January 2004, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Flower Power:  A Danish team has created a plant that can detect landmines.
A genetically engineered plant that detects landmines in soil by changing colour could prevent thousands of deaths and injuries by signalling where explosives are concealed.

The plant, a modified version of thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), is sensitive to nitrogen dioxide gas, which is released by underground landmines.  The leaves of the plant change from green to red after three to five weeks of growth in the presence of this gas.  "They are easy to spot," says Carsten Meier of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who served as scientific adviser to Aresa, the Danish company that developed the plant.
Three to five weeks is too long to be practical during war time, in most cases, but the plant could be helpful cleaning up afterwards.

Greenpeace is opposed to the plant, which is no surprise.  In their view, genetic engineering is wicked, but having peasant soldiers search for mines with probes and sometimes lose their lives is not.
- 7:45 AM, 31 January 2004   [link]

Biased BBC, Example 2:  This morning I woke up early and listened to more than an hour of the BBC World Service.  In that time, I heard a report on the Iraqi intelligence failure that quoted two Bush opponents and no supporters, an interview with George Soros, who is spending millions to drive Bush from office, an interview with Robert McNamara, who recently helped with a movie that, thought the BBC interviewer, showed parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, a report on the GDP growth in the fourth quarter that suggested that 4 percent growth in the fourth quarter was disappointing, and a sneering reference to Bush's intent to find out the facts about any intelligence failure.  I know the speaker was sneering because in this article, the BBC uses the old trick of sneer quotes to discredit Bush in the headline.  The president is not searching for facts, but for "facts".  And the BBC is not a news organization, but a "news organization", in my opinion

In none of these segments did the BBC quote anyone with a favorable opinion of President Bush.  In fact, there was not a favorable sentence about Bush in the entire time I listened.  I don't know what rules journalists usually follow in Britain, but, in the United States, most think that telling both sides of a story is essential.

The BBC omitted, perhaps from ignorance, perhaps from bias, some essential information on one of the people they quoted at length on the WMD intelligence controversy, Senator Bob Graham of Florida.  It is true, as they said, that he has been a chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee.   It is also true, as they did not say, that he is a Democrat and had been running against President Bush, until he left the race.
- 7:02 AM, 31 January 2004   [link]

Brief Follow Ups:  
  • The German cannibal who found a consenting victim on the net has been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years and six months in prison.

  • Polygamy is common in other societies, and there is an example in Kenya, where the president has two wives.   Kenyans accept the polygamy, but think he has managed them badly.

  • Dean is leading.  Yes, he is, in the delegate race, because he has more of the "superdelegates", who are "typically congressmen, party leaders, and other political bigwigs".  (That shows, by the way, that Dean is not really the candidate of outsiders he claims to be.  Washington state provides an example; this table shows that Dean has the support of seven Washington superdelegates, all insiders by definition.   Kerry has one, and none of the other candidates have any.)
- 8:51 AM, 30 January 2004   [link]

Kudos To Kirby Wilbur:  When I sent an email to the local talk show host a couple of weeks ago, noting a small error, he corrected it almost immediately on the air, without fuss.  Few people in the media have his sensible attitude toward corrections.  Errors are inevitable, especially for those doing live programs.  Men and women with character will correct their errors, promptly.  And we readers and listeners will respect them more for it.
- 7:55 AM, 30 January 2004   [link]

Correcting A Reagan Mistake:  President Bush has drawn considerable criticism, especially from the right, for his immigration reform proposal.  Many, perhaps most, of those criticizing him were strong supporters of Ronald Reagan.  Which makes their criticism more than a little bit ironic since one of the main causes of our immigration problem is Reagan's 1986 amnesty.  That amnesty was an enormous encouragement for more illegal immigration; when one batch of law breakers has been excused from following the laws, others will have even more reason to break the same law.

Bush's proposal is not perfect, by any means.  But at least he recognizes that our current situation, which comes close to the open borders favored by some, especially outside the United States, is untenable.  Reaganites who attack Bush for this proposal should at least admit that he is trying to fix a problem partly created by Reagan.

(Not that Reagan is the only one to blame.  I have been looking through our immigration policies for the last 80 years, and have yet to find one that I like.  I'll have more to say about this in the "You Can't Get There From Here" essay.  If you want to read ahead, so to speak, note this support for illegal immigration to Europe from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  And take a look at this proposal from the Democrats, which is far worse than Bush's plan.)
- 7:12 AM, 30 January 2004   [link]

Yesterday, Mickey Kaus  wondered whether President Bush's 86 percent finish in the New Hampshire Republican primary didn't show weakness.  He had to add to his post, after emailers reminded him that Reagan had received 86 percent in 1984, also against nominal opposition.

Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign is an even stronger example.  In the New Hampshire primary that year, Nixon received just 68 percent of the vote.   He had two Republican Congressmen as opponents, Paul McCloskey on the left, who took 20 percent of the vote, and John Ashbrook on the right, who took 10 percent of the vote.  Like Reagan in 1984, Nixon went on to a landslide victory in the general election.
- 5:46 AM, 30 January 2004   [link]

Worth Reading:  Margaret Wente's take on the fight between Blair and the BBC.   She reminds us, for example, that Andrew Gilligan, the reporter at the heart of the Hutton inquiry, was a serial offender, and not the only one at the BBC.
During the war, I sometimes tuned in to the BBC for news.  One night, I saw Mr. Gilligan broadcasting from Baghdad.  He was openly contemptuous of the U.S. military, which he insinuated was dishonest and inept, and he was ridiculing its claim (which was accurate) that it was in the process of securing the Baghdad airport.  Later, after Saddam's fall, he told viewers that Baghdadis were experiencing their "first days of freedom in more fear than they have ever known before."

Not all the BBC's coverage was so ridiculously skewed.  But when critics began calling it the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation, you couldn't blame them.
- 10:56 AM, 29 January 2004   [link]

Some Think Arithmetic  is not the strongest area for many journalists.  This Associated Press analysis supports that conclusion.  The author notes that exit polls in the New Hampshire Democratic primary showed dissatisfaction with President Bush.  True enough, but why anyone vote in that primary if they were happy with Bush?  (A few did.  Bush drew 115 write-in votes in the Democratic primary, trailing Al Sharpton, but beating Carol Moseley Braun and another write-in, Hillary Clinton.)

The writer then tries to make something of more general New Hampshire polling results:
Polling as recently as December showed Bush drawing support from fewer than half -- 47 percent -- of independents in a match up with a Democratic candidate.  About a third said they would vote for the Democrat and another 21 percent were undecided.
All right, let's do the arithmetic.  The latest data I saw said that 25.6 percent of New Hampshire voters are Democrats, 36.7 percent are Republicans, and 37.7 percent are independents.  Most national polls also say that the Republicans are more likely to be loyal than Democrats, but let's set that aside and assume that 90 percent in each party are loyal.  Let's distribute the undecided independents according to current preferences, in the usual way, so we expect independents in New Hampshire to vote for Bush by 59.5 percent.  Do the arithmetic and we see that Bush would win New Hamshire by 58 percent, which is commonly called a landslide.

And that's without allowing for the fact that match ups between a generic candidate and a real candidate give an advantage to the generic candidate.  A Republican candidate, unnamed, often ran ahead of Clinton when every real Republican ran behind, and the same is true, in reverse, with President Bush.
- 10:18 AM, 29 January 2004   [link]

The Internet Has Lessened Our Privacy:  And sometimes that's a good thing, as a woman who decided to check out a potential date can tell you.
After eluding authorities from coast to coast for more than a year, Cincinnati fugitive LaShawn Pettus-Brown finally made a mistake last week in New York City:

He went on a date with an inquisitive woman.

Pettus-Brown's life as a fugitive began to unravel when the woman decided to find out more about her prospective date by running his name through the Google Internet search engine.

A few mouse clicks later, she learned that Pettus-Brown was wanted for a lot more than dinner and a movie.

The Google search turned up an FBI warrant for Pettus-Brown's arrest in connection with the failed Empire Theater project in Over-the-Rhine.  The woman, who has not been identified, contacted the FBI and told agents where he would be Friday night.
- 7:43 AM, 29 January 2004   [link]

Oil Bribes For Saddam Supporters?  Maybe.  An Iraqi newspaper reported that it had found documents showing bribes to hundreds of foreign individuals and organizations.  This partial translation from MEMRI is the best description of the story that I have found.  (For those who don't read Arabic, of course.) Here are the newspaper's central accusations:
Since the deposed regime endorsed the 'Memorandum of Understanding,' also known as 'oil for food [program],' it turned it into a despicable political and commercial game, and used it to finance its clandestine acquisitions of arms, expensive construction materials for the presidential palaces and mosques, and frivolous luxury items.  It turned the oil sales agreements into the greatest bribery operation in history, buying souls and pens, and squandering the nation's resources.

Since then, rumors were abound about vouchers that Saddam gave to certain Arab and foreign dignitaries, providing them with crude oil in exchange for their support to the regime in a period of international isolation, and as a way to finance the campaign to lift the economic sanctions against it and to whitewash its image.
The newspaper accuses 270 people or organizations in 50 countries of accepting these bribes.   Here, for example, is the US list.
United States: Samir Vincent received 10.5 million barrels.  In 2000, Vincent, an Iraqi-born American citizen who has lived in the U.S. since 1958, organized a delegation of Iraqi religious leaders to visit the U.S. and meet with former president Jimmy Carter.  Shaker Al-Khafaji, the pro-Saddam chairman of the 17th conference of Iraqi expatriates, received 1 million barrels.
The list of recipients in Russia is extraordinary, even including the Russian Orthodox Church.

