November 2006, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Polonium!?!  A former Russian spy, who had turned against Putin, has just died from a most bizarre cause.
The fallout from the suspicious death of a former KGB agent in London reached the highest levels of Government this evening, as Britain's top ministers and security officials met to discuss the case.

The Cobra Cabinet emergency committee, which met after the July 7 bombings and the discovery of the alleged plot to blow up transatlantic aircraft this summer, convened after doctors found traces of polonium-210, a highly toxic radioactive substance, in the urine of Alexander Litvinenko, a former spy and critic of the Kremlin.
Polonium is not a common element.
A very rare element in nature, polonium is found in uranium ores at about 100 micrograms per metric ton (1:1010).  Its natural abundance is approximately 0.2% of radium's.

In 1934 an experiment showed that when natural 209Bi is bombarded with neutrons, 210Bi, which is the parent of polonium, was created.  Polonium may now be made in milligram amounts in this procedure which uses high neutron fluxes found in nuclear reactors.

Polonium is so exceedingly rare that only about 100 grams is believed to be produced each year.

And, yes, Russia does produce the element; the Russians even used it in two lunar rovers.

Did the person who ordered this assassination think that the polonium would not be detected?   As anyone can figure out, if it were detected, almost everyone would conclude that the Russians had poisoned Litvinenko.  Perhaps the mastermind hoped for a terror effect on other opponents of the Putin regime.
- 1:49 PM, 24 November 2006   [link]

Happy Thanksgiving!  Here's Audubon's turkey, recycled from the last three years.

(Yes, I am fond of that painting — and wild turkeys.)
- 12:58 PM, 23 November 2006   [link]

Last Week, the New York Times was worrying about the  health disparities between men and women.  Men in the United States have shorter life expectancies, and are less likely to see physicians than women.

This week, the New York Times was worried about a different problem, the provocative way some young female physicians dress.  (They also think that some young male physicians look like slobs, but seem less worrried about that problem.)  The Times thinks the examples pictured are unprofessional; I think that they might be a partial solution to last week's problem.  Believe it or not, some men might be more willing to go see those "unprofessional" female physicians.  (I hope that I haven't shocked anyone by this suggestion.  Of course such things would never motivate me to see a doctor.)

(I don't think that men's reluctance to see physicians makes a big difference in their life expectancies.  Much of the difference comes from men's greater chances of being a victim of violence, and men's greater propensity to get heart disease.

Yesterday's Times had a pair of letters on the disparities articles; the first, from a man, criticized a feminist for being hard-hearted; the second, from a woman, said that men cause these disparities themselves.  She's mostly right, I suppose, but I wish she sounded a little less pleased.)
- 9:01 AM, 22 November 2006   [link]

Why Now?  That's what I wondered when I heard about the assassination of the Lebanese cabinet minister and Christian leader, Pierre Gemayel.
Gemayel, a 34-year-old father of two and an up-and-coming politician, was killed when his car was ambushed by men from one or two cars that collided with it in the suburban neighborhood of Jdeideh.  At least three gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons equipped with silencers, hitting him in the head and chest, officials said.  Television footage showed the tinted driver's-side window pocked with at least eight shots and the glass on the passenger's side shattered.  The silver sedan's hood was crumpled from the collision.
Everyone seems to believe that the Syrians were behind the assassination, but now one seems to know for certain why they wanted to kill him now.

It may be simply a matter of chance; they had wanted to kill him for some time and the assassins finally got their opportunity.  Or it may have been an attempt to deflect attention from the inquiry into the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

It may have been an attempt to bring down the Lebanese government; according to this New York Times article, if the cabinet loses one more minister, the government will fall.

Or, and this is the worst alternative, Gemayel may have been murdered to help clear the way for a new war in Lebanon, against the current anti-Syrian government, against Israel, or both.

(You can find lists of previous assassinations and assassination attempts here and here.

And if, by some chance, you have never heard the curious origin of the word, "assassin", you can find it here.)
- 8:23 AM, 22 November 2006   [link]

"Astronomically Expensive":  Reverend Sensing treats Charles Rangel's call for a universal draft seriously (unlike Rangel), and makes some rough cost estimates
By the time operating and maintenance costs are folded in — and certainly the pork that every Senator and Representative would tack on — the costs of Rangel's folly would surely nudge $800 billion per year and only go up from there.
I might add that taking that many young people out of our work force would put incredible strains on our economy, and taking that many young people out of our colleges would force many colleges to close down, at least temporarily.

