March 2006, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Threat To Blogs From McCain-Feingold:  I have mentioned, most recently in this post, that this very site might be subject to campaign finance laws.  Here's an article describing the problem.
If you're one of the nation's 30 million-plus bloggers - or among the 75,000 joining their ranks every day - keep an eye on Thursday's House vote on the Online Freedom of Speech Act.

Unless the bill passes, you may need a lawyer, if you discuss politics online.  If it passes, you may still need a lawyer, if you spend more than $250 a year on your blog.
The vote has been postponed, so the threat remains.  I don't spend a lot on this site, but I do spend more than $250 a year.  Besides that I criticize candidates by name, sometimes endorse candidates, and discuss politics right up to election day (and afterwards).  All of those things, as I understand it, might make me subject to the campaign finance laws.

To say the least, I am not delighted at the idea of hiring a lawyer so that I can exercise my First Amendment rights, or the idea of filling out endless forms.  And what really grates is that this very same law helped open the way for billionaires and millionaires to spend enormous amounts in our last election, with very little accounting.  Backers of McCain-Feingold claimed they were aiming at "big money", but they hit me, and thousands like me.
- 1:50 PM, 16 March 2006   [link]

Curtis Gokey Has Nerve:  But not much sense of responsibility.
When a dump truck backed into Curtis Gokey's car, he decided to sue the city for damages.  Only thing is, he was the one driving the dump truck.  But that minor detail didn't stop Gokey, a Lodi city employee, from filing a $3,600 claim for the December accident, even after admitting the crash was his fault.
Sadly, Gokey's irresponsibility is not unique, or even unusual.
- 6:37 AM, 16 March 2006   [link]

Jon Stewart's Lesson For The New York Times:  I didn't watch the Oscars and I didn't read much about them afterwards, so I missed this bit.
Then [Jon] Stewart hit us with "Capote addressed very similar themes to 'Good Night, and Good Luck.'   Both films are about determined journalists, defying obstacles in a relentless pursuit of the truth.   Needless to say, both are period pieces."
What the New York Times and many other "mainstream" news organizations do not realize is that they are becoming jokes, that almost no one believes that they are now engaged in the "relentless pursuit of the truth".
- 4:42 AM, 16 March 2006   [link]

Will Germany Vanish?  That's what Germans are beginning to fear, and for good reason.
It's no secret that Germany is grappling with a plummeting birth rate.  But the latest demographic figures have stunned experts too: fewer babies were born in 2005 than in the previous 60 years.
. . .
According to Eurostat, the EU statistics office, there were 8.5 births per 1000 inhabitants in Germany in 2004 -- making it the country with the lowest birth rate in the entire European Union.   Countries such as France and Britain boasted birthrates -- at 12.7 and 12.0 respectively in the same year -- that exceeded German levels by more than 50 percent.
(By way of comparison, the US has about 14 births per 1,000, and the world has about 22.)

Wonder if Germany will begin thinking about changing the pension rules so as to treat parents better than those without children?
- 4:18 PM, 15 March 2006   [link]

Our Enemies Read The LA Times:  Who says so?  President Bush and the LA Times.
During his speech about Iraq on Monday, President Bush criticized a newspaper article that he said revealed sensitive information about the Pentagon's effort to combat improvised explosive devices, the makeshift roadside bombs responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.  White House officials later said that Bush was referring to a Feb. 12 report in the Los Angeles Times.

"Within five days of the publication, using details from that article, the enemy had posted instructions for defeating this new technology on the Internet," Bush said.  "We cannot let the enemy know how we're working to defeat them."
The newspaper says that they checked with the Pentagon before publishing the story and got no objection.  So I won't say the LA Times deserves all the blame, or even most of it.  But I do think that they deserve some, since it is so obvious that this information would help those trying to kill Americans (and Iraqis).
- 1:52 PM, 15 March 2006   [link]

Let's Play Reporter For A Moment:  Suppose a man comes to you and tells you that he was abused at a prison.  Now, since anyone can say that (and many might have reasons to tell you a fib), you will want to make the obvious checks before printing his story.  And what are those checks, junior reporters?  Right the first time.  You call up the prison and the prosecutors office and ask them for their reactions.  Was that hard?  Did you need to go to journalism school to figure that out?  No, and no.

