November 2003, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Brotherly Love  comes second to supporting the team.
A Manchester United supporter has inflicted the ultimate indignity upon his brother: agreeing to a life-saving transplant on condition that his sibling renounce his support of rivals City.
The younger brother, who was giving a donation of stem cells, required his older brother to sign a contract with clauses that made it clear he had switched teams:
He should join the Manchester United FC Supporters' Association and sign up to the club's television channel, MUTV.

He is also required to repaint his house in red hues and "amend" his wardrobe to include mostly red clothes.
I think this was a joke, but can't be sure when I think of some of the fans I have known.
- 5:31 PM, 30 November 2003   [link]

Worth Reading:  This sensible column on how to fight AIDS in Africa.  The authors argue that Africans should decide the mix of policies, using what works best in their own countries.
Some U.S. conservatives favor an "abstinence-only" approach, while many on the other side dismiss abstinence in favor of condoms.  Lost in the debate is the decline in extramarital and casual sex -- which has proven effective in reducing HIV infection rates in Uganda, Zambia and elsewhere.

In truth, good public health policy requires A, B and C to reverse the AIDS epidemic.   But partisans ignore the facts.
What facts?  These facts:
Those who consider condoms a panacea for Africa's AIDS epidemic ignore their track record and naively apply a U.S. solution to an African problem.  In fact, the African countries with the highest levels of condom availability -- Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Kenya -- also have some of the highest HIV rates in the world.

Uganda is a case in point.  Between 1991 and 2001, Uganda lowered its infection rate from 21 percent to 6 percent.  Unlike most heads of state, Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, intervened early and forcefully.  Impoverished and war-weary, Uganda adopted the least expensive intervention available: public education stressing abstinence before marriage and faithfulness after.
Religious leaders in Uganda played a big part in this turnaround.  Now, however, the authors worry that Western public health "experts" may be reversing the progress in Uganda by their fixation on encouraging condom use.  Ugandan preachers may have more of the solution than Western professors—if, that is, we judge by what works, rather than by what is politically correct.
- 5:06 PM, 30 November 2003   [link]

The Original Gerrymander:  In my post two weeks ago, I left out the original gerrymander map, which was immortalized by this cartoon:

The name came from "salamander", using, I suppose, the old meaning, which is closer to our "dragon" than the humble amphibian we usually mean by the word.

William Safire says, in his New Political Dictionary, that Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, for whom it was named, signed the 1811 redistricting bill reluctantly.   For what it is worth, the original gerrymander was intended to favor the Democrats.   (Their opponents, first the Federalists, then the Whigs, and now the Republicans, might say this shows something about the Democratic party, but I don't know that any party has gerrymandered more than the others, when they had the opportunity.)
- 7:08 AM, 30 November 2003   [link]

Children For Sale In Romania:  Poor families in Romania sometimes sell their children, often for adoption to wealthy people from other European countries, but sometimes to people who want slaves.   Most of the buyers come from countries in the European Union, which Romania is scheduled to join in 2007.  As far as I can tell from the article, the EU bureaucracy has made the problem slightly worse, covering up evidence and helping close orphanages that, however poor, might have provided a better alternative.

One reason that these sales continue, I suspect, is that they have drawn little attention from the European media.  The lives of these Romanian kids might improve if, for example, the BBC were to give this scandal 1 percent of the attention it devotes to Israel and the Palestinians.
- 6:29 AM, 30 November 2003   [link]

Kudos To Stefan Sharkansky  for his efforts to correct columnist Molly Ivins, most recently, in this post and this post.   And for his persistence in finally getting the Seattle Times to print his letter with corrections.   Well, most of his letter, anyway.

(I have had less to say about Ivins than I might, because I am not always sure when I read her columns who the ideas really belong to.  Sometimes she borrows quite openly and gives credit to her sources.  Her standard column is a rewrite of an article from the Nation or other far left source, rendered in pseudo-folksy Texan, which probably annoys the hell out of any real Texan who happens to read it.  She has a couple of degrees from eastern universities and once worked for the New York Times, which is why I say "pseudo".

