November 2007, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Chávez's Thugs Attack College Students:  The New York Times has the story.
Masked gunmen shot into a group of students on Wednesday at this country's most prestigious university.  The students were returning from a march here protesting changes to the Constitution proposed by President Hugo Chávez that could allow him to remain in power indefinitely.

At least eight people were injured in the mix of gunfire and rock-throwing at the Central University of Venezuela, including two who were shot, according to Antonio Rivero, the national director of civil protection.  The violence followed a march by tens of thousands of students to the Supreme Court.
But you can learn much more here. I hope Daniel is right about this:
However I will leave you with a positive thought: for chavismo to resort to such awful tactics can only mean that they are scared, that the student marches are proving effective.
I hope that the marches are effective — and I also hope that Chávez can be stopped without more bloodshed.  Unfortunately, my two wishes may not be compatible.
- 12:39 PM, 8 November 2007   [link]

The BBC's Oil Drop Graph:  If you ever have read Darrell Huff's little classic, How To Lie With Statistics, you'll be delighted by the oil drop graph accompanying this article.

I don't think the artist who drew the oil drop was trying to deceive the readers, just trying to make a more interesting picture.  But the shape of the graph will lead casual readers to overestimate the categories in the middle (Duty and Production) and underestimate the categories on the top and bottom (VAT and Retailer).

By the way, Huff's book is a great choice for anyone who wants to learn to think with numbers, especially if they don't have a strong math background.

(Americans may need to know that VAT stands for Value Added Tax.  It is said to be more efficient, economically, than most taxes.  It is certainly more efficient politically, since it is hidden from most consumers.  A consumer see higher prices after a VAT is introduced, but may not realize that the government is taking a larger share.

And aren't you glad, if you are an American, that you don't pay 8 dollars a gallon for gasoline?)
- 11:06 AM, 8 November 2007   [link]

Some Stories Are Important, Some Aren't:  That's the lesson of this op-ed by journalism professor Andrea Otanez.

In the middle of the column, Otanez makes this admission:

Still, the mainstream media are condemned for not reporting successes [in the Iraq war], and maybe rightly so.


But the rest of the column is an argument that the mainstream media, or, as I prefer to say, the "mainstream" media, should put even more emphasis on American losses — which almost inevitably means that they will give less coverage of American successes.  And almost no coverage of our allies' successes.

In short, Otanez concedes that "mainstream" coverage may be biased — and calls for it to be even more biased.  Why?  She never really explains, but she does give us this hint, when she describes her own views.

. . . people like me — who grew up in protected suburbs and formed our political awareness in the post-Vietnam era, who are educated, who are at least moderate if not liberal . . .

In other words, she's a leftist who has absorbed the wrong lessons from Vietnam.  (And though she is a journalism professor, I would wager that she has never read Peter Braestrup's book, The Big Story.  But she should.)

It is not hard to guess why this leftist journalism professor wants to see even more emphasis on American losses, why she thinks those stories are important, but stories of victories are not.   Almost certainly she wants the United States (or at least the Bush administration) to lose this war.  (Whether she admits that to herself or not.)

This is not a new technique.  Enemy propagandists almost always stress American losses in order to lower American morale.  In World War II, for example, Nazi propagandist "Lord Haw-Haw" emphasized just the kind of stories that Otanez wants emphasized now.

Among many techniques used, the Nazi broadcasts prominently reported on the shooting down of Allied aircraft and the sinking of Allied ships, presenting discouraging reports of high losses and casualties among Allied forces.

Fortunately, most American journalists did not follow Otanez's advice during World War II, did not think that their main job was to echo enemy propaganda, and to print as many stories as possible about American losses.

There are many ways to lie.  That's why the usual oath that American witnesses take includes these phrases: "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".  What Otanez is urging journalists to do is to lie in a way that would be excluded by the second phrase in that oath, and to tell only part of the truth.

What parts would she leave out?  Besides victories, anything that would give us some perspective, such as this.  That's right, American military losses per year were higher under President Carter than they have been under President George W. Bush.   Mostly through accidents, granted, but a man (or woman) who dies in an accident is just as dead as one who dies in combat — and perhaps to less purpose.  And I am old enough so that I can tell you that the losses under Carter were not a big issue for leftist journalism professors in 1980.   Or since.

