November 2005, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

But Not Yet:  I was amused to see that most Swedish citizens view doing without nuclear power the way St. Augustine viewed chastity.
A majority of Swedes want their nuclear power stations to produce energy until their operational lifespan ends, and not be shut down early, a poll published on Tuesday showed.

Sweden shut its Barsebäck 2 reactor on June 1st, the second reactor to be taken out of service in the country since 1999 as part of a plan to phase out nuclear power over the next 30 or so years.

The poll, conducted by Temo on behalf of the Swedish nuclear industry's research and training centre KSU, found that 65 percent of those questioned did not agree with the decision to shut down reactors while they could still produce energy.
Sweden gets about half of its electricity from nuclear power, so one can understand why the voters don't want the power stations shut down immediately, even though ending nuclear power is the national policy.

And the Swedes may change their mind about that policy.  If global warming is a serious problem, then the world will want more nuclear power plants, since those plants do not produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.  (As always when I mention global warming, I urge you to read my disclaimer, if you have not already done so.)

(Here's Augustine's famous line, taken from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations:
Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.
Give me chastity and continency — but not yet!
Do the Swedes know they are imitating the famous bishop?  Probably not.)
- 1:16 PM, 30 November 2005
Oops!  Forgot a key phrase, "doing without", in the first sentence.   It's fixed now.
- 4:34 PM, 30 November 2005   [link]

The CIA's Campaign Against George Bush:  That sounds melodramatic, maybe even silly, put that way.  But it is a fair summary of what Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland said in this column, which is addressed to President Bush.
It is not surprising that your White House distrusts and/or despises the media, the CIA, the State Department's career officers, the United Nations and a host of other institutions that you could not control, but that you could not accept that you could not control.  Like most paranoia, yours is not totally unfounded: People in those institutions were out to defy and/or get you.

But you and yours helped them accomplish the mission.  One lesson available in this story is that amateurs are no match for the CIA in disinformation campaigns.  The spies are far better at operating in the shadows than you politicians will ever be.  They have a license to dissemble.

The hidden management of the criminal justice process and the news media practiced by spooks in Wilson-Rove-Libbygate is nothing short of brilliant.  So you were right to fear the agency.   Where else do you think the one-page crime report that triggered the investigation and then the pressure-building leaks disclosing its existence came from?

Fear probably caused you to keep the Clinton-appointed leadership in place at the CIA long after some of its top operatives mounted a rebellion against the White House, in part to shift attention from their failures to yours.  I know that George Tenet charmed you, and the rest of us.  That's what spies and spymasters do, sir.  You should have been taking that into account.
Let's summarize: The CIA, or a faction in it, was out to get President Bush and engaged in a disinformation campaign against him.  That's what Hoagland is saying.  And he is not a Bush loyalist, as anyone who reads his columns regularly knows.

This CIA campaign is an attack not just on President Bush, but on a fundamental principle of democracy.  Elected officials set policy; bureaucrats execute it.  If the CIA officials in this campaign did not believe they could honorably execute Bush's policies, they should have resigned, as some finally have.

What must be done?  Congressional committees must do an extensive and public investigation of this campaign in order to expose the bureaucrats who have been undermining our elected officials.   And the committees should not flinch when they receive negative coverage from the bureaucrats' media allies.

(By way of Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media.

John Hinderaker has more examples of leaks that may be part of this campaign.  I say "may" because we do not for certain who the leakers were in most of these instances.  But we should certainly try very hard to find out.

And here's my earlier post, in which I discuss one of those media allies of the CIA leakers, Dana Priest.  Like Hoagland, she works for the Washington Post.  Unlike Hoagland, she seems indifferent to both the nation's security and the principle that elected officials should set policy.)
- 7:43 AM, 30 November 2005   [link]

The American Economy Is Booming — NYT:  No, really, that's what they said.
Gasoline is cheaper than it was before Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans.  Consumer confidence jumped last month and new-home sales hit a record.  The stock market has been rising.   Even the nation's beleaguered factories seem headed for a happy holiday season.

