October 2004, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Why Are We Short Of Flu Vaccine?  The short term answer is that a British plant (owned by an American firm, Chiron) contaminated their production.  The long term answer has two parts, lawsuits and a series of errors by the government, especially during the Clinton administration.   First, some history:
In 1967 there were 26 companies making vaccines in the United States.  Today there are only four that make any type of vaccine and none making flu vaccine.  Wyeth was the last to fall, dropping flu shots after 2002.  For recently emerging illnesses such as Lyme disease, there is no commercial vaccine, even though one has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

All this is the result of a legal concept called "liability without fault" that emerged from the hothouse atmosphere of the law schools in the 1960s and became the law of the land.  Under the old "negligence" regime, you had to prove a product manufacturer had done something wrong in order to hold it liable for damages.  Under liability without fault, on the other hand, the manufacturer can be held responsible for harm from its products, whether blameworthy or not.   Add to that the jackpot awards that come from pain-and-suffering and punitive damages, and you have a legal climate that no manufacturer wants to risk.

In theory, prices might have been jacked up enough to make vaccine production profitable even with the lawsuit risk, but federal intervention made vaccines a low-margin business.  Before 1993, manufacturers sold vaccines to doctors, doctors prescribed them to patients, and there was some markup.  Then Congress adopted the Vaccine for Children Act, which made the government a monopsony buyer.  The feds now purchase over half of all vaccines at a low fixed price and distribute them to doctors.  This has essentially finished off the private market.
Bill and Hillary Clinton were strong backers of the Act.  If they were economists, rather than lawyers, they might have seen the inevitable consequences of these price controls, shortages from time to time.

If we want to have vaccines, especially vaccines made in the United States, we can get rid of the price controls, limit the lawsuits, or have the government produce the vaccines.  I would favor doing both the first and the second.

Vaccines have an astonishing cost/benefit ratio.  They are both one of the most effective ways to prevent disease and one of the cheapest.  That we have now made them too cheap would be ironic, were it not for the fact that many may die because we do not have the vaccines we need.  How many?  There's a grim historical precedent, the flu pandemic of 1918 which killed a half million Americans and somewhere between 20 and 100 million world wide.  If a mutation in the flu virus produces a similar strain, I sure would like to have many wealthy vaccine producers ready to fight it.

(My spellchecker doesn't like "monopsony", so there may be a few readers who need a definition.   It just means a market in which there is a single buyer, typically a government, and multiple sellers.

One technical point has puzzled me for some time about vaccine production.  Given how fast microbes can multiply, I would think that vaccines could be produced very quickly.  At least for vaccines against viruses, that doesn't seem to be true.)
- 11:32 AM, 16 October 2004
More:  Here are articles from the Washington Post and the New York Times with more information, but less clear thinking.  The Times article is especially bad.   After noting that lawsuits and government policy have led to the shortage, they conclude with this bit of economic illiteracy:
The heart of the problem, experts say, may be that no one person or agency is in charge of making sure the United States has an adequate vaccine supply.  The production, sale and distribution of vaccines, particularly those for flu, are handled almost entirely by pharmaceutical companies.
Lawsuits and bad government policy have led to this shortage.  The Times thinks that the solution is not to get rid of the lawsuits and reverse the policies but to install a Soviet style bureaucracy with one person in charge.  If that makes sense to you, consider this:  No one person is in charge of making sure we have an adequate supply of food.  Yet somehow we manage to have more than enough.

(The Times article does have a telling bit of information.  In 1996, the price for a dose of flu vaccine was $1.80!  No wonder companies left the business.  Like the Times, I forget who was president in 1996.)
- 6:05 AM, 17 October 2004   [link]

Michael Ramirez Is The Best Political Cartoonist In America: For an example demonstrating that, see today's cartoon.   It's the sharpest comment yet on John's Kerry's idea that terrorism is a "nuisance".

That Ramirez works for the far left Los Angeles Times is something of a miracle.  I am sure that I am not the only one who suspects that, were he named Michael Smith, he wouldn't.

My favorite Ramirez cartoon came just after Bill Clinton pardoned Mark Rich.  The cartoon showed Clinton as a naked emperor, exiting from a car, with bystanders shocked by his nudity.   The caption, if I recall correctly, was "They finally noticed", which is a nice summary of the reaction to all those sleazy, last minute pardons.
- 1:18 PM, 15 October 2004   [link]

John Fund, who knows a little about stealing elections, just made an interesting speculation on the Tony Snow show.   In two states, Oregon and Nevada, workers have charged that a firm hired to register voters was destroying applications from Democrats, something I alluded to at the end of this post.

Fund suggested that the workers who made these charges may have been plants.  They may have, either on their own, or at the suggestion of someone in an organization such as ACORN or MoveON, taken jobs at these firms in order to make these charges.  There's nothing implausible about the idea.  The firms hire temporary workers and don't do much in the way of background checking.  That the stories, at least in my quick reading, sounded so similar in Oregon and Nevada makes me more suspicious that this was an organized effort.  The intent, of course, would be to distract attention from the illegal registration efforts going on the other side, to suggest to inattentive voters that "everyone does it".

