October 2005, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Disaster Area Tour:  I'm leaving on one as soon as I finish packing.  Should be back some time next Wednesday, with lots of pictures.
- 4:48 AM, 14 October 2005   [link]

Worth Reading:  Michael Fumento catches the Harvard School of Public Health giving an award to Erin Brockovich.
The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has just announced it's giving its highest honor to Los Angeles paralegal Erin Brockovich, best known for her virtual beatification in the allegedly "based on a true story" film of the same name.  Julia Roberts portrayed her as having the mouth of a hooker but a heart of gold.  Yet the Hollywood Brockovich is bunk, and this is not Harvard's finest hour.
Read the whole thing.

Those who gave Brockovich the award are, I assume, scientists.  Which just shows that sometimes the biggest enemies of science are — scientists.

(This award illustrates Tierney's argument, which I discussed yesterday, about the monocultures in our universities.  If there had been a single conservative on the committee that made this choice, they almost certainly could have explained to the other members just how absurd it is.)
- 10:02 AM, 13 October 2005   [link]

The Republican Base And Harriet Miers:  Opponents of Miers on the right have been arguing that the Republican base does not back Miers.  Is that true?   It depends on how you define the base, but by the most common definitions, it isn't — at least as far as I can tell.

"Base", when used in politics, is a metaphor drawn from buildings.  The base is thought to be both the strongest supporters — and the people at the bottom of the party organization, the small donors, the people who work the precincts, and so on.  It definitely does not include, again by the usual definitions, editors of the National Review or columnists for the Wall Street Journal.  They are too high to be part of the base.  Polls aren't always much help in finding out what the base thinks, because there are too few of them to be captured in the usual national poll.  And commercial pollsters seldom ask the questions that would identify these political activists.

What do those people think?  Timothy Goddard asked some.
I only know one way to find out what this, more narrow base thinks about Harriet Miers, and that's to ask them.  And so I did.  Every Tuesday I join a handful of PCO's, activists, candidates and other party leaders to sharpen our political skills and knowledge (and you're invited to join us!).   Today, I queried them about their thoughts on the Miers nomination.  Practically unanimously, they were supportive of the President.
Goddard lives north of me in suburban Snohomish county.  The Bushes have never been especially popular in Washington state, and so I would not think that these reactions came from blind loyalty to the president.

I saw similar reactions from the base in the comments at Lucianne on an Ann Coulter column.  Most Coulter columns posted there draw more approval than disapproval.  When I looked this morning, there were 41 comments.  One sneered at Michigan's football team, 1 supported Coulter, and 39 opposed her.  (Though 1 of those 39 thought the column funny.)

Why some not in the base oppose Miers is still partly a mystery to me, since their explanations do not seem to match their emotions.  I'll come back to that problem in a later post, but will give you a hint.  Here, in full, is the first reaction of an editor at the National Review, Katherine Jean Lopez.
"Ugh" was my initial reaction.
The emotions came first — and the explanations followed, which is why I am not inclined to believe the explanations give the real reasons they oppose Miers.  (I think they (mostly) believe their own explanations; I just don't think they came to those explanations in a rational fashion.)

(More:  Emmett Tyrrell agrees that emotion explains these reactions, and even identifies a specific emotion.
To the excitement of all Washington, the hullabaloo over President George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet E. (and you can be sure the Senate Judiciary Committee will get to the bottom of this mysterious "E." in due course) Miers builds, picking up wails and execrations daily.  What makes the excitement so irresistible is that conservatives have now joined with liberals in fuming over the President's judicial nominee.  Well, as the philosopher Samuel Goldwyn was wont to say, "include me out."

This hullabaloo is but another piece of evidence in support of my long held view that the greatest unsung force in history is boredom.
. . .
Washington's yearning for excitement is what actuates this hullabaloo.  It also actuates the press's incessant coverage of it.  This town is easily bored and boredom often sets in motion some of history's most frivolous events.  Think back.  Was it not general boredom that accounted for the election of Bill Clinton over the perfectly normal President George H. W. Bush?
I think there is more to it than boredom, but I think that's part of the explanation.
- 9:21 AM, 13 October 2005   [link]

So That's How They Flew:  Maybe.   Pterosaurs, that is.
Pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the dinosaur age, evolved a neat aerodynamic trick which aircraft use today.  The creatures could deploy a large flap at the front of each wing to give them the extra lift they needed to take off or make graceful, low-speed landings.

