October 2006, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Do You Have Trouble Finding Things?  So do cosmologists.  They are mostly quite satisfied with the "big bang" theory of the origin of the universe, but there are two small problems with it.
The Big Bang, they now say, happened 13.7 billion years ago, plus or minus 150,000 years.  That is a far cry from the days when some astronomers were ready to go to the mat over whether it was 10 billion or 20 billion years ago and when others shrugged and said a factor of two was pretty good in cosmology.

Moreover, they now say, ordinary atomic matter of the kind that makes up you, me and the stars is 4 percent of the cosmos; dark matter that floats as gravitational glue between the stars and galaxies is 20 percent; and dark energy, which is apparently accelerating the cosmic expansion, pushing the galaxies faster and faster apart, is 76 percent, plus or minus 2 percent.

You might wonder just exactly what kind of triumph "precision cosmology" represents when 96 percent of the universe is unknown dark stuff.
I have trouble finding things, but I can still find more than 4 percent of what I look for.  And not being able to find either dark matter or dark energy is beginning to be embarrassing.

(A few physicists have tried other solutions to these problems.  I mentioned one in this post, but I have no idea whether such unorthodox ideas are gaining or losing ground among physicists.)
- 3:59 PM, 24 October 2006   [link]

Congressman Inslee Should Pledge Not To Vote For Pelosi:  Before the November election.

Last April, I wrote an open letter to my congressman, Democrat Jay Inslee, asking him, politely, to explain why he thought Nancy Pelosi was qualified to be Speaker (and second in line to be President.)  After three weeks, I received a stock reply, which included Inslee's recent "accomplishments", but not a word on why Pelosi would make a good Speaker.

I thought that Pelosi was unfit to be Speaker before the recent news stories about her plans to make Alcee Hastings chairman of the Intelligence Committee; now I know she is unfit to be Speaker.   So, I am sending this follow up letter to Inslee:

Dear Congressman Inslee:

Last April, I wrote you an email letter asking you what made Nancy Pelosi fit to be Speaker, and possibly President.  Three weeks later, I received a stock reply, giving me a list of your "accomplishments" — and not a single word justifying the possible elevation of the San Francisco congresswoman to the post once held by, among others, Henry Clay, Thomas Reed, and Sam Rayburn.

It appears, therefore, that we agree — which happens less often than either of us might like.  Nancy Pelosi is unfit to be Speaker.  And if there was any doubt about that question, it was removed by her widely reported intention to name Alcee Hastings to head the sensitive Intelligence Committee.  A Democratic Congress impeached and convicted Hastings for perjury and corruption, removing him from his position as a federal judge.  That Pelosi believes Hastings is fit to head the Intelligence Committee should, by itself, disqualify her from even being considered for Speaker.

Now, I would like to ask you to do something for your country, even though it may offend some extreme Democrats.  I want you to pledge — publicly — that you will not vote to elect Pelosi Speaker.  

Since any Democratic majority is likely to be slim, only a few Democratic congressmen would be able, by witholding their votes, to force the choice of a decent and competent Speaker, instead of Pelosi.

There are fewer decent and competent Democratic congressmen than there once were, but there are still some.  I would not object to your Washington colleague, Norm Dicks, as Speaker, nor to California congresswoman Jane Harman.

Finally, let me be blunt, as I was in my first letter.  Your career, Congressman Inslee, has not been filled with examples of you putting the nation before your party and your own political ambitions.  This is a chance for you to do the right thing, to show a little political courage, to go with all those profiles.

As before, I should tell you that I have posted this letter at my own web site, Jim Miller on Politics, and at Sound Politics, and that I might post any reply you make at both sites.

James R. Miller

Copy to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

If you choose to write a similar letter to your own Democratic congressman, or to a Democratic candidate, I would be interested in seeing their response, if any.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(You can find more on Nancy Pelosi in these two posts, the first describing her machine politics background, and the second comparing her district to Speaker Hastert's.