I should repeat that Fund was speculating, and so am I.  But the speculation is entirely plausible.
- 10:34 AM, 15 October 2004
More And A Correction  As I have been explaining here, and as every serious student of American politics knows, there is more vote fraud by Democrats by Republicans.  So what story does CBS choose to run?  That's right, this one accusing Republicans of cheating.  A search on their site going back to 2000 found no stories on fraudulent registrations by ACORN.  Not one.

And it will surprise no one familiar with his columns to learn that Paul Krugman, who has shown no interest in fraud committed by Democrats, found this scandal worth writing about today.

In the original post, I wrote "firms".  It was actually the same firm in both states, Sproul & Associates, run by an Arizona Republican.
- 1:03 PM, 15 October 2004 [link]

If You Have Kids, ask them what safety mistakes this bicyclist is making.  I see two bad ones, not wearing a helmet and using a cell phone while riding.   (This summer I actually saw a person complaining after they had been hit by a cell phone using cyclist, so that isn't a theoretical problem.)  Those who know more about bicycle safety than I may be able to spot others.
- 8:19 AM, 15 October 2004   [link]

Charles Krauthammer, who has personal reasons for taking the issue seriously, does not mince words about John Edwards' promise that, if Kerry is elected, people like Christopher Reeve will get out of their wheelchairs and walk.
This is John Edwards on Monday at a rally in Newton, Iowa: "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."

In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery.   Hope is good.  False hope is bad.  Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.
For those who want more on the facts about stem cell research, read the whole column or this recent post.

Edwards is not the only Democratic candidate who is exploiting this issue, though few have gone as far as he has.  In this area, gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire is using it, as is talk show host Dave Ross, who is running to replace Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn.  (My own email exchanges with Ross have convinced me that his mother should tell him, or should have told him, "Integrity, integrity, integrity."  His use of stem cells in his campaign gives voters one more reason not to trust him.)

I had said that Krauthammer has personal reasons for taking offense.  For those not familiar with his story, here are the bare facts.
For 30 years I have heard promises of miracle cures for paralysis (including my own, suffered as a medical student).
In an auto accident, if I recall correctly.

And Krauthammer gives an example for the argument about scientists I made in my post.
Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at NIH, has admitted publicly that stem cells as an Alzheimer's cure are a fiction, but that "people need a fairy tale."
The head of the ticket, John Kerry, has not been much better than John Edwards.  He claims, again and again, that President Bush banned stem cell research which could cure Alzheimer's.  The claim that Bush has banned stem cell research is an outright lie — and Kerry knows it is.  Few, if any, researchers believe that stem cell research, whether with adult stem cells or embryonic stem cells, will lead to a cure of Alzheimer's.

Loathesome display of demagoguery.  Sometimes I think Krauthammer goes too far in what he writes.  But not this time.
- 7:36 AM, 15 October 2004   [link]

Worst And Best Pollsters?  The same National Review post with the information on the national polls had a link to this post on state polls in the 2002 Senate and gubernatorial elections.  There was worst pollster and a best pollster in those races.   The worst missed so many races (29 percent) that we should view all of that firm's results with suspicion — unless they corrected their methodology since the 2002 election.

(Caveat: I have not checked the claims myself, although they fit what I remember about that election.)
- 2:44 PM, 14 October 2004
Oops!  That's 29 percent, not 30 percent.  I've corrected it above.
- 3:45 PM, 14 October 2004   [link]

Polls And Late Shifts:  When pollsters are giving you caveats about their work, they usually mention that they can only determine the opinion at a point in time and that, even a few days later, public opinion may have changed.  There's a striking example of that from the 2000 presidential election.  Reading the National Review Corner, I found this set of final polls.  From it, I constructed the table below which shows the errors in estimating each candidate's vote.   If, for example, a poll estimated that Bush would win 49 percent of the vote, when he actually won 48 percent, there was a 1 percent error.  If a poll estimated that Kerry would win 46 percent of the vote when he actually won 48 percent, then the error would be -2 percent.

Pollster Errors in the 2000 Election

Wash. Post0-3

(When looking at the numbers, don't forget that some pollsters, for example, Gallup, try to allocate all their respondents for their final estimates, while others, for example, Fox, do not.)

What jumps out from the table is that nearly all the pollsters underestimated Gore's vote.  I have seen two explanations for this, that there was a late shift to Gore and that the Democrats (and their union allies) did a better job in the ground game, getting their voters to the polls.  I think both are true, but that the first is more important.  To put it another way, if the election had been held a week earlier, Bush would probably have won with a margin of 3 or 4 percent.

There was a similar late shift to the Liberals in the most recent Canadian election.  No pollster can pick up all these late shifts.  I think a substantial late shift is less likely in this election, where the contrast between the candidates is so stark, but I could be wrong.