Incidentally, you can explain Rangel's proposal by the machine boss rule of foregin policy I discussed yesterday; Rangel is trying to appeal to constituency groups, not to do what is best for the United States.
- 11:05 AM, 21 November 2006   [link]

Worth Reading:  (Though you may not want to show it to younger sprogs.)  "Spengler" begins with an interesting generalization:
Wars are won by destroying the enemy's will to fight.  A nation is never really beaten until it sells its women.

The French sold their women to the German occupiers in 1940, and the Germans and Japanese sold their women to the Americans after World War II.  The women of the former Soviet Union are still selling themselves in huge numbers.  Hundreds of thousands of female Ukrainian "tourists" entered Germany after the then-foreign minister Joschka Fischer loosened visa standards in 1999.  That helps explain why Ukraine has the world's fastest rate of population decline.
And then goes on to apply it to Iran:
These distasteful facts bear directly upon Iran's national decline, and the impulses that push the Iranian leadership toward strategic flight forward.
. . .
The proliferation of Iranian prostitutes in Western Europe as well as the Arab world helps explain the country's population trends.  The European Commission's most comprehensive surveys of human trafficking found that Iranian women made up 10-15% of the prostitutes working in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy. [2] "Fatima" from Persia has become as familiar as "Natasha" from Belarus.   Iranian whores long have been a scandal in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which periodically round up and expel them.

It is hard to obtain reliable data on prostitution inside Iran itself, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it has increased since Ahmadinejad became president last year.  Anti-regime sociologists claim that at least 300,000 women are whoring in Tehran alone.
(Tehran has a metropolitan population of about 12 million.  If the 300,000 figure is correct, then the prostitutes would make up about 5 percent of the total female population in Tehran and, I would guess, about 10 percent of the adult female population.  That seems a little high, if only for simple economic reasons.)

Worth reading, but I should add this note of caution: statistics on these matters are seldom as accurate as one would like.

(Do I think his generalization is always correct?  No, but it may be a good rule of thumb.)
- 3:58 PM, 20 November 2006   [link]

Foreign Policy For The Machine Politician:  As I have been arguing since 2002, Nancy Pelosi is best understood as a machine politician, as a daughter who learned the art of politics from her father, a machine politician who ran Baltimore for many years.

Now that she is about to become the Speaker of the House, it is natural to ask how a machine politician would think about foreign policy.  There's a fine answer to that in my favorite political novel, Edwin O'Connor's The Last Hurrah.   The boss, Frank Skeffington, has taken his nephew, Adam Caulfield, along with him to a series of campaign events.  Skeffington asks Adam to wait in the mayor's limousine while he speaks to a group of fisherman.
Skeffington came back to the car.  "Take her around to the Morgan docks," he said to the chauffeur.  To Adam he said, "A good few minutes' work.  Could you hear anything at all?"

"Very little," Adam said. "The wind took most of it away.  But did I hear you mention Portugal a couple of times?"

Skeffington nodded.  "Foreign policy," he said gravely.

"Foreign policy?"

"Very important.  A man can't run for mayor on the domestic issues alone.  Not in this day and age.  We all have to cultivate the wider vision.

"You mean that in a local election you have to talk about, say, Russia?"

No.  That's one of the great handicaps for the local politician: he can't call his opponent a Communist.  It's a shame, but there you are.  Of course you can call your opponent a Communist if you really want to, but it won't do you any good; nobody'll believe you.  They all know he goes to Mass on Sunday, so he can't be a Communist; you might just as well say that the Cardinal and the Kremlin exchange pen-pal letters.  No, Russia and Communism never have been much of an issue around here.  We're under the disadvantage of having to evolve a foreign policy that meets local requirements."

"Which includes what?" Adam asked. "Portugal?"

"You'd be surprised how important Portugal becomes," Skeffington said, "when you're speaking to the Portuguese.  These fisherman, almost all, came originally from the Portuguese mainland or the Azores.  I find they appreciate an occasional reference to the glorious country of Henry the Navigator.  I've been trying to find a more contemporary figure than Henry, but with Portugal, that's not so easy.  However, it isn't a major point.  There aren't enough Portuguese.   When you come right down to it, there are only two points that really count."

"Such as . . . ?"