Note to "mainstream" journalists:  There is no reason that you can't ask similar questions of Democratic House candidates — and you might get some interesting answers.  For instance, does Darcy Burner think that Alcee Hastings is a suitable choice to head the Intelligence Committee?)
- 2:13 PM, 24 October 2006   [link]

Intelligence Committee Chairman Alcee Hastings?  If the Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives, they will, almost certainly, elect Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.   And Pelosi may name Florida 23rd district Congressman Alcee L. Hastings chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

It is not absolutely certain that she will place Hastings in that sensitive position.   Michael Barone says that Pelosi "is said to be determined to replace her [Jane Harman] with Alcee Hastings.  The New York Times says that Pelosi is "considering" putting Hastings in the post, and the the Washington Post says much the same thing, though not so directly.

This is strange for two reasons, one small and one immense.  Ordinarily, committee chairmanships in the House of Representatives go to the majority member with the longest seniority on the committee, which would be Jane Harman, a widely respected and relatively moderate Congresswoman from southern California.  But Harman and Pelosi do not get along.  They disagree on policy, and they apparently have personal issues as well.  (I haven't seen a good description of their personal disagreement, but the bits that I have seen make it sound like a high school feud.)

That Pelosi and Harman can not work out some compromise is strange; that Pelosi may want to make Hastings chairman is bizarre.  Let me begin with the bottom line:  If Hastings were applying for a security clearance as a file clerk serving that same committee, he would not receive one.  His record would disqualify him.

Here's how the Almanac of American Politics describes the largest defect in his record:
He practiced law, finished fourth in the five-candidate Democratic primary when he ran for the U. S. Senate in 1970, and was confirmed as a federal judge in 1979.  Hastings was charged with conspiring with a friend to take a $150,000 bribe and give two convicted swindlers light sentences.  A Miami jury acquitted Hastings in 1983, but the friend was convicted.  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals called for impeachment in 1987 and referred the case to Congress.  Hastings was impeached by the House by a vote of 413-3 and convicted by the Senate, 69-26.
As you probably know, both the House and Senate were controlled by the Democrats in 1987.  (It is only fair to add that some of the evidence against Hastings was discredited later, because of a failure by the FBI crime lab.)  What impresses me most about that brief account is the action of the judges on the 11th Circuit.  Nothing required them to act, but the evidence against Hastings was strong enough so that they believed he should no longer be a judge.  And the majority of the Democrats in Congress agreed.

But that's not the only defect in his record.  One of his top aides, Patricia Williams, defended him in his bribery trial.  But she can no longer work as a lawyer because she has been disbarred.   (Both she and another aide, Vanessa Griddine, are said to be "friends" of Hastings.  I have no idea whether that is true, but I can say that both appear to be overpaid for their official positions.)

And he has been investigated, more than once, for other ethics violations.

That Nancy Pelosi believes that Hastings is fit to chair the sensitive Intelligence Committee is reason enough, by itself, to conclude that she is not fit to be Speaker of the House.

(I couldn't resist adding that official picture.  That grin fits a man who has gotten away with many crimes, and is wonderfully pleased by his escapes.

You can learn more about Hastings' ethical problems here and here.

And if you are wondering about the seniority rules in Congress, you can find explanations here and here.)
- 7:53 AM, 24 October 2006   [link]

Current Betting Odds:  If you are like me, you are probably wondering who will win the mid-term elections.  I haven't gotten around to doing my own analysis yet, so I will provide you with the next best thing, the current betting odds from TradeSports.  (And I plan to leave these charts here at the top of the site until just after the election.)

Let me know if you have trouble seeing either of the charts.  These are closing prices, so they should be updated once a day, which is often enough for me.  If you want more frequent updates, you can find them at the TradeSports site.

Note that both markets are thinly traded, which gives us less confidence in the results.
- 12:35 PM, 23 October 2006
More:  Or, to get the latest quotes, you can just click on the charts.

The University of Iowa runs a similar market; here are their graphs for the House, and for the Senate.
- 12:45 PM, 24 October 2006
Still More:  You can also get betting odds on American elections from InTrade.  As I write, they are showing small gains for the Republicans.
- 10:38 AM, 25 October 2006
And for even more data, here's the Election Projection site.
- 10:14 AM, 30 October 2006   [link]

Ethics In Seattle?  Some times, small stories* can be revealing, for example, this one on the P-Patch community gardens in Seattle.

