June 2007, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Here's the question:
Are Muslim dress codes bad for women's health?
And here's the answer:
Conservative Muslim dress codes may be causing vitamin D deficiency in women by limiting their exposure to sunlight, humans' main source for the vitamin, according to new research.
We need some sunshine.  It is as simple as that.

(Incidentally, these extreme and unhealthy dress codes can not be ascribed to Islam's founder.  Muhammad has many debits on his ledger, but he said little more about women's dress than that it should be modest — a position most mothers would agree with.)
- 1:39 PM, 29 June 2007   [link]

Another Failed Terrorist Plot:  And this one could have killed dozens, maybe even hundreds.
London escaped what could have been its worst terrorist attack this morning when a car bomb packed with nails, gas canisters and containers of petrol apparently failed to detonate outside a popular West End nightclub hosting a 'ladies' night'.

Police were called to Tiger Tiger nightclub on Haymarket near Piccadilly Circus shortly before 2am when smoke was seen coming from the inside of a Mercedes car parked outside.  Unconfirmed reports said that a man had been seen running away from the vehicle.

Inside officers discovered "significant quantities" of petrol, believed to be 60 litres, plus nails and gas cylinders.

They used a remote-controlled device to check the vehicle, which was parked in Haymarket, before bomb squad officers made it safe.

If the device had exploded, police said that the shrapnel would have killed or injured anyone within a wide area.  The bomb could have caused a fireball as big as a house followed by a large shock wave.
Note that I said "failed", not "foiled".  Those in the nightclub were saved, not because of any thing the authorities did, but because the detonator in the car did not work.

Why this target?  Here's what the authorities think:
Terror groups like al-Qaeda are believed to have been planning attacks on nightclubs, which are considered by Islamic fundamentalists to be symbols of Western decadence.

Earlier this year, a number of Islamist extremist terrorists were imprisoned for planning several major terror attacks, including a bomb attack on London's Ministry of Sound nightclub.  Islamist extremists have in the past talked about particularly targeting women, whose attendance at nightclubs they say they particularly loathe.  In that regard, the fact that Tiger Tiger was holding a 'ladies' night,' complete with female DJ, would have meant a particularly large number of women were inside the club.
London was lucky this time, but we can not assume that London, or any other Western city with many radical Islamists, will be "lucky always".
- 6:17 AM, 29 June 2007
More:  As you have probably have already heard by now, they have found a second car, similarly armed, near where the first one was spotted.

Both cars were Mercedes, which suggests that these terrorists are not impoverished.

The comments at the end of the Times of London article I linked to above are worth a look.  It is not surprising to find comments such as this one:
Yes it could have been Islamic terrorists who carried out this failed attack, but why has noone mentioned the CIA or Mossad, or even MI5?  If America and Israel are prepared to go to war and kill innocent people to "protect their people" and support democracy, then why not carry out a plot which is not intended to cause casualties, but hopefully we be a sign to Gordon Brown that there is a "war on terror" going on, and he'd better support America(which is a slave of Israel) in this war.

People should realise that the American and Israeli governments and military are terrorists too.

Usman Ali, London, UK
But it is dismaying, especially when we realize that many who share his views would never put up a similar comment.  It is true that the authorities have not, as I write, tied these two failed attempts to any particular organization or creed, but it is also true any reasonable person will suspect Islamic extremists.
- 2:48 PM, 29 June 2007   [link]

As Usual, Many Were Called, But Few Were Chosen:  Perhaps, none, though I don't know for certain.  When I arrived at the courthouse in Kent, I was checked for weapons at the entrance as usual, and then went up to the jury room, where I heard the end of a pep talk from a judge, and didn't watch the same instructional video I have seen twice before.  Court officials had prepared for three separate jury trials that day, so there was a large crowd in the jury room waiting to be called.  (Actually two large jury rooms, with the divider between them removed.)

