May 2004, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Historical Tidbit 2, Queen Victoria's Curious Origin:  Today is Victoria Day in Canada, I learned from Damian Penny.  So it is a good day to describe the curious circumstances of her birth, 185 years ago.  Though I am sure most in Britain are aware of the story, I suspect most Americans are not, as I was not, until just a few weeks ago.

Robert K. Massie gives a brisk description in his book, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War.
The British monarchy, in the years before Victoria's accession, had come on hard times.  Queen Victoria's immediate predecessors on the throne — George III, George IV, and William IV — have been described as "an imbecile, a profligate, and a buffoon."  Victoria's father, the Duke of Kent, looked scarcely more promising.  Retired from the British army because of a taste for harsh discipline that had provoked a mutiny at Gibraltar, permanently in debt, a bachelor at 48, he lived mostly abroad with his mistress of twenty-eight years, a French Canadian woman named Madame de St. Laurent.  Inspired in 1818 by an offer of an increased parliamentary subsidy if he would marry and produce a child, he ushered Madame de St. Laurent to the door and proposed to a thirty-year-old widow, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg.  They married and within ten months, on May 24, 1818, a daughter was born.  Eight months later, the Duke of Kent, having made his contribution to English history, died of pneumonia. (pp. 3-4)
(Massie slipped; the birth came in 1819, and shame on you if you had another explanation.)

Why was the offer made to the Duke?  My 50 year old Encyclopedia Britannica has the answer.
The circumstances of her [Queen Victoria's] birth were somewhat peculiar.  In 1817, Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince Regent, died in childbirth, and her death removed the only legitimate offspring of the 13 sons and daughters of George III.  In order to remedy this defect three of the sons, the dukes of Clarence, Kent, and Cambridge, all of them well advanced in middle life, married in 1818.  The two children of the duke of Clarence died in infancy; the duke of Cambridge had a son, also duke of Cambridge (1819-1904), but since the Duke of Cambridge was younger than the duke of Kent, Victoria, christened Alexandrina Victoria, became heir to the throne.
(I assume all three dukes were offered the increased subsidy, though the encyclopedia article does not mention it.)

Queen Victoria has a rather dour reputation now, partly I suspect because the most common picture shows her as a rather grim older woman.  This earlier picture shows a different, and far more attractive woman.

Her marriage to Albert was, from everything I have read, very happy.  Six children in the first eight years and nine in all suggest the two did not spend all their time in court ceremonials.  His death at 42, from typhoid fever, was a blow from which she never entirely recovered.

When I read about her life, I have been impressed, more than once, by her sense of duty.   This story, from Massie, is typical.
"Oh, Madam, it is a Princess," announced the physician who presided over the delivery of Queen Victoria's first child.

"Never mind," crisply replied the twenty-one-year-old Queen, still energetic after twelve hours of labor. "The next will be a prince." (p. 23)
Eleven months later, a prince, the future King Edward VII, was born.
- 3:55 PM, 24 May 2004   [link]

Happy Blogiversary To Meryl Yourish, who not only has been putting out a find blog for three years now, but has given generous help to many others, including me.  I even have found myself interested, from time to time, in her cats — and I love dogs and find cats just mildly interesting.  If you go over there to wish her the best, you should know that I am more than a month late in writing this post.  (As I have confessed, I have gotten behind.  But I am catching up.   Really)

(Meryl prefers, I notice, the more common and more logical "blogiversary" to the less common but funnier sounding "blogoversary".  I tend to like the latter for the sound.)
- 2:38 PM, 24 May 2004   [link]

How Are History And Anthropology Professors Protesting Against Bush?   Some, at least, have chosen a very revealing way.
Elizabeth Eve never thought of herself as an exhibitionist.  But these days, the 33-year-old history professor with the gold nose ring can barely contain the urge to lift her skirt and flash her skivvies.

"There is something so liberating and exciting about it, you've got to try it out," she said recently as she fidgeted, fully clothed, on the couch in her friend Tasha's Manhattan apartment.  "I was teaching a class on imperialism," she continued, "and I was delivering all this material that was kind of new and upsetting, and everyone was getting all worked up and upset, and I was getting all worked up and upset, and all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was flash my underwear!  It was crazy," she said with a throaty giggle.

That's because she wasn't wearing just any panties.  Elizabeth is part of Axis of Eve, a fledgling group of rabble-rousing feminists and anti-war activists who have taken to flashing their undies as a form of political dissent.  The Eves, as they call themselves, are on a mission to sex up protest.  They take to the streets wearing "protest panties" which come emblazoned with anti-Dubya double-entendres like "Expose Bush," "Lick Bush," "Give Bush the Finger" and "Drill Bush Not Oil." When the Eves flash them at rallies, the effect is somewhere between a 1970s' love-in and George Bush's worst, frat- addled nightmare of a panty raid gone awry.
Fortunately, these are professors, so, as you can see, they make appeals to logical arguments and facts.   Your tax dollars supporting these gentle ladies are well spent.   And you and your children are getting full value for the tuition that pays for their classes.

I suppose that this kind of protest is better than the swastikas, though not much.

(If you want to see more of the powerful intellectual arguments the ladies bring to this debate, here is their site.)
- 9:50 AM, 24 May 2004
Second Thoughts:  Could this be a commercial venture posing as a protest?  Possibly.  And I am not absolutely certain, now that I think of it, that the women are really, as they say they are, professors.
- 2:45 PM, 24 May 2004   [link]

An Honest Believer In Global Warming:  As I have remarked in the past, I have trouble believing that supporters of the theory are serious, because they do not back obvious ways to avoid it.  My favorite example is nuclear energy.  Nearly all supporters of the theory oppose it, even though nuclear energy is an obvious fix — if they are correct about the dangers.

Now, one of them, James Lovelock, most famous as the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, is backing nuclear energy.
Global warming is now advancing so swiftly that only a massive expansion of nuclear power as the world's main energy source can prevent it overwhelming civilisation, the scientist and celebrated Green guru, James Lovelock, says.