Harvest-season thefts have been challenging the good will, optimism and sense of harmony in the city's 50-plus P-Patches.  Tomatoes vanish.  Peppers disappear.  Even tools, hoses and paving stones have wandered away.

No one knows just how much food has been taken, but this year's thefts have sparked a spirited online discussion among P-Patch gardeners, whose outlooks range from a get-tough stance to a philosophical acceptance.

There are two aspects to this story that I find interesting, ethically.  First, there is the thinking of the thieves, who are not, if these reports are correct, starving.

Some gardeners say they might be less upset if the produce was going to truly needy people.  But stories circulate about apparently middle-class people helping themselves to the crops.

"People have seen a lady in a well-kept Mercedes drive up, get out with her shopping bags and go out into the gardens and just start filling them up," said Ray Schutte, president of the P-Patch Trust, a nonprofit group that supports community gardens.

Most gardeners value their own vegetables far above what they would cost in a store, but these same vegetables would be worth little to most thieves.  I can understand — though not forgive — thieves who grab something of great value, but I find it hard to understand thieves who take something of little value to themselves, but possibly great value to someone else.

Second, there is the attitude of some of the gardeners.  At least a few think that everyone should just accept the thefts.

In contrast, Vade Donaldson, 37, wrote that theft is an unavoidable part of P-Patch life.  "This sounds crass, but I think we all, as gardeners, just need to get over it."
. . .
Donaldson was angry and frustrated when every bell pepper was stolen from his first P-Patch in 2002.

But his wife, Stephanie Kellner, 36, helped him focus on why people participate in the community garden.  "I hope it's because they enjoy the activity itself, of putting their hands in the soil, connecting with the earth and our food, and because of the community," he said.  "Gardening is the end in itself."

Now I can understand why some might tolerate thefts, simply because it is too expensive to stop them.  (Most large stores balance the cost of theft against the cost of preventing theft, in just this cold blooded way and try to prevent most, but not all, shop-lifting.)  But that isn't quite what Donaldson and Kellner are saying.  Instead, they appear to be rationalizing their losses because they do not want, in any way, to confront the thieves.

There are two objections to that way of thinking.  First, it is unkind, in the long run, to the thieves.  That may seem strange, so let me bring in a parallel.  I have long argued that the worst thing about welfare was what it did to the recipients.  (And many recipients agree with that argument.)  Similarly, when we tolerate theft we tempt some to become thieves, which nearly always leaves them worse off in the long run.

That first objection may mean most to the saintly among us, but almost everyone should be able to to understand the second objection.  When we tolerate some theft, we get more theft, which imposes heavy costs on all of us.  As it happens, the poor are especially big losers from these crimes, as they often are, because the P-Patch gardeners contribute tons of produce to food banks every year — but not as much as they could if some were not being stolen.

Is the tolerance that Donaldson and Kellner show toward the theft of their vegetables found elsewhere in Seattle?  I am sure it is, though I have no idea how widespread their attitudes are.   (And if you happen to know more about that question, I would be interested in hearing from you, either directly or in the comments at Sound Politics, where this is cross posted.)  Without knowing more about the couple, I can not be sure what led them to this way of thinking, but I suspect that they, along with many others, simply do not want to face the hard choices that life often brings us.  And so they rationalize the theft of their beloved vegetables, and many others in Seattle minimize the dangers from Islamic extremism.  Both involve difficult choices; for some it is easier to pretend that there is no loss, that there is no danger.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(*Although it is a small story, the Seattle Times put it on the front page last Friday, above the fold.

Here's the official P-Patch web site.   You'll note that they only allow "organic" gardens.)
- 10:44 AM, 23 October 2006   [link]

The New York Times Admits They Were Wrong:  Or at least their current public editor, Byron Calame, admits that he was wrong, though burying the admission deep in his column:
Since the job of public editor requires me to probe and question the published work and wisdom of Times journalists, there's a special responsibility for me to acknowledge my own flawed assessments.