A little before noon, we were told that two of the cases had been settled.  The clerk had run a computer program that selected 80 of the potential jurors to go home.  She read off their names, and they went home.  The rest of us went off to lunch.  After lunch, we came back and sat around reading, chatting, or using our laptops, as we had that morning.  (I was able to get a free WiFi connection and do some web surfing.)  A few dozed off in their seats.  Those who did must have been quite tired because the seats were not meant for sleeping.

At about two in the afternoon, we were told that they would not need a jury that afternoon and that we could go home.  Even better, for most of us, since the two cases had been settled, and the 80 who had been dismissed early were coming back, we were not needed on Thursday.  So I am finished with my jury service, at least until the next summons.

After lunch I did a quick count of the people in the room and found almost 60 still there.  I would guess that the court sent out summons to 150 people all together and that about 10 didn't show up for one reason or another.  That would have given the court almost 50 potential jurors for each trial.

This was quite expensive — though not for the court.  Let's do a quick, back-of-the-envelope estimate to get a rough idea of just how expensive.  I think we can assume that even those who left early in the morning lost most of their day.  If each person summoned earns, on the average, 200 dollars a day, then having the 140 potential jurors there that day cost $28,000 — and accomplished nothing.  Sometimes the individual jurors bore the cost themselves; sometimes it was borne by their employer, especially if the juror works for a large organization.

But the court doesn't see those costs; the court only sees the direct costs, the 10 dollars a day each juror receives, and the free bus passes, or mileage payments for those who drove to the court.

Those not familiar with American courts may wonder why so many potential jurors were called, when only 18 are needed for most trials (typically, 12 jurors plus 6 alternates).  American courts need that many because the lawyers for the two sides can dismiss so many during the questioning of potential jurors, during voir dire.   In other words, most of the potential jurors were there in order to give the lawyers for the two sides a chance to ensure a fair jury, or, if you prefer, a chance for the lawyers for each side to rig the jury.

In big cases, those efforts can be extraordinary.  For example, law firms sometimes employ polling firms to find out which groups in the population are likely to be disposed to their side in the dispute, so they can stack the jury with people from those groups.  (Interesting tidbit: A polling firm offered to do that kind of poll for the prosecution in the OJ trial, for free.  The prosecutors turned them down, and selected many black women for the jury, probably because the head prosecutor, Marcia Clark, saw it as a domestic violence case.  As the polling firm could have told her, black women were the group least likely to support the prosecution.)  Race is often used to select juries, though the lawyers doing it must always deny the obvious, at least publicly.

Would justice be served if we cut back, or even eliminated, the peremptory challenges to potential jurors, the challenges the lawyers need not justify?  I think so.  At the very least, the question deserves serious research.  And we would certainly save a lot of money, if we were to cut back or eliminate those peremptory challenges.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Perhaps I should add that I am not saying this because my experiences in these jury pools imposed any hardship on me, personally.  Each time I have been called, I have had a chance to get a worm's eye view of the court system, and have learned something about it, something I can share with you.  But it would be foolish not to recognize that most jurors do not have my free time, or my desire to learn something about our judicial system, foolish not to recognize that many jurors find serving a hardship.)
- 9:59 AM, 28 June 2007   [link]

Who Does The BBC Use As Stringers In Gaza?  The Jerusalem Post has an answer.
Despite Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) opposition and per the request of the BBC, the coordinator of government activities allowed a Hamas member who works for the BBC to enter the Gaza Strip last week to assist in efforts to release kidnapped journalist Alan Johnston.

Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post that a week ago, a request came from the BBC asking that a Palestinian employee of the news company who is believed to be a close associate of senior Hamas officials be allowed to enter Gaza.
As I understand it, the BBC has denied this story, but not everyone is accepting their denial, given their history.  For example:
There was the disturbing case of Fayad Abu Shamala, the BBC Arabic Service correspondent, who addressed a Hamas rally on May 6, 2001, and was recorded declaring that journalists in Gaza, apparently including the BBC, were "waging the campaign shoulder to shoulder together with the Palestinian people".   Pressed for an explanation, the subsequent BBC statement said: "Fayad's remarks were made in a private capacity.  His reports have always matched the best standards of balance required by the BBC."
Of course.  And now we know a little bit more about what those standards are.