His call will cause huge disquiet for the environmental movement.  It has long considered the 84-year-old radical thinker among its greatest heroes, and sees climate change as the most important issue facing the world, but it has always regarded opposition to nuclear power as an article of faith.  Last night the leaders of both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth rejected his call.
As you can see, he hasn't convinced his allies.  And note that the Independent calls their views, correctly I think, "an article of faith".  Their opposition to nuclear energy (and perhaps their support for the theory of global warming) can not be refuted by mere data.

(What about his Gaia hypothesis?  It has always struck me as being on the boundary between the interesting and the nutty.  In its milder forms, there is probably some truth to it; in its more extreme forms, it is mysticism.

As always when I mention global warming I refer you to my disclaimer for an explanation of my thinking on the subject.)
- 8:17 AM, 24 May 2004   [link]

First, Brain Surgeons, as I mentioned here, and now high-tech executives are backing Bush.
High-tech executives from Texas to Redmond, including at least two billionaires, converged here [Seattle] last night [May 19] to endorse George Bush's re-election, putting an official touch on the Bush campaign's dominance in the race for the industry's campaign contributions.
. . .
Local area ]and national technology entrepreneurs and executives said Bush's policies would be better for their businesses — and therefore the country — than what Democrat John Kerry proposes.

"I would say the conundrum is that for everyone to do well in the country, American businesses have to prosper again," said cellphone pioneer Craig McCaw.
Which parallels the argument made by the brain surgeons.  McCaw owns a house in Idaho next to Kerry, and has this to say about his neighbor.
As much as I respect him, I have a very different view of government's role in allowing people to innovate and make their way in the world, and frankly, in the information and telecom industry, he is more of a status-quo guy than an innovator.
I'm still hoping for an endorsement from the rocket scientists.
- 5:26 AM, 24 May 2004   [link]

The United States And President Bush have reason to complain about news coverage.  Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have even more.
In an attempt to get the foreign media to report what is actually happening on the ground in Gaza, the IDF's spokesman's unit pleaded with foreign news agencies to join IDF forces in their operations and see for themselves.  By mid-week, the IDF had to admit that the attempt was an abject failure.   Almost no one took them up on the offer.  The foreign media is not interested in showing the truth.  They simply want to criminalize Israel.

The most abject and obnoxious instance of this is the reaction to the IDF's apparent inadvertent killing of five Palestinian gunmen and two teenagers during a PA organized march towards IDF forces stationed in Rafah on Wednesday.  Without bothering to check the facts, just as was the case in Jenin, the international media gushingly reported that IDF troops had "massacred" Palestinian civilians in a peaceful march in Gaza.  The Palestinian press releases on the matter were indulgently quoted as fact as news organization after new organization dismissed the IDF's explanations as lies.  In a matter of hours, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israel and the US, due no doubt to its current self-destructive wooing of the UN and France in Iraq declined to veto the decision.
What angers me most is that no one in the media seems to think the unwillingness even to listen to Israel's side of the story, which one would think would be required of any decent journalist, draws no comment from anyone.  No one at Reuters or the BBC will even deign to reply to this criticism.   They have their story line, and they don't want to confuse their readers and listeners with facts that might not fit that line.
- 2:18 PM, 23 May 2004
More:  Israeli sources are claiming, anonymously, that they have pictures of Palestinian terrorists murdering the two children, after some in the demonstration tried to turn back.  You can find more, with a link to the story in this LGF post.
- 6:21 AM, 24 May 2004   [link]

Out Of Touch Journalists, Example 1:  This morning I was listening to Liane Hansen on NPR's Weekend Edition.  Ms. Hansen was interviewing three journalists on their newspapers' coverage of recent events, Bob Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune, Pat Roberts of the Nashville Tennessean, and Bob Yak of the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union.  Each is the editorial page editor at their newspaper.  (I may have Ms. Roberts name slightly wrong.  While I was trying to verify the spelling, I searched the newspaper site for 5-10 minutes without findng her name.  I would not mention this, except that this is a common experience when I look for email addresses for journalists.  The newspapers often make them surprisingly hard to find.)

Hansen wanted to know what stories were dominating the news at the papers.  (Or, to be more blunt, she wanted to know if, as she hoped, bad news from Iraq was drowning out good news from the economy.)  All three agreed that it was, or at least was getting equal coverage from their newspapers.   And all three seemed convinced that they were giving readers what they wanted.  Hansen did not ask whether the readers wanted less on Abu Ghraib, and none of the editors thought to bring that up.

As it happens, there have been two recent polls with questions on that subject, one done for CBS, and one done for Fox.  Both polls made it absolutely clear that readers do not have the same interest in the Abu Ghraib story that journalists do.

The CBS poll, taken almost two weeks ago, asked whether the news media had spent too much, too little, or about the right amount of time covering the story. Forty-nine percent said "too much", 41 percent said "about right", and just 6 percent said "too little".  And, remember, that was almost two weeks ago.  CBS also asked whether the original pictures should have been released.   A narrow majority (51 percent) said yes, but a larger majority (57 percent) wanted no more pictures released.  (That part of the poll has drawn little attention; as Media Research noted, it did not even make it on to CBS's own TV news programs.)

The Fox poll, taken last week, had similar results.
Some Americans (34 percent) believe the prisoner abuse scandal was covered "excessively" by the news media compared to only nine percent saying the beheading received too much coverage.  Over a third (35 percent) think both stories received excessive media coverage and 15 percent say neither.
(Technical point: The CBS question, which does not mix two different subjects, is a much better way to measure opinion on this question.)

And there are other questions in the Fox poll with interesting answers.  A full 70 percent thought that the news media were too negative in their coverage of US military operations in Iraq, while just 11 percent thought they were too positive.

