, just to boggle his mind.  Perhaps Bush's Christian faith is one of the reasons that Bush "recoils from prejudice".  Just a thought, Mr. Cohen.

(Is the "Death of a Salesman" reference silly?  I suppose so, but when a frequent sinner says something right, it seems petty to make too much of his clumsy wording.)
- 5:57 AM, 28 February 2006   [link]

Partly Right:  New York Times reporter Kathleen Seelye summarizes the reactions to the daily White House briefings as follows:
Two caricatures of the White House press corps have emerged as the nation has watched the sausage-making in the briefing room and then seen it analyzed in the blogosphere.  Commentators on the left say that the press is manipulated, and that it failed to challenge the administration enough after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the ramp-up to the Iraq war in March 2003.  The right says the press is petty, irrelevant and politically biased against President Bush.
I won't speak for commentators on the left, but she has part of the conservative indictment.  Many of us also believe that the press is intellectually lazy, often innumerate, sometimes slanderous in the ordinary meaning of the term, and generally unwilling to correct even the most glaring mistakes.

Once an error gets into the minds of reporters, we have found that it is nearly impossible to remove.  One thinks, for example, of the endless stories saying that former ambassador Joseph Wilson refuted Bush's claim that Saddam was seeking uranium in Africa.  If you are a conservative, you probably know the facts on that dispute; if you are reporter, you probably don't.

Finally, I might mention that most conservatives would not quarrel with the claim that the press is often manipulated (though rarely by the Bush White House), and that nearly all conservatives would agree that the press did little to hold the Clinton administration responsible for its failings on national security.

(There is something of interest in the story beyond that summary.  A clinical psychologist, Renana Brooks, says that she has "counseled" several White House correspondents for psychological problems caused, in part, by these briefings.  So if you think the press corps goes a little nuts from time to time, you may be slightly reassured to know that at least a few of them may agree with you on that point.)
- 12:48 PM, 27 February 2006   [link]

"Lethal Clashes"  That's how this New York Times editorial describes the conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria.
Mayhem in Nigeria, the fifth-largest oil supplier to the United States and Africa's most populous country, is escalating.  Since mid-December, crime and violence have regularly shut down about 10 percent of the country's oil output.  In the last week, production has been cut by nearly 20 percent — a shortfall of 455,000 barrels daily — amid kidnappings of foreign workers, arson against offshore oil installations, bombings of pipelines and lethal clashes between Muslims and Christians.
I suppose, somewhat similarly, we could call the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 a "lethal clash", or the Japanese attacks on China during the 1930s as "lethal clashes".  All were clashes, all were lethal.

But most of us would think that the studied neutrality of that phrase was inappropriate for the earlier conflicts, since there was a clear aggressor in each case.  The clashes did not just happen; one side attacked the other.  And the same is true — though the Times does not want to admit that — of the clashes in Nigeria.

What happened during the first clashes is not entirely clear, but I suspect this account is reasonably close.
A UK human rights group has reported a massacre of dozens of Christians in Nigeria.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that a total of 48 people were hacked to death in Yelwa, by armed Muslims, many during a church meeting.

A recent upsurge in violence in southern Plateau State in Nigeria has claimed at least 100 lives and in the worst single incident so far, at least 48 people were murdered, many during an early morning prayer service on February 24.

Armed Muslims invaded the service, ordered the congregation to lie face down and proceeded 'to machete and axe them to death in their house of worship' according to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).  The victims included women and children.
The "clashes" started with demonstrations against those Danish cartoons, and quickly turned into attacks against the Nigerian Christians — who had condemned the cartoons.

Not surprisingly, in Christian majority areas, some Nigerian Christians are now taking revenge.  I would not call those mob attacks "lethal clashes", either.

Would the New York Times have used the same neutral phrase if Nigerian Christians had begun the violence?  Maybe.  But I am sure they would have put it differently it white Christians had been the attackers.
- 9:39 AM, 27 February 2006   [link]

The Tom And Jerry Cartoon Was A Jewish Plot?  That's what an Iranian official apparently believes.
Some say that this creation by Walt Disney [sic] will be remembered forever.  The Jewish Walt Disney Company gained international fame with this cartoon.  It is still shown throughout the world.  This cartoon maintains its status because of the cute antics of the cat and mouse - especially the mouse.

Some say that the main reason for making this very appealing cartoon was to erase a certain derogatory term that was prevalent in Europe.
By making mice look good, Hasan Bolkhari says, Disney made Jews (who were often called mice) look good.  Granted, Bolkhari is a minor official; MEMRI identifies him as a "member of the Film Council of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting" and a "cultural advisor to the Iranian Education Ministry".   But he is still a member of that government, a government that is devoting immense resources to acquiring nuclear weapons.  If it weren't for that minor problem, this would be funnier.