And let's admit that hiring terrorists as stringers does have many practical advantages, especially in the Middle East.  Whether anyone should believe what these stringers produce is another question, but not one that disturbs the BBC, or most other "mainstream" news organizations.
- 5:37 AM, 27 June 2007   [link]

Shouldn't Ads Be Clearly Marked?  Today the Seattle Times ran this ad for Michael Moore and his new movie, Sicko.  But they did not mark it as an ad, as they usually do.  Even stranger, whoever created the ad hired a Seattle Times reporter, Mark Rahner, to do the dialog for the ad.  I thought most newspapers, even newspapers with low standards, avoided that kind of mix-up.

In places, the ad reads as if it were intended as a satire, as ads often do.  For example, there is this exchange:

Q: Even when I tend to agree with your overall point of view, sometimes I think I need an independent fact-checker to find what's anecdotal and what isn't.

A: That's a fair question.  All of the facts in my movie are 100 percent accurate.  I have a team of fact-checkers that come in, I have a team of lawyers then that tear the film apart.   I have to do this in part because it's the right thing to do, and secondly I need to convince you of my argument.  And if you don't trust the facts then I'm never going to get you to think about agreeing with the argument.  So because I do such a good job of making sure what I say is true, it's why I rarely if ever get sued.

Anyone familiar with Moore's casual way with the facts will find that exchange hilarious.  (Those not familiar may want to begin by looking here, here, and here.)  And those familiar with our libel laws will know — as Rahner should — why public officials almost never sue for libel.

The ad has unbelievable bits, as ads often do.  For example:

Q: I've heard you're not exactly Lindsay Lohan in your private life.

A: I'm actually a fairly conservative person.  I live a very conservative lifestyle.   I try to go to church most Sundays.  I was raised Catholic, so I'm Catholic — sometimes a recovering Catholic.  I've been with the same woman for the past 26 years.

I suppose that it is not impossible that Moore tries to go to church "most Sundays" (though he doesn't say whether he succeeds), but that isn't the way any reasonable person would bet.   And it would be interesting to know whether the Catholic church approves of him living in sin all these years.  I am no expert on Catholic theology, but I thought that was a no-no, even for film producers.

Newspapers typically avoid mixing ads and content this way, because they believe that it lessens their credibility.  Perhaps, given the low ratings that journalists have earned, the Seattle Times has decided that it has no more credibility to lose.  But they should still explain to their readers why they decided to run this ad — without labeling it as an ad.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The ad takes up about a page all together.  For reasons that escape me, the creator of the advertisement gave two-thirds of a page to that picture of Michael Moore.)
- 2:09 PM, 26 June 2007
Correction:  When Michael Moore said that he has "been with the same woman for the past 26 years", he meant that he has been married that long.

Did Moore use that deceptive phrase in order to fool people?  I wouldn't be surprised if he did, and he is certainly smart enough to know that most people would think that he was living with a woman, but not married to her, when he puts it that way.  As always with Moore, it is best to pay very close attention to his words, and to double check everything he says, with external sources.

Thanks to commenter "Cat" at Sound Politics for catching my mistake.
- 5:58 PM, 26 June 2007   [link]

Compact Fluorescents And My Electric Bill:  Yesterday, my electric bill for the last month arrived and on it I found evidence that changing from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents can save money.

The bill from Puget Sound Energy gives two comparisons to the corresponding month last year, the average temperature and the average daily kilowatts used.  By coincidence, the average temperature last year was the same as this year, 61 degrees Fahrenheit.  That's warm enough so that I spent almost nothing on electric heat either year, for that month.

This year, since I have switched to the compact fluorescents, my electricity use is down by 20 percent.  And that saves me enough to pay for the compact fluorescents in a year or so.   Others, who do not heat with electricity and pay higher rates, will do even better.