But it is just that blazingly obvious step the New York Times neglected when they put yet another Abu Ghraib story on the front page last Saturday.  I had my doubts when I saw the story and. to its credit, so did Salon magazine.
The online magazine Salon is challenging the identity of a man profiled by The New York Times in a front-page article on Saturday who says he is the iconic hooded figure in a published photograph who was abused by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004.
. . .
The Times contacted the military, which said the Geneva Conventions prevented it from commenting about the identity of anyone in a photograph.  The Times did not contact the Criminal Investigation Command in the process of reporting the article.
And why not?

But that's not all.  As James Taranto noted, the Times shows its priorities by the pages chosen for different stories.
Yesterday we noted that the New York Times had published a page 1 story on Abu Ghraib on the same day that it published a story on page 8 about the murder of a hostage, who, as the Times reported the next day on page 10, was apparently tortured before being slain.  Today the Times reports its Abu Ghraib story may have been fake:
. . .
The story raising doubts about the page 1 story appeared on page 17.
But there's even more.  Today, the Times published still another silly editorial attacking President Bush.  The title?  "A Stumble a Day."  I would say the Times stumbles far more often than once a day, and will continue to do so, as long as it is run by people in the grip of Bush Derangement Syndrome.
- 1:41 PM, 15 March 2006   [link]

Censure Russ Feingold!  The Wisconsin senator has been getting attention for his resolution to censure President Bush.  But not very favorable attention from other Democratic senators
Democratic senators, filing in for their weekly caucus lunch yesterday, looked as if they'd seen a ghost.

"I haven't read it," demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).

"I just don't have enough information," protested Ben Nelson (Neb.).  "I really can't right now," John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters -- an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide at the magnetometer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder.  When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

"Ask her after lunch," offered Clinton's spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.
So I don't think there's much chance this resolution will pass.  But it does remind me of some unfinished business from 2002.  That year, the junior senator from Wisconsin was finally able to pass the campaign finance "reform" act named after him.  Defenders of free speech saw it as a direct attack on the First Amendment, especially that little clause that says that "Congress shall make no law".  President Bush signed it, which may be the single worst decision of his presidency.  The Supreme Court, surprising many, held it constitutional.  (Those of us who support freedom of speech hope they may reverse themselves on at least some of the worst provisions, now that Sandra Day O'Connor has been replaced.)

Jonathan Rauch summarizes what Feingold has given us:
Now it is official: The United States of America has a federal bureaucracy in charge of deciding who can say what about politicians during campaign season.  We can argue, and people do, about whether this state of affairs is good or bad, better or worse than some alternative.  What is inarguable is that America now has what amounts to a federal speech code, enforced with jail terms of up to five years.
And if you think Rauch goes too far, just look at the items he lists after that summary.

I take this personally, because this very site might be regulated by the law.
Now the FEC is being asked to censor another segment of society, the millions of individuals who engage in political activity online.

The problem facing the FEC is that McCain-Feingold broadly restricts coordination with, and contributions to, political candidates.  So what is the agency to do with all those people who use their Web sites to praise a candidate?
As I have done both here and at Sound Politics.

Nor did the "reform" even get big money out of politics, as David Broder admits.  And though Broder does not mention it, one of the biggest supporters of campaign finance "reform", George Soros, led the way in circumventing the "reform".

So Feingold's "reform" limits our free speech rights in an unprecedented way, while doing nothing to get big money out of politics.  For the attack on our rights, and for the stupidity of the act, Senator Feingold deserves to be censured.  (And so does that fellow from Arizona who helped him pass the McCain-Feingold monstrosity, though he might claim, perhaps honestly, that he didn't understand his own legislation.)