The finding may settle an enduring mystery - how pterosaurs appeared to create more lift than seemed possible from their wings alone.

Palaeobiologists could not explain how the creatures could take off from a standing start — rather than soaring, glider-like, from a clifftop - or how they had enough lift to slow down for a non-bone-crunching landing.  Yet fossilised pterosaur tracks show that they could do both.

Now a team led by zoologist Matthew Wilkinson of the animal flight group at the University of Cambridge, UK, thinks the pterosaurs used a moveable forewing.
A few pterosaurs were so much larger than any flying bird (wing spans of almost 40 feet) that analogies weren't much help.

The scientists are sure enough about this that they have commissioned a model.
A Cambridge University team that has reconstructed the pterosaur Anhanguera ("Old Devil") is sufficiently confident of its calculations to commission a German model builder to build a 13ft wingspan robo-pterosaur to swoop over Britain this winter.
A good start, but I really want a life size model of one of the really big ones.
- 4:31 PM, 12 October 2005   [link]

Don't They Know That Al Gore Invented It?  Some of our "friends" in Europe, along with some of our open enemies, are trying to seize control of the Internet, even though the United States developed it almost alone.  (And, originally, as a defense project.)   This BBC article will give you a sample of the arguments they are using.
America's determination to remain the ultimate purveyor of the internet has angered other countries which believe it is time to come up with a new way of regulating the digital traffic of the 21st century.

In the face of opposition from countries such as China, Iran and Brazil, and several African nations, the US is now isolated ahead of November's UN summit.
And, if you read the whole thing, you will note that this gang does not even suggest that they pay us for giving up control.

For some reason I can't bring myself to believe that China and Iran value freedom of speech as much as the United States does.

(Yes, I know that Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, or even say that he did.  He claimed more credit than he deserved, but he give it strong support as a senator.)
- 1:41 AM, 12 October 2005   [link]

Need A Job?  Don't have many skills?  Then move to New Orleans.
Burger King recruiters have been visiting federal disaster recovery centers and newly reopened high schools offering a $6,000 bonus, paid in monthly installments, to anyone promising to work full-time at a metropolitan New Orleans restaurant for at least a year.  New part-time workers are being offered $3,000 bonuses.

Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits has increased hourly pay for cashiers and cooks from just over the federal minimum wage of $5.15 to more than $8, a jump of more than 50 percent.

"I've been in the (fast-food restaurant) business for 30 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Glen Helton, president and chief operating officer of Strategic Restaurant Acquisition Corp., the California company that owns the 54 Burger King stores in metropolitan New Orleans.
But you may not be able to find good housing.
Then, there is the incredible issues of housing, or lack thereof.  According to one Commission member, Boysie Bollinger, the New Orleans area has approximately 2500 shipping jobs that have gone unfilled.  Why? In part, the lack of housing.  Bollinger stated that part of the problem is some of the housing can be made available for the workers but if the shipbuilding worker takes the job, it could jeopardize other benefits.
That may explain why Hispanics, many of them illegal immigrants, are taking many of those jobs in New Orleans.  They are willing, at least temporarily, to put up with housing conditions that many born in the United States would not.  And in a few years, those Hispanics are going to be a much larger part of New Orleans than they were two months ago.  If New Orleans doesn't have any Cajun-Mex restaurants now, it will soon.
- 9:31 AM, 12 October 2005   [link]

Vote Fraud In Texas:  This article is mostly about the ongoing struggle between Tom DeLay and prosecutor Ronnie Earle.  But what I found interesting in it was this description of the history behind the law that Earle is using.
Tired of absentee ballot fraud in his races for the Texas House and in his wife's first race for Dallas mayor, then-Rep. Steve Wolens pushed a bill in 2003 making it a crime to mark a mail ballot without a voter's consent.