(Republicans can take heart in the reports that, in 2002, they more than matched the Democrats in the ground game.  I think this is probably true.  I was fascinated to learn that Rove actually ran an experiment on voter turnout in state legislative races to establish that the best method was personal contact.  Not surprising, but some lessons have to be relearned from time to time.

The DUI story that helped drive the shift in 2002 struck me then, and strikes me now, as almost completely irrelevant for judging the candidates.  If that was the worst thing Bush did while he was young, the Catholic church should consider canonizing him.  And in the week before, Gore had admitted (boasted?) about evading a policeman while recklessly riding a motorcycle.  That wasn't very important either, but was a little worse than Bush's DUI.)
- 1:10 PM, 14 October 2004   [link]

Judged By His Campaign, John Kerry is a lousy executive.   Judged by his performance running a small prosecutor's office in Massachusetts, Kerry can be a fine executive.  There is material in this Washington Post article that supports the claim that Kerry could be an effective executive — and the claim that he can't.
Until his presidential campaign, the biggest enterprise Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) had run was a county district attorney's office in Massachusetts with 90 lawyers in the late 1970s.  By all accounts, Kerry was a skilled manager, running the office for an old-line district attorney and swiftly transforming a sleepy, nepotistic organization of part-time prosecutors into one of the most high-powered and innovative in the northeast.
. . .
But rather than "set a course and lead," as [William] Codinha described, Kerry has lurched from course to course [in his campaign], periodically switching drivers and road maps -- and messages -- as he reacts to more and more information and advice.  "His strength is that he listens," said a regular recipient of Kerry's late-night phone calls.  "The problem is he's listening to too many people."
. . .
Kerry's mixed record as a manager is significant because, if elected, he would be the first president since John F. Kennedy to arrive at the White House from the Senate, with no major executive experience.
. . .
"I've asked myself why," said another senior member of Kerry's team, remarking on the contrast between Kerry's clear direction as prosecutor and his indecisiveness and second-guessing as a candidate.  "One difference is that everything we did was popular.  We got nothing but great press," said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified.  "There was real consensus this was needed."

Another recurring theme in Kerry's executive style is that he almost always believes consensus is possible if he knows enough about an issue and the concerns of all those affected.
The Washington Post thinks this contrast between Kerry's performance in the prosecutor's office and his performance in the campaign is paradoxical.  I don't see any paradox, assuming their reporting is correct.  Kerry can manage small offices where there is a consensus on goals; he can't manage large organizations where there is no consensus.  I'll let you decide which is closest to the presidency.

The article also reveals — again assuming the reporting is correct — a dangerous defect in Kerry's world view.
Another recurring theme in Kerry's executive style is that he almost always believes consensus is possible if he knows enough about an issue and the concerns of all those affected.
That explains why Kerry opposed Reagan consistently.  Reagan did not think that consensus was possible between the Soviet Union and the United States on some issues.  Kerry's view is all too similar to Neville Chamberlain's ideas about Hitler.  Sometimes, as history has shown us again and again, consensus is neither possible nor desirable.
- 10:10 AM, 14 October 2004
More:  John Ellis adds a significant detail to one part of the Washington Post story.  Kerry fussed for weeks over details in his campaign agreement with opponent William Weld, and then broke the agreement within a month.  How did Kerry break the agreement?  He went over the agreed spending limits.  What did Kerry's mother tell him on her death bed?  Wasn't it, "Integrity, integrity, integrity?"
- 6:56 Am, 15 October 2004   [link]

Integrity, Integrity, Integrity:  That, said John Kerry in the debate tonight, was what his mother told him on her death bed.  Now why would she say that?  Because he had so much integrity, in her opinion?  Or because she worried about that side of his character?  Knowing almost nothing about his mother, I can't say for certain, but I know which way I would bet.
- 7:43 PM, 13 October 2004   [link]

Not With A Bang, But An Ooze:  The magma underneath Mt. St. Helens has reached the surface and is oozing out building up the dome in the center of the crater.  
The ongoing dome-building eruption at Mount St. Helens could last for days, weeks or months, and nighttime aerial views of the peak now include the red glow of lava surfacing at nearly 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, scientists said today.

Low-hanging clouds and steam from the 8,364-foot volcano reflect the glow of red-hot stone, making it visible from the valley below the crater's open north side.

The emerging lava dome — a "fin" of rock that was estimated Tuesday to be between 60 and 90 feet tall and between 150 and 180 feet wide — "appears to have grown somewhat," geologist Tina Neal of the U.S. Geological Survey said today at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.

Scientists calculate its growth rate at about 2 to 3 cubic meters per second, said Jeff Wynn, chief scientist for volcano hazards.
(If you want to do the calculations to determine how long it will take the volcano to regain its former height of 9,677 feet, you'll need to know that the crater floor is about 6,000 feet in altitude.)

Here's what the mountain looks like now.

