November 2003, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

The Guardian  says that anti-Americanism "ought to be diminished".   In other news, the arsonists who set fires that devastated southern California complained about the burned over areas.

I suppose it is possible that the Guardian editors were not lying when they wrote that line.  (They did say that President Bush needs to change policies, so as to reduce anti-Americanism.) If they are serious about diminishing anti-Americanism, a great many Guardian staffers are in danger of losing their jobs.  And some of their readers are going to be very disappointed.  Twice within the last month, I have seen threads at the Guardian where readers were suggesting that President Bush be assassinated—and I haven't spent more than a few minutes looking at their discussion boards.
- 4:22 PM, 15 November 2003   [link]

Racism And The Seattle Media:  From what I can tell, the Seattle newspapers and the Seattle television and radio stations treat race like most other news organizations in the United States.  To nearly every story, they bring the same script, with one central message.  Racism is a problem that whites have, and the victims of racism are always non-white, and almost always black.

If you watch local news or read the local newspapers, you will see this message over and over.  Three recent examples:  First, before Halloween, some nooses were found in trees near a high school north of here.  Immediately people charged that they were racist symbols, meant to intimidate blacks at the school, even though no messages were attached to them and the high school had no significant racial problems.  (Reporters were able to find a small group which used a vaguely Confederate symbol, but nothing connected them to the nooses or any other problems.)  This story ran for days in the local media.  Second, there was a traffic stop in my own suburb of Kirkland.  A black man, with a white wife, was stopped for 20 minutes after a computer check of his license plate raised a flag.   That turned out to be a computer error; someone had entered some data wrong and the man, who admits he was not mistreated in any way, is suing.  That too was treated as a big story.  Third, a former football coach at the University of Washington, Jim Owens, came back for the presentation of a statue.  While he was coach here, about 40 years ago, he discriminated against black players in some ways, restricting them to certain positions and warning them against dating white girls.  He has admitted this and apologized to the players.  Some have accepted his apologies, and some have not.   The racism in this third case, though real, is not what most of us would call news.

All three of these stories received extensive coverage from the newspapers, and the radio and television stations.  Then there are the stories of racism that do not fit the script.   There is a dramatic one which the news organizations tried to suppress but could not, and an equally dramatic story which they did suppress.

In 2001, Mardi Gras was "celebrated" in Seattle's Pioneer Square with a series of violent nights, culminating with many injuries and one death on the final night.  Here's the Seattle PI lead story on the violence, and here are the pictures that a local TV station put up to help identify the thugs who had molested and beaten so many, and killed one.   The extensive coverage of the riot on television made it clear to viewers, though the stations refused at first to mention it, that most—but not all—of the violent rioters were black, and that the victims were mostly white and Asian.  (Even now, Seattle is mostly white, and this party drew from all over the local area, which is even more white.)

It took two weeks for the PI to come to the same conclusion that most viewers had, as soon as they saw the television pictures.
Three-quarters of the more than 100 people identified so far as suspects in crimes committed during the Fat Tuesday riot are black, Seattle police sources say.

Many victims say some of the random beatings in Pioneer Square were clearly tinged with racial hatred.  And in at least two Mardi Gras incidents under investigation, African American attackers were heard yelling racial slurs at white victims, police said.
What followed was what you would expect.  There were pleas for tolerance from all, accusations that the media had exaggerated the racial aspect—though they had first tried to suppress it, and denials and then an admission from the Seattle mayor that race had been a factor.  (The mayor had a special reason to deny what the pictures showed; the police had been slow and ineffective, which some attribute to the mayor's desire not to offend the black community.)  Over the next year, attention dribbled away, and the news organizations in Seattle went back to the script.