Wolens, a Dallas Democrat, said his bill was written to address an ongoing problem in Dallas County where campaign workers went to nursing homes and the residences of elderly voters and told them how to mark their ballots.  The ballots often were delivered in bulk to the county's election office and may have affected the outcome of some low-turnout races.
Although Wolens is a Democrat, the bill was cosponsored by several Republican legislators.

This is, alas, all too familiar.  The vote fraud was committed with absentee ballots.   The "voters" were vulnerable, in this case by being residents of nursing homes or elderly.  There were enough dubious votes to have changed the outcomes in some races.  And these practices were an "ongoing problem", not something that happened in a single election.  And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the news organizations in Dallas were not much interested in this story.

I'll repeat the conclusion that I came to some years ago: You can have absentee ballots, or you can have elections that are not vulnerable to vote fraud, but you can not have both.  (In principle, you could have both, but you would have to give up ballot secrecy or put such stringent controls on absentee ballots that few would want to use them.)
- 9:03 AM, 12 October 2005   [link]

Cronies At The New York Times:  (And at schools of law and journalism.)  John Tierney fearlessly criticizes his coworkers at the New York Times in this column.   (The column is behind the TimesSelect barrier, so you need to be a subscriber to read it.)   And just to make sure he offends almost everyone he might come in contact with during a work day, he does that as part of an attack on schools of law and journalism.  He begins with this:
Journalists and legal scholars have been decrying "cronyism" and calling for "mainstream" values when picking a Supreme Court justice.  But how do they go about picking the professors to train the next generation of journalists and lawyers?
Tierney then shows how few Republicans there are in schools of journalism and law schools and then argues that, in spite of protests, it matters:
Some academics try to argue that their political ideologies don't affect the way they teach, which to me is proof of how detached they've become from reality in their monocultures.  The claim is especially dubious if you're training lawyers and journalists to deal with controversial policies.
From his own experience, Tierney concludes that the bias shows itself most often in the stories that don't get written, the solutions that don't get considered.  As a Republican I have noticed that the New York Times is reluctant to cover stories of vote fraud — when it is committed by Democrats.  As a libertarian, Tierney has noticed that journalists are reluctant to consider solutions in which the government does less.

Tierney does not favor forcing those schools to have more ideological balance, but he ends with this observation:
They keep meticulous tabs on the race and gender and ethnic background of their students and faculty.  But the lack of political diversity is taken as a matter of course.  As long as the professors look different, why worry if they all think the same?
I'll go a little farther than Tierney did, as daring as he was.  For many in those schools, the lack of political diversity is a solution, not a problem.  Some believe — and a few even say so — that it is their duty to spread leftist ideas — for the good of society, of course.  Junior faculty may not mind excluding large numbers of potential competitors from the struggle for tenure.  And senior faculty often like to have colleagues who agree with them on political issues.

And how does this show cronyism at the Times?  Well, where were nearly all of Tierney's colleagues educated?  At those schools of journalism, of course.  They may not be cronies in the narrow sense, but most of them are ideological cronies.

What should newspapers that want a wider variety of political views on their staffs do?  They should treat journalism degrees as defects in resumes.  A journalism degree should not disqualify a person from a job in a news organization, but it should require an explanation, just as, say, a misdemeanor conviction would.
- 8:34 AM, 12 October 2005   [link]

"That's Possible":  Laura Bush's innocuous reply to Mat Lauer's question has drawn some nasty comments from people who should know better.  Here's Dafydd ab Hugh's transcript.   (He says, and I believe him, that the wire service stories describing the exchange are misleading.)
Lauer: Some are suggesting there's a little possible sexism in the criticism of Judge [sic] Miers.

Laura Bush: That's possible. I think --

Lauer: How would you feel about that?

Laura Bush: That's possible.  I think she is so accomplished that... I know, I think that people are not looking at her accomplishments and not realizing that she was the first elected woman to be the head of the Texas Bar Association, for instance, and all the other things.  She was the first, uh, woman managing partner of a major law firm. She was the first woman hired by a major law firm, her law firm.
That exchange caused a number of people, including Michelle Malkin, to conclude that the White House had "pulled out the sexism card".  Malkin goes on, confusingly, to say that Mat Lauer "lapped it up", which is not something that ordinarily happens to cards.  Rather than try to untangle her metaphors, let's just use a little logic and common sense on the exchange.