I have seen that steam plume every time I have looked at the mountain in the last few days.   It can be quite pretty in the mornings when the rising sun hits it.  If you want to see the latest view, here, as usual, is the official volcano cam.
- 4:39 PM, 13 October 2004   [link]

Maybe He's Joking:  That's the reaction I often have when I read the newspapers; it is certainly the reaction I had to Daniel Okrent's defense of the New York Times' election coverage.
I've been reading The Times's campaign coverage like any other interested (and, by now, exhausted) citizen for months, but with special care, a pair of scissors, two marking pens and three other papers to use for comparison since Labor Day.  Along the way, my own research has been richly amplified by reader mail, the buzzing of the blogs and the occasional complaint registered by party officials.
. . .
But there are plenty of press critics in print and on the Web, so I'll cede the general criticism to them.  Here's the question for a public editor: Is The Times systematically biased toward either candidate?

To come to this conclusion, Okrent relies on a division that is nearly universal among journalists, but not readers.  Newspapers generally separate the editorial and news sides, at least formally.  When Okrent says that the Times does not favor one side, he is excluding the editorial pages since they are not, in his view, part of the coverage.

Readers commonly see the newspaper as a single entity, and I don't think they are necessarily wrong to do so.  After all, the same publisher chose Gail Collins, the editorial page editor, as chose Bill Keller, the executive editor, and thought nothing of moving Howell Raines from one position to the other.  There is news in the editorial pages, and there are editorials, though not labeled as such, in the news pages.

If we include the editorial side, it is obvious to almost everyone, maybe even Daniel Okrent, that the Times is systematically biased against Bush and has been for years.

Suppose we accept his narrow assumption, that the newspaper can be judged for bias only on its news pages.  What is Okrent's evidence that the Times is not biased?  Actually, he doesn't present any beyond a few examples.  And it is easy to find opposing examples.  For example, today the Times put an article about the Crawford (Texas) newspaper endorsing Kerry on the front page.  But the Times has not run any articles that I could find on the Lowell Sun (Massachusetts) endorsing Bush.  The Sun may not be Kerry's home town newspaper now, but it was at one time and has a much large circulation than the Crawford paper.   Nor have they given much space to Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, who did so much to spread the "Do You Know Who I Am?" description of Kerry.

But those are just examples.  Let me give Mr. Okrent something more concrete, something that anyone can check.  As part of their attack on the Bush administration, the New York Times has run about 200 articles on the minor Abu Ghraib scandal.  While they and the rest of the "mainstream" media were running these stories there was a poll for CBS asking whether there had been "too many" stories on the subject; a full 49 percent told CBS early in May that there had been too many stories and another 41 percent said they had seen about the right number.  (Here's my post on the subject.)  If you take the view of the public as a measure of bias, the Times fails.

But I am not sure such evidence would matter to Okrent because he never explains what would constitute proof of bias.  He doesn't even give an example of a news organization that has been biased in its coverage.  (He seems to think the Asociated Press is unbiased, not knowing apparently about the severe criticism of them this year.)  As far as I can tell, he doesn't feel the Times is biased, so it isn't.  But maybe I am being unkind.  As I said at the start, I can't help but suspect that Mr. Okrent is joking.  That's certainly the nicest explanation of his curious column, which dismisses the idea that the Times might be biased, without ever really discussing the subject.

(Okrent mentions an unfortunate aspect of a reporter's life these days, at least at the New York Times.  They often receive truly nasty emails.  I am sure he is right about that, since our society has coarsened so much — a change applauded for years by the cultural critic at the Times, Frank Rich.

But he seems less aware of the other side, the refusal of journalists, even when addressed politely, as I try to do, to listen to their critics.  In my experience, reporters most often ignore emails pointing out errors, no matter what evidence is included, and no matter how politely the argument is made.  If Okrent were to review the Jayson Blair scandal, he would find that many outsiders tried to tell the Times about Blair's errors, but no one there in authority listened to them.  It took a complaint from another newspaper to finally get their attention.)
- 2:47 PM, 13 October 2004   [link]

Maybe It Is Just My Imagination, but Democratic officials do seem to have more of these little problems than Republican officials do.
A Democratic congressman in a tight re-election race admitted Tuesday that while he was a college student 28 years ago, he was disciplined by school officials for "inexcusable behavior" toward an ex-girlfriend.

The admission by Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., came immediately after a report published in The Oregonian newspaper saying a former girlfriend from college once claimed Wu tried to force her into having sex.
The incident occurred at Stanford, and he was disciplined by the university, though never charged with a crime, presumably because the woman did not press charges.

(Is Wu really in a tight race?  Maybe.  Gore won the district by just 6 percent in 2000, so there are some Republicans there.  And Ron Faucheux, whose prediction was probably made before this news, gives Wu just a 60 percent chance of retaining his seat, which is terrible for an incumbent first elected in 1998.)
- 12:52 PM, 13 October 2004   [link]

ACORN And Vote Fraud, Again:  Workers for the radical organization have forged thousands of false registrations in another swing state, Colorado.
With just 21 days left until an election in which every vote will count, the 9News I-Team has uncovered voter registration fraud that could cause chaos on Election Day for hundreds, possibly thousands of Colorado voters.