An earlier, equally dramatic, news story slipped out, but the news organizations were able to suppress it.  About six years ago, I was watching a local station, King 5, at noon to get a weather forecast.  One of the anchors came on with a remarkable story.  A black woman had just been convicted of raping a white woman.  The black woman talked her way into the victim's home claiming car problems, knocked her down, tied her up, and forced her to commit oral sex.  The attacker did this, she admitted (boasted?) at the trial, because she hated whites.  By the usual "if it bleeds, it leads" standards of local TV stations, this is a sensational story.  I never saw another mention of the story with the essential facts.  The two Seattle papers buried the story inside, giving it a few lines with no mention of the racial motive.  I channel surfed the local TV stations carefully that evening and saw no mention of the story, even on King 5.  The two largest alternative papers, the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, neither afraid of controversy, had nothing on the story in their next issues.  It didn't even get on the local conservative talk stations, as far as I know.  It may have been sensational, but it didn't fit the script.

These last two stories are, crime statistics show, more typical than the stories that fit the script.  This column has some of the numbers, including these summary statistics:
Violent white felons choose black victims for fewer than 3 percent of their attacks, whereas violent black felons choose white victims about 56 percent of the time.  Statistically, the "average" African American is an astonishing 56 times more likely to attack a white than vice versa.
I don't want to say much about the motives of the Seattle news organizations in following the script so faithfully, but I do want to end by saying something about the consequences.  To deny or minimize the racism that some blacks feel for whites is not good for blacks, in the long run, however much it may please "civil rights leaders".  Black racism, outside such places as Black Studies departments, is a serious handicap for the black people who are afflicted by it.  It is a larger problem for a black person than similar racism would be for a white person because it cuts them off from a much larger group of people.  It is not just wrong, though it certainly is that, it is self destructive.

Whether the mostly white news people who follow this script are being racist by applying different standards to people with different skin colors is a question I will leave to their consciences, and to others.

(Finally, a warning for anyone who wants to investigate further.  Although the Seattle news organizations have tried to suppress stories like the last two, the stories have drawn the attention of white separatist and white supremacist groups.  If you go looking for more information, be prepared for some nasty stuff.)
- 5:20 PM, 14 November 2003   [link]

Good News:  And from Africa.  A United States law that gives African countries preferential access to our textile markets is helping to build economies there.  As the article says, "job creation has been dramatic" and there has been a significant rise in exports to the United States from countries such as Uganda and Lesotho.  The act is not without problems, some mentioned in the article.  I would prefer, if it were possible, simply dropping all our tariffs on goods from the very poorest countries, but I still think this better than the previous policies.

And who should get credit for this?  Among others, two people that draw a little criticism here from time to time, Bill Clinton and Congressman Jim McDermott.   President Bush is a strong backer of the act, as you can see here.   And here's the act's home page.
- 1:23 PM, 14 November 2003   [link]

Scientists Have Found A Snail  with a magnetic personality.   As a pet, it would be inexpensive to feed since it doesn't eat, directly, though providing an aquarium for an animal that lives 1.6 miles down, near hydrothermal vents, might be a problem.  
- 9:18 AM, 14 November 2003   [link]

What Is Scott Ritter Doing Now?  The disgraced former UN weapons inspector and accused pedophile is predicting that the United States forces will soon begin behaving as the Germans did in Russia, in short, as the Nazis at their absolute worst.   For those blessedly unfamiliar with the Nazi record in Russia, here are two excerpts from Alan Clark's Barbarossa
Mass murder, deportations, deliberate starvation of prisoner cages, the burning alive of school children, "target practice" on civilian hospitals—atrocities were so commonplace that no man coming fresh to the scene could stay sane without acquiring a protective veneer of brutalisation. (p. 193)
. . .
Recorded deaths in prisoner-of-war camps and compounds totalled 1,981,000.  In addition to this there is the sinister heading of "exterminations; Not accounted for; Deaths and disappearances in transit,", with the horrifying total of 1,308,000.  When these figures of are augmented by the very large (but unverifiable) totals of men who were simply done to death on the spot where they surrendered, without ever passing through the prison cages, the new dimension of hatred and barbarism that the Eastern campaign was generating can be appreciated. (p. 207)
That's what Scott Ritter is predicting American troops will soon be doing in Iraq.  He made the prediction Wednesday on the Dave Ross program, where he is a frequent and welcome guest.  (I have never heard Ross question Ritter on his unexplained switch on Iraq.  Nor, as far as I know, has Ross told his listeners about Ritter's two arrests for soliciting under-age girls on the net.)