My July 2 column strongly supported The Times's decision to publish its June 23 article on a once-secret banking-data surveillance program.  After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base.  There were reasons to publish the controversial article, but they were slightly outweighed by two factors to which I gave too little emphasis.  While it's a close call now, as it was then, I don't think the article should have been published.
Although it is good that Calame made this admission, he partly spoiled it with his final paragraph:
What kept me from seeing these matters more clearly earlier in what admittedly was a close call?   I fear I allowed the vicious criticism of The Times by the Bush administration to trigger my instinctive affinity for the underdog and enduring faith in a free press — two traits that I warned readers about in my first column.
Professor Volokh finds that adjective, "vicious", as strange as I do.  (If I were to choose a single word to describe the administration's criticism, it would be "tempered".)   Some lefty commenters tried to justify the word, but without much success, at least in my opinion.

(You can find more critical comments here from Tom Maguire.  And I may be immodest, but I think Calame would benefit from reading my discussion of the ad subcanem fallacy.)
- 8:10 AM, 23 October 2006   [link]

Worth A Look:  In fact, the interactive graphic that accompanies this New York Times article on the China-North Korean border is worth some study.  You will learn, for example, that the Chinese and North Korean "rust belts" are close to each other, and have broadly similar problems.

The reporter who wrote the article makes this curious claim:
North Korea's porous 880-mile border with China is its lifeline to the outside world.  About 39 percent of its trade last year was with China, which, critically, supplies it with 80 to 90 percent of its oil.  Trafficking in money transfers and human beings also flourishes.
. . .
For China, the bottom line is to erect the right number of fences, as it did along the border city of Dandong recently.  Build too few and you invite instability in China.  Build too many and North Korea collapses.
Is it true that China wants North Korea to continue, but not cause too many problems?  That's possible.  It is also possible, in fact likely, that not all the Chinese officials are following the same policy.  There are, as you know, one or two people in China, and even in the Chinese government, enough so that we might expect there to be a faction or two.

There isn't much doubt that the Chinese have enjoyed the problems that the North Koreans have caused us, but it is not clear to me that the Chinese even have a unified policy toward North Korea, much less what it might be.
- 2:55 PM, 22 October 2006   [link]

Is Gerhard Schröder A Bigot?  We know that the former German chancellor has had a disordered private life.  (Four wives and a child by a mistress are enough evidence for me.)  We know that he is an unscrupulous and deceptive politician.  And we know that, as he was leaving office, he made an agreement with the Russian company, Gazprom — and then almost immediately accepted a very lucrative position with the same company.

But I had not known, until I read this article, that he is, most likely, a bigot.
Several months later, during Bush's 2002 visit to Berlin, Schroeder wrote he was surprised at what he described as Bush's "exceptionally mild" speech to the German parliament.

While meetings with Bush at that time were friendly, Schroeder said he could not reconcile himself with the feeling that religion was the driving force behind many of Bush's political decisions.

"What bothered me, and in a certain way made me suspicious despite the relaxed atmosphere, was again and again in our discussions how much this president described himself as 'God-fearing,'" Schroeder wrote, adding he is a firm believer in the separation of church and state.
(If you want to have a little nasty fun, imagine Schröder's reaction to Senator Joe Lieberman, who is as open about his religious beliefs as Bush is about his.)

For what it is worth, I know of no similar story about President Bush, who seems willing to work with almost any leader, whether or not they share his religious beliefs.  (He does seem not to care much for negotiations with leaders who have lied to him, but that's a separate matter.)

(For more on Schröder, see this Wikipedia biography, apparently written by someone generally favorable toward him — which gives credence to some of the damning details.)
- 10:47 AM, 22 October 2006   [link]

Is Oregon A "Traditional Blue State"?  A "left-leaning" state that the Democrats should win easily?  That's what this AP story says, while noting that the Democratic governor, Ted Kulongoski, may lose to his Republican challenger, Ron Saxton.

In fact, Oregon is a very closely divided state, with a perhaps small lean to the Democrats.   George W. Bush lost the state in 2000 by just 6,765 votes and in 2004 by just 76,332 votes.  The state has one Republican senator and one Democratic senator, though the Democrats have a four-to-one edge in the House delegation.  Governor Kulongoski won election four years ago with just 49 percent of the vote.  (A Libertarian received 5 percent of the vote.)  Democrats control the state Senate, but Republicans control the state House.