Skeffington held up two fingers.  "One," he said, ticking the first, "All Ireland must be free.  Two", he said, ticking the second, "Trieste belongs to Italy.  They count.  At the moment, the first counts more than the second, but that's only because the Italians were a little slow in getting to the boats.  They're coming along fast now, though; in twenty years the Irish issue will be about as burning as that of Unhappy Ethiopia.  Fortunately, I don't expect to be among those present at the time." (pp. 254-255)
Think about the principles behind Skeffington's foreign policy.  His positions are not chosen to further American interests or values.  Instead, he takes stands to appeal to particular groups within his constituency — and he is not even interested in how those stands might affect American interests and values.

Let's suppose that Nancy Pelosi chooses her foreign policy positions in the same way.  If so, she, like Skeffington, would be indifferent to American interests and values.  But she would be responsive to her constituency groups, and to constituency groups within the Democratic party nationally.

Can we explain her foreign policy positions if we assume that she takes stands in order to appeal to constituency groups, and for no other reason?  I think so.  I know of only one possible exception, her opposition to closer ties to China on human rights grounds.  As the Almanac of American Politics notes, some of the Chinese in her district agree with that, but not all.  But I am almost certain that those who agree with her feel more strongly than those who disagree, so even that position can be explained as an appeal to a constituency group.

(Need an explanation of Skeffington's two points?  He was supporting, first, the union of the mostly Protestant Northern Ireland with the mostly Catholic rest of Ireland.  Second, he was supporting the Italian claim to the port city of Trieste.  The Italians eventually got the city, while the Yugoslavs got much of the hinterlands.)
- 1:38 PM, 20 November 2006   [link]

George Rogers Clark, I think it fair to say, knew how to be a man.  But not every man does.  Take, for example, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat.
Just when it seemed the gender wars had petered out, there comes a loud new battle cry: Man up, America!

Now, I confess it's news to me that our society was lacking in manliness.  But I am a man, and therefore would be the last to know.
After this silly beginning, Westneat goes on to attack the idea that men might know more about war than women do, and a local evangelical preacher who supports traditional roles for the sexes.   He has great fun, but a skeptic who read the entire column might wonder whether Westneat has added anything of value to the debate.

If Westneat were serious, he could find evidence that our society is lacking in manliness without much effort.  He might, for instance, look at Christina Hoff Sommers' The War Against Boys, or David Blankenhorn's Fatherless America.   But Westneat, like most other "mainstream" journalists, is not interested in thinking about such questions.  He prefers the politically correct sneer to the difficult work of actually thinking about these problems.

(Just as an exercise, try to imagine explaining Danny Westneat to George Rogers Clark.  I've tried several times and made no progress at all.  I can't get over just how embarrassed I would be even to attempt such a thing.)
- 8:36 AM, 20 November 2006   [link]

Bring Back The Draft!  That's what a powerful Democratic congressman is proposing.
Americans would have to sign up for a new military draft after turning 18 if the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has his way.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said Sunday he sees his idea as a way to deter politicians from launching wars and to bolster U.S. troop levels insufficient to cover potential future action in Iran, North Korea and Iraq.

"There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way," Rangel said.
So a draft would a way to take hostages, who would then put constraints on our foreign policy.

Would it make any sense, militarily?  Not in my opinion.  A long term, low level war, such as the one we are fighting now, is best fought by a small, professional army, not a mass army of draftees.

Is Wrangel serious?  Probably not, considering that he has already voted against his own proposal.  But he sees it as a way to make a cheap political point.   (If he were serious about spreading the burden of the war more equally, he should work to restore ROTC to our elite colleges and universities, and to ensure that military recruiters can visit them without problems.)

(The Instapundit makes the obvious joke.  The original, or at least the first version that I heard, was told in 1965 or 1966 and went something like this: "They told me that, if I voted for Goldwater, we would make a massive commitment of troops to Vietnam and that there would be riots in the street.  I voted for Goldwater, and, by golly, they were right."

Wrangel himself served in the Army for four years, fought in Korea, and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.)
- 6:00 AM, 20 November 2006   [link]

George Rogers Clark was born on this date in 1752.  His name may be unfamiliar to most readers, especially younger readers.  When I was growing up, he was one of the heroes we read about in our school textbooks, but I fear he is far too politically incorrect to appear there now.