(The Post article is by Dana Milbank, so I must warn you that there is a good chance it contains factual errors, though perhaps fewer than his articles on Bush.)
- 7:54 AM, 15 March 2006
More:  Jay Ambrose goes farther than I do and calls (jokingly) for Feingold to be expelled from the Senate.  He then goes on to make this serious point:
Bush is liable to sharp criticism on many fronts, from failure to control spending to signing the McCain-Feingold bill, apparently on the irresponsibly assumed premise that the courts would put the kibosh on it.  But time and again, his critics have indulged in rhetoric and proposals so out of touch with reality as to make you wonder if you're watching a TV satire instead of the real thing.  No doubt that rhetoric has combined with actual administration mistakes to send Bush's approval ratings down to the nether regions, but it has also poisoned the way we debate each other in this country and can be turned against the perpetrators.
What Bush's critics do not seem to realize is how much they have damaged their own credibility.  After, for example, the Seattle Times compared the Guantanamo prison to Stalin's Gulag, I found it hard to take anything else they had to say seriously.
- 6:04 AM, 17 March 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  James Traub tells us why the Democrats are hopeful about this fall's election, hoping that it will be like 1994, only in reverse.  Jay Cost explains why it most likely won't be.  And, in a pair of columns, here and here, Michael Barone describes the differences between now and then.

My own opinion?  I haven't made up my mind yet.  It is a fact that mid-term elections in a second presidential term tend to be especially bad for the incumbent party; it is also a fact that the popular vote for the House of Representatives has barely budged since 1994, with the Republicans usually having a very small edge.  And it has become as hard to separate an incumbent from his district as it is to remove a tiger from its prey, especially with all the gerrymandering, both Republican and Democratic.
- 3:22 PM, 14 March 2006   [link]

The Principal Victims of violence by blacks are other blacks.  Mary Mitchell reminds of us that, as she tells the sad story of another victim, Siretha White.
I detest being a spectator of someone else's pain.
. . .
So when I got to the house on the 2000 block of West 70th Place, the house where an adolescent girl named Siretha White was killed by a stray bullet -- the second girl in the Englewood area to die in this way in nine days -- I sat in my car before going in.
And Mitchell knows who to blame:
So what is really to blame?

It is the cowardice of the young black men who sought cover in a crowd of children; it is the cruelty of the other young black men who were determined to kill them anyway.
I blame public officials, too.  If there were the same level of violence in areas populated by wealthy whites, I believe the leftist politicians who run Chicago, and similar cities, would declare martial law and call up the National Guard.
- 1:25 PM, 14 March 2006   [link]

An Airy Indifference To Mere Facts:  Near the end of this muddled Froma Harrop column, I found these two paragraphs:

In 2005, Harvard received $500 million in federal research grants, plus a few million more through student aid.  But defense contractor Lockheed Martin obtained $6 billion in federal contracts.  I want to know how many liberals populate Lockheed's executive suite.

Actually, I don't want to know.  I imagine that close to no liberals run America's defense companies, and I don't have a problem with that.  Defense contractors tend to be culturally conservative, and universities tend to be liberal.  That's the way it is.

If you read the entire column, you'll see that she provides no data to support what she imagines.  Finding out how many defense executives are liberals is not easy, but we can easily check some indirect evidence, campaign contributions.  Let's take a look at the campaign contributions from defense PACs and individuals who work for defense companies in recent elections.  So far, Republicans have received about 60 percent of the contributions for the 2006 election.  They did better in 2004, 2002, 2000, 1998, and 1996.  But Democrats actually received the majority of the contributions from the defense industry in 1994 and 1992.  And Lockheed Martin?   So far, in 2006, the Republicans have received 58 percent of their contributions, and the Democrats 41 percent.

Open Secrets does not have a similar category for universities, so let's take a look at the 2006 donations from those who list their employer as Harvard, since that is the university Harrop mentions.  There were 167 contributions when I checked (including some from businesses with "Harvard" in their names).  In that entire list I found only a single contribution from a Harvard professor to the Republican party; Harvey Mansfield gave $200 to the Massachusetts Republican party.  (There may have been others, but some of the contributors do not clearly describe their positions at Harvard.)  In contrast, the Democrats received many contributions from academics, as did Democratic allies such as the far left MoveOn and Emily's List.

Judging by these contributions, Harvard academics are almost monolithic in their support for the Democratic party.  In contrast, the defense industry just tends to support the Republican party.  It took me about an hour to check these facts.  As a professional journalist, Froma Harrop should have been able to look them up in much less time.  But she preferred to "imagine" them, instead.