By most measures, the economy appears to be doing fine.  No, scratch that, it appears to be booming.
Those who read the New York Times regularly will have already guessed what the next word is, and you are right.
But as always with the United States economy, it is not quite that simple.

For every encouraging sign, there is an explanation.
And the reporter goes on to argue the the news is actually mixed.

And I wouldn't entirely quarrel with his argument, although he is wrong in some particulars.  (For instance, when factories have set records for production quarter after quarter, it is inappropriate to call them "beleaguered".)  But I would say this: It would be hard to find an advanced nation that would trade their economic problems for ours.  Not Japan, which has had more than a decade of stagnation.   Not Germany, with unemployment twice as high as ours.  And so on.  Compared to other advanced nations, we are doing very well.  And we have done astoundingly well in creating jobs in the last two decades compared to other advanced nations.

(No word on whether New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who has been predicting economic stagnation for years, will revise his views in light of the evidence.)
- 5:33 AM, 30 November 2005   [link]

We Can Extend Women's Fertility Now:  While reading this Jim Pinkerton column, I ran across this claim:
Thus we come to the fundamental asymmetry of the sexes: Thanks in no small part to Hefner's philosophizing, men can fool around and then have kids pretty much whenever they want -- as such late-December fathers as Norman Lear and the late Tony Randall have demonstrated.

And yet while men changed the laws, and the customs, to suit their specific needs such as virility enhancement, women have made no similarly powerful change in areas that affect them specifically, such as fertility enhancement.  That is, if women had gotten together and decided that it was as important to extend the age of female fertility as it was for men to have access to Viagra, one can only assume that medical science would have made that change -- science is like that.
Actually, the technology to extend the age of female fertility is available now — but it does require some foresight.

How?  By freezing.
Canadian researchers have developed a technique that could make it much easier for women who are infertile to have children.

The method, developed at Montreal's McGill University Health Centre, freezes human eggs in the blink of an eye.  Nearly all eggs preserved this way are usable, compared to about half that survive traditional freezing techniques.

In late April, a Montreal woman who underwent the method gave birth to a boy, thought to be the first child in the country created from frozen eggs.  Four other women are expecting.

Seang Lin Tan, the McGill fertility specialist whose team developed the technique, said it will let young women preserve their eggs before undergoing cancer treatment or other medical procedures that might make them infertile.

It would also let them postpone motherhood because they haven't found a partner or aren't ready to interrupt their career, Tan said at a news conference Tuesday.
Just to be clear, this is not a new technique, but an improvement in techniques that have been used for years.

How long could a woman postpone childbearing this way?  At least into her 60's, judging by the oldest natural mother and by the accounts of older women who have had other women's eggs implanted.  Indefinitely, if the woman found a surrogate mother, such as this woman, who carried her grandchildren for her daughter.

As I said, this requires some foresight (and perhaps a certain lack of romanticism) but it is possible now.   And not just possible now, but commercial now.  If you search on "freezing + human + eggs", you will learn that there are already businesses that will freeze a woman's eggs for her, such as this clinic.

How would the widespread use of such techniques affect society?  Profoundly, I am certain, but what those effects would be is hard to say.  I am reasonably certain that more women would postpone both marriage and childbearing if such techniques become common, but beyond that it is hard even to guess what might happen.

(What do I think of Pinkerton's main argument, that the feminist revolution resulted in a victory for — Playboy founder Hugh Hefner?  I wouldn't agree entirely (and suspect Pinkerton is exaggerating for effect), but I think he (and others who have made this argument) are more right than wrong.

In the longer run, we may also be able to restore fertility to women who have lost it because of age or other reasons, perhaps by using adult stem cells.)
- 2:42 PM, 29 November 2005
More:  I vaguely mentioned stem cells at the end, because I was trying to remember this article, which passes on a revolutionary scientific claim, with many implications.
Women may possess a hidden cache of stem cells in the bone marrow that constantly replenish the ovaries with new eggs, a new study suggests.

