January 2006, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Short Bits:  
  • CSI, France?
    French police who spent two years trying to identify a woman who was murdered by a blow to the head were relieved to discover the reason their efforts were failing: the woman died half a millennium ago.
    I would have thought that establishing the time of death would be one of the first things you did in a murder investigation.

  • Looking for bad girls?   Try Britain.
    British girls are among the most violent in the world, with nearly one in three Scottish and English adolescents admitting to having been in a fight in the past year, according to research.
    Binge drinking may be one of the reasons.

  • That was quick.
    NBC has canceled controversial Friday night drama "The Book of Daniel" after only a few weeks on the air. The cancellation is blamed on low ratings nationwide.
    But no surprise, at least not to me.

  • Notre Dame's president thinks he runs a Catholic university.
    The new University of Notre Dame president questioned Monday whether "The Vagina Monologues" and a Queer Film Festival held on campus the past few years should be sponsored by university departments.
    Wonder if the faculty will agree?
- 4:47 PM, 24 January 2006   [link]

Only Two Adult Citizens can't vote in Canada.
Only two Canadian citizens aged 18 and over do not have the legal right to vote in federal elections.  They are the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada and the Assistant Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, both of whom must preserve strict impartiality.
Conservatives will be amused to learn that the Liberals added prisoners to the rolls after the narrow 2004 election and had added the homeless a few years earlier.   From what I have read, the Liberals added to their potential supporters with both moves.

However, conservatives should not sneer too loudly since the Progressive Conservatives had added the mentally ill to the rolls in 1988.  I am not sure just what a vote means to a person who is disturbed enough to be confined in a mental institution.  In the United States when such people vote — and they can in some states — we often learn that they did not vote but were voted by one of their caregivers.

(Having bureaucrats, rather than elected officials, administer elections is quite common outside the United States.)
- 1:01 PM, 24 January 2006   [link]

A Win For The Canadian Conservatives:  But a minority win.  The Conservative Party won the most votes of the four major parties (about 36 percent) and the most seats in parliament (124 of 308), but did not win a majority of either the popular vote or the parliament.

Neither is unusual in Canadian politics. According the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, there have been six prime ministers who have governed without majorities in parliament, William Lyon Mackenzie King, John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, and Paul Martin.  And the table at the end of this article on Canada's Liberal Party shows that most Canadian governments have not had the support of a majority of the Canadian voters.  That has become more common recently; the last time that a Liberal prime minister won an absolute majority of Canadian voters was in 1940.

This minority position will impose severe constraints on the Harper government.   But it will also give him a chance to show that the fears that the Liberals appealed to in the last two elections are groundless.  And if the Liberals were to join with other parties to force a quick election, Harper might well make significant gains, since Canadian voters are likely to believe that Harper deserves a chance.

I predict that Harper will fulfill some popular promises, such as reducing the general sales tax and increasing support for families, and will avoid most controversies.   The Bush administration might be inclined to give Harper some help by yielding some ground on trade disputes, in return for more cooperation on security issues.
- 10:56 AM, 24 January 2006   [link]

That Icon Is Temporary:  With most browsers, you should be seeing a little icon showing the top half of a man reading.  (Where it will appear depends on the browser.)  I don't plan to use it permanently, but wanted to put a temporary icon to make sure I understood the requirements.  I have several ideas for a permanent icon, perhaps a stylized "Jim" in blue and grey, or maybe the full profile of the statue, instead of just the top half.  If you have any suggestions, let me know.  Sooner would be better since, as I have learned from much experience, there are few things as permanent as the provisional.  (I think that's originally a French saying, but couldn't find it in a quick search.)

