October 2005, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Truce In The Fish Wars?  On my way to lunch, I spotted this pair of symbols on the back of a Prius.

Is the owner calling for a truce in the fish wars between Darwinists and Christians?  (Many church leaders support that position, thinking that you can believe in evolution, at some level, and still be a Christian.)  Or is the car owned by a couple that has agreed to disagree?

(Here's a brief history of the fish as a Christian symbol.)
- 3:49 PM, 24 October 2005   [link]

Most Conservative Republicans Back Miers:  So says Clarice Feldman of the American Thinker, citing private polls.
Word on the Hill is that the latest internal polls show that that inside the Beltway conservative pundits seem to speak only for and to themselves.  After a barrage of opposition against Miers from them, the polls show only 7 percent of the members of the GOP who identify themselves as conservative oppose her nomination. Among all GOP members only 9 percent oppose her.
Since I haven't seen these polls, I can't comment on them, but they do fit with other less systematic observations of my own.
- 2:53 PM, 24 October 2005   [link]

US Manufacturers Set Records Last Year:  Good records, as the chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers explains to the New York Times.
"Proof, Near and Far, That It's Not 1950 Anymore," by Floyd Norris (Off the Charts column, Oct. 15), could lead readers to conclude that American industry is in decline.  In fact, United States manufacturers last year set records for both production and exports, albeit with far fewer workers than they employed in 1950.
Did you know that?  I did, but I get the impression that most Americans do not.  And our share of the world's manufacturing is almost as high as it was forty years ago.

Why do so many think differently?  I am not sure, but I think that part of the reason is that we no longer manufacture many of the smaller consumer goods.  But a single Boeing 777, for example, makes up for a lot of toasters.

And it is worth mentioning, as I have before, that the world's car manufacturers have chosen to build plants in the United States during the last two decades.  BMW, Honda, Mercedes, Nissan, and Toyota all think that the United States is a good place to manufacture cars — and have bet billions of dollars on that proposition.

Recent news is good for manufacturers, too.
The nation's manufacturing sector shook off the impact of Hurricane Katrina and robustly expanded during September, but prices for raw materials surged, raising the prospect of higher inflation and interest rates.

The Institute for Supply Management, a nonprofit association based in Tempe, Ariz., said yesterday that its manufacturing index advanced to 59.4 percent in September from 53.6 the month before, for the industrial's sector's 28th consecutive month of growth.  It was the highest reading since the guage hit 59.6 percent in August 2004 and well above the 54 percent reading that analysts had expected.
There is another side to this good news; as coaches like to say, "no pain, no gain".  And our gain has come with much pain, as the NAM economist went on to say.
Manufacturing job loss has been largely driven by a 400 percent gain in productivity since 1950 . . .
Which means that fewer American workers are building more valuable products.  That makes the rest of us richer, but can be very hard on those workers.  As someone who grew up on a farm, I appreciate both the gains and the pains.

(And I can't help but wonder whether some of the gloom on this subject comes from the decline in newspaper circulation.  If you worked in an industry with these kinds of numbers, you might feel a little gloomy yourself.
An industrywide circulation drop of 1.9 percent for the six months ended in March was one of the biggest in recent times and continued a fairly consistent two-decade decline.  Daily newspaper circulation has fallen nearly 9 million from its 1984 peak of 63.3 million, while the U.S. population has grown by about 58 million.  The country lost 306 daily papers, 17 percent of the total, between 1960 and last year.

A Media Management Center study reached an even more alarming conclusion regarding younger readers -- estimating that by 2010, only 9 percent of those in their 20s will read a newspaper every day.

A dramatic flight of advertising has followed the circulation losses -- with classified ad revenue dropping 15 percent from 2000 to 2004 -- dragged down largely by an almost 50 percent decline in employment advertising.
And it would be easy for you to think that your gloom applies to the economy as a whole.)
- 2:30 PM, 24 October 2005   [link]

Chairman Mao Was A Monster:  That's the lesson of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's biograhy, which begins with this uncompromising line:
Mao tse-tung, who for decades held absolute power over the lives of one-quarter of the world's population, was responsible for well over 70 million deaths in peacetime, more than any other twentieth-century leader.
(And, as far as I know, no earlier leader comes even close to matching that ghastly record.)