Sometimes, and this is the part that has interested me for years, Ivins does not credit her sources.  She has been caught doing this more than once, and even had to settle a suit with Florence King for plagiarism.  Now one might think that plagiarism in a journalist would be as fatal to their career as embezzling would be to a banker's career.  Journalists have only their ideas to sell; when someone steals a journalist's ideas, they steal all.  For some reason, this general rule has not applied to Ivins.   Her history of plagiarism seems not to have hurt her career at all.  Why this is true, I am not sure.  But it may be significant that another journalist who has gotten away with plagiarism, Nina Totenberg, is also a leftist woman.

One final amusing point.  When you search on the phrase, "Molly Ivins" + plagiarism, you will find a course syllabus or two that warns against plagiarism—and assigns a reading by Ivins.)
- 3:48 PM, 29 November 2003   [link]

What Kind of Student Attends Washington's Evergreen State College?   In one instance, a brutal leftist who has admitted killing a cop.   In this long, and superbly researched, post, "Lynxx Pherrett" describes Andrew Hampton McCrae, his victim, officer Dave Mobilio, and what McCrae might have learned at Evergreen that made killing a random police officer seem like a reasonable political act.  (Evergreen, for those unfamiliar with the school, chose a convicted cop killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, to give the 1999 commencement address.)  I can't improve on Pherrett's closing:
I can't answer Yeats question, ". . . what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"  I can say, however, that sometimes the beast enters from stage-left.
I can and will check the Seattle newspapers to see if any of them carried these essential facts about McCrae.
- 8:53 AM, 29 November 2003   [link]

Worth Reading:  This description of Howard Dean from a Vermont newspaper.  He is "Blunt, sometimes angry, rarely out of control".   Rarely?  Never would better, I think, for someone who might control nuclear weapons.   The temperament problems also make me wonder whether Dean could work effectively with Congress, or be an effective diplomat.
- 8:10 AM, 29 November 2003   [link]

More Missing WMDs:  Only these are Japan's World War II chemical weapons.  At the end of the war, they were hastily dumped and the Japanese are still finding them.
An official at the Environment Ministry said a survey it carried out in June found 138 suspected chemical weapons disposal sites in 41 of the nation's 47 prefectures.

"We will conduct further surveys in areas where this is needed," the official said.

The survey took place after residents of Kamisu, a town slightly north of Tokyo, complained of health problems and tests of their well water yielded levels of arsenic 450 times higher than mandated by government safety standards.
This has obvious implications for the search for Saddam's weapons.  Chemical and biological weapons, being so small, are easy to hide and may be found only by accident.  If some had not leaked, they might never have been found.  (You may recall similar incidents in China, where the Japanese also dumped weapons at the end of the war.  There too, the weapons were found by accident.)
- 7:17 AM, 29 November 2003   [link]

The Reactions To The Bush Troop Visit Were Predictable:  In France, a moderate newspaper, Le Figaro, gave the Bush visit front page coverage, while a leftist newspaper, Le Monde, buried it.  In Britain, a conservative newspaper, the Telegraph, gave the visit front page coverage, while a leftist newspaper, the Guardian, buried it.  A relatively moderate news service, the Associated Press, played the story straight, while an anti-Bush and anti-American news service, Reuters, provided its subscribers with a tendentious piece, even including a subhead about Bush's falling popularity.  (The subhead is misleading; although Bush's popularity did fall after the initial triumph, it has stabilized since in most polls.)

Of those I looked at, the worst was the British newspaper, the Independent, which says openly what the other leftist news organizations only hint at.  Their headline, "The turkey has landed: how Bush cooked up a secret mission to give thanks to his troops", should be enough to give you an idea of their attitude.  If not, there is always the quotation they used at the end.
Some Iraqis were unimpressed.  "To hell with Bush," said Mohammed al-Jubouri.  "He is another Mongol in a line of invaders who have destroyed Iraq."
The Independent did not, however, find space for any reactions from the men Bush visited.  Or even a suggestion that Bush might have had good motives in visiting the troops.