(The icon is technically known as a "favicon".  It was introduced by Microsoft and must be stored — at least for Internet Explorer — in a specialized graphics format used only for that purpose.  As you may have guessed, I am not impressed by Microsoft's original design decisions.)
- 9:39 AM, 24 January 2006   [link]

Exciting Canadian Election:  That sounds like a joke, at least to American ears.  But the Canadians did have an election yesterday and the result was exciting.  Not because the election produced any great surprise — the polls had predicted that Conservative Steven Harper would win, and he did — but because Canadian voters chose a new party to replace the scandal-plagued Liberals.

A little history first:  All of Canada's prime ministers have come from either the Liberal party or a conservative party, which has had a variety of names.  In 1993, the Progressive Conservative party, as it was then called, collapsed.  A large section of the party, mostly from Western Canada, broke away to form the Reform Party.   The Progressive Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, was unpopular in almost every Canadian province, though not always for the same reasons.  When he was replaced briefly with Kim Campbell, the party revived, briefly.  But she proved to be so inept a campaigner that the Progressive Conservatives, who had held an absolute majority in parliament, were reduced to just two seats in parliament, which then had 295 members.

The party revived very slightly in succeeding elections, as you can see in the BBC chart at the end of the article.  In 2003, the main fragments of the old party rejoined in a new Conservative Party.  In 2004, the new party won 99 seats in parliament and held the Liberals and their temporary allies, the socialist New Democrats, to exactly half of the seats in parliament.  The Liberals, under Prime Minister Paul Martin, managed to hang on through the end of 2004, but finally lost a confidence vote, forcing a new election.

Why do I find all this exciting?  Because it shows that politicians, specifically the politicians who put the Conservative Party together, can put their quarrels behind them and do the right thing for their country.  Four years ago, it looked as though the Liberals might not face a serious contest for a generation, in spite of a series of scandals and increasing demagoguery in campaigns.  And it also shows that Canadian voters can resist the appeals to fear that the Liberals came to rely on.  Or at least enough Canadian voters.  In 2004 and, I think, this year, there was a shift back to the Liberals in the last few days of the campaign, a shift generally ascribed to fear of the Conservatives.

(And I can't help adding that I predicted this victory, though I must admit that it happened more quickly than I expected, mostly because of still more Liberal scandals.)
- 8:18 AM, 24 January 2006   [link]

Want Domestic Partner Benefits From The University of Florida?  Then you have to swear that you are not just partners, but domestic partners.
University of Florida employees have to pledge that they're having sex with their domestic partners before qualifying for benefits under a new health care plan at the university.
Though some seem surprised, it's a logical requirement — once you accept the idea that domestic partners should have coverage.

By way of David Cohen, who came up with this wonderful headline: "Close Your Eyes And Think Of Healthcare".
- 9:40 AM, 23 January 2006   [link]

A Turkish Court agrees with me.  Mehmet Ali Agca belongs in jail.
Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill pope John Paul II and murdered a prominent Turkish journalist, will be released from prison in 2010, Anatolia news agency reported, citing prosecutors.

The prosecutors made the decision after the Appeals Court overturned an earlier decision for Agca's release, which led to his re-imprisonment Friday after eight days of freedom.
At least for a few more years.  As I said, I would prefer at least a true life sentence for Agca.
- 7:40 AM, 23 January 2006   [link]

President Bush has been reading this book.

So have I, as I mentioned here.   New York Times reporter Elizabeth Bumiller is not sure Bush should be reading the book.
The book might at first seem an odd choice for Bush, whose taste in biography, like that of other U.S. presidents, runs to previous occupants of the Oval Office.  But it is not so surprising given that "Mao: The Unknown Story" has been embraced by the right as a searing indictment of Communism.

Other reviewers have praised the book's brutal portrait of Mao as a corrective to sunnier biographies, even as they have questioned some of its prodigious research and criticized the authors for a moralistic, good-and-evil version of history.
If Mao had killed 100 million, instead of a mere 70 million (by Jung and Halliday's estimate), then could we have a "moralistic, good-and-evil" biography?  I fear that, even then, Ms. Bumiller would consider such judgementalism inappropriate.