For years, I have been arguing that we should simply close journalism schools.  Otanez's op-ed gives me one more reason to think that is the right thing to do, that it is hopeless to think that journalism schools can be reformed.  But it may be that there are better journalism professors than Otanez, professors who do not think that our "mainstream" media should lie to us about the Iraq war, by telling us only the negative parts of the story.  If so, I would like to hear from some of them.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 7:21 AM, 8 November 2007   [link]

Glad Professor Saliba cleared that up.
Muslim scientists have made all discoveries of the current age, said University of Columbia's Arabic and Islamic Studies prof George Saliba at a seminar at the Government College University (GCU) on Monday.
It's possible, of course, that Professor Saliba was misquoted.  And we can't have too much confidence in a reporter who gets the name of his university wrong.  But this statement does seem in line with what I could find out about Professor Saliba's work, in a quick internet search.
- 12:53 PM, 7 November 2007
Update:  Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has received a copy of an email from the professor, denying the story.  So the story probably isn't true.  Or may be exaggerated.  But it is also true that sometimes speakers tell one story to one audience — and an entirely different story to another.  For what it's worth — not much — the original story does not have a correction appended to it.  But then journalists in Pakistan have been rather busy in recent days.
- 5:58 AM, 13 November 2007   [link]

Another Reason to blame Bush.
Worker productivity surged in the summer at the fastest pace in four years while wage pressures eased.

The Labor Department reported that productivity--the amount of output per hour of work--jumped at an annual rate of 4.9% in the July-September quarter.  That was double the 2.2% rise in the second quarter and represented the fastest surge in worker efficiency since 2003.
This was, of course, "better than expected".  In fact, "far better than expected".
- 12:39 PM, 7 November 2007   [link]

Mailed Ballots And Vote Fraud:  As I mentioned in this post, I object to the widespread use of mailed ballots, or absentee ballots as they are often called, because I think that they are too vulnerable to vote fraud.

I haven't come to that conclusion without evidence.  Judging by the numbers given in John Fund's Stealing Elections, about 30 percent of the votes in the United States are now mailed in.  But at least 80 percent of the vote fraud is committed with mailed ballots, judging by the cases that come to court.  At least.  It might be as high as 90 percent — or even higher.  (For a few examples, take a look at the list of vote fraud cases on the right side of my site.)  And that in spite of the fact that it is much easier to commit vote fraud with mailed ballots, so it is less likely that those cases will be detected.

There are places in the United States where vote fraud is endemic, where there are well known "vote brokers" who, for a fee, supply votes to candidates every election.  In every case I have read about, these vote brokers use mailed ballots.  Every case.

Britain's experience with mailed ballots, or as they call them, postal ballots, supports the conclusion that mailed ballots are prone to fraud.  Britain experimented with postal voting a few years ago and had an instant epidemic of vote fraud.  (The government responded, not by canceling the experiment, but by adding a few controls.)  And not just vote fraud, but intimidation, especially, according to the news reports I read, of Muslim women.

You can have widespread voting by mail, or you can have elections that are not prone to vote fraud, but you can't have both.  And because more and more voters are beginning to understand what experts on vote fraud have known for years, every close election in this state, and other places where mailed ballots predominate, will be suspect, and every close election will lack legitimacy for many voters.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 10:45 AM, 7 November 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Joanne Jacobs account of the University of Delaware, or as she calls it, "Indoctrination U".
In one-on-one sessions with RAs (Resident Assistants), University of Delaware students were questioned: "When did you discover your sexual identity?"  In dorm meetings, they were pressured to pledge their allegiance to university-approved views on race, sexuality and environmentalism.  When FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) spotlighted the indoctrination, a university official defended the "free exchange of ideas."  A few days later, the program was canceled.

How can academics talk about "critical thinking" while turning residence halls into reeducation camps?   Well, they meant well.  Everyone agrees they meant well.  If only academics were capable of thinking critically about their own assumptions.
I'm not sure I would agree that they do mean well, having known some of these people.  I think that at least some of them are convinced that women and minorities have been treated badly by white males for so long that revenge is appropriate, even if the revenge is taken on those who had nothing to do with the oppression.