How did Ross react to this incredible slander?  He said nothing about it, and did not accept any calls from listeners during his interview with Ritter.  Predicting that American troops will behave like Nazis at their worst is, apparently, so plausible as to require no comment.

(Last week, I discussed Ross's strange argument on partial birth abortion.  He sent me an email in reply, and I have updated the post with more comments.)
- 7:42 AM, 14 November 2003   [link]

Charles De Gaulle  set up the government owned Elf oil company to compete with the United States and British firms.  From the beginning, Elf was expected to pay bribes to African leaders to keep the Americans and British out.   (There was nothing unusual about that; many American firms at the same time, including some of our oil companies, had similar policies.  The bribes were not, at the time, always illegal—under American laws.)  The bribes that Elf paid out were also used to buy adherence to French foreign policy objectives.

When bribery scandals involving firms like Lockheed broke here, companies were fined, company officials were prosecuted, and laws were changed.  Nothing similar happened in France because Elf had a dual nature, part oil company and part arm of the French government.  It was just too useful for French officials to pay too close attention to its methods.

Over time, as almost always happens when bribes in one direction are tolerated, the bribes began to spread in other directions.  Elf insiders took their cuts and paid off inconvenient witnesses.  And the company paid substantial, yearly sums to the major parties in France.  Finally, the corruption became so widespread that it could no longer be concealed.  Here's one account of what is "probably the biggest political and corporate sleaze scandal to hit a western democracy since the second world war".  I can't take much pleasure in this French scandal, despite the temptation to laugh at a nation that so often sneers at the United States, because the system of bribes did even more damage in Africa.
[André] Tarallo told the court in June that annual cash transfers totalling about £10m were made to Omar Bongo, Gabon's president, while other huge sums were paid to leaders in Angola, Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville.  The multi-million dollar payments were partly aimed at guaranteeing that it was Elf and not US or British firms that pumped the oil, but also to ensure the African leaders' continued allegiance to France.  In Gabon, Elf was a veritable state within a state.  France accounts for three-quarters of foreign investment in Gabon, and Gabon sometimes provided 75% of Elf's profits.  In return for protection and sweeteners from Elf's coffers, France used the state as a base for military and espionage activities in west Africa.
The average citizens of Angola, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, and Gabon did not benefit from this corruption of their governments.
- 7:42 AM, 13 November 2003   [link]

"Toxic Ships"  are one of the sins for which George Bush will be blamed for when he visits Britain.  A careful reading of this Guardian article, and similar material, shows just how silly that particular attack is.  Briefly, the ships are surplus World War II Navy ships.  The US government sold them for scrap at an open auction, which was won by a British firm.  Because the ships have small quantities of asbestos and PCBs, environmental organizations and the British tabloids labeled them "toxic".  (Though not technically a tabloid, the Guardian has tabloid standards when it comes to attacking Bush.)

Neither asbestos nor PCBs are terribly dangerous when precautions are taken in handling them.  Both were widely used for years without significant public health effects, except for people with very high exposures, like asbestos miners.  In any case, what should Bush have done after a British firm won the contract, in fair competition?  If he had somehow blocked this legal contract, some of the same people on the left in Britain would be condemning him for that.

One woman has the correct diagnosis, but refuses to accept it.
"I'm also furious about being told I'm a hysterical member of the public being whipped up by environmentalists.  I'm not.  I'm a local woman and I'm worried about what is being dumped in my backyard," says Barbara Crosbie.
Finally, there is this irony.  What exactly are environmentalists trying to block here?  Recycling.