Now then should we believe this article?  Not yet.  Saddam had a history of using oil money for bribes, so there is nothing suspicious about the idea that he was doing that before the war to liberate Iraq.  In fact, it would be surprising if he were not.  Most of the listed recipients look plausible as bribe takers, from my knowledge.  So there is nothing implausible about the story on its face.

But, there is nothing in the article explaining how the newspaper obtained the documents or any evidence on their authenticity.  So, for now I would say that Saddam was almost certainly bribing foreigners with oil money, but not necessarily all the people on this list.   ("Tacitus" is even more skeptical than I am, too skeptical in my opinion.  For now, "not proven" seems to be the right verdict.)

(Here's a short article from the Independent, if you don't want to wade through the entire MEMRI translation.  For what it is worth, one of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council, Naseer Chaderji, thinks the charges are true.)
- 7:24 AM, 29 January 2004   [link]

If You Think The Democratic Race Is Over, take a look at this David Horsey cartoon from December 10th, when many thought the race was over, but had different candidate in mind as the winner.  It isn't over until (add favorite cliche here), or more exactly, until one candidate has a majority of the delegates.
- 12:45 PM, 28 January 2004   [link]

Worth A Look:  President Bush's statements on WMDs in Iraq.  Sometimes he added a qualifier, "likely maintains stockpiles" or "we believe", and sometimes he didn't, "leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess".  It would be interesting to see the whole collection of his statements on the subject to see whether he usually added qualifiers or not.
- 12:25 PM, 28 January 2004   [link]

Tony Blair Told The Truth, The BBC Lied:  Although of course the BBC doesn't put it just that way in its story on the Hutton report, or in its summary of the main points.   The tabloid Sun, which has supported Blair in this controversy, received a leak and printed a more dramatic version of the story.

(If you are wondering what the controversy is about and don't want to read the story, here's a brief summary.  A BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, after talking with a government expert, David Kelly, about the government's case for the Iraq war, put on a sensational story claiming that the Blair government had "sexed up" the case.  Kelly, who had broken the rules by speaking to Gilligan, soon saw his name in the papers.  He testified to parliament that Gilligan had gotten it wrong and misrepresented what he had said.  Soon after, he committed suicide.  There was a demand for an inquiry and a respected judge, Lord Hutton, was chosen to head it.  he has now submitted his report, which is a big win for Blair and an even bigger defeat for the BBC.)

Given the persistent anti-Americanism at the BBC, this is a big victory for us, too.
- 10:20 AM, 28 January 2004
More:  The Instapundit has commentary and many links here, here, and here, though he misses my favorite at the Sun.  You can see the celebration at the Biased BBC here, here, and here.
- 12:55 PM, 28 January 2004   [link]

Surprising Textile Numbers:  Every once in while, I see some statistics which require an accompanying explanation, but don't have one.  There's an example on the front page of the December 17th issue of the Wall Street Journal, which I found while sorting through a stack of old newspapers.  The article explains how Italy's clothing industry is finding it difficult to compete with China.  Nothing surprising about that, but there is a surprise in the chart illustrating the article.  The chart shows the rise of China's share of world textile exports from about 4.5 percent in 1980 to about 13.5 percent in 2002.  Much of that came at the expense of Japan, whose share fell from 9 percent to about 4 percent in the same period.   The surprise is the American share.  In 1980, it was, judging by the chart, just under 7 percent.  It is now just over 7 percent, though it fell to about 5 percent in 1990.

That our share of this rapidly growing market has been almost constant means that our textile exports have expanded greatly in the last two decades.  If you have read a story or two about the decline of American manufacturing, this must come as a surprise.  The United States is holding its own in one of the industries most subject to low wage competition.   There is no explanation in the article for this, no explanation for the United States doing so much better than Japan.  If I were to guess at an explanation, I would say that our textile industries are exporting cloth, or the raw materials for cloth, by the ton, for others to turn into individual items of clothing.  And I suppose some of it could be our high end fashion items.
- 9:54 AM, 28 January 2004   [link]

Hot Days Are Evidence Of Global Warming:  So are cold days.
It seemed incongruous when former Vice President Al Gore gave a speech on global warming on a bitterly cold day in New York City this month.  But in fact it was an appropriate topic: New Yorkers may be able to blame the city's current cold spell—the most severe in nearly a decade—on global warming.
Supporters of the theory that man is causing global warming have also blamed highly variable weather on global warming.  So far, I have not seen them blame a stretch of calm weather on global warming, but I expect that soon.

As I have said before, I do not have a firm opinion on global warming theories.  It is not even clear to me that such theories can be tested, with our present knowledge of climate and the simulations that model it.