The Independent is one of the Seattle PI's favorite newspapers, judging by how often the PI uses their columns.  I suspect the editors at many other news organizations favor it, too.   They would like to be as biased and outrageous as the Independent, but don't have the nerve.
- 9:47 AM, 28 November 2003   [link]

Americans Have Much To Be Thankful For, not least our high and increasing levels of home ownership.  This New York Times article describes the affordable housing, owned by first time families, that photographer Bill Bamberger has documented over the last 10 years.  (Affordable has a technical meaning here, "housing for people earning 50 to 80 percent of the current median income".)  The Times has much to say about Bamberger's project, but I find the sketches of the families more interesting.

The on-line version omits the picture that I found most interesting.  It shows the name plate that the Gallegos family has on their house in San Antonio.  Two religious figures frame a blessing in Spanish:
Which the Times translates as:
In the home, where there is faith, there is love.  Where there is love, there is peace.  Where there is peace, God is there, where there is God, one wants for nothing.
(I don't know Spanish, but I would punctuate that differently.)  After that, there is the family name, "TAMPICO", and "WELCOME".  Tucked under the left corner is a small American flag.

One of the arguments that conservatives have won over the last two decades is the desirability of replacing public housing with family homes.  It was, as I understand it, one of Margaret Thatcher's most important reforms, and similar examples can be found in almost every Western nation.  In the United States—and I suspect in other countries as well—we could do even better by relaxing zoning requirements and reforming building codes.
- 8:29 AM, 28 November 2003   [link]

Happy Thanksgiving!  Audubon's turkey may not have tasted as good as the domestic bird, but it was far more handsome, and much, much smarter.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a columnist in the Guardian agree with me on its virtues.  (Whether she is right about the defects of the British holidays is something I will leave to those more familiar with them.)  Feel free, if you are not American, to borrow this Thanksgiving, if you haven't already.
- 8:24 AM, 27 November 2003   [link]

Lee Kuan Yew, the long time leader of Singapore, has a much better record at prediction than the experts chosen by the Guardian, so when he says something about our strategy for fighting terror, I listen.  All of his advice seems sensible to me.  Europeans, he thinks, completely misunderstand the problem.
"The Europeans underestimate the problem of Al Qaeda-style terrorism," he said. "They think that the United States is exaggerating the threat. They compare it to their own many experiences with terror—the IRA, the Red Brigade, the Baader-Meinhof, ETA. But they are wrong."
. . .
"Many Europeans think they can finesse the problem, that if they don't upset Muslim countries and treat Muslims well, the terrorists won't target them.  But look at Southeast Asia.   Muslims have prospered here. But still, Muslim terrorism and militancy have infected them."
So much for the Patty Murray theory of terrorism.  And Americans, he believes, err in another way.
"The Americans, however, make the mistake of seeking largely a military solution.  You must use force.  But force will only deal with the tip of the problem.  In killing the terrorists, you will only kill the worker bees.  The queen bees are the preachers, who teach a deviant form of Islam in schools and Islamic centers, who capture and twist the minds of the young."
Actually, these ideas are very similar to the thinking in Rumsfeld's recent memo.   Unfortunately, only moderate Muslims are in a position to do much about most of these "queen bees".  To say the least, it will be a delicate matter to tell Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and similar countries, that they must rein in their radical clerics, no matter how privately we do so.  Finally, Lee's warning is not new, but is worth hearing again.
If you walk away from Iraq, the jihadis will follow you wherever you go.  You may think you've left them behind, but they will pursue you.  Their ambitions are not confined to any one territory or people.
Fight them there, or here.  That's our choice.  That's also Europe's choice, though many Europeans have yet to realize that.
- 8:09 AM, 26 November 2003   [link]

How Is The Reconstruction Of Iraq Going?  The Guardian is sure it knows, and has collected advice from "experts" on "How do we get out of Iraq?", which you can find here and here.

Most of the experts agree with the Guardian's summary:
Winning the war was the easy bit.  But since the fall of Baghdad the news from Iraq has gone from bad to worse: daily attacks on US troops, mounting public hostility to the occupation, no credible government in sight.  So how can Britain and America escape the quagmire?  And how can we prevent Iraq descending into violent chaos as soon as the troops pull out?
(I don't recognize all the Guardian experts, but two of them, Professor Paul Kennedy and "defense expert" Dan Plesch, have had notable failures in previous predictions.  Kennedy is most famous for predicting, in the late 1980s, that the United States would decline because of imperial "overstretch".  A year ago, Plesch made predictions about the combat in Iraq that proved to be wildly pessimistic.)