(Some background on asbestos:  Some years ago I read a piece in Science magazine with important facts on asbestos.  It is not a single mineral, but a set of them.  One kind, which has different fibers than the other kinds, is far more dangerous than the others.  Fortunately, that kind is rare.  If I remember correctly, less than 5 percent of the asbestos has those much more dangerous fibers.   This leads me to think that we have greatly exaggerated the risks from the mineral, and wasted vast amounts of money removing it from schools and other buildings.  There may have been good reason to control the dangerous kind, and perhaps even remove it from some buildings, but the other kinds of asbestos could have been left where they were, and used as before.  There have been plausible charges that the rules against asbestos contributed to the fires in the World Trade Center towers.)
- 8:45 AM, 13 November 2003   [link]

Who Is Filibustering?  Both the left wing editorialists at the New York Times and conservative writer David Frum get it reversed.  The Democratic senators have been conducting a filibuster; the Republican senators are trying to break it.  (I am not surprised that the editorial board gets something this simple wrong, but I am surprised to see a headline writer, make the same mistake.  I have often wondered whether the columnists and editorial writers read the Times; now I wonder whether the headline writers do.)

The idea behind a filibuster is simple.  Senate rules generally require 60 votes to stop debate, so 41 senators can block most bills and nominees by refusing to allow a vote.   (In the past, 67 votes were required.  That Senate rule was the biggest single obstacle to civil rights legislation for many years.)  Those who block a vote, the Democrats in this case, are conducting a filibuster; those who want a vote, the Republicans in this case, are trying to break the filibuster.

(A little history:  The word comes, indirectly through Spanish, from a Dutch word meaning "freebooter", or pirate.  The filibuster was most important during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when it was used by Southern Democrats, again and again, to block civil rights legislation.  It was used by the hero in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but most filibusters have been conducted for dubious purposes.  More than a century ago, the House of Representatives had a similar device, the "disappearing quorum", which was used by minorities to block action.  Speaker Thomas Reed of Maine was able to change the House rules, after a bitter fight, to end it.  From William Safire's New Political Dictionary, I learn that the Japanese parliament has a delaying technique called the "cow-waddle".  During a vote, the minority members will walk very, very slowly, with many stops, to the ballot box at the rostrum.)
- 5:56 AM, 13 November 2003
Correction:  The headline writer, not Neil Lewis, made the error.  I have corrected the text above.
-5:44 AM, 14 November 2003   [link]

Rumours, which Steven Baker lightly calls Low Intensity Propaganda, are one of our greatest problems in Iraq, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.  Personal contacts can do much to reduce the effects of rumors, a fact many in our armed services seem to understand.
- 4:15 PM, 12 November 2003   [link]

We Are Winning The War Against Al Qaeda, according to a recent report, but not necessarily the war against terror.
Kevin Rosser, one of the report's authors, said worldwide counterterrorism efforts, including the arrests of al-Qaida leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, had significantly disabled the network.

"The al-Qaida organization that existed on Sept. 11 (2001) ... really no longer exists, it's been largely dismantled," he said.

"What we're beginning to see is a much more disparate movement of people who are sometimes coordinating their acts and sometimes not, but who are inspired by the example of al-Qaida and who are carrying out attacks," he said.  "So we see the threat becoming much more elusive and the danger is that it becomes much harder to track."
The report comes from a private risk assessment organization, the Control Risks Group, which in my opinion gives it more credibility.  (If the report is available publicly, I may have more to say about it later.)

There is one unpleasant fact about the war on terrorism we must face.  Struggles against terrorist organizations commonly continue for years and even decades, in spite of successes against them.  This has been true for the Basque ETA in Spain and the IRA in Northern Ireland.  It was true for the struggle against the anarchists a century ago.  I fully expect this struggle to last the rest of my life.
- 3:55 PM, 12 November 2003   [link]

Kennedy Lost The Popular Vote In 1960:  Probably.