Putting all these together, it is easy to see that readers want less on Abu Ghraib and more on American successes in Iraq.  Now this won't surprise most of you, but it would, I think, genuinely surprise the four journalists I heard this morning.  Which shows just how out of touch they (and many other) journalists are.
- 10:32 AM, 23 May 2004
More:  Seattle Times executive editor Michael Fancher notes, rather nervously I thought, that complaints of bias may be at record levels.  He and the executive news editor, Mike Stanton, hide behind the usual dodge; they are receiving letters attacking them from both sides, so they must not be biased.  I have seen this argument so many times that I am beginning to think that editors believe it, despite the obvious flaws.  (What flaws?  Well, try this analogy.  Pick any great butcher from history, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, et cetera.  You will always be able to find a few who think, even now, that they were too moderate.)  That there are some to your left, as well as many to your right, does not prove that you are in the middle, or that you are unbiased, a separate question.  Fancher and Stanton should look at the polls I linked to above to see how far they are from the public.
- 7:36 AM, 24 May 2004   [link]

Update On Brandon Mayfield:  The Portland lawyer who was arrested because his fingerprints matched some found in connection with the Madrid bombings has been released.   Apparently, the computer matching system that matched his prints to a set found on a bag containing detonators similar to those used in the bombings erred.  Unfortunately, as the data base used by the system grows, both positive matches and errors will happen more often.

In my original post, I speculated US intelligence might have other reasons to suspect Mayfield.  I continue to think that may be possible, since the authorities are still restricting his movements.  According to his relatives, he can not leave Oregon and must get permission to leave his house.  If the relatives are telling the truth, then either the government has other reasons to suspect Mayfield, or some prosecutor is being nasty to no purpose.

(Both Seattle newspapers made this their lead story on the day of the release, which I find odd, even given the Northwest connection.)
- 5:57 AM, 23 May 2004   [link]

Think Canadians Have A Better Health Care System?  Maybe not.
As many as 24,000 patients die in Canadian hospitals each year, while tens of thousands more are crippled, injured or poisoned in association with medical errors that could have been prevented.

A new landmark study of 20 hospitals in five provinces found one in 13 patients suffers an adverse event, more than double the rate found in studies of U.S. hospitals.
. . .
They included drug overdoses, botched diagnoses, patients whose spines were sliced by errant scalpels and one woman whose ovaries were removed without her consent.

Researchers say 37% of events could have been prevented, noting Canada lags behind the United States and other countries in confronting medical errors.
. . .
In 1999, the U.S. Institute of Medicine published its report on medical errors, "To Err is Human," an effort to bolster patient safety.  It cited studies in Colorado and New York that found adverse events ranged from 2.9.% to 3.7% of hospital admissions.

By contrast, the new study found 7.5% of the 2.5 million patients admitted to Canadian hospitals each year suffer adverse events.  [Study co-author] Dr. [Ross] Baker says the American studies were focused mainly on major events that could attract lawsuits, not minor problems.
So the percentages are not exactly comparable, but US hospitals do seem to have far fewer errors.

Baker thinks that part of the problem is a the reluctance by doctors and nurses to report errors.   When errors are not reported, it is more likely that they will be repeated.

(Caveat: Although I believe the general argument made here is correct, because of the size of the differences, I must mention that there can be significant methodological problems both in making these error counts and in comparing them across borders.  I have not, of course, read the original research papers.)
- 6:50 AM, 23 May 2004   [link]

Ask A Question, get an answer.  Joanne Jacobs noted that employers are using SATs to screen job applicants.  This made me think of a question that I have been wondering about for some time.

Almost 40 years ago, sociologist James Coleman headed a massive study of black-white differences in school achievement.  One of the findings in the study, that schools dominated by middle class kids tended to have higher achievement, controlling for the usual variables, helped lead to busing for racial balance, since, at that time, there were not enough middle class blacks for all black students to attend predominately middle class schools, unless many went to predominately white schools.

There was another finding in the study that got much less attention: students learned more from teachers with higher verbal scores on the SATs and similar tests.  I wondered, as you can see in my question, whether studies since had found the same thing.

It shows something about the quality of the discussion in the blogosphere that, less that a half day later, I had an answer to this question from Linda Seebach, a columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, who pointed the readers to a column she had written, and an important research survey.  Briefly, if you want students to learn more, you will do better to choose teachers with high verbal SATs and ignore their certifications.

The survey authors do not mince words:
This research does not show that certified teachers are more effective teachers than uncertified teachers.  In fact, the backgrounds and attributes characterizing the effective teachers are more likely to be found outside the domain of schools or education.

The teacher attribute found consistently to be most related to raising student achievement is verbal ability.
To say the least, this is an important finding.  It suggests, for example, that schools of education should reject applicants with low verbal SAT scores.  It may be one explanation for the high quality of Japanese schools.  And you can think of many other implications yourself, I am sure.

As important as this finding is, it is almost universally ignored by public schools, which nearly all use certification instead — which is not corelated with student achievement.  Seebach explains why in her column:
I once heard a talk by the sociologist James Coleman, known for his landmark research on segregation.   He said he discovered in the 1960s that the single most significant factor in determining children's achievement was their teachers' performance on simple tests of spelling and vocabulary.  But the result was politically unpalatable and he didn't pursue it.
Instead, we waste immense amounts of money and time on certification, which is ineffective but politically palatable.

(Did Coleman's finding about the importance of middle class values hold up?  I am not sure about that.  It was much debated at the time, and I once had a nodding acquaintance with the research, but was never really familiar with the details.  The general idea — that students' values determine how much they learn — is certainly plausible.  Another general conclusion from the study, that differences in resources did not make large differences in student achievement, has held up.  That finding, too, has been ignored as "politically unpalatable".)
- 9:53 AM, 22 May 2004   [link]

Nanobacteria?   Maybe.
Some claim they are a new life form responsible for a wide-range of diseases, including the calcification of the arteries that afflicts us all as we age.  Others say they are simply too small to be living creatures.

Now a team of doctors has entered the fray surrounding the existence or otherwise of nanobacteria.   After four years' work, the team, based at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has come up with some of the best evidence yet that they do exist.

Cautiously titled "Evidence of nanobacterial-like structures in human calcified arteries and cardiac valves", the paper by John Lieske and his team describes how they isolated minuscule cell-like structures from diseased human arteries.

These particles self-replicated in culture, and could be identified with an antibody and a DNA stain.  "The evidence is suggestive," is all Lieske claims.
Let's review.  The smallest known bacteria are as large as the largest viruses, The pox viruses, which cause diseases such as smallpox and cowpox, can be 300 nanometers across their longest axis.   There are bacteria as small as 200 nanometers.  Viruses can get much smaller, however; the picornaviruses, a group that includes polio and hepatitis A, can be as small as 24 to 35 nanometers.