The supporters of the theory are one of the reasons I am skeptical.  Consider, for example, Paul R. Epstein, the author of this op-ed.  His title is "associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School", which sounds impressive, but is not.  A glance at his Harvard home page shows that he is an instructor at Harvard and that his highest degree is an M.D.  He is not a climatologist, a meteorologist, or even a physicist, so there is no reason to think that he has any more expertise on climate change than you or I.  He has published papers in respectable journals (and some less so, such as the Scientific American) but none of the titles suggest that he understands climate models any more than I do—which is not at all.

The motives of people like Epstein are also suspicious.  Most supporters of the theory find many faults with our current consumer society, at least for other people.  It is hard to avoid thinking that some are using the fear of global warming to work for changes they want for other reasons.  And they commonly oppose some measures that would certainly lessen the danger from global warming.  The great example is nuclear power.  If global warming is truly a threat, one of the best ways to avoid it is to switch from fossil fuels to nuclear power, wherever possible.  Dr. Epstein doesn't mention nuclear power in his op-ed, and I doubt very much that he has been campaigning for it.

What does he want in policy changes?  This is just speculation, but I would bet that, for example, he wants other people to give up SUVs, but is not willing to give up his own airplane flights.
- 7:56 AM, 28 January 2004   [link]

Karl Rove Is Smiling  today, but not ordering cases of champagne.  Each party prefers that the fight for the nomination in the other party be long and nasty.  Dean's respectable second place finish in New Hampshire ensures that he and Kerry will fight at least another round, especially since Dean appeared to gaining during the last days of the campaign.  If Dean wins a primary or caucus soon or even comes very close, the race will continue even longer.  As of now, I would rate Dean the favorite here in Washington, where caucus victories often go to the extreme candidates.

With Kerry now the unquestioned frontrunner, Clark and probably Edwards are likely to attack him, too.  Edwards has been trying to avoid that, but, if the race in South Carolina appears to be a two man race between him and Kerry, he will have to at least make a comparison or two.

This collection of polls from RealClear Politics shows that each of the four leading candidates may have an edge in one of the six states with a contest next Tuesday.  (I say "may" because some of the polls are rather old.)  Edwards leads in South Carolina, Dean leads in Delaware and Missouri, and Clark leads in Oklahoma.  Clark and Dean are close to a tie for the lead in New Mexico, but the poll is six weeks old, a long time in this nomination fight.

There is another group, besides Republican strategists, that wants a long struggle, journalists.   Although most are Democrats and leftist Democrats at that, they have their own reasons for wanting a long struggle.
First, many pressies simply like the game.  For the Boys and Girls on the Bus, this is fun.  A presidential contest is what gets them on the road, gets them an open-ended expense account, gets them on TV, and gets them book contracts when it's over.  But, if all this politicking ends too soon, some of these same reporters will be relegated to covering the congressional appropriations process - or, worse, covering the election in Iraq.

Second, although most reporters lean Democratic, most in the media are not particularly fond of Kerry.  Many more favor Howard Dean.  It was Dean, not Kerry, who got the big buzz over the past year - all those magazine covers and all.  Dean has most of the Hollywood glamour; both Martin Sheen and Rob Reiner were here stumping for him in recent days.  And his youth vote, too - sexy young people also catch reporters' eyes.

Finally, Dean has had the Hot Issue: his opposition to the Iraq war.  He took a huge hit for his "I have a scream" speech last Monday, but that's old news now.  The new news is the resignation of David Kay, the Iraq weapons-of-mass-destruction searcher.  Kay's conclusion, that Iraq didn't have WMDs on the eve of the war, is seen by many Fourth Estaters as final proof that the Bush administration was wrong to go to war - and thus the final vindication of Dean's opposition to it.  By contrast, Kerry voted to support Bush on the war in 2002.  How can dovish reporters be expected to like that?
In primaries, the press can have more influence than in general elections.  Will we soon be seeing critical stories on John Kerry and articles about how Dean has turned his campaign around?  Probably.  If he wins one of the contests next Tuesday, certainly.
- 6:59 AM, 28 January 2004   [link]

The Misinterpreted 1968 New Hampshire Primary:  What the voters mean by their votes and what the media thinks they mean can be very different.  My favorite example, for years, has been the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire.

That year, Senator Gene McCarthy, a talented but perhaps a little lazy Minnesota senator, broke with President Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam war.  Johnson was not a declared candidate for president at that point, and was not on the ballot.  He allowed, or persuaded, his allies in the party to mount a write-in campaign for him.  McCarthy campaigned in person, with the help of college students who opposed the war.  Some were annoyed by his vague statements on the war; he attacked it more as a failure than as a crime.  Even so, for the college students, the war was so important that they fell in line.  Some even went "clean for Gene", shaving off beards, dressing conventionally, and otherwise trying not to freak out the New Hampshire voters.