And John Leo's critique of the same program, or as he calls it, "Brainwashing 101".
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent Patrick Harker, the president of the University Of Delaware, a voluminous set of papers on how their residence life program was run.  "Hundreds of pages, without exception, are about how to indoctrinate students," school of education professor Jan Blits told the campus student paper, the Review.  "What's surprising is how open they are about it."   Blits acquired the papers from the residence life program by simply asking for them.  Kathleen Kerr, the director of residential life for the university "was so proud of the program she just handed them over," he said.  Blits, head of the university's chapter of the National Association of Scholars, and another professor at the school of education, Linda Gottfredson, have been cooperating with FIRE to get the story out.  Gottfredson said: "Residential Life has the whole person and they try to change beliefs — the heart and soul of a person — which is exactly what totalitarian institutions do.  This is a national issue and FIRE is not finished."
At the end of his column is this chilling point:  The University of Delaware puts perceived bias in its worst category of offenses, along with sexual assaults, injuries, et cetera.  Let me repeat:  That's perceived bias.

(I've added this to my list of posts on why we need to reform our colleges and universities.

Here's the FIRE web site, if you don't already have it in your list of bookmarks.)
- 9:07 AM, 7 November 2007   [link]

Mixed Results, Nationally:  Excellent results in my area.  That's my quick summary from skimming the election news this morning.  More later after I get a chance to look at the returns.

Is there one big lesson in these mixed results?  Yes.  Republicans should not give up on their chances next year, and Democrats should not take the election next year for granted.
- 5:18 AM, 7 November 2007   [link]

Last Time At The Polls?  King County, where I live, will be switching to all mail voting next year, so today may have been the last time I voted at the polls.  To commemorate the occasion, I took a few pictures.

The polling place is at a local school, just a couple of blocks away.  There are, judging by the signs, enough voters in this area who read Chinese to require dual-language signs.

poll sign, 2007

Some of the election workers were nice enough to let me take pictures.

election workers 1, 2007

I will miss seeing some of them at the polls, especially the lady on the right, who, as I recall, has been handling my precinct ever since I moved here.

election workers 2, 2007

I won't miss these flimsy voting "booths".

voting booth, 2007

It was, I believe, a serious error to move to all mail voting.  Mostly because of the danger of vote fraud, but also because it takes away one more community rite, and an important one.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 5:20 PM, 6 November 2007   [link]

Local Campaign:  Yesterday afternoon, I walked along the lake front, hoping to get a sunset picture or two.  When I got to downtown Kirkland, I found two vigorous sign-waving campaigns competing for the votes in a city council race.

Jessica Greenway campaign, 2007

There were supporters of Penny Sweet, Greenway's opponent, just behind this group.  I took a picture of them as well, but the picture was so blurred as to be unusable.  My apologies to them.

(Which candidate did I vote for?  Jessica Greenway, for no strong reasons.  When I moved to Kirkland a decade ago I found that the city was so well governed that I could ignore city politics — which I did.  In the last five or six years, I have seen enough blunders by the city so that I have decided that I really should start following local politics, but still haven't gotten around to doing so.)
- 4:12 PM, 6 November 2007
Update:  As of early this morning, Greenway is leading Sweet, 2595-2523.   You can follow the race, which may not be settled for weeks, here.  (Those not familiar with Washington election rules may need to be reminded that our mailed ballots must be postmarked the day of the election or earlier.  So, the election offices haven't even received many of the ballots, much less counted them.)
- 7:04 AM, 7 November 2007   [link]

Thinking With Numbers:  Some people hate that.  For an example, consider this from Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly.
Seattle Times scribe Danny Westneat went to Portland, rode 14 different trains, and came home reporting how light rail has revitalized the Rose City.

Opposing Proposition 1, however, Fairview Fannie's neoconservative editorialist ridiculed Portland's light rail system, with statistics substituting for observation and demonstrating myopic ignorance of a major transit success story.
(Proposition 1, for those not in this area, is an enormously expensive roads and transit measure.   Most of the money will go to light rail — even though, as everyone admits, it will do almost nothing to reduce congestion.)

Note this phrase: "with statistics substituting for observation".  For Connelly, personal impressions are better evidence than statistics.