9News has discovered a record number of fraudulent voter-registrations across the state.
. . .
Most of the fraud has come from registration drives, where people at grocery stores or on the streets ask you to sign up. 9News has learned many workers have re-registered voters multiple times by changing or making up information about them.  9News has documented 719 cases of potentially fraudulent forms at county election offices show fraudulent names, addresses, social security numbers or dates of birth in Denver, Douglas, Adams, Boulder and Lake counties.  Information from other counties is still coming in.

Some voter registration application forms are completely bogus.  Others belong to legitimate voters, who have had one or two facts changed that could affect their registration when they show up at the polls November 2nd.  Tom Stanislawski registered to vote six years ago.   But this summer, someone signed him up again and changed his party affiliation.  "My concern would be I'd walk in November 2nd and be unable to vote," he said.
ACORN says that it is a victim of fraud by some of their workers in Colorado.  That excuse would be more plausible if it were not for two things, ACORN's method of payment and the extent of the problem.

In Colorado, ACORN was paying its workers $2 for each voter application.  As anyone familiar with piece work knows, some workers will always be tempted to cheat.  That's one of the reasons that petition drives, which often pay per signature, have such high rates of invalid signatures, though the better companies are able to keep the proportion down.  ACORN appears to have had no checks at all on their workers, making fraudulent registrations almost certain.

Let me be precise.  I am not saying that ACORN directed these workers to create fraudulent registrations.  I am saying that ACORN set up a system that made fraudulent registrations certain.  And, given the problems they have had in the past, I think they did that knowingly.  The leaders of ACORN did not directly commit fraud, as far as I know, but they facilitated it.

How large is the problem of fraudulent registrations from ACORN workers?  In a five minute net search, I found similar problems in five other swing states, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.   With this many incidents in this many places, I think it is fair to say that we have found a pattern.

Now then, let's take the argument a step further.  The cheats most likely to be caught are the clumsy, stupid cheats.  We can be almost certain that many other fraudulent registrations from other ACORN workers were not detected.  And let's recall this discouraging point: Fraudulent voters who use absentee ballots are almost completely safe from prosecution, or even detection.

There is one certain consequence of all these fraudulent registrations.  Every narrow victory by a Democrat in this fall's election will be viewed with suspicion by Republicans, especially in the swing states ACORN has targeted.  That should worry Democrats, at least decent Democrats, as much as it does Republicans.  So far, I have seen no signs that it is even a concern.  And no reporter has even asked George Soros if he intended to pay for fraud, when he subsidized ACORN.

(Most, but not all, fraud in our elections is committed by Democrats (often against other Democrats in primaries).  But there are exceptions, such as this one from Nevada.)
- 10:57 AM, 13 October 2004   [link]

Best Campaign Promise Yet:  Speaking in Iowa, John Edwards made this promise:
"We will do stem cell research," he vowed.  "We will stop juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases.  America just lost a great champion for this cause in Christopher Reeve.  People like Chris Reeve will get out of their wheelchairs and walk again with stem cell research."
As a trial lawyer, Edwards was famous for his emotional (and scientifically incorrect) appeals.   This promise that quadriplegics will walk, that sufferers from diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's will be cured, if Kerry is elected shows just how cynical, and how indifferent to scientific facts, this man is.  I miss the days when candidates only promised a chicken in every pot, or a car in every garage.

The first line also shows, neatly, how a candidate can mislead without lying.  Edwards implies, without saying so, that the Bush administration is not supporting stem cell research.   This is false, but Edwards knows that many in his audience will not know that.

Broadly, there are two kinds of stem cell research, one using adult cells and one using embryonic cells from fertilized human eggs.  Work with the first has shown much promise, and poses no ethical problems.  (It also has the great advantage of using, in most cases, a person's own cells, which avoids the problems of rejection.)  Adult stem cells have been used to treat diseases since 1957 and are now used in the treatment of about 80 different diseases.   Research on therapies using adult stem cells has been supported by the federal government for decades and has recently drawn significant private investments.

So far, research into therapies using embryonic stem cells has not resulted in any therapies, nor has it drawn much private investment.  President Bush agreed to fund it anyway, but limited federal funding to existing cell lines.  There are no federal restrictions on the research itself.  President Bush is the first president to fund embryonic stem cell research.  Let me repeat that.  President Bush is the first president to fund embryonic stem cell research.  President Clinton did not fund embryonic stem cell research.  A Republican as cynical as Edwards could argue that, for eight years, Clinton ignored poor Christopher Reeve, leaving him in his wheelchair, but that Bush has started research that might save those like Reeve (and those suffering from diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's).