(If you want more opinions on the book, you can find them at Amazon, naturally.)
- 6:52 AM, 23 January 2006   [link]

Surprisingly Honest Headline:  And it is on an Associated Press article in the Washington Post, no less.  Harry Belafonte has continued his tirade against Bush, and it is a pleasant surprise to see a "mainstream" news organization say so.

(Belafonte has gotten so bad that Tim Russert felt compelled to give Democratic senator Barack Obama a chance to distance himself from the singer
MR. RUSSERT: Let's talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, I never use Nazi analogies, because I think those were unique, and I think, you know, we have to be careful in using historical analogies like this.  I think people are rightly concerned that we strike the right balance between our concerns for civil liberties and the uniform concern that all of us have about protecting ourselves from terrorism.
And that's followed by another gentle exchange on what Belfonte said in Venezuela.   As any serious person can see, Russert is giving Obama a chance to pose as a moderate by distancing himself from Belafonte and similar extremists.  And Russert never presses Obama, never asks him whether Belafonte should be welcome at Democratic party events.

Oddly enough, Russert's efforts to help Obama (and the Democrats) drew nasty comments from some leftwing blogs, as you can see here, here, and here.  The last post is by James Wolcott, a professional writer.  It is pointlessly obscene, and, in places, poorly written.)
- 5:39 AM, 23 January 2006   [link]

Timothy Goddard has another reason to cheer for the Seahawks.  (Which I will do, in my own mild way.)
- 3:12 PM, 22 January 2006   [link]

Another Layer For The NYT Cocoon:  As I have been arguing for years, starting here and most recently here, the letters editor at the New York Times protects their columnists from all but the mildest criticism.  And that in spite of the fact that those same columnists sometimes write truly despicable stuff.  The Times, as I said in 2003, can dish it out, but is unwilling to take it.

And now the Times has added another layer of protection for their columnists
If you haven't signed up for TimesSelect, The New York Times' online subscription product, don't bother e-mailing the paper's star columnists.

Since the Times put the words of its eight Op-Ed columnists behind a paid wall last September, it has also decided that only TimesSelect subscribers should be allowed to e-mail Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, et al.
This is, as Mickey Kaus points out, Bad Journalism.
Columnists get tips over email!  They get interesting information from like-minded souls, and interesting information from readers who despise them.   The Times would give up this Webby power for a mess of Pinch pottage!  Now columnists will only hear from those who've paid to be inside the paper's mainly-liberal New York-centric cocoon.
What the Times has done, by censoring the letters it publishes and by blocking email from most readers, is remove much of the feedback from the system.  And as any engineer can tell, you, that's almost always a bad idea.
- 11:39 AM, 22 January 2006   [link]

Did You Celebrate Robert E. Lee's Birthday This Week?   Probably not.  What about Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday, which was also this week?  Again, probably not.  And what about Martin Luther King's birthday, which led off the week?  Again, probably not, unless you are a politician or an editor.

And even many of the politicians didn't really celebrate King's birthday.  Hillary Clinton, as I sure you know, chose to attack the Republicans in the House of Representatives, rather than commemorate King.  Many other politicians, especially on the left, also ignored whatever lessons there may be in King's life, preferring to use the day to continue their attacks the Bush administration.

Most editors, on the other hand, tried hard to get their readers to pay attention to King.  The Monday Seattle Times, for instance, made a story about higher black enrollment at the University of Washington their lead story, putting in under a headline connecting it to the birthday.  They gave all of page three to the holiday, gave a page to King in their "Life" section, and used two full columns for an editorial on King.  And there was more in their Sunday edition. I didn't read the editorial or any of the articles, and I would bet that I was typical.  (This is, by the way, not how the Seattle Times treats other patriotic holidays, which they mostly ignore.)

Why did I ignore the articles and editorial on the holiday?  Because traditional civil rights issues are almost irrelevant to current problems — at least in the United States.  And because I do not trust the Seattle Times (or other "mainstream" news organizations) to be honest in their assessments of King's life.   And that is sad, because there is much to learn from his failures, as well as his accomplishments.