These nanobacteria, if they exist, are about 100 nanometers across, which would mean they would have perhaps one eighth of the volume of the smallest known bacteria, which is impossibly small, say some.
The first claims about nanobacteria came from geologists studying tiny cell-like structures in rock slices.  But in 1998 the debate took a different twist when Olavi Kajander and Neva Ciftcioglu of the University of Kuopio in Finland claimed to have found nanobacteria, surrounded by a calcium-rich mineral called apatite, in human kidney stones.

Objections were raised immediately.  Many of the supposed nanobacteria were less than 100 nanometres across, smaller than many viruses, which cannot replicate independently.  [University of Rochester researcher Jack] Maniloff's work suggests that to contain the DNA and proteins needed to function, a cell must be at least 140 nanometres across.
Viruses neither reproduce nor metabolize on their own, and consist of just DNA or RNA covered by a protein coat (and sometimes a lipid layer over that).  A bacterial cell needs much more since it must reproduce and metabolize independently.  If these are bacteria, they are miracles of packaging, from what we now know.  But they may not be.
"These particles are self replicating, that is without doubt," [University of British Columbia microbiologist Yossef] Av Gay says.  But finding out what is inside them is complicated because they are so small and because the apatite shells absorb contaminants.  "The problem is to distinguish between material absorbed from the environment and unique sequences from these organisms."

Av Gay too will say nothing about what his studies have revealed.  "The story seems to be gearing toward the idea that these are not bacteria, but maybe a new living form.  It is a very interesting story, but you won't get the answer now."
If nanobacteria exist, they are of great theoretical interest, obviously.  But they also may be of great practical importance, as you can see when you look at the types of tissue in which they (may) have been found.
- 10:06 AM, 21 May 2004   [link]

Local Talk Show Host Dave Ross is running for Congress in the 8th district, just south of where I live.  (I am in the 1st district, represented by Jay Inslee, something so unsatisfactory that I have considered writing to Jennifer Dunn, the Republican incumbent in the 8th, asking her if I could be an honorary member of the 8th district.  Inslee isn't as bad as Jim McDermott across Lake Washington from me, but . . . .)

Ross doesn't have to become a candidate formally until July, and so he is keeping his position as a talk show host until then.
He will run as a Democrat for the 8th Congressional District seat left open by the retirement of U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn.

Though Ross has now entered the campaign trail, he said he plans to continue his talk show through July, when candidates officially file for office.  His decision to stay on the air is sure to anger opponents who have already begun calling on the radio station to give them equal time on the air, or to pull the plug on Ross' show.
Now I have no idea what the law requires in this situation.  KIRO could not give Ross three hours a day for political commercials, without breaking all sorts of laws and regulations.  The practical difference between that and what Ross will be doing seems minimal to me.  Ethically, he should, of course, step down.

It will not surprise most of you to learn that Ross is a strong backer of campaign finance "reform".   He would be outraged if his opponents could buy three hours a day on the station until July for their ads, but sees nothing wrong with having the time himself.  As Nat Hentoff put it in the title of his book, "Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee".

(Want some background on Ross?  He has been a talk show host for 17 years and quite successful in the local market, with a pleasant voice and a moderate manner.  He poses as a moderate, but almost always talks himself into supporting the Democratic position.

I don't much care for him, and my dislike has grown over the years.  He's the kind of person we all have met, who buys the hybrid Prius, or Pius as I have dubbed it, and then talks about it endlessly.  For a talk show host, he is poorly informed.  I recall listening once when he was speaking to an "expert" from Washington, D. C., who got the order of succession to the presidency wrong.  Ross didn't notice the mistake.  And it was not the tenth or eleventh, which I would miss, too, but the third or fourth.

Ross has given uncritical time to some very dubious characters, notably Scott Ritter.  As far as I know, Ross has never told his listeners about Ritter's arrest for contacting underage girls.   And he has allowed Ritter to slide on his payments from a businessman with connections to Saddam Hussein.

Worst of all, Ross refuses to correct his mistakes.  A talk show, with its rapid, informal exchanges, is bound to have many mistakes. Ross almost never corrects his, in my experience.

I will give him credit for one thing.  Like many, but not all, talk show hosts, he is willing to take time to criticize some of the crazier ideas held by those on his side.

Finally, I must mention two errors in the Seattle Times article.  The reporter, Warren Cornwall, writes that Ross "unexpectedly" announced for Congress.  I am by no means an insider, and I have been expecting it for weeks.  KIRO actually ran a show in his time slot, with a different host, discussing whether he should run a few weeks ago.  And the headline on their web version of the story says that "Dennis Ross" is running.)
- 5:57 AM, 21 May 2004   [link]

New Jersey For Bush?  Last month, in this post, I argued that a poll showing Bush leading in New Jersey, a state he lost by 16 points in 2000, was not a fluke.  Now, another poll, of registered voters, shows Bush within 3 points of Kerry in a three way race.  As I am sure you know, polls of registered voters tend to over estimate the vote for Democratic candidates.

Now, some in the media are beginning to catch up with my analysis, and notice the same polls.  John Podhoretz backs President Bush, but even he seems surprised by Bush's good showing, or, perhaps we should say, Kerry's poor showing.  Perhaps he should read my analysis which will show him that New Jersey is a state that Bush can win, and will win if my prediction on Bush's margin is correct.

If this latest poll surprises you, I can only suggest that you look at my post from April.   New Jersey is a swing state, by both party registration and voting history, not a safe Democratic state.
- 5:53 AM, 21 May 2004   [link]

Republicans And The Black Vote:  USA Today columnist Richard Benedetto is usually sound, but, in his latest column, he gets the history of the black vote wrong, and muddles the analysis completely.

Benedetto says that:
Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, and Bush himself all won with around 10% of black support.
Nixon ran three times, Reagan twice, and George H. W. Bush twice.  In his first run, Nixon received, as I recall, about 20 percent of the black vote.  In 1964, Goldwater received less than 10 percent.  In both 1968 and 1972, Nixon did better than that, I believe, though I don't have the numbers handy.

I do have the numbers from the New York Times exit polls for every presidential election since 1976, and they show more fluctuation than you might think.