Why didn't Harrop want to know the facts?  Because the facts would have spoiled her argument that defense companies were just like universities.  So she airily ignores the facts.  I suppose that I have to give her a little credit for honestly admitting that, though I would think that not wanting to know the facts should disqualify her from a career in journalism.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.

(Harrop makes a common mistake when she claims that former Harvard president Larry Summers said that women were not as good as men in science.  Actually, what Summers said was that men vary more than women, something well known to anyone who knows even a little about IQ tests.  There are more men who are three standard deviations below normal — and more who are three standard deviations above normal.  This means that you will find more boys in special education classes, and more men in those few jobs that require exceptionally high IQs.

And Harrop seems to have forgotten the interesting case of Bernard Schwartz.

Finally, just so there is no misunderstanding, I should add that, though I am critical of our universities, I do not entirely support David Horowitz's attacks on leftist professors.  They are a serious problem, but not the worst, which is that, as Harvard President Derek Bok recently admitted, our universities have no idea what their students are learning — if anything.)
- 9:13 AM, 14 March 2006   [link]

Seattle Versus Salt Lake City:  Philip Longman notes a fundamental difference.
What's the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City?  There are many differences, of course, but here's one you might not know.  In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children.  In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs.

This curious fact might at first seem trivial, but it reflects a much broader and little-noticed demographic trend that has deep implications for the future of global culture and politics.  It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City.  It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children.
That's true around the world; that's something I can observe locally.  As it happens, Kirkland, the Seattle suburb where I live, is on the boundary between Democratic and Republican areas.  The parts of Kirkland that vote Republican have tricycles, swing sets, and basketball hoops; the parts of Kirkland that vote Democratic do not.

Seventy-five years ago, even fifty years ago, groups that voted Democratic had more children than groups that voted Republican.  That simple fact explains much about our politics from 1950 through 1975; the reversal explains much about our politics since.

(Seattle shows what happens when dogs become more common than children.  The city has been expanding park facilities for dogs, and figuring out which schools to close.  That combination works — for about one generation.)
- 7:10 AM, 14 March 2006
More:  There's a much longer version of Longman's argument here.  And if you would like to see some of his sources, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Want to Know More?"
- 12:40 PM, 14 March 2006   [link]

Cathy Seipp says that real life polygamists "all seem dumpy, pasty-faced and on the dole".  That's because Seipp is judging them by the specimens she sees on talk shows.

But let's consider some more famous polygamists.  I have my differences with Osama bin Laden, but I would not consider him "dumpy or "pasty-faced", and I don't think he he has ever been "on the dole".  I have other differences with Hugh Hefner, but I would not say he is "dumpy" or "pasty-faced", and he hasn't been on the dole for quite some time, if he ever was.  On the other hand, I think it is fair to call Kim Jong-il "dumpy", and perhaps "pasty-faced", though "on the dole" doesn't quite capture his exploitation of North Korea.

(Osama bin Laden is officially a polygamist, but is it fair to call Hefner and Kim polygamists?   Sure.  They may not have legal sanctions for their plural marriages, but then neither do the talk show polygamists.  In fact, one could argue that Hefner's "companions" are actually worse off than they would be if they were formally married, even if illegally.  Oddly, many in the entertainment world tolerate Hefner and his harem, though I would guess most would be outraged if he were actually to marry all seven.)
- 1:27 PM, 13 March 2006   [link]

Sharp Decline In Measles:  Here's the BBC story.
The number of people dying of measles across the world has fallen by almost half, the latest figures show.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund revealed deaths fell from 871,000 in 1999 to 454,000 in 2004.

The largest reduction occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, which had been hardest hit by the disease, where cases and deaths dropped by 60%.
Which is taken largely from this press release.   Which is claiming credit for work actually done by the Measles Initiative.  Regardless of who deserves the credit (and whether those numbers are completely accurate), this is a wonderful development.  (And it is a positive development for the United States, since it will reduce the the number of measles cases we import.)

(Bill Gates may deserve a significant amount of credit for this decline in measles.  His foundation is providing some of the money, and I seem to recall him advocating just this kind of practical, measurable help for Africa.