During the Revolutionary War, Clark organized a small band of militia and captured many of the British posts in what we now call the Midwest and what they then called the Northwest.  He took his small force (about 200 men) down the Ohio River and captured a British fort at Kaskaskia, Illinois, on the Mississippi on July 4, 1778.  A diplomat as well as a soldier, Clark was able to persuade the French inhabitants of the region to join the American cause.  When the British retook the fort at Vincennes, Indiana, Clark made a spectacular winter march in terrible conditions and recaptured the fort, partly by bluff.  He continued his campaign until the war ended, winning most of the battles he fought with the British and their Indian allies.

Some credit his victories with giving the United States the Midwest.  Others are not so sure, but I think we can be certain that they did not hurt the American cause.

He was, in short, just the kind of man to inspire most boys — which may be why he does not appear in modern textbooks.

I learned only last year that Clark's life ended in tragedy.  While reading his biography in my 1945 Britannica, I ran across this passage, which tells what happened to Clark after the war:
James Wilkenson, a traitor in the pay of Spain (unknown at that time), coveted Clark's office and military command, and deliberately set out to misrepresent him.  Forged papers and testimonials were forwarded to Governor Randolph of Kentucky charging Clark with constant drunkenness, military incapacity, and a treasonable design of leading a military expedition down the Mississippi against Spain.  Wilkenson was entirely successful; he was appointed Indian Commissioner in Clark's place, and the latter was relieved of his command.
Historians discovered the truth of the matter long after Clark's death.

And that story, too, would be of interest to most older boys, who need to learn that virtue is not always awarded, at least not in this life.

(His younger brother, William Clark, second in command of the Lewis and Clark expedition, is now much more famous, which seems strange to me, considering the two men's achievements.

Here's a brief biography, and here's a book for kids, on Clark's childhood.)
- 6:47 PM, 19 November 2006   [link]

This Doesn't Happen every day.
At times unbelievable, at times controversial, at times simply absurd, a high-school football playoff game of historic proportions finally ended in nine overtimes with Bothell fullback Luke Jones scoring on a 10-yard run to spark a wild celebration at Pop Keeney Stadium.
In fact, it has only happened once before.

(Oddly enough, neither the article, nor the box score in the paper, gives the total time of play, but I think we can assume that it was longer than the average high school football game.)
- 1:59 PM, 19 November 2006   [link]

Yesterday I Picked Up A Copy of Peter Schweizer's Do As I Say (Not As I Do) for its chapter on Nancy Pelosi.  I haven't finished the book yet, but I have found some interesting tidbits about Pelosi and her husband, who have gotten rich doing the things she condemns.  And I have seen enough of the book so that I would recommend it to anyone who does not care for Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader, Nancy Pelosi, George Soros, Barbra Streisand, Gloria Steinem, or Cornel West.

But I would read it more for the research than for the pithy conclusions that he uses as chapter subtitles.  Many go farther than I would, given the evidence Schweizer compiled.  It would be enough, for instance, to say that Michael Moore has hired very few blacks — without dubbing him a racist.  It is tempting to make that charge, considering how often Moore and company have used it to smear their enemies — tempting, but wrong.

And if you do like any of those people?  Then you will have to decide.  Do you want to preserve your illusions?  Then don't read the book.  And don't even think about the possibility that their lives may contradict their claimed poltical principles.
- 10:40 AM, 18 November 2006   [link]

Insiders And Outsiders:  There has been much criticism from blogosphere conservatives of the leadership choices made by the congressional Republicans.  I don't join in that criticism because I recognize that the leadership posts have two kinds of jobs, inside and outside.  The critics are unhappy because they think that the leaders will not do the outside jobs well — and that's possible, though yet to be proven.  But the inside jobs, the lining of votes, the blocking of the Democratic proposals through legislative tactics, and so forth, are important, too.  And those chosen for the leadership positions can, as far as I know, do those things well.

For example, Trent Lott was just chosen to be the Senate's minority whip.  His principal job is to count votes for the Republicans, and I think that he will do that well.  Most of his work will be behind the scenes and will not require him to be the public spokesman for the Republican party.  Most often that will be a member of the administration; from time to time it will be one of the minority leaders.

So I am not, so far, bothered by these leadership choices, and I don't think you should be either.

(Tom DeLay was famous for his ability to count votes — and to find a vote or two when the leadership needed them.  He was superb as whip, a mostly inside job, but not nearly as good as majority leader, which is more of an outside job.  I thought at the time that it was a mistake for him to move from being the majority whip into the majority leader's job, where he became far more of a target.)
- 11:20 AM, 17 November 2006   [link]