I haven't seen any Republicans that cynical recently, but if they come along, I will denounce them, too.  And one last point: Don't hold your breath waiting for the "mainstream" media to denounce this cynical Edwards promise.

(For more on stem cell research, see this article by Michael Fumento, attacking the same cynical promises from a different Democratic spokesman.

There is a question that I have not seen addressed: Why do scientists, who are aware of the state of stem cell research, allow claims such as those from Edwards to go unchallenged?   There are a number of reasons.  The obvious one is that they hope the furor gives them a better claim on federal money.  There's a less obvious one that explains why they are more attracted to embryonic stem cell research than to adult stem cell research: Embryonic stem cell research poses deeper theoretical questions and is more likely to lead to Nobel prizes and similar goodies for the scientists, even though it might be less likely to lead to therapies for patients.)
- 6:35 AM, 13 October 2004
More:  The Onion, inspired by Edwards, comes up with more extraordinary promises from the Democratic candidate for vice president.  They aren't much nuttier than his, though some are phrased far more crudely.
- 9:37 AM, 14 October 2004     [link]

The Nobel Reprimands:  In some categories, I have long thought that the prizes should be considered reprimands.  When, to take the most notorious example, the Nobel Peace Prize is given to Yasser Arafat, then it appears that something has gone wrong with the process.  When it was given to Jimmy Carter in 2002 to annoy the American government, we can be certain something has gone wrong.

This year, the award of the prize to a Kenyan woman who planted a lot of trees may not seem to fit that pattern.  Though Wangari Maathai certainly is not the person who most deserves the prize, she seems to have mostly benefited Kenya, and perhaps other countries as well.  Except that, and the New York Times sees no reason to mention this, she has been pushing the theory that the AIDS virus was created in labs deliberately, which does not seem like an action that will help bring peace — or even a very sensible policy for controlling AIDS.

As with the Peace Prize, the Nobel Prize in Literature often looks like a reprimand.  Certainly, this year's winner from Austria, Elfriede Jelinek, appears to deserve a reprimand.  What she writes, if this brief description is correct, is politically correct pornography.
"The Piano Teacher," one of her darker novels, was turned into a French-language movie by the Austrian director Michael Haneke ("Funny Games"), with Isabelle Huppert in the role of Erika Kohut, a music teacher who seeks escape from her oppressive mother through sexual kinkiness.  The movie, no less than the novel, shocked some people with its sexual violence.

Reviewing the novel in The New York Times in 1988, Michiko Kakutani wrote of Ms. Jelinek's "uncompromising vision," but noted: "Too often, however, her descriptions of Erika's violent fantasies seem willfully perverse — as though they'd been concocted for the sole purpose of shocking the reader — and her relentless focus on the dark underside of Viennese life can seem equally artificial and contrived.  In the end, it makes for a novel that depresses rather than genuinely disturbs."
But she's a feminist and she dislikes the right wing parties in Austria, so that's all right.

There may be a better phrase than "Nobel Reprimand".  If you think of one, let me know, since I am sure that we will need it again, probably next year.

(From what I can tell, the Nobel Prizes in the sciences mostly go to deserving people, though not necessarily the best.  And the Nobel Prize in Economics went this year (jointly) to a American professor, Edward C. Prescott, with an interesting opinion on Bush's tax cuts.
Edward Prescott, who picked up the Nobel Prize for Economics, said President George W. Bush tax rate cuts were "pretty small" and should have been bigger.

"What Bush has done has been not very big, it's pretty small," Prescott told CNBC financial news television.

"Tax rates were not cut enough," he said.
Stefan Sharkansky has his own criticisms of the Nobel Peace Reprimands and suggests alternative and more deserving recipients.)
- 5:05 PM, 12 October 2004
More:  Here's a sample of Wangari Maathai's thinking on AIDS.
In August, she caused a furor in Kenya when she was quoted in the East African Standard as calling AIDS a biological weapon devised to destroy black people.

"AIDS is not a curse from God to Africans or the black people.  It is a tool to control them designed by some evil-minded scientists," she said.
That's the kind of thinking that made me decide that she received a Nobel Reprimand, rather than a Nobel Prize.  It's only fair to add that she hasn't been quite that positive in other interviews.  Sometimes she knows, sometimes she just suspects.
- 8:54 AM, 13 October 2004   [link]

Our Remarkable Army:  That wasn't the title of Karl Zinsmeister's talk last week, but it could have been.  Zinsmeister was embedded with the 82nd Airborne during the liberation of Iraq.  Out of that experience came Boots on the Ground: A Month with the 82nd Airborne in the Battle for Iraq.   Zinsmeister was embedded with other units of the army more recently for months around Baghdad and Falluja.  Out of that experience came Dawn over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military Is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq.