Nearly all of his victims were Chinese.  Like most other dictators, he preyed mainly on his own people — many of whom idolized him while he lived.  (And some still do, in some cases, literally, putting up shrines to him.)

During his life, though it was possible to learn of many of his crimes, public opinion toward Mao was generally favorable, and not just in China, but in most free countries.  Western intellectuals did much to spread a generally favorable portrait of Mao.  Paul Hollander's brilliant Political Pilgrims begins the chapter on China with quotations from a number of intellectuals, including two Americans, Urie Bronfenbrenner and John K. Fairbank.
To me China seemed a kind of benign monarchy ruled by an emperor priest who had won the complete devotion of his subjects.  In short, a religious and highly moralistic society.  Urie Bronfenbrenner

The people seem healthy, well fed and articulate about their role as citizens of Mao's new China . . . the change in the countryside is miraculous. . . The Maoist revolution is on the whole the best thing that happened to the Chinese people in centuries . . . Maoism . . . has got results . . .   John K. Fairbank
Both are important scholars.  Neither is a communist.  But they fell completely for Maoist propaganda, as did many others.

And even now most western intellectuals want to give Mao mixed grades.  For an example, consider this Nicholas Kristof review.   Kristof recounts example after example of Mao's cruelty, such as this one:
By this time [1930], the book relates, many in the Red Army distrusted Mao - so he launched a brutal purge of the Communist ranks.  He wrote to party headquarters that he had discovered 4,400 subversives in the army and had tortured them all and executed most of them.  A confidential report found that a quarter of the entire Red Army under Mao at the time was slaughtered, often after they were tortured in such ways as having red-hot rods forced into their rectums.
But then Kristof ends by comparing Mao to the brutal founder of the Qin dynasty:
In the same way, I think, Mao's ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book - and yet there's more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber.
So there you are.  Kristof believes it will be a beautiful omelet in time — even though he is genuinely sorry about those 70 million eggs.  (And I have my doubts that Kristof would be quite so ready to excuse Hitler on the grounds that Hitler had built a modern road system for Germany.)

I have a less nuanced view than Kristof.  I think that Mao was a monster and that China would have been far better off had Mao never lived.
- 10:29 AM, 24 October 2005   [link]

Condi For President?  Until now, I have been skeptical about her possible candidacy.  She has never been elected to any office, never gone through the ordeal of a campaign, and has always denied any interest in elected office.  (She has said, many times, that she would like to be commissioner of the National Football League.)  But in her visit to Alabama with the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, she was acting more than a bit like a candidate.
In Birmingham this weekend on a three-day visit to the Deep South with Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, Rice is being feted as a homecoming queen.  It is by far the most personal tour she has ever undertaken.

A State Department official said there would be more "show America" visits with foreign dignitaries to other parts of the country.  They could just as easily be billed as "show Condi to America" tours.

Rice, who has never run for anything — not even "high school president", as she admitted last week — has been glad-handing locals from pupils at her old primary school to Hurricane Katrina relief volunteers and fans of the Crimson Tide, the Alabama University football team.  When she entered Jim 'n' Nick's southern fried restaurant, diners applauded.
Or so the Times of London thinks.  And she has never given the full Sherman rejection.   I am still skeptical, but a little less so.  And I must note that presidential campaigns almost always begin in a candidate's home state.

(Trying to recall the Sherman rejection?  Here it is:
I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected.
By the way, Sherman did not quite say, "War is hell", though he came close.  What he actually said was this:
There is many a boy here to-day who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.
As with many famous quotations, that one is often improved by making it shorter — at the expense of accuracy.)
- 7:21 AM, 24 October 2005   [link]

They Just Can't Get The Facts Right:  Some mistakes pop up again and again in the newspapers and on the networks.  Once every few weeks, Tim Blair catches another person falling for the plastic turkey story, the claim that President Bush had carried a plastic turkey when he visited the troops in Iraq on Thanksgiving.  (The turkey was real but was meant for display, at least at first.  When there is a long line, it takes too long to carve a turkey in the traditional way, so the service cooks make one to look at (and eat later) and carve the rest ahead of time.)

And then there is the claim that "the West" armed Saddam, which popped up on the BBC a few days ago.  Actually, as you can see from the table accompanying the post, most of Saddam's conventional weapons came from the Soviet Union, China, France, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.  Other nations, including France and Germany, supplied him with technology that helped him build chemical and biological weapons, but neither the United States nor Great Britain sold him much along those lines.  (One private American company supplied Saddam with anthrax, but there is no reason to believe that they realized he wanted the samples for biological warfare, rather than medical research.)