Johnson won, even as a write-in, though not by a large margin.  The press concluded that McCarthy had won because of his anti-war message and that there was a possibility that a more serious politician might be able to defeat Johnson, something that had seemed unimaginable before the election.  Robert Kennedy quickly jumped into the race and won a number of primaries.   He might have won both the nomination and the general election had he not been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan just after his biggest victory, in California.  After that, there was a bitter fight at the Democratic convention accompanied by violent riots and police misbehavior.  The split in the Democratic party revealed by the convention never fully healed and is one of the reasons for the rise of the Republicans.

The press was wrong about the New Hampshire voters.  Polls were much less frequent then, but one was taken which asked the voters how hawkish they were, how much they supported the use of force in Vietnam.  McCarthy voters were slightly more—I repeat, more—hawkish than Johnson voters.  There was not a large difference between the two groups of voters, but it was in the opposite direction from what the press thought.  It seems likely that the vote against Johnson in New Hampshire was not so much an anti-war vote as a vote protesting administration policies generally.  (In later primaries, the voters did see the differences among the candidates on the war as the press saw them.)

The consequences of this mistaken interpretation of the New Hampshire result were immense then, and continue today.  McCarthy's psychological victory still inspires activists.  And the existence of a large block of voters who wanted to either "win or get out" is almost unknown to journalists, though easy to find in the polls of the time.  There is a similar block now that wants Bush to be more forceful in the war on terror.  Have you seen any articles on them?   I haven't, though from time to time I see a survey suggesting that they may constitute as much as 20 percent of the voters.

(I am a little embarrassed that I can not, from memory, give an exact reference for the survey.   It may be data from the University of Michigan, which would explain why it got no publicity at the time.  These academic surveys are often not analyzed until long after the election.  If you want to look for it, you might find a reference in Wattenberg and Scammon's The Real Majority, which should still be available in any large library.)
- 11:10 AM, 27 January 2004   [link]

Consenting Polygamists:  In the argument over homosexual marriages, opponents have often claimed that allowing them would lead shortly to accepting polygamy.  Most proponents argue that it would not, though a few are consistent enough to adhere to the "consenting adults" standard and say they would not object to legal polygamy.

I think it almost certain that the opponents are right on this point.  Unlike homosexual marriages, polygamy is quite common in human societies, is often quietly accepted in practice in our society, and even has support in some passages of the Old Testament.  If you are wondering what I mean by "quietly accepted", here are a couple of examples.  I knew a woman in Chicago who was the mistress of a wealthy man, who was married to another woman.  He had supported his mistress and their child for years, with, as I understood it, the knowledge of his wife.  Hugh Hefner, when last I saw him, was accompanied by seven young women who, in another society, would be called concubines.  This quite open polygamy has not led many people to cancel party invitations to Hefner or otherwise ostracize him.

There is even a court case by a Utah polygamist, challenging laws against polygamy and making arguments paralleling those made by proponents of homosexual marriage.  He may have more support than you think.  Internet polls are just straws in the wind, but this one in the Toronto Globe and Mail was showing almost 50 percent support for polygamy when last I checked (at 7:41 AM, PST, 5021 pro and 5214 anti).   (The poll is in the top right corner of today's newspaper.)

To me, this shows that "consenting adults" is not a universal rule, and that those who think it is should look hard at some of the likely results of making it one.
- 8:06 AM, 27 January 2004   [link]

Only Democrats Need Apply:  Yesterday I was listening to the Weekday program on Seattle's National Public Radio affiliate, KUOW.  In the 10 o'clock hour, host Steve Scher (leftist) had two guests, Seattle Times editorial writer Joni Balter (leftist) and Seattle Weekly Political Editor George Howland (leftist).  They were discussing the New Hampshire primary and taking calls from listeners.  All three on the program were planning to vote for the Democratic nominee, as was obvious from their conversation.  So was every single caller to the show.   The hour was a pleasant discussion among Democrats about the best way to defeat George Bush.   That, even as a matter of tactics, it might be worthwhile to include Republicans in the conversation did not occur to anyone, not the three in the studio, nor any of the callers.

Those familiar with KUOW (and most other NPR affiliates) will not be surprised by this.  As far as I can tell, the station has no Republicans on the staff.  It certainly has none with programs.  A number of the programs it runs, such as the Chomsky cult's Alternative Radio and the Tavis Smiley show, present leftwing ideas, usually without any consideration of moderate or conservative alternatives.  The station does not run any moderate or conservative political programs.

Even if you agree with the ideas held by the KUOW staff, you should recognize that this lack of exposure to other ideas is damaging.  Scher, Balter, and Howland all would be better at their jobs if they spent some time talking with people whose ideas are outside their narrow group.  For instance, I am not sure that any of them would agree with my opinion that John Edwards is unqualified or that Howard Dean is similar to another Democratic governor, George Wallace, but they would learn something by reading those posts.