Lauer asks whether some criticism of Miers is sexist.  Laura Bush says that's possible and then starts to launch into her overall defense of Miers.  Lauer interrupts.  Bush repeats what she said and goes back to her (probably prepared) answer.  So she didn't raise the issue; Lauer did.  And she shifted away from it as soon as she could.

And what she said was true; it is possible.  In fact, I would go farther and say that, given the number of opponents, that it is certain that at least a few of them are motivated by sexism.  (And the same would be true if we were discussing Harry Miers, instead of Harriet Miers.  At least a few would oppose naming any man to Sandra Day O'Connor's seat.)

Does this mean that Malkin herself is motivated by sexism?  Probably not, though her explosion of anger at the nomination has led me to wonder just what does motivate her opposition.  If I had to guess, I would say disappointment with other Bush policies.

(The "Hedgehog" makes, with much more detail, the argument I made in this post.  Miers is much like Clarence Thomas.   Both were chosen for political reasons; neither had the kind of record that would impress a law professor.  (But Miers' record does impress business groups, according to this article.)

And I learned something amusing from law professor Ann Altman:  Almost everyone, including President Bush, calls Justice Scalia a "strict constructionist".  But Scalia doesn't; he calls himself an "originalist".   His term probably makes more sense, now that I think about it.)
- 6:40 AM, 12 October 2005   [link]

Worth Reading:  The transcript of Lisa Myers' story on Governor Blanco's failures during Katrina.   For instance, there's this:
Myers: "And remember the chaos at the Convention Center? We now know there were at least 250 Guardsmen deployed in another part of that building.  But they were engineers, not police, so they were not directed to help restore order or even to share their food and water."
Those Louisiana guardsmen were under Governor Blanco's command, not George Bush's.

It is good to see such stories — finally.  And it is no surprise to see Lisa Myers do this one.  She's a real journalist, willing to do stories exposing government failures, regardless of which party might be hurt.  And sadly, it is also no surprise that NBC put this on when it did, Saturday night, when few people would be watching.
- 10:20 AM, 11 October 2005   [link]

The Gateway Pundit has been giving extensive coverage to the earthquake that hit Pakistan and India.  You can find his link-rich posts on the disaster here, here, and here.   He has links to video clips, a map, and a table with comparisons to other great earthquakes.

One Pakistani official thinks that a disproportionate share of the victims may have been children, since the earthquake struck during school hours.

None of those posts have information on the cause of the earthquake, but geologists have been expecting one.
Great earthquakes - magnitude 8 or larger - occurred in the Himalayas in 1803, 1833, 1897, 1905, 1934 and 1950.  But in the last half century, the region has been relatively quiet, with no earthquakes anywhere near the one with a magnitude of 7.6 that struck northern Pakistan on Saturday.

That calm may have given a false sense of security to growing populations living there.

"Those of us in the business knew we were overdue," said Peter Molnar, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado.
The geologists have been expecting an earthquake, not just because of the past history, but because the Indian subcontinent has been driving into Asia and raising the land — one earthquake at a time.  In Basin and Range, John McPhee gave us this vivid summary of the result — so far:
When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in the warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out.   Possibly as much as twenty thousand feet below the seafloor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock.   This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth.  If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone. (pp. 182-183)
That change from perhaps twenty thousand feet under the ocean to almost thirty thousand feet above it was made by earthquakes, many earthquakes over millions of years.  So one more did not surprise the geologists, since the subcontinent is continuing to move north.

(Basin and Range is wonderfully entertaining, as is almost everything McPhee writes, though if you want a quick review of plate tectonics, you might be better off with something more pedestrian.)
- 9:33 AM, 11 October 2005   [link]

Two Bogus BBC Stories:  Recently, the BBC published two stories on the Bush administration that struck me as obviously bogus; both were so implausible that anyone reasonably familiar with the Bush White House would have wanted to check them very carefully before running them.