Connelly is not alone in preferring stories to numbers, as David Leonhardt says in his review of Ian Ayres' Super Crunchers.
For all its successes, though, statistical analysis continues to face tremendous skepticism and even animosity.  For one thing, Ayres notes, statistics threaten the "informational monopoly" of experts in various fields.  But even to many people without a vested interest, relying on cold, hard numbers rather than human instinct seems soulless.
Those people are usually wrong.  You can make mistakes thinking with numbers — and many do every day — but numbers impose a discipline on our thinking that make some kinds of errors much less likely.  Consider, for example, those rides that Westneat took in Portland.  He enjoyed them and said that he thought the fare was reasonable — but he never told us what the total cost of his trips were.  The system is so heavily subsidized that we know that his fare only covered a small part of the cost.  Would Westneat still have enjoyed the ride if he had paid the full cost?  We don't know.

Yet, without that cost data, we don't know whether the system is a good one, even for Danny Westneat, much less anyone else.

Or consider diabetics.  It would be dangerous for a doctor to advise a person with diabetes to rely on their personal observations, rather than test results.

It would be easy to add hundreds of examples to those two, easy but pointless, because those who have decided to prefer stories to statistics can seldom be convinced to change their way of thinking by mere evidence.

For many, especially those who make a living with numbers, what I have said so far will be familiar, in fact trivial.  But many others share Connelly's discomfort with numbers, and it is for those people that I have written this post.  (And many other posts.)  I hope to persuade some of the people who are uncomfortable with numbers to change their thinking, at least a little bit, to try some simple number crunching of their own, or at the very least, to learn to appreciate some of what we can learn from statistics.

(I criticized those two Connelly paragraphs for another reason here.)
- 1:59 PM, 6 November 2007   [link]

New Jersey Has A Small Problem:  At this rate, they may run out of unindicted Democratic officials.  But the Philadelphia Inquirer says that New Jersey voters don't care.
New Jersey, where corruption is being rooted out, is on pace to challenge a Pennsylvania record that fueled a massive voter revolt three decades ago.

New Jersey: At least 160 public officials have been fingered for criminal corruption since 2002.

Pennsylvania: About 270 public officials were slapped with corruption charges in a four-year period in the late 1970s.

But voter vengeance has not followed in New Jersey.

In Pennsylvania, voters were so fed up with corruption 30 years ago they removed the incumbent party from the governor's mansion and from the Capitol in 1978.  They staged another insurgency last year, wiping out two dozen incumbents over pay raises.  They are trying to do the same with judicial candidates this year.

In New Jersey, where a corruption-crusading U.S. attorney has unleashed a string of high-profile indictments against lawmakers and other public officials, voters seem to have a much higher tolerance for the status quo.
For an example of this tolerance, consider New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who lives and, I suppose, votes in New Jersey.  As far as I know, Krugman has never shown any interest in these scandals, in spite of the heavy burden that corruption puts on the New Jersey government.

Apparently, Krugman is a typical New Jersey voter, not much concerned about corruption, as long as the villains are local Democratic officials.

(You may recall this post, in which I suggested that the New York Times look at New Jersey for evidence that, in fact, corruption is more common among Democratic officials than Republican officials.)
- 12:50 PM, 6 November 2007   [link]

Some Arguments Are Just Plain Funny:  For instance, this one.
We shouldn't believe the increasingly popular claims that boys and girls think differently, learn differently, and need to be treated differently
Or, at least they would be funny, if they weren't coming from "experts", in this case "Caryl Rivers, journalism professor at Boston University, and Rosalind C. Barnett, senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis".  (Incidentally, feminists are divided on this question, though the opinion piece does not stress this point.  Some argue that men and women are essentially identical, except for minor differences in plumbing; others argue that women are superior to men in important ways, a belief usually called difference feminism.  And a few use whichever argument is tactically convenient, just as some men do.)

Rivers and Barnett argue that many of the studies showing differences between men and women are badly done.  I don't doubt they are right about that, since I have accepted the fundamental truth of Sturgeon's Law for many years.  But to leap from that to the bald claim above requires ignoring many good studies — and what should be obvious to any mother who has both sons and daughters.  Or any teacher who is even moderately perceptive.  On the average, boys and girls are different.  And I will say that, even though it would disqualify me from an academic position at many universities.

(Near the end of the piece, Rivers and Barnett do concede some differences:
Of course, it would be naive and even harmful to pretend there are no differences between boys and girls.  Boys, for example, are more vulnerable to autism and dyslexia — and teachers and parents need to be alert to that fact.
Interesting examples they choose.  Here's another example, which has important implications for schools, especially high schools.
While football does have the most concussions (and controversy over their treatment) in high school athletics, girls competing in sports like soccer and basketball are more susceptible to concussions than boys are in the same sports, studies show.