Strangely, Iraqis, even though they have access to the BBC, which no doubt shares the Guardian's views, don't seem to agree with the experts.  The housing market is booming in Baghdad.  And this is the good kind of boom.
The pace of reconstruction in Iraq is still too slow for Baghdad's housing market, with prices booming despite the bomb blasts.  House prices have more than doubled in the capital since the war, even in areas targeted by terrorists.

Tens of thousands of new homes have been planned by eager Iraqis, and that is still not enough to satisfy the demand for housing in the inner city or leafy suburbs.

Before the war, a house in the middle class Palestine Street district near the centre of Baghdad cost £20,000. Now they are more than £50,000.
If you expected "violent chaos" in your area, would you buy or build a home there?  The Iraqis may be wrong and the experts right, but they are closer to the situation, and not as dependent on the BBC for their information.  (And there is one detail in the article I loved.  A former Iraqi air force general is now a real estate salesman.)
- 7:30 AM, 26 November 2003   [link]

"Once The Rockets Are Up", sang Tom Lehrer in his spoof of Wernher von Braun, "Who cares where they come down?"  That attitude is surprisingly common; all over the world men celebrate by firing guns in the air, even in heavily populated areas like Los Angeles or the Gaza strip.  Usually the victims of the falling bullets are innocent, but this time, one hit a guilty man.  I should feel sorry for him, but can't.

Let me review the physics.  Unless it is lighter than air or hits escape velocity, anything that goes up will come down.

(If you'd like to hear von Braun song, here's the Lehrer CD.)
- 9:56 AM, 25 November 2003   [link]

What Game are the Chinese  beginning to take up?   Baseball.
About five dozen Chinese universities have varsity teams, and the four-team China Baseball Association -- the Beijing Tigers, the Tianjin Lions, the Shanghai Eagles and the Guangdong Leopards -- is trying to draw bigger crowds with local sponsorships and outreaches to children.
(I like those team names.  Clearly, the taste for weird or wimpy names has not spread to China.)  There's even a player from China in the Seattle Mariners farm system, Wang Chao.
- 9:42 AM, 25 November 2003   [link]

Howard Dean Is The Front Runner, we are told by the media.   So, how many Democrats support him nationally?  Just 17 percent, according to Gallup.  That puts him in a tie with Wesley Clark, with Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt close behind with 13 percent each.

A Dean strategist might say that, although this is true nationally, Dean has a good chance to win in Iowa, and has a big lead in New Hampshire.  Both these facts are true, but neither show that the race is not still open.  Right now—and much could change before the vote—Gephardt has a small lead in Iowa.  Most likely he will either defeat Dean or come close enough to stay in the race.  In New Hampshire, Kerry can use his wife's (Republican) money to attack Dean, something Kerry must do to stay in the race.  Even if, as seems likely, Dean wins that contest between candidates from the neighboring states, he will probably take enough damage so that another candidate will then defeat him in South Carolina.  After that, journalists will suddenly discover that the races is still open.

All this is speculative, of course, but possibly a little less so than all the "frontrunner" talk.  Seventeen percent is simply not that impressive, even this early in the campaign.
- 9:22 AM, 25 November 2003   [link]