Anti-vaccine extremists may have delayed this effort.  There was a great controversy in Britain over the possibility that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine caused autism.  There are always a few who will oppose any vaccinations, but a single faulty paper linking MMR vaccinations and autism made this controversy much larger than usual.  The paper was published in Lancet, a journal that has had a few problems recently.)
- 8:05 AM, 13 March 2006   [link]

Be Just A Little Bit More Evil:  Apparently, Google is now blocking searches that find a site which satirizes Marxism, the People's Cube.  Here's their post on the blocking.
At some point, quite recently, our popular site "The People's Cube" ( was purged from Google search results.  MSN, Yahoo and other search engines still have it — but Google has erased/blocked any link to the site in its database.  One can still find links to us from other sites — but not even one from Google to
. . .
We can only think of three reasons for this:

1. Google is retaliating against sites that ridiculed its Google China project.
2. Google has begun to implement its Google China policies in the rest of the free world.
3. A left-leaning Google employee who's got access to the database was suffering a nervous breakdown over the mockery of Marxism on our site, and so he or she dastardly removed/blocked The People's Cube, hoping to "improve" the public discourse by silencing the competition.
Number 3 seems the most likely to me.  Be interesting to see Google's reply.

When Google made its deal with Communist China, I suggested they change their slogan from "Don't be evil" to Be Just A Little Bit Evil".  You can find more suggestions for Google's new slogan at Mazurland, and some new Google logos at Michelle Malkin.

(Google is also, I learned from Little Green Footballs, providing web space for Osama bin Laden fan clubs.  It is hard to see how Google, or the public, gains from that.)
- 6:46 AM, 13 March 2006
Google, or someone who works for Google, says there is a fourth reason: the person who runs the site is a spammer.  You can see the debate at the original People's Cube post, or in the latest comments to this Little Green Footballs post.
- 5:29 AM, 14 March 2006   [link]

It's Sunday:  Wonder if Senator John Kerry attended church today?   Actually, I don't wonder about that.  But I do wonder if Kerry has attended church even once since the end of the 2004 campaign.  His rushing from church to church during that campaign was, I thought, both distasteful and counterproductive.  He would have done better, I think, not to pretend to religious beliefs that he obviously does not have.  (One big piece of evidence for that conclusion:  When he released his tax returns, you could see that he had made no significant contributions to the Catholic church for years, though he continues to be a member.)  I think most believers would think more of a man who showed them some respect by not pretending to be one of them.
- 1:03 PM, 12 March 2006   [link]

Science Bits, beginning with some experiments you can do at home.
  • Want to study lava?  Start by making some fudge.  Here's the recipe.   And if studying geology by playing with food appeals to you, here are some more recipes.

  • When Vesuvius buried Pompei, that was just an encore.  The volcano had erupted far more violently 4,000 years ago, which, as the researchers say, is not reassuring for the millions who now live in the area.

  • Speaking of volcanos, Yellowstone continues to perk away.  The latest changes there probably don't foretell a giant eruption, but the volcano is so incredibly dangerous that we should keep a close watch on it.

  • The earthquake that caused the tsunami on December 26, 2004 broke the rules, making some scientists think that some supposedly safe areas may actually be in danger from similar giant earthquakes.

  • But if you want see a truly gigantic catastrophe, check out this picture of four galaxies colliding.  Pretty, isn't it?  Though if some theories are correct, we are seeing the death of billions of intelligent aliens.

  • The cover of Time magazine has still another picture of Kennewick man.  But, if Kennewick man was related to the Ainu of Japan, as some scientists think, then you will notice that Time's artist left something out.  Or else Gillette was manufacturing razors far earlier than I would have thought.

  • Is bubble fusion real?  There are doubts.

  • Get ready for warmer and more exciting weather; the next sunspot cycle is predicted to be a strong one.  It's amusing, but not paradoxical, to think that we can predict weather on the sun better than weather on the earth.  It's a bigger, but simpler system.  (Here's some background on sunspots, if you need a review.)

  • If you plan to raise mice for fun and profit, the best kind to raise are defective mice.  Those with just the right genetic defects can sell for as much as $100,000.

  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  The discovery of a rodent belonging to a group thought to be extinct for 11 million years, gives us another example to support that generalization.