From time to time you see comparisons of President Bush to President Kennedy.  Here's one by Andrew Sullivan, another by Michael Barone, comparing the 1962 and 2002 elections, and another by Donald Sensing.   But all of them have missed two similarities between the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections; in both the winner probably lost the popular vote, and in both there was a big court fight over a disputed state.  (The 1960 result was so close that there will always be some uncertainty about the result.  There are so many illegitimate voters now that it is just possible, though I think it highly unlikely, that Bush would have won the popular vote if only legal votes had been counted in 2000.)

The official popular vote tally, collected by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, which you can find here, gives Kennedy 34,227,096 votes and Nixon 34,107,646 votes.  It would seem that Kennedy won the popular vote by about 120,000 votes.  But this neglects the strange situation in Alabama.  Kennedy apparently won the state 324,050 to 237,981 but if you look here, you will see that he received just 5 of Alabama's 11 electoral votes.   To understand how that could have happened, you need to know how elections were conducted in many states in 1960, and about the election strategies some Southerners followed at the time.

First, in 1960, voters in many states voted directly for individual electors.  Ballots varied from state to state, but nearly all showed which candidates the electors were pledged to.  In Alabama, a voter would have voted in 11 contests for electors in order to cast a vote for the Democratic or Republican ticket.  In spite of the single figure given in the totals, there was no single popular vote in Alabama, but 11 popular votes, with slightly different results for each.  (I am not sure just how they chose the totals for Kennedy and Nixon, whether they are averages, or the highest, or what.)

Second, nearly all Southern leaders (all Democrats, by the way) wanted to block civil rights laws.  Some chose a strategy of trying to hold back enough electoral votes from both parties to deny a majority to either candidate.  The idea was that they could then bargain with the leaders, promising their support to the one who would stop or slow progress on civil rights.  In Mississippi in 1960, this faction won control of the state party and their slate of electors, all officially unpledged to either Nixon or Kennedy, won the election.  In Alabama, there was a strange compromise.  Six of the 11 Democratic electors were unpledged, and 5 were pledged to Kennedy.  This mixed slate of 11 carried Alabama easily, but produced a result that does not have an obvious interpretation.

When Alabama voters chose those 11 electors, they simultaneously voted for Kennedy and against him!  (The unpledged electors all ran ahead of the Kennedy electors, so those voters who did understand the differences among the electors preferred the unpledged electors.)   Given this strange result, what was Kennedy's popular vote in Alabama?  The most obvious adjustment, giving him 5/11 of the official Alabama Democratic total, reduces his national total below that of Nixon's.  I can't think of any other plausible adjustment to Kennedy's total that does not have the same result, fewer popular votes for him than Nixon.  (This is not a new conclusion.  I understand that Theodore White quietly changed the heading on his popular vote totals in his famous Making of the President, 1960 so that they said "Democrat", rather than "Kennedy".  Which made them correct, but is a weaselly way to admit the truth, that Kennedy did not beat Nixon in the popular vote.)

Any election as close as 1960 was bound to inspire controversy.  Many Nixon supporters thought that the election had been stolen and point to strange results from Chicago for evidence.  Kennedy supporters say, correctly, that even if Nixon had won Illinois, Kennedy would still have had an electoral vote majority.  This is true, but fails to mention the other disputed states, Texas, Missouri, and Hawaii.  All three were close; all three had electoral irregularities.  Hawaii actually had the official results reversed, moving the state from Nixon's column to Kennedy's after a partial recount and a court fight.  (There's an entertaining account of the 1960 fight for Hawaii here.  I know little about the controversy and nothing about the author, so I won't vouch for the accuracy of the details.)  I am inclined to think that honest counts would have given Nixon the victory in 1960, but think it impossible to prove now.