Black Vote for Republican and Democratic Presidential Candidates, 1976-2000

1976 (Ford-Carter)1683
1980 (Reagan-Carter)1185
1984 (Reagan-Mondale)990
1988 (Bush-Dukakis)1286
1992 (Bush-Clinton)1083
1996 (Dole-Clinton)1284
2000 (Bush-Gore)890

(Caveat: Though the sample sizes are large (13,279 in 2000), there do appear to be systematic problems with exit polls, especially with the increase in voting by mail.  I don't think those problems affect these results, however.)

Analysts often say, as Benedetto does, that the Democrats must receive 90 percent of the black vote to win.  But, if you look at the table, you will see that, in the two elections where the Democratic candidate did receive 90 percent of the black vote (1984 and 2000), they lost.  In the three Democratic victories during this period, the Democratic candidate received 83, 83, and 84 percent of the black vote.

Mr Benedetto says that: "But for Democrats, maintaining 90% of the black vote is vital."  You can see from the table why I disagree.  That follows his claim that the black vote is "not pivotal" for the Republicans.  A two party system can be treated as a two person, zero-sum game, because one party's gains (in percent of vote) are the other party's losses.  If it is vital for the Democrats to keep 90 percent of the black vote, then it is equally vital for the Republicans to win more than 10 percent.

The table will also suggest why, unlike Mr. Benedetto, I expect George W. Bush to win more than 10 percent of the black vote.  Currently, I am predicting that Bush will win 58 percent of the two party vote (subject to two assumptions, discussed in my predictions).  I also expect him to win 12-15 percent of the black vote.  Twelve percent is just 1 percent above the Republican average for the last 7 elections, and no better than Republican candidates did in 1988 and 1996.

There are two factors that I think will help Bush with blacks in this next election.  Fewer blacks, especially young black men, are identifying with the Democratic party.  And, in four years, Bush has had time to show blacks that he is not the ogre he was made out to be by some of the outrageous ads run by Democratic allies like the NAACP.
- 9:09 AM, 20 May 2004
More:  Has a Democratic candidate for president ever won 90 percent of the black vote and the election?  I am fairly sure both that Lyndon Johnson did in 1964, and that no other Democrat has.  Many Republican presidential candidates have, I am sure, though you would have to go back a century or so to find them.)
- 7:30 AM, 21 May 2004   [link]

First Kerry Bumper Sticker Sighted:  On a Saab convertible.   That will win votes from American union members.

After I saw the Saab yesterday, I started wondering what car Dick Morris would recommend to an American candidate.  American made, of course, but which one?  Arnold Schwartzenegger can get away with a Hummer, but he had to promise to push for a hydrogen powered car for balance.   In some areas, a Lincoln or Cadillac would be fine; in others, they would make the candidate seem out of touch and ostentatious.  A Taurus station wagon, if the candidate has kids, would be a good choice, perhaps with a Jeep in the garage for recreation.
- 7:36 AM, 20 May 2004   [link]

A Gallon Or "Very Small Traces"?  In yesterday's "Best of the Web", James Taranto quarreled with the New York Times editorial board for saying that only "very small traces" of sarin were found in Iraq.
Imagine if some malicious prankster were to make his way into the offices of the New York Times, find editorial page editor Gail Collins, and pour a gallon of milk over her head.  Then imagine if he defended himself by saying he had used only "very small traces" of milk.

Bizarre as it may sound, that's the tack the Times is taking toward the discovery earlier this week of an artillery shell containing sarin in Iraq.  Although, as we noted yesterday, the volume of the sarin is between three quarts and a gallon, the Times insists that field tests found only "very small traces of sarin."
Who is correct?  Technically, the Times is, but Taranto has a point, even though he spoiled it by being sloppy.  The artillery shell was a binary weapon, which means it would have no sarin in it until it was fired; instead it had two precursor chemicals that, when mixed, make sarin.  The road side explosion did not mix them much and so only a little was formed — for which we may be very, very grateful.

We can use Taranto's metaphor to clarify the point.  Suppose the prankster had been carrying nearly a gallon of water and a package of powdered milk and dumped those on Collins's head.  If the package of powdered milk broke, then you would get "very small traces" of milk, even though you had the ingredients for a gallon of milk.

I would guess — and it is only a guess — that a competent chemist could create a gallon of sarin from the ingredients in the artillery shell quite easily, if they had the right protective equipment.
- 5:39 AM, 20 May 2004
More:  A thoughtful emailer points out that:
It wouldn't even take a competent chemist.  The only challenge is breaking the partition between the components.  Doing that MIGHT be difficult depending on how the particular shell is designed.  If the partition opens based on the spin of the shell, it might well be possible to open the partition by spinning the shell in a lathe.

Once the partition opens, making the sarin is simply a matter of mixing the components, and that could be accomplished just by shaking the shell, inverting it repeatedly, etc.
I think his argument is correct.  A chemist with protective gear would probably not be required.  The person creating the sarin would need to know how to arm the shells.   How common is that knowledge?  I have no idea.  Unfortunately, I don't think that kind of knowledge could be concealed from someone who had a few shells to experiment with, and, of course, protective gear.
- 8:25 AM, 21 May 2004   [link]

She Left Her Hart In San Francisco:  That's the only explanation I can think of for this trip.
A deer joined the morning commute into San Francisco on Tuesday, bounding onto the Golden Gate Bridge and loping across the entire span as bridge officials and motorists watched in amazement.

It was the first time anybody can remember that a deer, or any other animal, for that matter, has made it from one side of the famous bridge to the other in one piece.

It took the deer less than 10 minutes to commute from Marin County to San Francisco, where the animal zipped through the FasTrak lane at the toll plaza, took the 19th Avenue exit and then disappeared into the Presidio.
(Editor - Was that pun the only reason for this post?  Well, not the only reason.  It is an amusing story.)
- 5:10 AM, 20 May 2004   [link]

Worth Reading:  Marine Major Ben Connable's take on the war and on the media.  
This is my third deployment with the 1st Marine Division to the Middle East.

This is the third time I've heard the quavering cries of the talking heads predicting failure and calling for withdrawal.

This is the third time I find myself shaking my head in disbelief.