  • Can coffee cause heart attacks?  If you are a "slow caffeine metabolizer", perhaps.  Alas, there is currently no easy way to tell slow from fast metabolizers.

  • Evidence of life in a Martian rock?  The question is still open, and the scientific debate on it has not always been civil.

  • Water geysers on Saturn's moon, Enceladus, which means that it just might have life, of a very simple kind.  And the Cassini spacecraft that detected the geysers also detected carbon dioxide and methane.

  • No black holes?  Instead, what seem to be black holes may really be "dark energy stars", or so some theorists have proposed.

  • Is space travel near the speed of light possible?  Physicist Franklin Felber thinks so, and he has predicted that we will have such starships before the end of this century.

  • "Quantum computer solves problem, without running." I don't claim to be able to explain that, or much else in the weird world of quantum mechanics, but it appears to be true.
And ending with the completely baffling.
- 5:01 PM, 10 March 2006   [link]

The High Costs Of Mass Transit:  In this New York Times article on economist Edward Glaeser, there was, besides the main discussion of how leftists may have driven up house prices, this powerful critique of designing cities for mass transit, instead of automobiles:
[Glaeser] also notes that cars per capita in 1990 is among the best indicators of how well a city has fared over the past 15 years.  The more cars, the better — a conclusion that seems perfectly logical to Glaeser.  Car-based cities enable residents to buy cheaper, bigger houses.  And commuters in car-based cities tend to get to work faster than commuters in cities that rely on public transit.  (The average car commute is about 24 minutes; on public transportation, it is around 48 minutes.)  While many of his academic peers were looking at, and denigrating, how the majority of Americans have chosen to live, Glaeser (though no fan of the aesthetics of sprawl himself) didn't think an economist should allow taste to affect judgment.  "You shouldn't go around thinking that all these people are just jackasses for deciding to drive an automobile," he says.
Let's summarize:  Cities that force commuters to rely on mass transit instead of cars impose high costs on the commuters in two ways.  First, the commuters have to either pay more for the same housing, or accept less housing.  Second, the commuters have to spend twice as much time in their daily commutes.  If commuters value their time at an average of 15 dollars an hour, then the extra 48 minutes for the two commutes each day in effect costs those who ride mass transit 12 dollars each day.  The additional housing costs and the time lost are pretty heavy taxes to pay, just so limousine liberals can watch others ride buses and trains.

(Here's my previous post on the article, where I discussed his argument that regulations have driven up housing costs.)
- 8:46 AM, 10 March 2006   [link]

Daniel Schorr Confesses To A Felony:  Specifically, leaking classified information.
The issue of invoking the Espionage Act of 1917 against journalists is not new.  In 1976, the Justice Department considered whether I should be indicted under that statute for revealing some classified information contained in a House Committee report.  In the end, I was told, the department dropped the idea when the CIA expressed fear that further classified information might be disclosed in a trial.
Schorr does not discuss whether his leak might have harmed the nation, though I would not be surprised to learn that it did.

What does interest Schorr is the possibility that some journalists, who have been committing similar felonies, may not be as lucky as he was.  And they may not, as Gabriel Schoenfeld explained in this Commentary article.   Here are the two parts of his long discussion that I found most compelling:
One might go further.  What the New York Times has done is nothing less than to compromise the centerpiece of our defensive efforts in the war on terrorism.  If information about the NSA program had been quietly conveyed to an al-Qaeda operative on a microdot, or on paper with invisible ink, there can be no doubt that the episode would have been treated by the government as a cut-and-dried case of espionage.  Publishing it for the world to read, the Times has accomplished the same end while at the same time congratulating itself for bravely defending the First Amendment and thereby protecting us—from, presumably, ourselves.
. . .
The real question that an intrepid prosecutor in the Justice Department should be asking is whether, in the aftermath of September 11, we as a nation can afford to permit the reporters and editors of a great newspaper to become the unelected authority that determines for all of us what is a legitimate secret and what is not
If Schoenfeld is correct is his description of the espionage laws — and I think he is — the legal case against the New York Times and other news organizations may be murky.  But the moral case for prosecuting them is crystal clear.  (And, though I suppose that Daniel Schorr is protected by the statute of limitations, I wouldn't mind federal prosecutors taking another look at his crimes, too.)
- 7:25 AM, 10 March 2006   [link]