According to a study to be published in the Journal of Athletic Training, in high school soccer, girls sustained concussions 68 percent more often than boys did.  Female concussion rates in high school basketball were almost three times higher than among boys.

Girls also consistently took longer for their symptoms to resolve and to return to play.
Should boys and girls play the same sports in high school, with the same rules?  Probably not.)
- 6:12 AM, 6 November 2007
More:  Most of the commenters — and this piece was published in a Boston newspaper — share my view.  For instance, "drneutrino" wrote, "We have one of each and we often wonder if they are from the same species."
- 6:47 AM, 7 November 2007   [link]

Almost 90,000 Kids:  Just last year.
Close to 90,000 children who would have died before age 5 in Afghanistan during Taliban rule will stay alive this year because of advances in medical care in the country, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday.

The under-5 child mortality rate in Afghanistan has declined from an estimated 257 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2001 to about 191 per 1,000 in 2006, the Ministry of Public Health said, relying on a new study by Johns Hopkins University.
That's still horrendous, still one of the highest rates in the world, but it's an enormous improvement over what happened under the Taliban.

(I still hope that some of those kids get named George, Laura, Richard, Lynne, et cetera.)
- 2:01 PM, 5 November 2007   [link]

John Murtha:  Will give up earmarks, when they tear them out of his cold, dead hands.  Thanks to the bad publicity they have gotten recently, earmarks have decreased, but Murtha is still passing them out — and his are consistently among the worst.
Twenty-one members were responsible for about $1 billion in earmarks, or financing for pet projects, according to data lawmakers were required to disclose for the first time this year.  Each asked for more than $20 million for businesses mostly in their districts, ranging from major military contractors to little known start-ups.

The list is topped by the veteran earmark champions Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is the chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, and Representative C. W. Bill Young of Florida, the top Republican on the panel, who asked for $166 million and $117 million respectively.
. . .
About $111 million of Mr. Murtha's earmarks are for businesses and nonprofits closely aligned with him.  He recruits defense firms and jobs to his economically depressed district and often pushes earmarks for them.
Congressman Murtha was Speaker Pelosi's choice to be House Majority Leader.
- 10:12 AM, 5 November 2007   [link]

Even If These Were Legal:  I wouldn't get one.
As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.
But I will admit that I have wished I had one, more than once.

(My own biggest objection to cellphone users is not the conversations I overhear, but the distracted drivers.  And I suspect that jamming their phones would only make those drivers even more distracted,)
- 9:29 AM, 5 November 2007   [link]

Chuckle:  David Brooks watched the latest Democratic debate so you didn't have to.  And what he reports from that debate may not be strictly accurate, but catches the spirit of the debate better than the straight news stories did.  Here, for example, is what he says about John Edwards:
TIM RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, let's turn to you.  Four years ago, you vowed to run an entirely positive campaign.  Now you're running a negative one.  What changed?

JOHN EDWARDS: My convictions, Tim.  The American people want a president they can trust.  Four years ago I went from being a centrist New Democrat to a left-wing populist because I wanted voters to be able to trust that I would stand up against the forces of opportunism in this country.  Now I stand up to the megarich lawyers.  I stand up to the hedge fund managers, the big spenders and the McMansion owners.  Basically, I've been standing up to myself.  And I don't take money from Washington lobbyists.  I take money from the people who hire Washington lobbyists, which means a savings of, like, 15 percent.
Now, isn't that better than, for example, what the Associated Press said about Edwards?
- 3:04 PM, 3 November 2007   [link]

Wonder If She Has Ever Read Any Heinlein?  That was my reaction to this piece by Nisi Shawl, who "reviews science fiction for The Seattle Times".

Her piece begins with this paragraph:

The face of fantastic fiction is changing.  More than just its face: This former locus of racial and cultural stereotypes, where Robert Heinlein's spaceship pilots look, sound and act like 1950s Pat Boone fans and J.R.R. Tolkien's doughty elves battle hordes of Asiatic Orcs, is undergoing a transformation that's more than skin deep.  Three recent novels demonstrate the genre's growing ability to represent human diversity.