(I have never quite seen the point of this claim since, if the United States and Britain had armed Saddam, would that not put us under a greater obligation to stop his killings?)

And then there are the endless claims that President Bush said, in a State of the Union message, that Saddam had bought (or sometimes tried to buy) uranium from Niger.  In fact, what Bush said — and you can check this yourself quite easily — is that British intelligence had learned that Saddam had tried to buy uranium in Africa.  And the British government stands by that claim.

Nonetheless, this morning I was listening to NPR's Weekend Edition and heard that Niger claim one more time.  Substitute host John Ydstie was discussing the Plame affair with Walter Pincus of the Washington Post and repeated the Niger claim in its weaker form, that President Bush had said that Saddam had sought uranium in Niger.  Pincus, who should know better, but may not, did not correct Ydstie.  All of this was part of an exceedingly misleading discussion in which Pincus and Ydstie left out the essentials of the affair, while claiming to provide them.

(Curiously enough, Ambassador Joseph Wilson provided some evidence for President Bush's claim secretly &mdash before he loudly denounced it publicly.  In his confidential report, Wilson said that his contacts in Niger told him that a trade mission from Iraq had visited Niger,  Since Niger has almost nothing to sell, other than uranium, it is likely that the Iraqis were looking for uranium.)

Why do journalists keep making these mistakes over and over?  Even after more than one news organization has had to make a humiliating correction?  (As I recall, the New York Times took several corrections before it finally got the Niger story right.)  My guess is that the journalists simply don't have contacts with conservatives or open-minded moderates.  Certainly nothing Ydstie said today would make the ordinary listener think that he reads the Weekly Standard or the National Review, where these corrections have gotten the biggest play.  Or maybe some journalists just don't care whether the stories are true, feeling they are too good to check.
- 5:34 PM, 23 October 2005   [link]

Worth Reading:  Michael Kinsley thinks that the mainstream media should not have special privileges.   That means that reporters, just like other citizens, should not have a right to conceal their sources — and perhaps crimes.  There is now, as Kinsley points out, a great practical objection to special privileges for reporters.
To give journalists such special privileges you have to define who is and who is not a journalist.   That is harder to do in the age of the Internet.  One reason for the explosion of hostility toward [Judy] Miller and the Times is the resentment of the blogosphere.  Blogging is, if anything, more like the kind of pamphleteering the Framers had in mind when they guaranteed "freedom of the press" than are the New York Times or The Washington Post.  But if everyone with a blog or an e-mail discussion board is a journalist, who isn't?
And the same objection to special privileges for the "mainstream" media applies even more strongly to campaign finance.
As many have pointed out over the years, the Times might feel differently about a law that limited how much any one person or organization could spend putting out a newspaper, although that, too, would reduce the "unfair advantage" of some players over others.  As a matter of fact, various legislative attempts to limit campaign spending invariably include an exemption for the news media, just to avoid that whole thicket.  But this would be an excellent moment for the Times (and The Post and the other MSM) to reconsider all their various pleas for special treatment.
But they won't, since they view their special privileges as only their due.

I have strong personal feelings about these special privileges, because I can imagine getting caught by a campaign finance law for something I write here.  Although I would most likely be able to win in court, the costs of winning might make such a victory Pyrrhic.  And I have no reason to believe that I would get any support from the "mainstream" media in such a fight.
- 5:03 PM, 21 October 2005   [link]

Mountain Blogging:  Mt. Jefferson, I said in this post, was the most beautiful volcano in Oregon.   But I didn't supply a picture.  So, here's one for you, courtesy of the United States Geological Service.

And, if you would like to see some more artistic pictures of the mountain, you can find them here and here.   (The view from the west is even better, in my opinion.)