Setbacks and tragedy are part and parcel of war and must be accepted on the battlefield.  We can and will achieve our goals in Iraq.
At one time, what men like Major Connable said would have had great weight with our journalists; now many journalists are so psychologically invested in our failure that they can not listen to a real expert, instead taking their cues from men like Seymour Hersh.
- 5:07 PM, 19 May 2004   [link]

Almost Equal Résumés:  That's what John Kerry (Yale, 1966) and George W. Bush (Yale, 1968) would have in today's job market.
Using public records, they [TV channel mtvU] collected summer job histories, extracurriculars and academic achievements.  After changing dates so the candidates appeared to be 2004 graduates and putting the information in résumé form, they slapped fake names at the top and sought feedback from five experts.  The eight-minute segment premieres Wednesday and will be repeated during the week.  It also can be viewed on

Nobody thought the two candidates were deadbeats.  But they weren't bowled over, either.   "They're not going to be at the top of my pile," says Dylan Schweitzer, a regional human resources manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which this year plans to hire 6,500 management trainees.
One key lack: Neither had internships, something almost essential in today's job market.  Note that the academic achievements of the two were about equal at Yale.

Of course, after each man had completed his education, Bush with an MBA from Harvard, and Kerry with a law degree from Boston College, Bush would have an enormous edge in a competition for any executive position.  It is a fact, though it will surprise some, that in both 2004 and 2000, Bush had an edge in academic achievement over his Democratic opponent.  With all due respect to the Boston College law school, a degree from there is not as impressive as a Harvard MBA.  And Gore, as you may recall, started both law school and theological school, but made no significant progress in either.
- 9:58 AM, 19 May 2004   [link]

Olympic Athletes Will Do almost anything to win a gold medal.  But will they go this far?
Transsexuals were cleared Monday to compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Under a proposal approved by the IOC executive board, athletes who have undergone sex-change surgery will be eligible for the Olympics if their new gender has been legally recognized and they have gone through a minimum two-year period of postoperative hormone therapy.
A few years ago, I read of an informal, anonymous poll done by a doctor at the Olympics.  A large majority of the athletes he asked said they would cheat if they could get away with it.  And half of his sample would take a drug that would give them a win, even if it took five years from their lives.

Most experts agree that men who have an operation to become a "woman" would still retain some edge in most sports, especially those that rely on sheer strength.  Will the lure of a gold medal lead some to make the cut?  A few, for sure, and maybe more than a few.

I think the IOC is nuts to allow this, considering the likely results.

(The most famous example of this switch is "Renee Richards", born Richard Raskin.  As a man, Raskin was a mediocre tennis player.  As a "woman", he was not much better.  But, he made the switch relatively late in his career, so that does not reveal much about the possibilities.)
- 9:20 AM, 19 May 2004   [link]

Evidence Is Not Evidence:  Yesterday, I said that the finding of two separate chemical weapons in Iraq did not prove that Saddam had stockpiles of weapons in 2003, since there are other possible explanations.  But surely finding those two is evidence that there may be stockpiles to be found, in Iraq, in Syria, or elsewhere.  If you spot one cockroach, is it not plausible to think that there may be more?  Neither cockroaches nor artillery shells are solitary creatures, though for different reasons.

The New York Times does not agree, instead arguing that finding chemical weapons is not evidence of the existence of more such weapons.
At this point no one can be certain whether the artillery shell rigged as a roadside bomb really did contain deadly sarin and, if so, what significance that may have.
. . .
Two soldiers were treated for minor exposure and released, hardly the kind of devastation one expects from a lethal chemical weapon.  Military officials say the artillery shell was a binary weapon.   That means two chemicals have to mix after the shell is fired to produce sarin, something that wouldn't be expected to occur when the shell was rigged as a homemade bomb.  Indeed, they speculate that whoever made the bomb may have had no idea that the shell contained chemical agents rather than explosives.  On the other hand, the lack of lethality may simply indicate that the agent had long ago lost its punch or was not even sarin.

If laboratory tests confirm the presence of sarin, that finding may not tell us much about whether Saddam Hussein retained a hidden chemical arsenal after supposedly destroying it.

The dwindling band of die-hards who remain convinced that Mr. Hussein squirreled away stockpiles of illicit weapons worry that insurgents may use them against American forces.  But finding some residual weapons that had escaped a large-scale destruction program would be no great surprise — and if the chemicals had degraded, no major threat.
Let us take these points in order.  At this point, additional tests have confirmed the presence of sarin.  So it was sarin, even though the editorialist is obviously hoping that it was not.

The existence of one shell implies a production line to produce shells.  Which in turn implies that Saddam had a stockpile at one time.  We still can not be sure what happened to that stockpile, despite much wishful thinking from those who oppose President Bush — including the editorial board at the New York Times.

The "dwindling band of die-hards" includes the Canadian Prime Minister and the Israeli intelligence.   With all due respect to the Times, I think the Israelis are likely to be better informed on this subject than the newspaper.

Note how, in the last sentence, the Times raises the bar, just in case.  "Some residual weapons" would not be a stockpile.  Finding two shells (though they do not mention the earlier discovery of a shell filled with mustard gas) is not evidence of a stockpile.  Finding more shells won't be evidence either, according to the Times.  What would be?  They do not say.

(As James Taranto reminded us two days ago, two New York Times columnists, Nicholas Kristof and rabid Bush hater Paul Krugman, were arguing in May 2003 (!) that Bush must have lied about Saddam's weapons.  William Safire has been more sensible, as you can see in today's column.   I would rather not repeat myself, but when I see the same mistake again and again, I must.  We do know know and may never know if Saddam had stockpiles on the eve of the war.

There's more discussion of the sarin shell here.  The blogger argues that Saddam developed binary weapons after the first Gulf War and never declared them to the UN.)
- 7:41 AM, 19 May 2004   [link]

Ever Had House Guests Who Wouldn't Leave?  A California woman did and finally took drastic action.
A woman tried to get rid of unwanted houseguests by gassing them.  A family friend introduced the 51-year-old woman to Kevin Frye and Andrew King and she agreed to let them spend the night, investigators said.  But they overstayed their welcome — refusing to leave for six weeks as they allegedly sold drugs from her apartment.