What Liberal Media?  Oh, that liberal media.  Howard Kurtz of the liberal Washington Post concedes that conservatives have a point, when they argue that the mainstream news organizations (all liberal) have downplayed three sensational leaked memos.
But I can't help but think that if some of these stories had been obtained by one of our mainstream media muckety-mucks, as opposed to Sean Hannity or the Weekly Standard, it would be treated as a much bigger deal.
Tony Blankley, of the conservative Washington Times, summarizes the memos:
For those of you who get your news from the WashingtonPostNewYorkTimesCBSetc., here is a summary of those three now half-famous memos: 1) Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee had drafted plans to use and misconstrue classified intelligence data to politically undercut the president of the United States ("pulling the trigger" closer to the election); (2) the CIA and other intelligence offices of the government have identified 10 years of contacts between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden —thus tending to dramatically justify our war against Iraq and contradicting one of the major Democratic Party criticisms of President Bush's Iraq policy; and 3) Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee were working closely with outside groups to block judicial appointments for the purpose of ethnic bigotry and unethical manipulation of court proceedings.  In Sen. Durbin's case,the memo advised that Miguel Estrada be blocked as he is "especially dangerous because he is Latino." In Sen. Kennedy's case, the memo advised to stall Judge Gibbons appointment so she couldn't get on the bench in time to decide the pending Michigan affirmative action case.  The memo questioned "the propriety" of such tactics, but nonetheless advised it.  She was confirmed just two months after the landmark case in question.
Jack Shafer of Slate explains the psychology behind the unwillingness of liberal reporters and editors to follow up on these leaked memos.
What's keeping the pack from tearing Hayes' story to shreds, from building on it or at least exploiting the secret document from which Hayes quotes?  One possible explanation is that the mainstream press is too invested in its consensus finding that Saddam and Osama never teamed up and its almost theological view that Saddam and Osama couldn't possibly have ever hooked up because of secular/sacred differences.

Holders of such rigid views tend to reject any new information that may disturb their cognitive equilibrium.
Journalists tend to reject any new information?  It is an almost universal problem, but would seem to be a serious fault in a journalist.

To illustrate Shafer's point, here's today's Richard Cohen column.  
As of yet, the United States has found no connection between Hussein and al Qaeda and no evidence that Iraq had an extensive WMD program, particularly one that was about to go nuclear.
Cohen says there was "no connection" when in fact there were "10 years of contacts" between the two.  And, Cohen is accusing the Bush administration of making a claim they did not make.  Before the war, the administration said that Saddam supported terrorism, which is undeniable, but they did not make large claims about his contacts with al Qaeda.  (Those who disagree should look at the principal speeches on the subject, Bush's speech to the UN, his State of the Nation speech, and Powell's speech to the UN just before the war.)  David Kay's team has uncovered considerable evidence of an extensive WMD program, which anyone can see by reading his interim report.

All this information is available to Cohen.  None of it changes his ideas.  To repeat, as Shafer says, "Holders of such rigid views tend to reject any new information that may disturb their cognitive equilibrium."  (This idea is a central part of theories of cognitive dissonance, if you are wondering about the vocabulary.)  If Cohen can't adapt to new information, perhaps we should nickname him "Rigid" Cohen.
- 7:39 AM, 25 November 2003   [link]

How Did The Bush Trip Go?  In this post, I predicted that President Bush's trip to Britain would go well.  Specifically, I said that he would charm some Britons, who would learn that he did not, despite what they have been told by the BBC, have horns.  I saw a number of examples of the Bush charm; here's my favorite from a David Ignatius column:
"I think the boy did well," said Fitzroy Edwards, a 45-year-old immigrant from Jamaica who listened to the speech on the radio and found himself surprised.  "I used to see him as a cold, stone-faced, arrogant man who looked like he was slinging a .45," Edwards said in a lilting Jamaican accent. "Now I do see a warmth in the man."
Andrew Sullivan has more examples here.   Even Bush's enemies at the Guardian grudgingly agree that Bush gained by the visit.

How much?  I haven't seen any polls on his visit, but I would guess that his favorability rating went up about 5 percentage points in Britain.  And a bit in other European countries, where people saw the generally favorable coverage of his visit.

So should he do more such trips, as the Washington Times and Martin Walker urge?   Perhaps.  The trip to Briton worked well in part because Blair could control the schedule and the subjects discussed.  That would not be true for a trip to France, or other nations which have leaders hostile to our policy in Iraq.

Finally, every time Bush makes one of these trips, he meets a foreign leader who says that the press reports on Bush have been wrong.  This time, it was Menzies Campbell, the foreign affairs spokesman for Britain's third strongest party, the Liberal Democrats.
"He is personally extremely engaging.  He has a well-developed sense of humour, is self-deprecating and when he engages in a discussion with you he is warm and concentrates directly on you.

"He looks you straight in the eye and tells you exactly what he thinks."