Out of both experiences he gained great respect for our army and the men (and women) who serve in it.   The soldiers are not the "scum of the earth", to use Wellington's pungent phrase, or poor uneducated dupes with no other choices, as those on the left often portray them.  They are often intelligent and idealistic and, in Zinsmeister's view, get their great advantages in combat as much from those qualities and their character, as from their superior weapons.   One soldier had been tossed out of high school close to graduation and had to earn his GED in the army.  But then, after finishing his first term, he went back to college, earned a Masters, and then returned to the army.  Another soldier Zinsmeister met had come from a family of leftwing activists.  He joined the army after talking to returning soldiers at UCLA and deciding that he could best pursue his ideals as a soldier.  A surprisingly large number of the soldiers have oddball skills that may be useful during combat or during an occupation.  One soldier Zinsmeister met was teaching himself emergency surgery procedures, such as tracheotomies, just in case.

The army they serve in is more small "d" democratic than most American institutions, certainly more than most universities.  Zinsmeister tells of coming across an officer in charge of 4,000 men in combat one evening, doing his socks, just like any private.  Try to imagine the president of a university living in a dorm and washing his own socks.  Hard, isn't it?  And the discussions over battle plans Zinsmeister saw were frank and open.

It is well that the men and their organization are so competent, because they face a difficult problem in Iraq, fighting insurgents part time, befriending the population most of the time.  (Zinsmeister thinks this unique, but to me it sounded like the standard problem found in most guerrilla wars.)  They must switch back and forth between their "night faces" (for combat) and their "day faces" (for building support among the Iraqis).

He is far more optimistic about Iraq than most journalists, perhaps because his experiences have been so different.  He described himself as a "backpack" reporter since he spent his time with the troops, as opposed to the "hotel" reporters.  The stories the hotel reporters give us are not wrong, he said, but they are misleading if you do not get the other parts of the picture.

(His approach to covering the war reminds me, a bit, of World War II's most famous reporter, Ernie Pyle.  Like Pyle, Zinsmeister has tremendous respect for the ordinary soldier and covers the war mostly from his viewpoint.)

Given his viewpoint, it was not surprising that Zinsmeister, though optimistic, was not precise about the odds on success in Iraq, even when pressed.  He hasn't been looking at the big picture but at some of the small ones, especially Falluja.  That city, he told us, was uniquely nasty, even for Iraq, having large populations of both religious fanatics and Saddam supporters.  He thought, along with nearly everyone else, that we had erred in dealing with Falluja.  For example, when the Marines replaced the army, they tried a kinder, gentler approach, which would have succeeded almost anywhere else in Iraq, but made matters worse in Falluja.  And the Bush administration contributed to the problem by, at least for a time, pressuring our forces to reduce casualties.

He didn't say much about media coverage of Iraq, but did mention this telling example in answer to a question.  The New York Times has run about 200 stories on Abu Ghraib, many of them on the front page.  This is absurd number for the antics of a few knuckleheads, as he called them, antics that could be found in many American state prison systems.  Or I should say that it would be absurd if there were there not strong evidence that the coverage has endangered our soldiers and threatened Iraq's efforts to move toward democracy.

There were about 200 at the talk but, as far as I could tell, no reporters at all, not even from the Seattle PI, though they did publish his column before the talk.

(For more from Zinsmeister, see this site.  The Webcast, "Profile of Today's American Soldier", is probably an earlier version of the talk I saw.

For samples of Ernie Pyle's writing, see this site.  I have been reading one of his World War II column collections, Brave Men, and have found it fascinating.)
- 1:17 AM, 12 October 2004   [link]

Probably Just A Burglary:  This attack on a Bush headquarters looks like an ordinary crime, without political motivations.
Offices that house President Bush's re-election campaign in Spokane were broken into and vandalized last night, the latest in a string of crimes at Republican offices across the country.

Workers arriving this morning found a hole smashed through the wall from an adjacent, vacant office.  Bush campaign officials say a small amount of petty cash is missing and a computer and television had been moved and left near the hole.
Although I suppose a political operative might have tried to make it look like an ordinary burglary by taking the cash and starting to take the TV, as well as the computer.  (The theft of computers from the the statewide Bush headquarters in Bellevue just south of here is much more suspicious, though burglars in this area sometimes do steal computers and leave everything else.)

Of all the incidents at Republican headquarters around the country, the most worrisome are the mob attacks organized by the AFL-CIO.  There have been several of these, and there is no question about who did them, and no apologies so far from the AFL-CIO.  And not much condemnation from the "mainstream" media, as far as I have seen.
- 5:33 AM, 12 October 2004   [link]

Best Date?  Single women chose Bush in a poll done by the dating service, It's Just Lunch.  
Of about 2,500 women polled, 49 percent said they'd rather date the president, while about one-third of singles said they would prefer Democratic challenger John Kerry.  And 15 percent would go out with candidate Ralph Nader.

Bush also wins as most charming, with 54 percent of survey participants voting for him.   Forty percent found Kerry most charming; Nader got 6 percent.
Did Nader get 15 percent because he is single, unlike Bush and Kerry?  Or are these Democratic women who can't stand Kerry personally?  The latter seems more likely.