That made me wonder if she had ever read Heinlein's 1954 juvenile, The Star Beast, where one of the principal characters is from Kenya.  Heinlein introduces him as follows:

Back on Earth at Federation Capital His Excellency the Right Honorable Henry Gladstone Kiku, M. A. (Oxon) Litt D. honoris causa (Capetown), O. B. E., Permanent Under Secretary for Spatial Affairs, was not worried about the doomed crustaceans because he would never know of them.

Secretary Kiku, Heinlein tells us, is responsible for "[a]nything and everything outside the Earth's ionosphere" — in an age when humanity has explored hundreds of other star systems.

Or whether Shawl had ever read Heinlein's 1955 juvenile, Tunnel in the Sky, where one of the principal characters is Caroline Mshiyeni.  Heinlein introduces her by giving us the thoughts of the protagonist, Rod Walker, who is thinking about possible partners for a survival test:

That big Zulu girl, Caroline something-unpronounceable.  Strong as an ox and absolutely fearless.

Or whether Shawl had ever read Starship Troopers, first published in 1959.  (It may now be his best known novel, thanks to that terrible movie.)   The hero is Juan Rico, a Filipino.  (Incidentally, the spaceship pilots in Starship Troopers are usually women.  The first pilot we meet is Yvette Deladrier, who brilliantly rescues a group of troopers.  The second is Carmencita Ibañez.)

For sure Shawl didn't bother to read the Wikipedia article on Heinlein, which discusses Heinlein and race in great detail.  And even told me something about the hero of Tunnel in the Sky, which I had missed, though I have read the book a number of times.

You probably can find science fiction authors who fit Shawl's stereotype — but Heinlein isn't one of them.

Let me end with a small suggestion for Ms. Shawl: Why not read a little Heinlein?  You might like him.  And you certainly would learn something.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 12:32 PM, 3 November 2007   [link]

Chaos Jumbles:  See those rocks in the foreground?  They look fresh and unweathered, don't they?

Chaos Jumbles, 2007

That's because they are.
Chaos Crags is the youngest group of lava domes in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA, having been formed as five dacite domes 1,100-1,000 years ago.  The cluster of domes are located north of Lassen Peak.

From the base of the crags and extending toward the northwest corner of the park is Chaos Jumbles, a cold rock avalanche which undermined Chaos Crags' northwest slope 300 years ago.  Riding on a cushion of compressed air (see air-layer lubrication), the rock debris traveled at about 100 mile per hour (160 km/h), flattened the forest before it, and dammed Manzanita Creek, forming Manzanita Lake.
Three hundred years ago is practically yesterday, geologically speaking.

Composite volcanoes, such as Lassen, are often piles of rubble, held loosely together, so we should expect frequent landslides from them, again, geologically speaking.

(Here's a fine Wikipedia article on the geology of the Lassen area, with much information and a map that will help you locate the features I have been describing in this series of disaster area posts.

You can find the previous 2007 disaster area tour posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours here and here.)
- 3:53 PM, 2 November 2007   [link]

KUOW's Gang Of Four Gets Another Republican Sex Scandal:  And they were delighted.  In my description of these four journalists, I say that "nothing delights them more than a Republican sex scandal".  Today's Weekday Program illustrated that point, one more time.

Today, there was more good news on the economy.  And during the last week, we got more reasons to think that we are winning in Iraq.  Did the gang choose to discuss either of those big stories?  No, and no.  Instead, host Steve Scher chose to begin the program with the sad story of Richard Curtis, which you can read about here, if you really want to.  Is Curtis important?  No.  Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times admitted he had never heard of the legislator.  (I know way more about politics than Westneat does, and I hadn't heard of Curtis, either.)

So, why is the gang so fascinated by these stories?  For D. Parvaz of the Seattle PI, it's mostly a matter of partisanship; she hopes that these stories will hurt the Republicans.  Westneat appears to hope that these stories will force a change in the political issues, away from traditional moral issues, to be blunt.  Knute Berger of Crosscut seemed to share both views.  (Unfortunately, no one asked Berger about the pages of ads for prostitutes in his former publication, the Seattle Weekly.  That might have added something interesting to the discussion.)