Mr Campbell, stressing that the President was "totally at odds" with his media image, went on: "I was not persuaded by what he said, but I was most certainly surprised at the extent to which the caricature of him was inaccurate."
"Totally at odds."  This is even more impressive coming from a Liberal Democrat than it would be coming from Tony Blair or Michael Howard, the new leader of the Conservative party.  Blair knows, and Howard hopes, that he will have to work with Bush in the future.  Menzies Campbell knows that his party has little chance of coming to power, and so has no reason to flatter Bush.  And some political reasons not to, since the Liberal Democrats oppose Bush on most foreign policy issues.  
- 4:59 PM, 24 November 2003   [link]

Democratic Procedures Can Be The Enemy Of Democracy:  In 1848, Napoleon III, a nephew of Napoleon I, was elected president of France after a confused revolution had thrown out another French monarchy.  Over the next three years, he expanded his power and finally staged a coup in 1851, and then proclaimed himself emperor.   He could never have come to power if the revolutionaries had set up a parliamentary system in 1848, instead of direct elections for the presidency.  This asked too much of the French voters, many of them barely literate, if that.

There are many other examples, some current.  Hugo Chavez came to power in Venezuela through a democratic election, and has been undermining democracy there since.  Again, with a less direct system of elections, he would not have been able to come to power, or at least stay in power as the disastrous results of his policies became apparent.

In the past, we used far less democratic procedures for choosing our leaders, at every level.  Although general elections were decided by popular votes, nominations were more often made within a party, often by an organization that might be called a machine.   Even if the procedures were formally democratic, so few voters would participate in many areas that it was easy for a party organizations there to control the results.  That system began to break down under pressure from reformers, and collapsed after the 1968 election.   The disaster of the Democratic convention that year led the Democratic party to set up the McGovern Commission, which re-wrote the rules for nominating presidential candidates in the Democratic party, making them far more small "d", democratic.  And the states responded with reforms of their own, increasing the number of presidential primaries from 18 in 1968 to 28 in 1972.

More democratic nominating procedures often lead to candidates who are ill-suited to general elections.
Howard Dean's candidacy is an excellent example. Unlike most Democratic nominees before 1972, he is more liberal on social issues (except gun control) and foreign policy than he is on economic issues, where his track record in Vermont is one of fiscal restraint.  Among Democratic primary voters, these positions play well.  But while his social liberalism -- along with his forthright demeanor and outsider status -- have made him the Democratic front-runner, it may hurt him in a general election.  In the Pew study, Dean ranked fourth among the Democratic candidates in a head-to-head match up with President Bush, trailing the incumbent by a 41-to- 52 margin.
And they have led to different, and I think worse, office holders.  In a brilliant book, The United States of Ambition, Alan Ehrenhalt described the new entrepreneurial candidates we see at every level.  They are overwhelmingly professional politicians now, people who have done nothing else in their lives.  They are more articulate (I would say glib) than candidates in the past, and far less experienced in anything other than politics.  Bill Clinton is the most prominent example, but you will find others almost everywhere.  The description fits the current Congressman for my 1st district in Washington, Jay Inslee, and it fits Adam Smith, who represents the 9th district south of here.  (For what it is worth, I consider Inslee to be worthless and Smith to be a responsible representative, though both are effective politicians.)   George W. Bush is something of a throwback, since he is not as articulate as most of the new candidates, and became a full time politician later than most.

To argue, as I would, that we would be better off with stronger parties and less democratic methods for nominating candidates is almost certainly futile.  Political scientists have argued for decades that strong political parties are an essential part of mass democracies, but all the evidence that they have mustered has had no observable effect on public opinion.   Like garbage collectors, party leaders may be essential, but they get little respect.

(For American readers, I should add that our very democratic nominating procedures, though not unique, are unusual.  Almost every other nation gives more power to the political parties.)
- 9:52 AM, 24 November 2003   [link]

Michael Jackson Is Guilty:  Why do I think so?  Because his family is now playing the race card and claiming that Jackson is being prosecuted because of his race.  The same argument saved O. J. Simpson, even though he had lived in a mostly white world for years.  It is even more bizarre for Jackson, given his efforts to change his appearance over the years.  From some of the comments here, you can see that the strategy has a good chance to succeed.  The defense only needs to persuade a single juror.

For the record, I think Jackson is no more a representative of his race than Roman Polanski is of his.  And I'll try not to post on him again.
- 8:04 AM, 24 November 2003   [link]