The idea contradicts long-established scientific dogma that holds that a woman is born with a complement of eggs that must last throughout her reproductive life.
. . .
The researchers, led by Jonathan Tilly, report in this week's issue of Cell that the cache of germ-line stem cells in the bone marrow send cells via the blood stream, to the ovaries, which signal to the marrow when new supplies are needed.

Their work depends mostly on experiments with mice but they also cite cases where women have received bone marrow transplants after chemotherapy and unexpectedly conceived - the result, the researchers suggest, of receiving a new supply of oocyte-making cells from the new bone marrow.
If Tilly and his team are right — and their findings are hotly disputed — we might be, as fertility expert Kutluk Oktay puts it, "looking at an end to menopause as we know it right now".  We live, as many have said, in interesting times.
- 9:04 AM, 30 November 2005   [link]

An Almost Great Headline:  I have a weakness for those wonderful tabloid headlines such as the famous "Headless Body in Topless Bar", so I was disappointed to see the New York Times come so close to greatness with the headline to this story: "With a Case of Cold Feet, Giants Can't Unknot the Tie".

The problem, of course, is that the Times combined a good headline, "With a Case of Cold Feet", and a potentially great headline, "Giants Can't Unknot the Tie" and got something less than either.   (They were using a single headline for two stories and a picture, together spanning five columns, which is why the headline is so long.)  "Case of Cold Feet Dooms Giants" would work.  (Or, if you prefer, "Cold Foot".)  But "Unknot the Tie" is so pretty that I think they should have used that instead.  Perhaps something like this: "In Three Tries, Giants Kicker Fails to Unknot the Tie".

(Those who don't follow football and who don't want to read the article, may need to know that the New York Giants lost to the Seattle Seahawks after the Giants field goal kicker missed three consecutive field goal tries, any one of which would have won the game for the Giants.)
- 9:41 AM, 29 November 2005   [link]

Science Bits:  (All from last Tuesday's New York Times, so you will have to hurry to read them.)
  • Can cold weather make you more susceptible to colds?  For years scientists have said no, but a new study came to a different conclusion.

  • The lack of maternal care in the first two years of life produces changes in the way children produce the oxytocin and vasopressin hormones, perhaps permanent changes.

  • We are just beginning to understand how the brain changes under hypnosis.

  • How do you move an asteroid?  The best way, most now think, is very carefully.

  • Where did venomous snakes get their venom?  Most likely from their lizard ancestors.   And this research may have practical applications, since snake venoms often have medical applications.  The same may be true of the weaker lizard venoms.

  • A few years ago, MIT researchers figured out how to make a better LED by combining a photonic crystal with a "Bates reflector", whatever that is.  Neat, but some butterflies have been using the same trick for millions of years.   (No word on whether the butterflies will sue for patent infringement.)
As I have mentioned before, the Tuesday edition of the New York Times is worth buying for the science section alone.
- 3:06 PM, 28 November 2005   [link]

One Out Of Three Isn't Good:  While sorting through old clippings I found this column by Seattle Times editorial writer Lance Dickie.   He made three predictions about last year's election — and got just one right, and that one the easiest of the three.

Here are three humble predictions for an election now mercifully only 10 days away:

  • Democrat John Kerry will capture the White House.  The surprise will be the number of Republicans who help him win the presidency.

  • Democrat Christine Gregoire will be elected governor, as voters recognize one of the best-prepared candidates in state history.

  • Republican Rob McKenna's combination of intellect and temperament will attract Democrats to his side and victory.

As you may have noticed, John Kerry is not now sitting in the White House.  Nor, as anyone who studied the exit polls knows, did a large proportion of Republicans vote for him.  (And not all of us would agree with Mr. Dickie's belief that he is humble.)

As those who followed our gubernatorial election controversy know, Christine Gregoire lost the election — if you counted only legal votes.  The King County elections office had to break our election laws to drag her over the line in a disputed third count — and they did.