Most conservative talk shows, in contrast, are remarkably open to ideas all across the spectrum.  For example, my favorite, Michael Medved, also had a discussion about national politics that day.  I didn't hear all of the hour he gave to the subject, but he did take calls from several people who sharply disagreed with him.  Medved is one of the best at listening to those who disagree with him; not only does he often take disagreeing calls, but he reserves Thursdays for those who didn't get a chance to disagree with him earlier.

Why this difference between leftists and conservatives?  I am not entirely sure.   Part of it may be the stereotype, that those on the left think the right evil, while those on the right think the left foolish.  Most of us feel less obligation to talk with people who have evil ideas than with people who have foolish ideas.  Another reason may be the ideological isolation of those on the left.  It would be easy for Scher to avoid those with different ideas; it would be impossible for Medved to do the same.

Finally, here's some unsolicited advice for the program manager at KUOW.  About a year ago, the Seattle Times, realizing it was out of touch with much of its audience, directed its reporters to visit a church, just for the experience.  KUOW staffers might benefit from similar exposure to moderates, Republicans, and even conservatives.  Perhaps such exposure might even lead them, in time, to drop what is, in effect, a political test for employment at the station.
- 7:23 AM, 27 January 2004   [link]

Mad Cow Testing:  This Seattle Times article says, quoting a former worker at the slaughterhouse, that the detection of the mad cow from Mabton was a "fluke".  The worker says that, contrary to first reports, the cow was not a downer.  Although ill, she was able to walk and might have not have been tested except that it was late in the day and she was balky.

A chart accompanying that article (not available on line) partially contradicts that argument.  The chart shows that we have greatly increased our testing for mad cow disease (or if you prefer, bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the last decade.   In 1993, the US Department of Agriculture tested the brains of just 175 cows.  That rose, year by year, to 988 in 1999, and then began to increase much more rapidly to 2309 (2000), 4870 (2001), 19,777 (2002) and 20,277 (2003).  Although it may have been luck that led to the detection of the Mabton cow, a diseased cow is much more likely to be detected now than ten years ago.  Although I don't see the disease as a great threat to people (possibly none at all), I think it prudent to increase our testing, after the problems found in Britain and Canada.

I don't see any large partisan point in the numbers, but I do see reason to credit a group that doesn't get much, bureaucrats.  It appears that the veterinarians at the USDA responded to a potential problem by taking reasonable precautions.  They deserve credit for that.   There may be a small bit of partisan credit due to the Bush administration, as well.  His budgets begin in the last quarter of 2001, just when the sharpest increases in testing happened.
- 10:10 AM, 26 January 2004   [link]

Polls In New Hampshire Have A Bad Record:  In general elections, the best American pollsters, notably Gallup, are usually close to the final results.  Here's Gallup's record from 1936 through 1996.  Their worst predictions were in 1936, when they were just getting started and in 1992, when they were almost 6 points high for Clinton and 5 points low for Perot.  In 2000, they were again quite close, predicting a Bush win by two percentage points.  If you scroll down to the table of final 2000 projections, you'll see that most of the other pollsters were quite close as well.

In New Hampshire, the pollsters have often been wildly wrong.
In 2000, the headline on an AP day-before-the-primary story was "Nearing the N.H. finish line; Polls declare GOP dead heat. . . . " John McCain then went on to beat George W. Bush by 18 percentage points.

The New Hampshire-based American Research Group's tracking poll ended up buried deepest in the snow bank: They had Bush winning by two the day before the primary, merely 20 points off the mark.   On the Democratic side, the losing pollster at least got the winner right: The Quinnipiac poll predicted Gore would win by 17 percentage points, but he actually won by four.

It was the second debacle for ARG in as many New Hampshire Republican primaries.  The day before the 1996 contest, ARG's Dick Bennett told the Union Leader, "It looks like Dole's going to win," based on the Kansan's seven point advantage in their tracking poll.  He didn't, losing to Pat Buchanan by a single percentage point.

Exit pollsters aren't immune.  In 1992, Voter Research and Surveys' exit poll showed George H.W. Bush beating Buchanan by a relatively narrow 6 percentage points, only to have Bush finish 16 points ahead on election night.

In 1988, it was the Gallup poll that fell victim. Gallup's final preelection survey had Bob Dole up by 8 percentage points.  He ended up losing to Bush senior by 9. We "went on to call the rest of the primaries that season without a hitch . . . haven't had many questions about how we succeeded in so many of those subsequent races, however," former Gallup head Andrew Kohut, now with the Pew Research Center, reminisced the other day.  "Moral of the story: on my tombstone it will say 'Here lies Andy Kohut -- got NH wrong in '88.'" [The Post had nothing to boast about here either, with our final product suggesting Dole up by three.]
Why so many mistakes?  Several reasons.  To save money, many of the pollsters don't use the best methods before primaries.  Voter opinion is usually more volatile before primaries than before general elections.  The voters know less about the candidates and usually see them as more similar than the candidates in a general election, so they are more likely to switch.  And, in multiple candidate races, you often get tactical voting, with voters supporting their second or third place choices if they think them more likely to win.   Turnout is less predictable in primaries than in general elections.