Finally, I should add that I see more differences than similarities between Kennedy and Bush, though I don't disagree with the points made by Barone, Sullivan, and Sensing.
- 7:42 AM, 12 November 2003   [link]

France Has  high unemployment, a damaged political system, a growing Muslim underclass, and many other problems, but I had not realized that it is also plagued by kangaroos.   Thirty years ago some kangaroos escaped from a nature park, and their descendants are now living happily in the Rambouillet forest.
- 7:08 AM, 12 November 2003   [link]

Not Everyone Likes Veterans:  How would you describe John Muhammad, now being tried in the DC area sniper killings?  "Accused sniper" seems like the obvious term.  If you were not worried about being politically correct, you could also use "Muslim convert", since his problems began soon after he converted.  You probably would not say Louisiana native, because that is irrelevant to the crimes he is accused of.  And, unless you thought there was some connection, you would not use "Army veteran" for your description, since that is also irrelevant.  Unless, of course you are Bob Edwards on the NPR program "Morning Edition".  At least Edwards made the implied slur today, and not yesterday.  (I have heard the argument that the Army, rather than Islam or some internal problem, made Muhammad a killer, but I did not expect to hear even Edwards give the theory credence.)
- 6:46 AM, 12 November 2003   [link]

Some Veterans Are Still Serving:  This Los Angeles Times article describes those rare US troops who are over 50 years old.  Though rare, there are proportionately more than in the past.  The shrinkage of the US Army from 770,000 in 1989 to the current level of 480,000 explains why more men who are old enough to be grandfathers are serving in Iraq.  We have had to call on our reserves for the necessary manpower.
- 8:09 AM, 11 November 2003   [link]

Veteran's Day  always brings tributes to veterans; one of the best is from a veteran, Donald Sensing.   The "Watchmaker", who is serving now, reminds us what we owe our veterans.   The best newspaper tribute to veterans that I have seen is in last Sunday's Observer, from David Aaronovitch.   His closing words, which echo an Orwell argument, touched me most:
We still depend, even in the days of Trisha and trauma counselling, on men and women who will, if necessary, die on our behalf.  And I must express my astonishment and gratitude that they will.
But you should read the whole thing for why we fight, as well as what we owe our veterans.
- 7:34 AM, 11 November 2003   [link]

In  my second post, I noted that the Palestinian Authority fits the dictionary definition of fascist, but is never called fascist.  This is true in spite of evidence like the alliance of Arafat's predecessors with Hitler, and the popularity of Mein Kampf in the area controlled the PA.  Now, a "senior security adviser" to Yasser Arafat is calling the United States "fascist", refuting the playground theory that "it takes one to know one".  Remind me, please.  Why are we or any other decent people trying to help Arafat and his gang?
- 11:13 AM, 10 November 2003   [link]

"Wildly Inaccurate":  That's how the BBC now describes the coverage of the Baghdad museum looting, including its own.  Not everyone was "wildly inaccurate"; my first post on the subject has proved to be, as Andrew Sullivan said, "prescient".  I was right, and the BBC (and nearly every other news organization) wrong, because I thought that American officers were more credible than Saddam's appointees.  Is the BBC still making similar mistakes because they trust enemies of United States more than our spokesmen?  I think so.

(Even this article, though not "wildly inaccurate", is misleading.  It is true that there are still about 10,000 pieces still missing from the Museum of Antiquities, but fewer than 50 of those are valuable or historically significant.  We have reason to hope that many of them will be recovered in time.)
- 6:40 AM, 9 November 2003
More:  Not everyone has gotten the message.  This AP story repeats the original charges, without noting that they were "wildly inaccurate".  And it quotes, without comment, Donny George—who was the source of many of the original false claims.
- 7:22 AM, 12 November 2003   [link]

President Bush Is Playing  "the race card, the ethnicity card, the gender card [and] the religious card", claims NAACP Chairman Julian Bond.  How so?   Bush is nominating conservative judges, as he promised in the campaign, who happen to be black, Hispanic, Arab, women, and sometimes even, as the crude term puts it, "twofers".  Those who can remember what "playing the race card" originally meant, appealing to those who wanted to block minorities from jobs or homes, will be fascinated by this new definition.

(There has been an interesting discussion in the blogosphere about whether the Democratic senators who are trying to block these nominations are violating the spirit of the civil rights laws.   Stuart Buck says that they may be in a long post that discusses relevant cases.)
- 6:10 AM, 9 November 2003   [link]