In the first, the BBC quoted Palestinian officials as saying that Bush had told them that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.  The White House has denied it and even the BBC is now backing away from the claim.  What actually happened?  No transcript is available, so we can't know for sure, but Damian Penny's surmise looks plausible.
My own theory?  I think Bush said something like the "moral and religious obligation" quote, and it was more or less translated and interpreted as "God told me to" - which sounds very much like what a politician in the Middle East would indeed say.  (Laurence Simon and Judith Weiss agree.)   And guess what?  It doesn't matter one bit, because for the "reality-based community", the way Abu Mazen recounts the story is simply so good it must be true.
And Ed Thomas at the Biased BBC has a similar example.  In their first reports, the BBC said that the US had pledged a mere $100,000 to assist Pakistan after the earthquake there.  The number is so laughably small that, if it were true, it would be taken as an insult — and an insult to a crucial US ally in the war on terrorism.   (Sometimes a double-dealing ally, but an ally nonetheless.)  Apparently, the BBC didn't check that with the White House, either.

What accounts for these two gross errors?  As I said in my comment on Dave Oliveria's post, the first story was so obviously bogus that you have to wonder how the BBC made the error.  And the same is true of the second story.  I see two possible explanations for these errors, neither flattering to the BBC.  The first is that the BBC is so misinformed about Bush and his administration that the stories seemed plausible to them.  The second is that the BBC did not care whether the stories were true; they were, as the old line goes, "too good to check".  Ignorance or malice.  If there is another possibility I'd like to see it.

Any chance that the BBC journalists who made these errors will disciplined?  Not that I have seen.
- 6:17 AM, 10 October 2005   [link]

Another Nobel Peace Reprimand:  Once again, the Norwegian committee has given the Nobel Peace Prize to some one who deserves not a prize, but a reprimand.  As the Times of London documents, Mohamed El Baradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency have an almost unbroken record of failure in preventing, or even detecting, nuclear proliferation.  
In the past eight years the agency and its director-general have failed to detect covert nuclear programmes in at least three countries — and failed to get diplomatic purchase on the problems when others have brought them to light.  That does not amount to a contribution to world peace.
It is hard to choose his worst failure, but Iran is a good candidate.
But it is Iran where the IAEA and Dr ElBaradei most need to justify their actions — or lack of them.   In the past three years IAEA inspectors have repeatedly visited Iran to study the extent of its nuclear research.  Dr ElBaradei's quarterly reports to the IAEA board of directors have shown that Iran's co-operation has been grudging, slow and sometimes incomplete.  Inspectors have not found clear evidence of a weapons programme.
. . .
British officials, who have been working with French and German counterparts, say that Dr ElBaradei has been less helpful than they wanted in trying to threaten Iran with referral to the UN Security Council.  US officials have suggested that this is because he is Egyptian, Muslim and sympathetic to Islamic countries.  European officials more often see his reserve as stemming from a distress at the failure of diplomacy that a referral would imply.
Both could be true.  But one thing is certain.  If there is a nuclear war in the Middle East — something I think more likely now than ever — El Baradei will deserve a share of the blame.  And, the same will be true if nuclear war is avoided, but Iran acquires enough nuclear weapons, along with missiles, to blackmail Europe.

The Times says that the choice of El Baradei may have been made to slap the United States in the face — again.  If so, the gains to the Norwegians on the committee do not seem worth the costs to the world — to anyone not suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome.

(Here's a list of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.  I am moderately familiar with the last ten.  In my opinion, only one of the ten, the 1996 award to Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, went to winners who helped the cause of peace.  Worse yet, five of the last ten, El Baradei, Wangari Maathai, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and the United Nations, and Kim Dae Jung, have acted in ways that made peace harder to achieve, at least in recent years.

Seattle Times cartoonist Eric Devericks makes the same argument that the Times of London did.  In his October 8th cartoon, he showed North Korea and Iran celebrating El Baradei's prize, and I think they probably did celebrate the win of a man who did so little to hinder their quests for nuclear weapons.)
- 3:58 PM, 10 October 2005   [link]

Yesterday, I took my last hike for this year on Mt. Rainier.  (In a few weeks, I hope to go there for my first country skiing trip of this winter.)  It was raining as we drove down during the morning and cleared up only partially during the afternoon, so I didn't get any pictures of the mountain that I liked.  But I did get a picture of the strange looking Jackson Visitor's Center.