And the USGS has all sorts of facts about the mountain here, including this:
Geologic evidence shows that Mount Jefferson is capable of large explosive eruptions.  The largest such eruption occurred between 35,000 and 100,000 years ago, and caused ash to fall as far away as the present-day town of Arco in southeast Idaho.  Although there has not been an eruption at Mount Jefferson for some time, experience at explosive volcanoes elsewhere suggests that Mount Jefferson cannot be regarded as extinct.  If Mount Jefferson erupts again, areas close to the eruptive vent will be severely affected, and even areas tens of kilometers (tens of miles) downstream along river valleys or hundreds of kilometers (hundreds of miles) downwind may be at risk.
So an eruption is unlikely, at least any time soon, but could be quite nasty.
- 3:40 PM, 21 October 2005   [link]

How Did Ambassador Joseph Wilson Come To Be So Careless With The Truth?   The endless investigations of the Plame affair began after the former ambassador wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, which accused the Bush administration of making up evidence on Saddam's efforts to purchase uranium in Africa.  As we learned in time, Wilson had actually found a little evidence to support that view; Iraqi officials had approached Niger on trade, and Niger has almost nothing to sell except uranium.  And more investigations showed that Wilson had been careless with the facts on other occasions.

As Wilson's careless record became clearer, he was even dropped from the Kerry campaign, though many journalists do not seem to have noticed that.

I don't have anything to add to what others are saying about the current investigation, but I did wonder how Wilson came to be so casual with the truth.  He seemed a familiar type, but until yesterday I had no evidence that the most obvious explanation was correct.  Now, we have that evidence and Wilson himself provided it, in a talk he gave in the Bay area.
Some in the audience urged him to run for political office.  But Wilson said he'd been a true child of the 1960s and had "too many wives and taken too many drugs. And, yes, I did inhale."
Be interesting to know if he took, for instance, LSD, which sometimes has permanent effects.   And men who play around are generally accomplished liars.

And just shortly before that, he made it clear that he wanted the Bush administration to fail in Iraq, while saying he didn't.
He said he hoped that the Iraqi constitution vote had failed, not because he wanted to see the administration fail but because he believed a negative vote would cause America and others to rethink their strategy and "go back to the drawing board."
Of course, this just happens to be the official position of some of his Arab financial supporters, too.  Unofficially, they, like Wilson, want the Bush administration to fail — regardless of the cost to Iraqis.
- 9:46 AM, 21 October 2005   [link]

Could A Tobacco Executive Become President Of The United States?  I doubt it very much.  But standards differ, and one got serious consideration — once again — for the leadership of the Conservative party in Britain.  If you look at this brief biography, you'll see that Kenneth Clarke has held almost every position in British politics, except Prime Minister and leader of the opposition.

Given his career, I think it safe to conclude that Clarke hoped to come back into power after John Major's defeat.  But he still accepted a position as Deputy Chairman of British American Tobacco.   (After, interestingly, he had been Health Secretary.)  No American politician with national ambitions would have done the equivalent.

That wasn't, as I understand it, what caused Clarke's defeat in the leadership contests, including the latest one.  Instead, it was his Europhile positions, in a party that is increasingly (and for good reason) Euroskeptic.

(Standards of acceptability also change with time.  More than one politician has gotten caught late in their career because they did not realize that.)

(For more, read this Natalie Solent post, which adds the delicious fact that BAT has a factory in North Korea.)
- 8:32 AM, 21 October 2005   [link]

Harriet Miers Will Be Confirmed:  Probably.  That's what I said in my original post on her nomination.  That's what I said in a comment to a Donald Sensing post.  That's what the futures market, which I check every day at Chicago Boyz, says.

And that's what John Lott concluded, after a statistical analysis of judicial confirmations.
Harriet Miers was one of the safest choices President Bush could have made for Supreme Court justice.   She's likely to be confirmed quickly and without much fuss.  I'm not referring here to her politics.   According to a study of judicial nominations I recently completed, the less distinguished the nominee--the less intellectually accomplished, the less prolific, the less impressive the record--the more likely it is that he or she will be confirmed.  It also helps to be old, white and female.
Ignoring the sneer, those are much the same factors that I identified as helping her get confirmed in my original post.  And it isn't hard to understand why those factors should be important; confirmation battles are generally attempts to prove that something is wrong with a nominee, not to evaluate the nominee's overall quality.  A nominee with a record of controversial writings will leave many targets for opponents.  Opponents will feel that there is less at stake if the nominee is old.  Even now, most of us believe that women should not be treated as roughly as men.   I have thought for years that, if President Clinton had chosen a man with the extreme views of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he would have received far more opposition than she did.  So Lott and I agree that Miers has many advantages in this confirmation battle.