The woman finally decided to open her oven's natural gas line in hopes of driving them away.   Even after filling the apartment with gas, however, the house guests remained.
She and her 59 year old boyfriend were too afraid of the men to call the sheriff, or at least so she says.
- 4:17 PM, 18 May 2004   [link]

John Kerry Has Been Using A Vietnam Photo in his campaign literature, showing him with 19 others who served on the Swift Boats.  Eleven of those have asked him to stop using the picture.
Eleven out of a group of 19 Vietnam Swift Boat veterans pictured in Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign literature demanded on Monday that he stop misrepresenting them as supporters.

"Many of us don't want to be included in that picture because we have a rather unsavory feeling about this fellow," Kerry boatmate Bob Elder told nationally syndicated radio host Linda Chavez.

Citing the top Democrat's anti-war activities after he returned from Vietnam, Elder told Chavez, "We regard the fact that he rallied the American public against his fellow comrades in arms as basically a betrayal of all of us."
. . .
Of the remaining six veterans pictured in the photograph, "one is deceased and three do not wish to be involved in any manner; only two of the 19 are believed to support Kerry," the group said in a Monday press release.
Newsmax gets the count a little confused, so I went to the press release for the correct numbers.  There are 20, including Kerry, in the photo.  Eleven of them have signed a letter of protest at the use of the photo.  Two are deceased, 4 do not wish to be involved, and 2 support Kerry.   That's not what I would call a vote of confidence from his comrades in arms.

(As an amateur political tactician, I continue to be puzzled by Kerry's emphasis on his record in Vietnam, considering the possible ripostes, such as this letter.  This letter may not get on CBS or the front page of the New York Times, but it will get out.)
- 9:23 AM, 18 May 2004   [link]

The Discovery Of A Sarin Gas Shell in Iraq reopened, for some, the question of Saddam's missing WMDs.  Especially since, two weeks earlier, US troops found mustard gas in another roadside weapon.  It does not change my views, which I discussed at length in this post last month.

Briefly, I think the question of Saddam's missing WMDs is open — and may never be closed.   The discovery of the sarin and mustard gas shells provide support for the theory that there are some stockpiles yet to be found, but other explanations are possible.  The two shells may have survived Saddam's orders to destroy them, accidentally.  Or they may even been stolen from his inventory from someone opposed to the regime.  We don't know, and may never know.   Frustrating?  Yes, but inescapable, given how easily the weapons can be hidden.

We can be certain that Saddam had active chemical and biological weapons programs, from the evidence we have found already.  We now know that, if he did try to destroy his inventory, at least a few shells survived.  We do not know — and anyone who says they know is wrong — whether he had more in his inventory, and if so, what happened to them.  (I think it almost certain that some weapons were moved to Syria, but would agree that that theory, too, is unproved.)
- 8:35 AM, 18 May 2004   [link]

Afghan School Girls:  You'll love the picture that illustrates this brief article.
A second-grade math class in Kabul, Afghanistan, met in the school breezeway with a blackboard on wheels.  The young scholar was shy about speaking in front of her class.  A proud teacher watched.  A classmate reached out her hand to offer support.

This scene, so natural, so universal, was nonexistent in Afghanistan for many years when the Taliban were in power.  Laws prohibited women and girls from attending school or even leaving their homes.
The girls look older than American second graders, but then one would expect them to be older since they were blocked from going to school for so long.
- 2:38 PM, 17 May 2004   [link]

Not Everything In The New Yorker is dubious.  This year, since the daily Far Side calendar is no longer available, I start my day with a cartoon from the New Yorker daily calendar instead.  Last week they had two funny ones, with contemporary twists on old conflicts.  On Monday, the cartoon showed a man sitting at a laptop computer in his living room.  His wife is holding a gun on him and saying, "O.K., step away from the laptop and hold up your end of the conversation."  (We guys aren't really that bad, are we, ladies?)

On Wednesday, the cartoon again showed a man sitting before a computer, with his wife standing next to him looking displeased.  He is pleading, "I swear I wasn't looking at smut — I was just stealing music."  (Check the files, I suggest.)
- 2:21 PM, 17 May 2004   [link]

How Credible Is Seymour Hersh?  The Abu Ghraib scandal is being driven by a pair of New Yorker articles written by Seymour Hersh.  The latest relies heavily on anonymous sources, so there is no direct way for most readers to check the facts in the story.

With such stories, readers must use indirect means of testing the story.  We can see if there are internal contradictions, we can look at the facts that can be checked, we can weigh how plausible the story seems from what else we know about the subject, and, most of all, we can decide to trust, or not to trust, the reporter.

In deciding whether to trust Seymour Hersh, we naturally want to look at his record as a reporter.   In this long summary of Hersh's career by Lowell Ponte, I found many reasons for skepticism.
The passion that drives Hersh has often manifested as obsessive hatred for American leaders, the projection of American power, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Hersh's relentless animosity for these American institutions prompted the then-Executive Editor of the New York Times A.M. Rosenthal to refer to him routinely as "my little commie."
. . .
In going after the CIA regarding Chile, Hersh did more than ignore evidence that the Castro-supported Marxist Allende (who had been elected under odd circumstances with only about a third of votes cast for President) was moving to prevent honest future elections that would depose him.  Hersh also accused the then-American Ambassador to Chile of being part of a plot to overthrow Allende, an error for which Hersh and the New York Times issued a rare apology on that newspaper's front page.
. . .
And Hersh has reported false information in other stories.  His 1991 book The Sampson Option (about Israel's nuclear weapons program) relied largely on a source widely recognized as a notorious liar.  Another of Hersh's sources for this book later admitted to telling the author what he wanted to hear, although false, in exchange for money.

When Hersh published his 1983 book The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House, the editor-in-chief of the liberal The New Republic magazine Martin Peretz wrote: "There is hardly anything [in this book] that shouldn't be suspect."
And some of his most recent stories, from Afghanistan, have also drawn criticism for inaccuracy.  (Hersh was terribly gloomy about our prospects in Afghanistan up to the moment the Taliban collapsed.)