Rob McKenna did win, but then everyone here, except, perhaps, his opponent, knew that would happen

I don't mention this old column just to needle Dickie — though he does deserve needling for many other reasons — but to illustrate how partisanship can distort our thinking.   Dickie erred in his predictions for the same reason that fans tend to expect more of their own teams than they ought.  He so much wanted Kerry to win that he dismissed the evidence from the polls, and from history.  This would not matter much if he were not an editorial writer for Washington's largest newspaper.  But he is, and we have every reason to think that his partisanship biases the editorials there.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(My own prediction for the 2004 presidential race is here and my predictions for the 2002 Congressional elections are here.

Those interested in Washington state politics will want to read the entire column, if only for the unintentional humor sprinkled through the column.  Saying, for instance, that Christine Gregoire, who lost millions of taxpayer dollars while mismanaging the Attorney General's office is "superbly prepared" may not have been intended as satire, but it should have been.)
- 12:44 AM, 28 November 2005   [link]

Lying About The War:  In a column that the New York Times has wisely hidden behind the TimesSelect wall, Frank Rich ends by saying that we have learned the hard way that we can "no longer afford to be without the truth" on the Iraq war.  Which is both hilarious and outrageous because, in the column, Frank Rich strays from the truth again and again.

The New York Sun, responding to the column, has many examples of Rich's errors.  For example:
Mr. Rich's New York Times column yesterday refers to Mr. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address with the "bogus 16 words about Saddam's fictitious African uranium."  Those words were, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."   But those 16 words are neither bogus nor fictitious.  They were and are true.  A July 2004 report of the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported that an Iraqi delegation visited Niger in June of 1999 and met with Niger's then-prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki.  The committee relayed that Mr. Mayaki said the meeting was about "expanding commercial relations" between the two countries, which Mr. Mayaki interpreted to mean "that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales."

A July 2004 report by the British government's Butler Commission found that Mr. Bush's State of the Union comment was "well-founded."  As the Commission put it, "It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.  The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium.  Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger's exports, the intelligence was credible. ...  The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it."
And the editorial goes on to give many more examples of Rich's errors, but does not come close to correcting them all.

The Rich column is hilarious because a careful reader of his own newspaper, the New York Times, would know that many of Rich's claims are wrong.  The column is outrageous because the New York Times published it anyway.

(Since it is a column by Frank Rich, I expect to see botched writing, and I was not disappointed.   A quick glance found this terrible sentence:
The real point of the Bush-Cheney verbal fisticuffs this month, like the earlier campaign to take down Joseph Wilson, is less to smite Democrats than to cover up wrongdoing between 9/11 and shock and awe.
Can fisticuffs be verbal?  (You might, with a stretch, use "verbal fisticuffs" to describe debates, or similar encounters, but not speeches.)  Can fisticuffs have a point?  Can a point cover something up?  Is campaign a good parallel for "verbal fisticuffs"?

And it is easy to find many more examples of bad writing in this column and in other Frank Rich columns.  Rich can't (or won't) get the facts right, and can't (or won't) write clearly.  Yet he is has been employed for many years by the most prestigious newspaper in the world.  Someone, preferably the publisher, should explain to the readers why Rich continues to work there.

Some will wonder whether Rich ever confronts this fact: The Clinton administration came to much the same conclusions about Saddam Hussein as the Bush administration did.  In a word, no.   Too inconvenient, I suppose.)
- 9:27 AM, 28 November 2005   [link]

We Are Winning In Iraq:  And in the Middle East.  That strikes me as obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said, and James Q. Wilson does just that, in the form of a speech that President Bush might make.
My fellow Americans: We are winning, and winning decisively, in Iraq and the Middle East.  We defeated Saddam Hussein's army in just a few weeks.  None of the disasters that many feared would follow our invasion occurred.  Our troops did not have to fight door to door to take Baghdad.   The Iraqi oil fields were not set on fire.  There was no civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites.  There was no grave humanitarian crisis.