I took the picture partly because I have always liked the building's weird appearance, partly because it will be torn down soon, and partly because the building is an example of political pork.

The late Senator Henry M. Jackson, for whom the building is named, got the funds for the building through a deal with a senator from Hawaii.  Perhaps as part of that deal — I haven't seen more than speculation on this point — the architect for the building was from Hawaii.

And that fact may explain the strange shape of the building.  The Jackson Center looks as though it would withstand hurricanes and tsunamis quite well, but it does not look as though it would handle the snowfall on Mt. Rainier.  Mt. Rainier averages about 700 inches of snow a year*, and has received more than 1,000 inches.  The Jackson Center heats the roof during the winter to keep it from collapsing under the weight of all that snow, sometimes using hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in single day.  The cost of that fuel oil is one of the biggest reasons the National Park Service has decided to replace the building, rather than make the repairs that the building quite obviously needs.

Such design errors are probably quite common in pork projects.  Since the projects can't be justified by cost-benefit analyses, the designers are freed from such mundane requirements as fitting them to the local climate.

(*The snowfall records for Mt. Rainier are kept, not for calendar years, but for years beginning July 1st and ending June 30th.  They do this to keep all the months from a single winter together.  For many years, Rainier held the yearly snowfall record, but lost it to Mt. Baker during the winter of 1998-1999.  I have read that, if the Rainier weather station where the snowfall is measured were higher, rather than at Paradise (altitude 5400 feet), the measured snowfall would be significantly greater.

We brought along a third grader and he illustrated, again, that kids that age are not much interested in scenery, or in hiking for the sake of hiking.  (He did like the view of a glacier's snout and was disappointed when his father and I showed no great interest in climbing hundreds of feet down a steep wall to it.)  But kids that age do want to play in the snow, especially in the months when there is no snow in the lowlands.  For Mt. Rainier, the best time for that is late spring and early summer.  It isn't uncommon for there to be lots of snow at the Paradise parking lot in May, and, all through June, there are usually snow patches within an easy hike of the lot.)
- 1:08 PM, 10 October 2005   [link]

Business Schools Are Worthless:  If you judge them by what they teach their students.  But having a business degree is a fine signal to potential employers that the person holding it has been selected carefully.  Or so says Megan McArdle — who has a business degree.

And the same, she says, is true of Ivy League degrees.  (And she has one of those, too.)   Ivy League degrees show that a person has been carefully selected, not that they learned much at those prestigious institutions.

Is she right?  I think it depends on the field.  In mathematics, science, engineering, and some other fields, the training is essential.  And I suspect it is also essential for some kinds of business skills, such as accounting.  But for many jobs, what is learned in college — if anything is learned there — is simply irrelevant to the actual job.

This raises an interesting possibility.  Business schools and Ivy League colleges are enormously expensive.  Suppose that we could find another, cheaper system for making those selections.  Under such a system, the schools would lose, unless they could change their programs so that they were teaching something that benefited the students.  The employers would break even.  The individuals who now attend Ivy League and business schools would benefit, because they would not have to pay for their non-educations, and would be able to begin work sooner.  And the public would benefit, as it always does with increases in efficiency.

Is a cheaper selection system possible?  I don't see why not.  But I think it rather unlikely that business schools or Ivy League schools will be very interested in doing the research to develop such a system.
- 8:15 AM, 9 October 2005   [link]

Bribing School Employees To Vote:  That's what one California school superintendent is doing.   From the comments that follow Joanne Jacobs' post, I gather that the superintendent is not breaking California law, but then what is legal is not necessarily ethical.

(The superintendent is hoping to defeat three reform initiatives sponsored by California governor Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Some of the commenters were even more offended by the superintendent's barbarous language; he promised in his memo — I am not making this up — to "incent" employees.   However barbarous, that does sound nicer than "bribe", I suppose.)
- 5:18 AM, 9 October 2005   [link]