(As I have mentioned before, most calculations of savings are not correct for those who heat with electricity, as I do.  But I only need electric heat for about six months each year, so I do save in the other months.

The LCD monitor I bought earlier this year is probably helping reduce my energy use, too.

If you are just now considering switching from incandescents, you may want to see some advice gleaned from my own experience.  One thing I would add is that, if your patterns of use are anything like mine, you can get most of the savings from changing a few heavily used bulbs.)
- 11:23 AM, 26 June 2007   [link]

Should "Mainstream" Journalists Hold Democratic Officials Accountable For Their Failures?   Put that directly, most people, maybe even most "mainstream" journalists, would say yes.  But in practice, those journalists are unwilling to make the most obvious follow-ups on the most horrific of failures, such as this one.

From long experience, I can predict that even this story will not lead our local journalists to ask the obvious questions of the obvious officials.  For example, I greatly doubt that Sean Robinson, who appears to have done fine reporting on this story, will take the next, obvious step.  He will not call Governor Christine Gregoire and ask her why she failed to protect this abused girl.  Nor will he call former governor Gary Locke with the same question.

Nor will any other local journalists take that obvious step, if past experience is a guide.   Instead they will leave the story where it is now:  Something horrific happened, but our "mainstream" journalists will not hold any elected official responsible for the state's failure to protect this little girl.

I would be delighted to be wrong in that prediction.  I care greatly about these victims of the state's neglect, and I do not believe that we can do a better job of protecting unless we are willing to hold officials responsible for these failures — even if those officials are Democrats.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Do "mainstream" journalists hold Republican officials responsible for their failures?  Often, sometimes even when the failure is not the fault of the official.  For example, a year or so ago, a bureacrat at the Department of Veteran's Affairs took home a laptop with information on it about veterans.  The laptop was stolen by a burglar, and there was great fear for a time that the information on it would be sold to the wrong people.  (As I recall, the laptop was recovered and no information was lost.)

The Seattle Times ran an editorial blaming the VA Secretary for this loss — in spite of the fact that the department has an explicit policy forbidding employees, including this bureaucrat, from taking out laptops with this kind of information on them.)
- 9:35 AM, 26 June 2007   [link]

Sally Quinn Breaks A Big Story:  Which you may already have heard about if you are a Republican.
The big question right now among Republicans is how to remove Vice President Cheney from office.   Even before this week's blockbuster series in The Post, discontent in Republican ranks was rising.
Beldar is skeptical.
Why, yes!  We in the right-most hemisphere of the blogosphere have been writing of little else this week than impeaching Vice President Cheney!  Indeed, I believe this subject has filled almost 98% of all talk-radio hours for the past week, and as Sen. Trent Lott informs us, talk radio runs America.   Discontent with Vice President Cheney is virtually drowning all us Republicans, but it's awfully astute of her to notice.  Glub glub, tell me more!
To be fair, Quinn was saying that these anonymous "Republicans" would persuade Cheney to resign, not impeach him, but Beldar has a point.  No doubt one can find Republicans who want Cheney to leave — it's a big party — but the idea that Republicans in general want him out is silly, profoundly silly.

By the way, it is wicked for Beldar to suggest that the Washington Post published this column because Quinn is married to Ben Bradlee, who was the Post's executive editor and is still the Post's vice president.
- 8:09 AM, 26 June 2007   [link]

The Truth About Guantánamo:  You can find it if you look in the right places, for example, in this New York Times op-ed.
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, is right: "The image of Guantánamo Bay and the reality of Guantánamo Bay are completely different."  It is disappointing that so many embrace a contrived image.  Reality for Guantánamo Bay is the daily professionalism of its staff, the humanity of its detention centers and the fair and transparent nature of the military commissions charged with trying war criminals.  It is a reality that has been all but ignored or forgotten.
Why are the image and the reality so different?  Because our enemies have succeeded, in a brilliant propaganda coup, in replacing the second with the first, in many minds.  Our enemies could not have won this victory without the help of our "mainstream" media.  And so now we are reduced to getting the facts in an op-ed run as "opinion".