Saddam Hussein was captured and is awaiting trial.  His two murderous sons are dead.  Most of the leading members of Saddam's regime have been captured or killed.  After our easy military victory, we found ourselves inadequately prepared to defeat the terrorist insurgents, but now we are prevailing.
. . .
Our success is not confined to Iraq. Libya has renounced its search for nuclear weapons.  Syria has pulled out of Lebanon.  Afghanistan has produced a democratic government and economic progress for its people.  Egypt has had the beginnings of a democratic vote.  In an area once dominated by dictatorships, the few remaining ones are either changing or worrying deeply about those that have changed.
If you had suggested that all this could happen five years ago, almost every informed Middle East observer would have accused you of believing in miracles.  Yet, somehow, many think our great victories there are actually defeats, or will necessarily become defeats.

Why, given the extent and rapidity of our victories, do so many hold this defeatist view?  Mostly because of the way the war is being covered, with almost all the stories on losses, rather than gains.  But that answer just leads to another question: Why are our journalists failing to report the war accurately?  I see three main reasons for that failure.  First, our terrorist enemies understand that they can not win without the help of the media and direct their attacks so as to intimidate and deceive the journalists.  As far as I can tell, no large news organization has understood that they are often the victims of this deadly "spin", and taken actions to correct their coverage.  (There are, by the way, some interesting remarks by Osama bin Laden on this subject; he understands that the Western media are, whether they realize it or not, his essential allies.)

Second, many of our journalists learned the wrong lessons from the Vietnam.  In particular, many of our journalists believe that an enemy using guerrilla tactics can not be defeated.  In fact, this is incorrect for Vietnam, where the guerrilla phase of the war resulted in a defeat for the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong puppets.  And it is incorrect for most other guerrilla wars, historically.  Usually the guerrillas lose, as they did after World War II in Malaya and the Philippines.  But our journalists do not know that.

Third, our journalists have become, as a group, so partisan that they can not accept victories when they are won by Republican presidents.  We saw an almost laughable example of that in 1992-1993, when the coverage of the economic recovery switched, almost magically, from negative to positive, as Bill Clinton replaced George H. W. Bush.  And that partisanship is strengthened by the visceral dislike so many of our journalists have for George W, Bush.  That a Republican might be winning victories in the Middle East is hard for them to accept; that the Republican winning these victories is Bush is impossible for many of them to accept.  And so they deny and dismiss the evidence and the views of those closest to the scene, the Iraqis and our troops.
- 7:44 AM, 27 November 2005   [link]

Mountain Blogging:  Six weeks ago, on my disaster area tour, I visited the Newberry Caldera.   Or, rather I tried to visit it, but had to turn back as I drove into the monument, since the rain was becoming mixed with snow, making it hard to see anything, and making even the thought of hiking there unpleasant.  The day wasn't wasted because, after turning back, I visited the nearby High Desert Museum, which was well worth my time.

The next day was clear, so I drove back to the monument and up to the top of Paulina Peak, the highest point in the caldera at 7,895 feet.  The rain from the previous day had frozen at the highest parts of the volcano and was still on the trees when I reached the summit.

Newberry is so large that it is difficult to see, except, I suppose, from an airplane.  This USGS photo shows you a little more but still omits about half of the volcano.

To understand what you are seeing, you should know that Paulina Peak, from where both photographs were taken, is part of the rim of the caldera.  You can see Paulina Lake to your left and East Lake to your right.  The white mass in the center is the Big Obsidian Flow, covered with a dusting of snow.  The Central Pumice Cone, which separates the two lakes, is not a remnant of the original mountain, but a recent intrusion.

You can get a better idea of the size of the Big Obsidian Flow from this picture.  The pictures looks strange because the camera was picking up glitter from the obsidian.   On a hike later that day, the Flow seemed to "twinkle" as I walked along watching it.

Here's what the obsidian looks like up close.

The Flow covers about a square mile and is about 1300 years old.