Although I wouldn't put much weight on a poll done for a dating firm, it is an interesting straw, since single women usually give much more support to Democrats than men or married women.   (Single women gave Gore 63 percent of their votes in 2000, single men 48 percent, married women 48 percent and married men just 38 percent, according to the New York Times exit poll.)
- 4:58 AM, 12 October 2004   [link]

John Kerry must not have read The Millionaire Next Door.   In the second debate, Kerry made this patronizing comment
Now, for the people earning more than $200,000 a year, you're going to see a rollback to the level we were at with Bill Clinton, when people made a lot of money.

And looking around here, at this group here, I suspect there are only three people here who are going to be affected: the president, me, and, Charlie, I'm sorry, you too.
If Kerry had read the book, he would have learned that the typical millionaire in America "never spent more than $399 for a suit", more than $140 for a pair of shoes, or more than $235 for a watch.  The typical millionaire in America does not look wealthy; instead, they look like the person next door.  That's part of their secret for becoming wealthy — and almost all have earned their wealth rather than inherited it — they don't waste money on appearances.

If you went to a Swiss boarding school, a prep school, and an Ivy League university, and then married two heiresses, you might not have spent enough time with the small businessmen who make up most of our millionaires to know what they look like, which is just like the rest of us.  Can we say Kerry is out of touch?  I think so.

(Technical point: Of course, many millionaires do not regularly earn $200,000 a year, and some never earn that much.  But I think the pattern still holds.  Our really wealthy people usually do not look the part.)
- 8:16 AM, 10 October 2004
More:  There's a strong statistical reason for thinking that there were millionaires in the audience at the debate.  Gallup selected the participants at random from voters who claimed they were undecided.  As the The Millionaire Next Door points out, millionaires are more common than most people think.  As of 1996 when the book was written, 3.5 of every 100 American households had a net worth of at least a million dollars.  And that proportion has risen since then, perhaps to 5 percent, though I can't recall the latest figures.  A randomly chosen audience of 100 would almost certainly have several millionaires.  I'm not sure how many were in the debate audience, but 100 sounds about right.
- 9:27 AM, 11 October 2004   [link]

Bush Did Better In Last Night's Debate:  That's what I thought.  Perhaps more interestingly, so did much of the press.  Even the foreign press, where Bush has few friends, thought so, as I learned from this post at National Review's Corner.   (There was one mistake in the post, corrected later.  Germany's FAZ is a conservative, not leftist.)

Even the Guardian, where the principal cartoonist portrays President Bush as a chimp, grudgingly conceded he had done better this time — though you had to read to the end of the article to find that out.
By last night's debate, the president had his temper mostly under check
. . .
Mr Bush also appeared more in control of his material
Bush was especially effective at four points during the debate, I thought.  First, when he joked about owning a wood products firm.  Second, when he quickly listed the environmental achievements of his administration, which are considerable.   Third, when he explained his own policies on stem cell research, something the Democrats have been demagoguing successfully this campaign.  And fourth, in his answer on paying for abortions.

Students of polls have known for years that Republicans generally gain votes on the subject of abortion — though this knowledge has not reached most journalists.   That's especially true when Republicans can make the fight on proposals near the margin of the issue, partial birth abortion, parental notification, and murder charges for those who kill an unborn baby.  Bush touched on all of those proposals, after first noting that he could not "decipher" Kerry's answer.

I have been arguing since the beginning of this year that Republicans would gain votes on social issues.  The abortion question in last night's debate will help make that happen.

Finally, there was an interesting theme in Kerry's performance that supports another argument I have been making.  Kerry, again and again, tried to justify his arguments by appealing to Republicans, even Reagan.  That, in reverse, is how Republicans used to campaign when they were in the minority.  It makes me think that Kerry, or perhaps his strategists, agree with me that, if anything, Republicans now have a small edge in national politics.

- 3:44 PM, 9 October 2004
Clarification:  I should explain that by "effective" I mean politically effective, and was making no judgment on the truth of Bush's claims.  I take it for granted that most politicians will try to mislead and sometimes lie to voters, and that they do both because they expect political advantages from that.  When President Bush charges that John Kerry is the most liberal senator in the United States Senate, he says it in a way that is literally true, but misleading.  When some Democrats charge that Bush has banned stem cell research, they are spreading a falsehood.  But both charges are politically effective.

For what it is worth, my impression — and it is only an impression — is that Kerry was careless with the truth in both debates, and Bush careless in the second debate.  In my judgment, both gained politically by their carelessness.  One of the many reasons I dislike these debates is that they often given advantages to the less honest.

(I wrote this clarification because I got a question by email about the wood products point.   For those interested in that subject, which looks arcane, but is not, here's an article with an explanation, and a fact check of  The author concludes, as I have for other reason, that John Kerry is out of touch with small business.)
- 8:12 AM, 12 October 2004   [link]