Just to be clear, I am not saying that our "mainstream" journalists want our terrorist enemies to win.  The help they have given the terrorists is not intentional; our "mainstream" journalists are, for the most part, suckers, not villains, in this matter.
- 6:16 AM, 26 June 2007   [link]

Wal-Mart Is Generally Despised By The Left:  In spite of the fact that Wal-Mart keeps finding ways to help the poor.  For example:
Wal-Mart said it will open 1,000 in-store MoneyCenters by the end of 2008 to "help meet the needs of the millions of unbanked and underserved customers who visit Wal-Mart each week for their basic money service needs."
. . .
Wal-Mart says its MoneyCenters will be priced as much as 50 percent below "other leading money service providers."  It says customers using Wal-Mart's financial services saved an average $450 last year, or almost $40 per month.

"The $40 our customers save each month can grow to become the down payment on a house or help pay for a child's college education," Wal-Mart's Thompson said.  "That's our goal -- to help our customers prepare and save for the future by giving them access to greater financial opportunities."
Or perhaps because of the fact that they help the poor.  Some on the left, especially the cultural left, despise Wal-Mart because they share the class prejudices that lead so many to look down on Wal-Mart and its customers.  They dislike Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart caters to the poor.

Others on the left dislike Wal-Mart because it is a large business, and they dislike all large businesses, regardless of what those businesses do — or don't do — for their customers.

Finally, some on the left dislike Wal-Mart because they dislike any way of helping the poor that does not come from the government.
- 12:41 PM, 25 June 2007   [link]

There Is some justice in the world.
"You had all the civil and military authority for northern Iraq, said Justice Muhammad Orabi Majid al-Khalifa, the presiding judge, reminding the court of the period 20 years ago when the man nicknamed "Chemical Ali" launched a reign of terror over the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

"You gave orders to troops and military intelligence officers to kill Kurdish civilians and put them in severe conditions.  You subjected them to harsh attacks using chemical weapons, artillery and aircraft.  You led the killing of Iraqi villagers and harmed many more.  You confined them to their areas, burned their orchards, killed their livestock.  You committed genocide," he said.
. . .
The judge sentenced him to "hang until you are dead" four times for genocide, crimes against humanity and assorted war crimes.
According to the article, during this campaign, "Chemical Ali" destroyed 3,000 villages and killed 180,000 Kurds.

During the campaign, he said that the world would not care about this slaughter, and he was mostly right.  That should dismay our "mainstream" journalists, but does not.
- 10:19 AM, 25 June 2007   [link]

Jury Duty Again:  Starting this Wednesday.  And to be frank, I would have declined the honor this time if it were not for the fact that it would provide more material for this web site.  (At the trial in April, we jurors were told that we could decline any future jury duty during the next year, just by explaining to the court that we had served recently.  The summons that I received does not mention that, so I assume that it is court policy, rather than a legal requirement.)

Unfortunately, this time the trial is in a suburb south of Seattle, Kent, and so I have the choice of driving during rush hours — which I hate — or taking long bus rides with transfers.   Driving there would probably take an hour, and the bus trip ninety minutes.

How long the jury duty will last is uncertain.  The latest summons, unlike the previous three, was honest enough to say that the length of jury service is one trial, but that if I am not selected for a jury I will be done after two days.  So at least two days, and possibly many more.  (Though I think the odds are against me serving.  I suspect most defense attorneys would have the same opinion as the public defender who dropped me from a jury last year.)

Of course, I will still keep writing for this site during the trial, and, now that I have a laptop, may even be able to post during the trial.  Jurors spend a lot of time just sitting around, judging by my limited experience.

(Aren't four summons in sixteen months a lot?  I suppose so, especially considering I have never been called before.  It is probably just a weird coincidence that I have been called this many times in a little more than a year.  Probably.)
- 9:44 AM, 25 June 2007   [link]