And Steve Scher?  Why is he fascinated by these stories, so fascinated that I sometimes half expect him to . . . well, I try to keep this site suitable for sprogs, so I won't say what I expect him to do on the air as he gets excited over these stories.  But anyone above the age of fourteen should be able to figure it out.  I don't know why he gets so excited, but one caller gave me an idea for a possible explanation.  The caller said, citing a study, that repressed homosexuals are the most likely to have "homophobic" views.  (I have no idea whether the study is correct, though I have seen a number of references to it.)  Using the same kind of reasoning, is it possible that Scher is a repressed Republican, that he is so excited by these scandals because, whether he knows it or not, he really wants to be a Republican?  Possibly.  And it is a fact that he would be wise to repress any Republican leanings as long as he works for KUOW, an organization that is not famous for its political diversity.

From there, the gang turned to global warming and to the Seattle mayor's posturing on the subject.   As usual in such discussions, the gang's near innumeracy and weakness on scientific questions kept the discussion from being very informative.  They were partly saved by one caller who pointed out something they had ignored to that point, that nuclear power could reduce the risks from global warming.  Although they didn't quarrel with his argument, they didn't integrate it into the discussion either.  And just minutes later, they took a call from a woman who claimed we were running out of uranium.  (I assume, from the call, that she had never heard of breeder reactors, or thorium.)

Near the end of the program, Scher gave Parvaz a chance to explain her amazing blog entry, in which she said she could "understand" why someone might want to burn that symbol of oppression, San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.  I had been hoping that Scher would give her a chance to explain (and apologize), and expected that she would be able to come up with some explanation for what she wrote, after all the attention her blog entry has gotten.  She hasn't, at least not one she wanted to share with the listeners.  She seemed a bit surprised (and pleased) by the attention, but she never explained what she had written, never forthrightly said that she did not want Christian churches burned, even if those near by were not hurt.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Today's grade is 0.06.  The gang was saved from a 0.0 by the caller who favored nuclear power and by Berger's mention of the Clinton and Hart sex scandals.  (Believe it or not, the gang is capable of discussing political sex scandals for an entire program without mentioning those two "gentlemen" and their many sex scandals.  And I can't recall if they have ever discussed any of the Kennedy sex scandals.)

I plan to do these posts about once a month, even though the gang meets every Friday.  But there was one incident a week or so ago that deserves mention, even though I didn't have time to do a post on that show.  The gang was discussing policy toward Iran and Parvaz (whose father is Iranian) made the most remarkable claim.  The Iranian regime, she said, had tried hard to get an accommodation with the US.  This is such an agreeable idea that, for a moment or two, I hoped that she was right.  But I am not as skilled at ignoring the facts as she is, so I had to give up the idea.)
- 1:43 PM, 2 November 2007   [link]

The AP Didn't Expect this good news.
Employers added twice as many new jobs to their ranks than expected in October, an encouraging sign that the nation's employment climate is not cracking under the stress of a deepening housing slump.

The Labor Department reported Friday that the nation's payrolls grew by a net 166,000, the most in five months.  The unemployment rate didn't budge at 4.7 percent, a figure considered low by historical standards.
Reuters didn't expect the good news, either.
Job growth surged in October at twice the rate expected and factory orders edged up, suggesting the world's largest economy was strong enough to handle a deep housing slump without falling into recession.
I won't say that our "mainstream" reporters have never expected good news on the economy since Bush has been president — but I can't think of any exceptions to that rule.

(Incidentally, both lead sentences could easily be improved.  I no longer expect "mainstream" journalists to be unbiased or to know what they are talking about, but I still expect them to be able to write clearly.  Perhaps I shouldn't expect that, either.)
- 12:17 PM, 2 November 2007   [link]

Charts Showing The Success of The Surge:  Engram has the best I've seen.

I will add just one cautionary note.  It is possible that we would have seen some of this improvement even without the change in strategy and commander.  The losses earlier may have helped Iraqis change their minds about which side they wanted to be on, and worn down some of our enemies.  I believe General Petraeus, and the new strategy he is using, have improved our position in Iraq, but I do not think we can be certain that he deserves all the credit for the improvement shown in those charts.
- 11:14 AM, 2 November 2007   [link]

Want To Reduce Your Use Of Fossil Fuels?  Get a car with a stick shift, instead of an automatic.  I've been saying that since 2004; now Brendan Koerner of Slate magazine repeats my advice and gives a higher estimate for the fuel savings than I have seen elsewhere.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy ratings, cars with manual transmissions typically beat their automatic peers by a mile or two per gallon.  This is largely because manuals give you more control over an engine's exertions.  Despite recent advances in slushbox design, humans are still better than automated systems at recognizing precisely when to shift gears.  And smart shifting enables you to limit an engine's rotations per minute, which translates into less fuel consumption.