Michael Ramirez celebrates the 8-0 defeat of the law schools with today's cartoon.
- 6:07 AM, 10 March 2006   [link]

Terrorist Or Innocent Victim?  Con Coughlin looks at the case of Moazzam Begg.
The well-spoken and articulate Begg said he was nothing more than an innocent teacher in Afghanistan, who was illegally abducted and cruelly tortured by the American military, both in Afghanistan and later at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba.
. . .
But Begg's account is starkly at odds with the signed statement he gave to FBI agents while held in Afghanistan after his capture in February 2002, a copy of which has been obtained exclusively by The Daily Telegraph.  In the statement, which US officials insist was not obtained under duress, Begg admits to having attended three separate al-Qa'eda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan where he learnt to fire AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and use primitive explosive devices.
I'd bet on terrorist, since Begg's current story sounds implausible in many ways.  But it will be believed by many.

Coughlin is more streetwise than the New York Times, which is convinced that, just because a prisoner in Guantanamo protests his innocence, he must be innocent.  It may shock the New York Times, but I understand that it is not uncommon for prisoners, even those who are not terrorists, to claim innocence falsely.  Really.   What has interested me — though it does not concern the New York Times — is that a number of terrorists who we released from Guantanamo were caught fighting us again.  That suggests to me that our standards for holding them are too lenient, not too strict.

And the Times fails to understand that the fault for our imprisoning some innocent men is mainly the terrorists'.  If our enemies refuse to wear uniforms and fight in a regular way, they bring suffering to innocents, precisely because we can not identify the fighters.  That is why the rules of war are so different for those who fight with uniforms, and those who do not.

(This is not to say that I am certain that Guantanamo has been managed perfectly.  Scott Burgess put it about right when he wrote:
I for one have mixed feelings about the place.  While I certainly don't object to holding combatant prisoners of a conflict for the duration of that conflict, I can accept the possibility that some unnecessarily unsavoury practices may have occurred there (although I would not be surprised to learn that this was the most humane "POW" camp ever established).  While I would feel comfortable in wagering that the large majority of detainees were in fact acting as, or aiding, Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, I can also accept the possibility that a few of them are innocent.

I don't treat as gospel administration statements on the matter simply because I'm ideologically aligned with it as far as global terror is concerned.  In other words, I view the situation as a complicated one, and I'm happy to consider descriptions and arguments on both sides of the question.
As any rational person should do.

The New York Times makes much of one prisoner being, so he says, a chicken farmer.  The newspaper has apparently forgotten this very famous chicken farmer from an earlier conflict.  Being a chicken farmer does not, in itself, demonstrate a man's innocence.)
- 4:11 PM, 9 March 2006   [link]

Not All Education Research Is Bad:  In this post, I noted that much education research is poorly done and that the quality appears to have declined in recent years.  But not all education research is bad, and some of the best has greatly influenced my thinking about the possibilities for reform, and the best ways to achieve it.  For example, in my youth there was considerable dispute over comparative achievement in different nations.  Those who compared American high school students with European high school students found that our students weren't learning as much.  Defenders of American schools replied that the Europeans only educated a minority of students, while we educated many more, and so one should expect lower levels of achievement here.

That excuse was destroyed when researchers began to do comparative studies of Japanese schools.   Like American schools, they tried to educate everyone, but their students learned as much or more than the European students.

Some of the researchers who made those comparisons have tried very hard to transmit their findings to the public, without, as far as I can tell, much success.  One of the better efforts at explaining what we might learn from the Japanese (and East Asians generally) is Stevenson and Stigler's The Learning Gap.   The authors tried hard to make their findings accessible to every educated adult, and I think that they succeeded, though I may not be the best judge of such things.  Their research compared American schools to Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese schools; in discussing their findings, I'll just say Asian to avoid awkwardness.  (I believe that many of their findings would also be true for Korean students, though their research did not include Korea.)

Here are some of their more striking findings:
  • Asian countries have plain schools with fewer facilities and many fewer staff members than American schools.  Many of the Asian schools, just a decade ago, looked much like our schools of a half century ago, plain and functional.

  • Asian classes are considerably larger than American classes.