(Of course Walt Disney was not Jewish, nor did his company create the "Tom and Jerry" cartoon.

By the way did you notice that Bolkhari used the trick much favored by by gossips and reporters; he does not say this is true, but that "some say" it is true.)
- 5:25 AM, 27 February 2006
More:  James Taranto wonders what Bolkhari would think of that World War II classic, Ducktators.
- 9:49 AM, 1 March 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  The "Brainster" analyzes the data in an American Prospect article and shows that, despite what the magazine says, Jack Abramoff's clients did increase their contributions to Democrats, as well as to Republicans.
So to reiterate, the Democrats received from Abramoff's clients, both before and after they were clients, the following amounts by election cycle:

2000: $175,970
2002: $550,980
2004: $648,000

That's what the American Prospect wants you to believe is stable or decreased funding.
And the American Prospect's false claim got picked up by all sorts of lefty bloggers, as well as — no surprise — New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.  Wonder if any of these folks will correct their error?

(I should add that, although Abramoff has confessed to breaking other laws, it is not clear that he did anything illegal while representing the Indian tribes.)
- 6:09 AM, 26 February 2006   [link]

Governor Blagojevich was puzzled.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich wasn't in on the joke.  Blagojevich says he didn't realize "The Daily Show" was a comedy spoof of the news when he sat down for an interview that ended up poking fun at the sometimes-puzzled Democratic governor.
Lucky he isn't a Republican, or people might think he think he is under-informed, or even not too bright.

(One detail that puzzles me: Ordinarily these appearances are arranged through aides.  Either Blagojevich's aides didn't know that they were putting the governor on a comedy show, or they didn't brief him on what he should expect.  Either explanation seems strange.)
- 5:35 AM, 26 February 2006   [link]

Volcano Blogging:  On the island of Sumatra, in the nation of Indonesia, there is lake about sixty miles long, Lake Toba.

But if you think about the location — close to the equator — and look at the picture, you will realize that there is something strange about that lake.  Most large lakes were formed by glaciers; large lakes close to the equator are sometimes formed by the damming of a large river.  But there is no large river flowing into Lake Toba.  The lake has a different and more dramatic origin.

Lake Toba marks the site of the largest volcanic eruption in the last 2 million years.  It is, like Yellowstone, a "resurgent caldera", or as geologists David Alt and Daniel Hyndman call this type of volcano, a "perfect horror".  Alt and Hyndman call resurgent calderas "perfect horrors" because they are both violent and enormous.

The size of Lake Toba may be a little difficult to grasp from the picture, so I'll give you some comparisons.  In Washington state, if the lake were aligned north to south in the Puget Sound area, it would stretch from Everett to Tacoma.  In the Chicago area, it would stretch from Waukegan to Gary.  In New York, it would stretch from West Point to the Statue of Liberty.  Folks, that is one enormous volcano.

And its most recent eruption, about 75,000 years ago, was in proportion
The Young Toba Tuff has an estimated volume of 2,800 cubic kilometers (km) and was erupted about 74,000 years ago.  The Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, erupted at Yellowstone 2.2 million years ago, has a volume of 2,500 cubic km.  The Lava Creek Tuff, erupted at Yellowstone 600,000 years ago, has a volume of 1,000 cubic km.  The May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens produced 1 cubic km of ash.  Not shown [in the diagram] is the Fish Canyon Tuff of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.  The Fish Canyon Tuff was erupted 27.8 million years ago and has an estimated volume of 3,000 cubic km.

The volume of the youngest eruption is estimated at 2,800 cubic km, making the eruption the largest in the Quaternary.  Pyroclastic flows covered an area of at least 20,000 square km.  Up to 1200 feet (400 m) of Young Toba Tuff is exposed in the walls of the caldera.  On Samosir Island the tuff is more than 1800 feet (600 m) thick.  Ash fall from the eruption covers an area of at least 4 million square km (about half the size on the continental United States).
That eruption would not have been pleasant for our ancestors.  In fact, some scientists believe that the eruption, and the volcanic winter that followed, almost wiped out homo sapiens, cutting our population down to as few as 3,000, or even as few as 1,000.  (That population bottleneck, as geneticists call it, would explain why humans vary less genetically that one would expect from the age of our species.)

It is disasters such as the eruption of Toba that convince me that we should develop the capability to control earth's climate, though it is hard to see how we could cope with something that terrible now, even if we had ten years warning — which we probably wouldn't.

(If you need help locating Lake Toba, here's a sketch of Indonesia copied from Wikipedia.

Lake Toba is in the northwestern part of Sumatra, that long island on the west end of Indonesia.   Sumatra was, as you probably remember, hit extremely hard by the tsunami.)
- 2:49 PM, 25 February 2006   [link]