And although Lott did not pick this up in his analysis, I still believe that Miers' record of good works and clean living will deflect most personal attacks.

(Lott argues that a short record of publications shows that a nominee is "less intellectually accomplished".  That's a natural mistake for a professor to make, but it is still a serious logical error.  There are other ways to achieve than academic publications, and Harriet Miers seems to have done very well in most of those ways.  It may be (roughly) fair to judge a professor's intellectual accomplishments by his or her publications but it is silly to do the same for a practitioner.

If Lott's error is still obscure, consider the opposite mistake.  It would equally silly to say that a professor does not earn as much as a managing partner at a law firm, and so must be less distinguished than the partner.)
- 1:42 PM, 20 October 2005
Update:  Shortly after I wrote this post, the bottom dropped out of the market on Miers confirmation and it fell into the 20's after staying above 60 for weeks.   Here's a discussion of the move.   My opinion on the odds is unchanged; I still believe it likely that she will be confirmed, but not certain.
- 8:34 AM, 22 October 2005   [link]

Did Katrina Coverage Cost Lives?  That's what I argued in this post, saying that the false reports delayed rescue efforts.   Michael Fumento agrees
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina two sports were all the rage in New Orleans.  One was the blame game, attributing all local and state incompetence to the feds.  The other was inventing and spreading stories of murder and mayhem — killings, rapes, firing at rescuers, bodies stacked like cordwood.

But the accounts turned out to be grim fairy tales.  They were also hardly harmless sensationalism — if there be such a thing; because of them people suffered and apparently died.
And gives some examples to support our argument.

Is there a single "mainstream" journalist who realizes that their reports may have contributed to the death toll?

(By way of Mark Tapscott, who also agrees.  And for many more examples of false stories, see this Gateway Pundit post.)
- 8:55 AM, 20 October 2005   [link]

Do You Have The Right "Dispositions" To Be A Teacher?  Not if you hold traditional values — at least at some education schools.  John Leo has the story.
The cultural left has a new tool for enforcing political conformity in schools of education.   It is called dispositions theory, and it was set forth five years ago by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE): Future teachers should be judged by their "knowledge, skills, and dispositions."

What are "dispositions"?  NCATE's prose made clear that they are the beliefs and attitudes that guide a teacher toward a moral stance.  That sounds harmless enough, but it opened a door to reject teaching candidates on the basis of thoughts and beliefs.
In particular, rejecting candidates who held politically incorrect (but majority) views on race and sex.

Those not familiar with our education schools may be surprised by what happened to K. C. Johnson at Brooklyn College School of Education or Edward Swan at Washington State University; those familiar with the education schools may be enraged but will not be surprised.  And a few of us who remember when liberals at our colleges and universities routinely defended freedom of conscience will be saddened that so few professors now protest these blatant attacks on that freedom.

(For more on this case and other attacks on academic freedom, see the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.)
- 8:06 AM, 20 October 2005   [link]

Disaster Area Tour:  The disasters in the area I visited were somewhat less recent than you may have thought.  But not by geological standards, because I was visiting volcanic areas in central Oregon.  I saw, if only briefly, all of Oregon's most famous volcanoes, including the most beautiful, Mt. Jefferson, and the most ugly, Belknap.

Jefferson is the most beautiful in part because it has been dormant for tens of thousands of years.  The glaciers sculpted it into a beautiful form (which you have almost certainly seen, since it is often used in ads) and added a beautiful white cloak to the mountain.   Belknap is much newer; the latest floods of lava from it came just hundreds of years ago, a blink of an eye in geological terms.  And I am not exaggerating when I call it a disaster area; there is almost no vegetation near the volcano, though some conifers seemed to be trying to prove they could grow anywhere.

I wasn't touring the area just for a vacation; I also wanted to look at more volcanoes to get some idea of how we could prepare for future eruptions — which will come.  I'll have more on that in future posts.

(For this trip, I used several guides, but especially the Roadside Geology of Oregon, which said that Route 242 (McKenzie Pass) "goes through the most spectacular area of very recent volcanic activity accessible by road anywhere in the Oregon high Cascades".  That's an understatement; the route gives you views of many volcanoes and a close-up of some very recently active volcanoes, including Belknap.)
- 2:01 PM, 19 October 2005   [link]