  • Asian teachers are, relatively, better paid than American teachers and have considerably higher academic achievement.

  • Asian teachers have more in-school time for preparation and often do it in a room set aside for all the teachers.  They have many opportunities, both formal and informal, to share ideas for presenting material.

  • Asian schools used simpler and plainer textbooks than American schools.

  • Asian teachers used better teaching methods for arithmetic than American teachers.  For example, they generally began teaching a concept with a concrete example and then worked from that to the abstract, rather than the other way around.

  • Asian schools accept failure as a normal part of the learning process.  Stigler and Stevenson tell of a Japanese boy who could not draw a three-dimensional cube.  So the teacher asked him to try to draw it on the blackboard and then asked the class if his drawing was correct.  They said no, and the boy went on trying, taking most of the class period with his effort.  He was not disturbed by his struggle, accepting his errors as a natural part of learning, and nothing to be ashamed of.  And when he finally got the drawing right, the class applauded.

  • By fifth grade, the American students made less progress in reading than the Asian students, though language differences make measuring this more difficult than measuring than measuring differences in arithmetic.  The American students were "overrepresented among both the best and the worst readers", though the researchers were not sure why. (p. 46)

  • American students began school knowing about as much arithmetic as the Chinese students, but less than Japanese students.  By fifth grade, they were far behind both.
Many things commonly believed about Asian students and their parents are not true.  Asian parents actually put less pressure on their children to succeed early in life and in grade school.  But they do provide more support.  The Asian students do fewer chores, and are much more likely to have desks of their own.

Asian and American parents have different beliefs about the achievement of their kids and about what determines achievement.  The Asian parents (whose children are doing better) are much less likely to think that their children are doing well.  American parents (whose children are doing poorly) are much more likely to think that their children are doing well.  Asian parents generally believe that effort determines academic success; American parents generally believe that native talent determines academic success.

It is findings such as these that have convinced me that our students can learn far more than they do — without spending a lot more money.  For example, we might consider, as Stevenson and Stigler suggest, moving to larger classes, something I have favored for some time.  That would allow us to pay teachers more, hire teachers with stronger academic qualifications, and give teachers more time for class preparation.

Finally, I should say that there is much in this research that will discomfit critics of our public schools.  The Asian schools are, by our standards, extremely centralized.  And, at least in the past, the Japanese teacher's union was extraordinarily powerful.  The Asian schools have achieved more using organizations and methods that are of very little interest to most American school reformers.

I began by saying that this research had strongly affected my thinking.  It is why, for instance, that I think that Americans with normal intelligence can learn algebra and more, if taught in the right way.  The Asians do it; so can we.  And it is why I think that the attitudes of our parents must change if we are to match our competitors in academic achievement, especially in mathematics.

(I was stimulated to write this post by this article, and the reactions to it here, here, and here.

There's another fascinating comparative book, Preschool in Three Cultures, which describes three preschools in Japan, China, and the United States.  I can't say I took any great lessons for our schools from it, but the descriptions of the schools were full of surprises.   For instance, one Japanese teacher deliberately took her class out to play after a rain so that they could get all muddy.  (As someone who was a kid once myself, I can appreciate that.)  And the Japanese teachers were much less likely to interfere in fights and other mischief, thinking them a normal part of childhood at that age.)
- 2:41 PM, 9 March 2006   [link]

Worth A Listen:  Citizen Smash went to an event hosted by the UC-San Diego College Democrats and recorded what he calls "Three Minutes Hate".   Even more interesting, to me at least, is his "bonus track", from a former US diplomat, Ann Wright, who thinks we should try harder to understand Osama bin Laden's legitimate grievances.

(One of Smash's commenters linked to this sympathetic interview with Wright, in which she claims that, when she resigned from the Foreign Service, she received more than 400 emails from people in the State Department supporting her.  If she is telling the truth, that goes a long way to explaining why the State Department has often done such a poor job in executing Bush's foreign policy.

By the way, this kind of citizen journalism is an excellent way for bloggers to fill in the gaps left by the "mainstream" media, who are too politically correct to cover such stories.  We need more such efforts, and I hope to do a few of them myself.)
- 6:03 AM, 9 March 2006   [link]