But getting the most out of manual requires a stick-shift savvy that's often lacking in American drivers raised on automatics.
. . .
If you're up for the challenge, though, you can likely beat the EPA's estimates and achieve fuel savings of up to 15 percent.  Aside from paying constant attention to RPMs and trying to reach high gears quickly, you should also try shifting into neutral and coasting when safe.  And it'll obviously help your cause to follow the basic tenets of hypermiling, which also apply to automatics: Keep your tires properly inflated, avoid stop-and-start traffic, and remove unnecessary weight from your trunk and back seat.
Koerner doesn't cite a study that supports that 15 percent figure.  (Perhaps he means that using a manual transmission plus making the other changes in your driving can give you that much savings.)  But he does give estimates of how much you will reduce your carbon footprint by switching to a stick shift, for those interested in such things.

(I had the impression that manual transmissions were inherently more fuel efficient than automatics, because they lost less energy in the transmission, regardless of how skilled the driver was.  But Koerner doesn't say anything about that in the article.)
- 1:27 PM, 1 November 2007   [link]

It's All Joe Lieberman's Fault:  You can learn the most interesting things from the New York Times.  For example, today Gail Collins was criticizing Hillary Clinton for being too hawkish and then digressed.
And how could she have voted for an Iran resolution that was sponsored by Joseph Lieberman, who was basically drummed out of his party in Connecticut because of his hyperhawk stance on Iraq?  Lieberman, who was once a somewhat boring but apparently good-hearted centrist, has turned into a disaster area for Democrats, a one-man quagmire.

If it hadn't been for his unhelpful performance in Florida after the 2000 election, perhaps Al Gore would be president now and there would be peace and global cooling throughout the planet.  Honestly, there's a book in this somewhere: Joe Lieberman Ruined Everything.
Now I know, or at least I am pretty sure, that Collins is being flip, that she doesn't mean this literally.  But the jokes people tell can be revealing, and this one shows us something about Gail Collins.  She is still angry with Joe Lieberman for saying that military voters should be treated fairly.  (What he said had no effect on the outcome, since Democratic operatives had already disqualified as many military voters as they could.  What they did may have been legal under Florida laws, but may not have been legal under federal law.)  Is it fair to conclude that she thinks that military voters should not be treated fairly?  I think so.

While Collins was editorial page editor of the New York Times, the newspaper said in editorials, more than once, that every vote should count (and they seldom made it clear that they meant every legal vote).  Obviously, they didn't really mean what they said in those editorials.

What she said about Lieberman was absurd, and helps explain why most editorials during her time were so bad.  But here's a troubling thought:  If anything, the editorials have gotten worse since she was replaced by Andrew Rosenthal.

(Incidentally, it is incorrect to call Lieberman a "centrist".  He is on the left on economic issues, but holds views much like those of John F. Kennedy and Henry M. Jackson on foreign policy.  And if you are bored by a politician as unusual as Lieberman, then it is hard even to imagine a politician who could entertain you for long.)
- 12:40 PM, 1 November 2007   [link]

Are Spammers Supporting Ron Paul?  That's what a security expert says.
If Texas congressman Ron Paul is elected president in 2008, he may be the first leader of the free world put into power with the help of a global network of hacked PCs spewing spam, according to computer-security researchers who've analyzed a recent flurry of e-mail supporting the long-shot Republican candidate.

"This is clearly a criminal act in support of a campaign, which has been committed with or without their knowledge," says Gary Warner, the University of Alabama at Birmingham's director of research in computer forensics.  "The question is, will we see more and more of this, or will this bring shame to the campaigns and will they make clear that this is not a form of acceptable behavior by their supporters?"  Warner pointed to provisions of the federal Can-Spam Act.
There's no evidence that Congressman Paul knows about this, but it is also true that he has attracted some unsavory supporters, some far worse than spammers.

(The comments following the article from people who say they are Ron Paul supporters are worth a look.)
- 6:17 AM, 1 November 2007   [link]