As you probably noticed, all those problems apply in this year's Democratic primary in New Hampshire, so I may not have a prediction for you tomorrow.  I am reasonably certain that George W. Bush will win the New Hampshire primary this time, though he does have token opposition.

(If you would like to brush up on polling methods, this Gallup essay would be a good place to start.)
- 4:44 PM, 26 January 2004
More:  This time the polls were quite close to the actual result.
Our final RCP [RealClear Politics] poll average was Kerry 35.6%, Dean 24.2%, Edwards 12.4%, Clark 10.6% and Lieberman 7.4% with 7.2% undecided.  If you allocate the undecideds proportional to their final poll averages Kerry ends up at 38.2%, Dean 25.9%, Edwards 13.3%, Clark 11.4% and Lieberman 7.9%.  Except for a Clark/Edward's flip-flop, that is more or less exactly how it turned out.  (Final Results: Kerry 38.5%, Dean 26.3%, Clark 12.4%, Edwards 12.1%, Lieberman 8.6%.)
(I should add that some people found the shifts in the Zogby results hard to believe.  But then other pollsters have always found his methods suspicious.)
- 8:26 AM, 28 January 2004   [link]

If You Are Going Off To Work  this morning, you may not want to read this article on psychopathic bosses.
So your boss is charming, impetuous, single-minded and has a bit of a temper.  Uh, oh -- you might be working for a psychopath.  (Come to think of it, I might be, too.)

And you say you're working for one of those New Age companies in a constant state of flux with few rules, little supervision and even less bureaucracy?  Uh, oh -- you may be working for a company that's a psycho-magnet.  (Hmmm . . . that might be me, too.)

In fact, claim industrial psychologist Paul Babiak and forensic psychologist Robert Hare of the University of British Columbia, psychopathic employees and supervisors are remarkably common.   About one out of every 100 adults fits the definition, they say -- though, thankfully, the Charles Manson variety is rare.  What's more, their research shows, these volatile employees seem particularly drawn to companies where the only rule is that there are no rules.
They are often talented at company politics, so you should think twice before taking them on.   That they are attracted to New Age companies may explain some of the many dot com flameouts.   And, coming back to politics, I note that a "constant state of flux with few rules, little supervision and even less bureaucracy" is a good description of most political campaigns.
- 5:58 AM, 26 January 2004   [link]

Biased BBC, Example 1:  This BBC account of Bush's State of the Union speech has an interesting set of experts.  Let me go through each one they name, adding an ideological identifier.  Daniel Schorr (left).  New York Times (left).  Washington Post (moderate left).  Paula Zahn (left).  Daniel Schorr (left).  New York Times (left).  New York Post (right).  The last, however, was not a reaction to the speech, but a note on the change in politics after Dean's third place finish in Iowa.  In the entire article, there was not a single comment on the speech from a Republican.  Even some journalism professors might consider that unbalanced.

The voters are more important than the experts, and those that watched the speech mostly liked it, according to this Gallup survey.   Though the reaction was not as positive as it had been to his two previous State of the Union speeches, 76 percent of those who watched had positive reactions, and Bush seems to have changed some minds on policy questions.  (I should add that the audience was more Republican than the nation as a whole, just as Clinton's audiences were more Democratic.)  If the BBC had wanted to quote Republicans, or people who approved of Bush, they would have had no trouble finding them.

(As the title suggests, I expect to do many more posts on this general subject.  For much more, see the Biased BBC site, which has been documenting this problem for some time.)
- 4:56 PM, 25 January 2004   [link]

The Story Of Churchill's Parrot , which I linked to here, is probably too good to be true.   Churchill's family is dubious, and no evidence has been found for the parrot in photos or records.  It sounds like one of those stories that get improved by re-telling over the years, rather than an attempt at deception by the pet shop owners, who are sticking with their story.  (Via Andrew Sullivan.)
- 4:12 PM, 25 January 2004   [link]

"More Dangerous":  David Kay, who just resigned as head of the search for Saddam's WMDs, drew considerable attention this last week for his tentative conclusion that Saddam's WMD stockpiles did not exist at the beginning of the war.   Yesterday, he drew less attention for his claim that some material from the weapons programs had been moved to Syria, just before the war.  (The headline on the Telegraph article is misleading; Kay is claiming that components of Saddam's programs, not actual weapons, went to Syria.)  And, it seems likely that he has more to say about other aspects of the search, though news organizations are unlikely to give him as much attention in the future as they did a few days ago.