So I, and many other readers, simply ignored what the Times had to say, as we would ignore some strange street preacher, whose beliefs we had dismissed long ago.  As far as I can tell, the number of people who simply ignore the holiday is growing, despite the best efforts of our newspapers.  In another ten years or so, I suspect that King Day will be like Columbus Day, an opportunity for politicians to appeal to a minority, but no more than that.

(President Bush did commemorate the holiday, as you can see from his remarks.)
- 1:54 PM, 21 January 2006   [link]

Think You Have A Bad Boss?  Be glad you aren't Mary Capps.
A Kansas woman whose boss turned out to be the BTK serial killer has sued him for gender discrimination.
And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that she has a good case.
- 5:40 AM, 20 January 2006   [link]

With His Name, you'd think he would avoid that kind of crack.  Actor George Clooney made a crude joke about the ending of Jack Abramoff's name at the Golden Globe awards.  (If you don't see my point, just remove the "C" from "Clooney".)
- 5:15 AM, 20 January 2006   [link]

Science(?) Bits:  While collecting articles for the science bits post just below, I came across a funny mistake and a dubious conclusion.

First the funny mistake.  In an ABC article on those glow-in-the-dark Taiwanese pigs, I found this paragraph:
A research team at National Taiwan University claims it has succeeded in breeding three male green pigs by injecting fluorescent green protein into embryonic pigs.
A student in a high school biology class would be able to spot that howler.  The pigs are "transgenic", which means that their DNA has been changed.  They are creating the protein in their own cells, not having it "injected".  (If your biology is a little out of date, you can find a better explanation in this BBC article.)

And then the dubious conclusion.  If this Washington Post article is correct, global warming is destroying the world's frogs.  Now it is only fair to begin by saying that the article is based on a peer-reviewed article in a prominent journal, Nature.  (Which I will try to find.)  Even so, the claim is, on the face of it, implausible.

Frogs have been around since the Triassic, and don't appear to have changed much since the Jurassic.  (At least according to my copy of the third edition of Colbert's Evolution of the Vertebrates.   The book is out of date, but I doubt that it is wrong on when frogs first appeared.   And I will have to acquire a more recent text on the subject, if I can find one that isn't too expensive.)

During those millions of years, there have been one or two small changes in the climate, changes that the frogs survived, even though other animals, including the dinosaurs and the mammoths, did not.  To believe that recent losses in frog populations are caused by the (so far) very small amount of global warming is to ignore the evidence from those millions of years.

(It is possible that the losses are human caused in other ways.  For example, the great increase in travel (including travel by biologists studying frogs) may be spreading pathogens from one pond to another.)
- 10:43 AM, 19 January 2006   [link]

Debra Saunders Says She Was Wrong:  About the much disputed link between gay marriage and polygamy.
When social conservatives argue that legalizing same-sex marriage could lead to legalized polygamy, same-sex marriage advocates either laugh or sneer.  It's a scare tactic, they say. It'll never happen.

Last year, however, as Canada legalized same-sex marriage, Prime Minister Paul Martin commissioned a $150,000 study to debunk the polygamy argument.  Big mistake: The study confirmed the scare tactic by recommending that Canada repeal its anti-polygamy law.
. . .
Confession time: I am one of those who, for years, has argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would not open the door for polygamy.
I can't criticize Saunders for that mistake, because I came to a similar conclusion, though I was more tentative.
If the legalization of gay marriage were to be followed by the legalization of polygamy or polyamory, then I do think that the effects on our society would be profound.   There are groups that favor just that path, but, as yet, they seem to have so little influence that I do not think such changes would be inevitable if gay marriage were legalized.
(And I did change my mind a few months later.)

Both of us underestimated the powerful logic of the argument in favor of gay marriages.  Once you accept the argument that we should not intefere with "consenting adults" in matters of love, then acceptance of polygamy is inevitable.