Why do they call it a "caldera"?  Because of the way it formed, as Stephen Harris explains.
Recognizing the abundance of tephra on Newberry's flanks, a fact unknown to [Howell] Williams, [Norman] MacLeod concluded that the caldera formed in much the same way as that at Crater Lake.   The volcan's summit collapsed following violent Plinian outbursts that produced large quantities of pyroclastics and rapidly emptied the magma chamber, thus withdrawing support from the mountaintop above.  The main difference is that Newberry Caldera collapsed much earlier, formed a deeper caldera, and happened several times.  Today's vast summit depression actually consists of several roughly concentric collapse areas, each somewhat smaller than its predecessor.  They are a nested set of calderas of different ages. (p. 139, 1988 edition)
How dangerous is Newberry?  In the long term, very dangerous, considering its history.   And the magma is still quite close to the surface of the caldera, close enough so that some have considered installing a geothermal power plant in Newberry.

(The Newberry Volcanic National Monument begins just south of Bend, Oregon.  The caldera is about 25 miles from Bend.

You can see the previous posts from my disaster tour here, here, here, here, and here.)
- 4:02 PM, 26 November 2005   [link]

Interested In Education Reform?  Then you'll want to take a look at Joanne Jacobs' Our School.   The subtitle, "The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds" tells you more about the book, and from the description we learn that Our School is the story of "Downtown College Prep (DCP), a first-year charter school with 100 ninth graders from predominantly poor, Mexican-American families in San Jose."

I have not seen the book yet, but from having read her excellent edublog for several years, I can tell you that the book will be well written.  (I often improve my own writing by omitting needless words.  And, as a game, I sometimes try to rewrite posts on other blogs to make them shorter and clearer.  I almost never can improve her posts that way, something not true for posts at most of the other blogs I read regularly.)

You can see a sample of the book here.  And, of course, if you do decide to buy it, the very best way to do that is to go through her site to Amazon, since she gets a little extra that way.

(Since I admire the clarity of her writing so much, I sometimes wonder what Jacobs makes of some the poorer writers at newspapers such as the New York Times.  Does she blush (as I do) when she sees Maureen Dowd bend the logic of her argument into a pretzel?   Does Jacobs get an urge (as I do) to call the Society for the Protection of Metaphors when she reads a column by Frank Rich?  Knowing that she was working on a book, I have never quite had the nerve to ask her these questions.)
- 2:36 PM, 26 November 2005
More:  Tomorrow is the official publication date for the book, though Amazon is already shipping copies.
- 7:52 AM, 28 November 2005   [link]

Wonder Why He Thinks The War Would Be Intergalactic?  You may have heard about the interesting ideas of former Canadian Defence Minister, Paul Hellyer
A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with "ETs."

By "ETs," Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.
. . .
Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."
. . .
Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning.
There's nothing surprising about a member of Canada's Liberal party worrying about the United States getting everyone into a war.  But the scale of war that Hellyer fears does surprise me.

Let's review the terms for his benefit.  A war in which the earth is attacked by beings from another planet would be "interplanetary".  A war in which the earth is attacked by beings from another stellar system would be "interstellar".  So, when Hellyer says he fears an "intergalactic" war, he is saying he fears an attack by beings from another galaxy.

The closest galaxy (not counting some small satellite galaxies) to our own Milky Way is Andromeda.   It is, according to this answer, almost 3 million light years away.  (If your mind needs boggling, work out what that would be in miles.)  By way of comparison, the closest star system to our own, Alpha Centauri, is about 4 light years away.  So Hellyer is worried about a truly long distance attack.

Sadly, nothing in the article explains why he is worried about an intergalactic attack instead of an interstellar attack, or even a mere interplanetary attack.  Nor does he say anything about how other intelligent beings in our own galaxy — if there are any — might react to an attack from Andromeda, or some other galaxy.  Hellyer wants the United States to release data on UFOs.  Fair enough, but I think he should release his own data first and explain why he fears an intergalactic attack.

(Fun fact: You can see the Andromeda galaxy on a clear dark night without a telescope or even binoculars.  Here are directions for spotting it if you want to try.   And with binoculars, you can see its shape clearly.

Being serious for a moment, I have always thought that those who want to ban war from space have things backward.  Instead, we should bar war from everywhere except space, which should cut down sharply on the casualties.)
- 1:00 PM, 25 November 2005   [link]