This morning, he was interviewed by Liane Hansen on NPR's Weekend Edition.  Although Hansen did a poor interview, Kay did say several striking things.  The most important was his claim that he now thought that Saddam's programs were "more dangerous" than he had thought before the liberation of Iraq, at least potentially.  Unfortunately, Hansen did not ask the obvious follow up question, why he thought so.  Kay said, quite directly, that if there was any blame for mistaken estimates on Saddam's weapons, that should go to the intelligence services, not President Bush, who had accepted what they told him, just as President Clinton had.

Hansen did not ask the biggest question of all:  What happened to the weapons that Saddam still had, according to the UN, when the UN inspectors were forced to leave in 1998?  I don't think Kay knows, but I would love to hear his opinion on that subject.  He did say something similar to what I have been arguing for months; we may never know the answers to some of these questions.  That's an honest assessment considering, for example, how easy it would have been to hide many of these weapons in Iraq, in Syria, or somewhere else.  Partisans will not be happy with that fact, but it is inescapable.  We may be able to prove that Saddam had an arsenal by finding part of it, or other indisputable evidence, but we will never be able to prove that he didn't.
- 6:42 AM, 25 January 2004
More:  This New York Times article gives a coherent explanation of Kay's thinking.  Briefly, Kay now believes that Iraqi scientists conned Saddam into thinking he had weapons programs that existed only on paper.  Saddam and the people around him (including, one hopes, a Western spy or two) thought they had chemical and biological weapons, but did not.  This is weird enough to be true, but I would like to see more evidence before I accept it as definitive.   And, as usual, I should mention that this could be true for some of the weapons, while others were moved to Syria, and still others hidden inside Iraq.

Trying to fool a cruel dictator this way may seem crazy, unless you are familiar with some of the successful efforts to fool Stalin and similar leaders.  Impossible demands for performance will inspire attempts at deception, some of which will succeed.  (Thanks to Kevin Drum for telling me about this article.)
- 2:36 PM, 26 January 2004   [link]

Arsenic And Old Maureen Dowd:  Maureen Dowd's column smearing our allies led to so many protests to the New York Times that Arthur Bovino of the "office of the public editor" is sending out a form email explaining that:
"Unless there's evidence of ethical misbehavior of factual error, individual columnists can say what they want to say. and individual readers can like the ones they like and dislike the ones they don't like.
(I assume that he means "misbehavior or factual error".)  This drew the obvious criticism, that, in fact, the New York Times has often changed columns, usually to make them more politically correct.  Tim Blair, and commenters at his site, immediately produced examples showing that op-ed pieces were often changed, sometimes in serious ways.  But none produced examples showing that the Times changed pieces by its own columnists, and I think that is what Bovino is referring to.

However, even if that is his meaning, he is still wrong.  For example, two or three years ago, most likely in this column (which I am too cheap to buy on line), Maureen Dowd wrote that the Bush administration wanted to "spike" the water with arsenic, that is, add arsenic to the water.   This is clearly a factual error, since the administration had been debating whether or not to go ahead with a last minute Clinton decision to cut allowable levels of arsenic in the water, and, if so, by how much.  Whether this slander constitutes "ethical misbehavior" for the New York Times is something I am unqualified to answer.  I would like to think that the Times considers slander unethical but there are too many contrary examples for me to be certain of that.

We have here a clear case of both factual error and, for most of us, possibly including the New York Times, "ethical misbehavior".  Was this ever corrected?  No.  In fact, as far as I could tell, the Times never even printed a dissenting letter.  The Times has, as any regular reader knows, and as I discussed in this post, a double standard.   Its editorialists and columnists can make the harshest charges about their political opponents, but the newspaper generally refuses to run letters on the same level.  The Times will print Dowd's column accusing the Bush administration of wanting to poison the public, but will not print a letter from you or me calling her a liar.

I am going to give Daniel Okrent, the new "public editor" at the Times, an opportunity to prove me wrong.  Today, I'll send him an email asking for that long overdue correction.  I don't expect that he, or anyone else at the Times, will ever ask Dowd to correct her slanderous charge that the Bush administration wanted to add arsenic to the water.  In fact, I don't think Okrent will move a muscle to get this long overdue correction made.

There is a more general point to be made about the Times' treatment of the arsenic controversy on its editorial and op-ed pages.  At the time, there was legitimate debate about the limits that should be put on arsenic.  More recent scientific work has shown that the old level, 50 parts per million, posed no danger to our health.  A responsible editorialist would mention that inconvenient fact, some time.  Don't hold your breath waiting for that editorial from the Times.  Okrent won't do anything about that, either.
- 4:48 AM, 25 January 2004
More:  Here's the Dowd column, which I found free in another newspaper, and here's the central quote:
President Bush's veterans from the Ford administration started out as macho dinosaurs, threatening to spike the water with arsenic, drill at will, bring back coal mines and revive Star Wars and the Cold War with a cocky my-way-or-the-highway attitude toward the world.
- 7:25 AM, 25 January 2004   [link]