And the results would be profound, since so much of our society is based on the assumption of monogamy in legal relationships.  Consider, for instance, just how much acceptance of polygamy would change Social Security.  Think I am making that up?  The British tax agency is already grappling with the problem.

And I will end by repeating my standard for evaluating such changes:  What is important is not what may make adults happier (or what they believe may make them happier) but what effects the change has on raising children.
- 9:29 AM, 19 January 2006
More:  You can find a similar argument by Marty Mazur here and an informative Weekly Standard article on Dutch and Belgian examples here.
- 7:05 AM, 20 January 2006   [link]

Science Bits:  Nothing as flashy as the biplane dinosaur this week, but I do start out with some practical advice for older folks.
  • Exercise can delay Alzheimer's disease.   Exercise won't prevent Alzheimer's in every case, but it can reduce the chances of developing the disease by 30 to 40 percent.

  • Our stomachs may be filled with hydrochloric acid, but that hasn't prevented bacteria from moving in.  Most probably do us no harm, though one, Helicobacter pylori, is known to cause stomach ulcers.

  • Do ants teach other ants?   One team of researchers think so, but others disagree.  In the end, I suspect that researchers will find that this "teaching" behavior is like the honeybee's dance, complex, but instinctive.

  • Ion engines can already get millions of miles per gallon (in space).  Now a European and Australian team has developed one they say is ten times as efficient.

  • We have been using microbes for thousands of years to make everything from beer to cheese.  And now with the tools of genetic engineering, we are sometimes able to custom make the bacteria we need, or just want.
    There are bacteria that blink on and off like Christmas tree lights and bacteria that form multicolored patterns of concentric circles resembling an archery target.  Yet others can reproduce photographic images.

    These are not strange-but-true specimens from nature, but rather the early tinkering of synthetic biologists, scientists who seek to create living machines and biological devices that can perform novel tasks
    One team is even developing a "Registry of Standard Biological Parts".  

  • Vibrating insoles may help people with poor balance walk.   It is, says the article, another example of "stochastic resonance", about which I (and, I suspect, the article's writer) know nothing.

  • When you are being moved to a hospital's radiology department, there is often a "failure to communicate".  A dangerous failure to communicate.
    Medication errors that harm patients are seven times more frequent in the course of radiological services than in other hospital settings, according to the analysis by the United States Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit group that sets standards for the drug industry.
    These findings appear to have surprised hospital administrators, but I wonder if they would surprise patients.

  • Black-footed ferrets, once thought to be extinct, are making a comeback.   Prairie dogs will not be pleased.
- 9:09 PM, 18 January 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  Ira Sharkansky's prediction.
If I was going to wager on the upcoming Israeli election, I would put it all on Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party.  Olmert is sounding judiciously prime ministerial, posturing in ways that suggest what Ariel Sharon would have done.  Sharon is basking in the aura of national hero, but still in a coma and worrying his physicians.

The major competing parties are each making serious mistakes.
The strength of Kadima ("Forward") is amazing considering that the party was founded just three months ago, and has lost its leader for all practical purposes.  (Though Sharon will be a great symbol for the party.)
- 4:44 AM, 18 January 2006   [link]

First Site Changes:  If you look at the left column, you'll notice that I have added a new category for the group blogs I write for.  The categories are no longer neatly exclusive, which bothers me a bit, but I think the they will be more useful for most readers.  This Friday or Saturday I hope to revise the Northwest part of the list.  If you know any good blogs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or Alaska that I should include, let me know.