Ponte's description of Hersh's methods increases my skepticism.
Hersh relies heavily on anonymous sources for most of what he reports.  But even though these sources must be divulged privately to fact-checkers and editors like Remnick, this does not eliminate potential distortion from his reporting.  He merely needs to write using only the sources who say what he wants said.  And when mid-level bureaucrats with grievances or a desire to backbite or cover their backsides are promised anonymity, many will say outrageous things about those above them.
. . .
In his book Fit to Print: A.M. Rosenthal and His Times, author Joseph Goulden quoted Rosenthal describing how Hersh had worked the telephone to get information.  "He was practically blackmailing this guy,"  the veteran New York Times Executive Editor Rosenthal reportedly said. "He was saying, 'Either you tell me what I want to know or I'll . . .' I put my hands over my ears and ran out of the room.  I didn't want to hear this sort of thing.  I didn't want any part of it."
And it is not, Ponte points out, just conservatives who have problems with Hersh.
"I don't read him anymore because I don't trust him," Max Holland, a Contributing Editor of the ultra-Leftist The Nation magazine, told the Columbia Journalism Review's Sherman.

"I read what he writes with some skepticism or doubt or uncertainty," said Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas (who, incidentally, comes by his own Leftist politics as grandson of longtime Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas).
I suppose that this wouldn't fit their rules, but if would be fun if, for example, the AP stories that cite Hersh added "the controversial reporter with a long record of inaccuracy", or some similar phrase, each time they mention him.

(One interesting question: Why, given his record, is Hersh working for The New Yorker, a magazine that makes a fetish of fact checking?  I am not sure, but he was hired by a previous editor, Tina Brown, who brings, shall we say, creativity, to journalism wherever she goes.)
- 1:55 PM, 17 May 2004
More:  Power Line reader Dafydd ab Hugh spots another error in Hersh's reporting.  Hersh claimed that "more than sixty per cent" of those at Abu Ghraib were not a threat; in fact the Taguba report says that more than sixty percent of those at the prison were being held for attacks on the Coalition forces.  That's not a small mistake.

But some still want to believe, in spite of Hersh's record and in spite of obvious mistakes in his most recent work.  For an example of those believers, see this Slate piece by Fred Kaplan,  The lead paragraph gives you the flavor.
The White House is about to get hit by the biggest tsunami since the Iran-Contra affair, maybe since Watergate.  President George W. Bush is trapped inside the compound, immobilized by his own stay-the-course campaign strategy.  Can he escape the massive tidal waves?  Maybe.   But at this point, it's not clear how.
And if the story isn't true, Mr Kaplan?  Or the public does not take the same view of it as you do?

Kaplan provides more evidence, I think, for two theories, that journalists were spoiled by Watergate, and that President Bush drives his opponents nuts.
- 11:51 AM, 18 May 2004
Still More:  J. McIntyre of Real Clear Politics provides more examples of Hersh's errors.   For example, nine days before the fall of Baghdad, Hersh was arguing that Rumsfeld's battle plan was failing, just as he had argued that it was failing in Afghanistan days before the collapse of the Taliban.
- 8:36 Am, 19 May 2004   [link]

Improving Gas Mileage:  In this area, the local TV stations run stories on gas prices almost every day (though our prices are still low enough to make European drivers green with envy).  As usual, when gas prices are rising, more attention is given to hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius (which I call the Pius, since it evokes an almost religious devotion in some).  But almost everyone ignores an obscure technical innovation that would significantly improve gas mileage, and that is available right now for many vehicles.

The innovation?  Manual transmission, or as it is colloquially known, the stick shift.  As I shop for a new car, I have been noticing that, though the economy advantage of manual transmissions is less than it once was, it still exists.  Here are the EPA comparisons for the top 10 selling vehicles.  The vehicles come in different models and have different engines.  For the table, I used the gasoline engine model with the best mileage.

EPA Ratings for Top Ten Selling Vehicles

Ford F-15017/2016/19
Chevrolet Silverado15/2017/20
Dodge Ram16/2115/21
Toyota Camry24/3323/32
Honda Accord26/3424/34
Ford Explorer - 15/20
Ford Taurus - 20/27
Honda Civic36/4435/40
Chevrolet Impala - 21/32
Chevrolet Trailblazer - 16/21

In five of the six vehicles where consumers can choose between automatic and manual, they will get better mileage with manual transmission.  (The relationship is so strong that I wonder if the Silverado figures might be a typo.)  The advantages are not large, a few percent, but they are real.   Though the 100 to 200 dollar difference per year may not matter much to the individual driver, it adds up to a substantial sum for the whole economy.

Now I am not saying that we should ban automatic transmissions.  If I did most of my driving in hilly downtown Seattle, I would want one myself.  But I do think that our discussions of fashionable ways to better mileage, such as hybrids, should not obscure older solutions, such as manual transmissions (or even diesel engines).  Especially since, as I understand it, the mileage advantages of the hybrids are not as large as you might think, in ordinary driving.

(The top sellers list comes from the Edmunds site, a valuable resource for anyone looking for a car.   The EPA figures come from a government publication, which you can find here.

My search for a car is taking more time than I expected.  One reason for that seems a bit paradoxical; on most days, I have no need for a car, but one would be a big help while I am shopping for one.  The search has delayed some posts, for which my apologies.)
- 9:04 AM, 17 May 2004   [link]

Who Is To Blame For The Abuses At Abu Ghraib?  This poll of Michigan voters has some interesting answers to that question.  After weeks of pounding in the media and widespread calls for Donald Rumsfeld to resign, 30 percent of the Michigan voters blame individual soldiers, 18 percent blame the prison warden, 15 percent blame generals in charge of Iraq, 6 percent blame Rumsfeld, and 7 percent blame Bush.  (Five percent say none of the above, 7 percent say all of the above, and 12 percent don't know.)  Similar polling data may explain why John Kerry has stopped discussing this issue in the campaign.  Blaming Rumsfeld and Bush for the abuses makes sense to left wing activists and to journalists (two groups harder and harder to distinguish), but not to most voters.

(The poll also shows that Bush is leading Kerry in Michigan by 4 points.  In 2000, he lost the state by 5 points.  As usual, I need to add some caveats.  The sample size is small, and I am unfamiliar with the record of the polling organization.)
- 5:57 AM, 17 May 2004   [link]