More changes soon, I hope, though one has been delayed.  I had decided to make Verizon my DSL provider, but they apparently ran out of capacity just a day or two before I got out my credit card to sign up.  I'll give them a month or so to fix that before I start looking for alternatives.
- 4:27 AM, 18 January 2006   [link]

Thanks:  For the flattering comparison.   Barone and I love to analyze votes, and we moved away from the Democratic party at about the same time for similar reasons, so it is not surprising that there are similarities in our writing.
- 1:34 PM, 17 January 2006   [link]

The Entertaining Mayor Of New Orleans:  Ray Nagin took his own crack at applying theology to recent events and declared that hurricanes were God's punishment.
Mayor Ray Nagin suggested Monday that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and other storms were a sign that "God is mad at America" and at black communities, too, for tearing themselves apart with violence and political infighting.

"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country," Nagin, who is black, said as he and other city leaders marked Martin Luther King Day.
In the same speech, Nagin came out for a "chocolate New Orleans".
Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday called for the rebuilding of a "chocolate New Orleans" that maintains the city's black majority, saying, "You can't have New Orleans no other way."

"I don't care what people are saying Uptown or wherever they are.  This city will be chocolate at the end of the day," Nagin said in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech.  "This city will be a majority African-American city. It's the way God wants it to be."
Nagin later apologized to anyone in New Orleans who "may have been offended".  In other words, he wishes he hadn't said that God is punishing us with hurricanes or that God wants New Orleans to be "chocolate", but he didn't actually retract either statement.

Not being a theologian, I won't comment on his beliefs, though I would like to have the mayor explain how he knows so much about God's plans.  Nagin is a Democrat, but perhaps some inquisitive reporter will ask him for an explanation anyway.

(If you want to see his original speech, you can find it here.   And you can find a practical way to make New Orleans chocolate here.

Finally, some in Washington state will be reminded of another Democrat, then state chairman Paul Berendt, who was also convinced that he knew God's will.)
- 1:06 PM, 17 January 2006   [link]

Part Of The Barrett Report will be released Thursday.  
A long-awaited report detailing an independent counsel investigation of a former secretary of housing and urban development, Henry Cisneros, outlines a coordinated effort by Clinton administration officials to first block and then limit the probe as a way of taking pressure off an administration that was already beset by scandals.
But only part:
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington, D.C., instructed Mr. Barrett in October to close his office and publish his report "with all deliberate speed."  The court also told Mr. Barrett that he must first redact from the report a number of details that it said should remain private.

As reported earlier, approximately 120 pages of the report have been redacted by the three-judge panel.  Persons named in the report are now in a position to block prosecution since the statute of limitations has expired for any offenses that were committed.  They have reviewed the report, and their responses are said to be added on to the report as an appendix, along with the memo by Mr. Filan.
So those accused of crimes have gotten a chance to see the whole report, but the public, which paid for it, won't.  As the New York Sun says, in the beginning of their editorial , this is the "worst of all worlds".  (To read the entire editorial, you must be a subscriber.)   There is, apparently, enough in the report to make us suspect that the Clinton administration misused the IRS and the Justice Department, but not enough to tie the abuses directly to the Clintons.

The fact that part of the report is not available to the public will arouse the suspicions of every Republican activist.  Republicans will assume that the judges are covering up Clinton misdeeds.  And the great efforts made to cover up part of the report will only feed those suspicions.

I will go out on a limb a little way and make three predictions about the report.   News organizations will not complain much about the redactions.  (The New York Times, believe it or not, actually called for the report to be suppressed.)  The redacted portions will leak out.  We will learn that Clinton administration officials abused the IRS and the Justice Department, but that Barrett was not able to show that either Clinton ordered these activities.  (I am almost certain that they were aware of them, but also think that they were clever enough to obscure their part in this abuse.)
- 7:36 PM, 17 January 2006
The Leaks begin.
Then-IRS Commissioner Peggy Richardson, a close friend of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), was involved in efforts to quash the probe, a source close to the case alleged.

But Richardson's role was cut from Barrett's report, which went through 26 drafts, because Democratic law firm Williams & Connolly successfully pressured Barrett to remove a section of the report naming her, a source said.
And will continue, I am sure.
- 10:24 AM, 18 January 2006   [link]