Oregon registers voters by party.  The Democrats currently have a small lead over the Republicans, 770,157 to 711,354, but as anyone who follows American politics knows, Republicans are more likely to vote.  (And, for what it is worth, Oregon Republicans have been increasing their share of the two party vote since about 1976.)  Given those registration numbers, most political scientists would predict that the two parties would come close to ties in many elections — as they have.

So why doesn't Brad Cain of the Associated Press know all this?  Without knowing more about Cain, I can only guess, and, when I do, I conclude that partisan bias is why Cain does not know how closely divided Oregon is.  Most likely, nearly everyone he knows, and everyone he likes, is a Democrat and so, without bothering to look at the data, he believes that Oregon is far more Democratic than it actually is.  If that explains his error, I would say that he made an understandable mistake, but not a forgivable mistake, at least not for an AP reporter.
- 7:57 AM, 22 October 2006   [link]

Another Reason to blame Bush.
- 3:14 PM, 19 October 2006   [link]

How Bad Are State Polls?  As I mentioned in this post, state (and district) polls are not, generally, as good as national polls.  Dan Riehl has some examples from 2002 that illustrate my point.  (I should add that some mistakes are inevitable, just because of sampling error, but many of these mistakes are large enough so that the polls must have had other problems.)
- 2:26 PM, 19 October 2006   [link]

Sounds Yummy:  The British government is trying to get the school children to eat more healthful food.  Naturally, the kids don't like it.   But what amused me about this controversy is what the kids, or at least some of the kids, do like.
"It's rubbish," said Andreas Petrou, an 11th grader.  Instead, en route to school recently, he was enjoying a north of England specialty known as a chip butty: a French-fries-and-butter sandwich doused in vinegar.
(Though I have to admit that I like almost anything doused in vinegar.)
- 10:28 AM, 19 October 2006   [link]

"Why Is This Our Problem?"  That's the question Jack Kelley asks about North Korea.  Kelley thinks that the problem is actually South Korea's.  Mostly.
North Korea remains Stalinist, has a formidable military, and still dreams of conquering the South.   But its objectives are peninsular, not global, and it has little likelihood of obtaining them, even without American intervention.

That's because South Korea also has a formidable military, which could be made much more formidable if the South Koreans chose to do so.  South Korea today has more than twice the population of North Korea, 24 times the national wealth.
So the South Koreans can defend themselves.  (And can afford to develop their own nuclear weapons, now that North Korea has broken the 1992 agreement.)

Anne Applebaum thinks the problem is actually China's.
Conventional wisdom says that if U.N. sanctions don't work, there is nothing to be done about North Korea's nuclear weapons -- short of firebombing Pyongyang, thereby ensuring the obliteration of Seoul.  Yet the problem of a nuclear North Korea is not actually insoluble, provided a certain very large superpower wants to solve it.  There is one significant country, after all, that has the military, economic and political power not only to pressure North Korea to discard its bomb but also to topple its regime altogether.

That very large superpower is, of course, China.  Despite its recent expressions of shock and horror -- the Chinese government claimed last week to be "totally opposed" to the North Korean bomb -- China still has more ways to influence North Korea than any other member of the U.N. Security Council.  For that matter, China has more ways to influence North Korea than all of the members of the Security Council (and indeed the General Assembly) put together.  Should China's leaders want to see the North Korean regime fall, they don't need to play around with sanctions or blockades.   They could just cut off energy supplies to Pyongyang.  Or food deliveries to Pyongyang.  Or end all trade with Pyongyang.
Or just open up the border between China and North Korea, allowing the North Koreans to flee in enormous numbers.

Similar arguments apply to the crisis in Darfur.  Yesterday, I saw a full page ad in the New York Times from Evangelicals for Darfur, urging action by President Bush.
Without you, Mr. President, Darfur doesn't have a prayer.

We come to you from across the evangelical spectrum.  We beseech you to act on your faith and do the right thing by leading the world to stop the genocide affecting "the least of these" in Darfur.   To date, more than 400,000 people have been killed. 2.5 million displaced.  Countless more have been raped, maimed, and tortured: Men, women, and children created in God's image, innocents all.   Ending the atrocities will require your personal leadership in supporting the deployment of a strong U.N. peacekeeping force and multilateral economic sanctions.  While we often disagree on matters of politics, we are united in the belief that your intervention can make the critical difference in Darfur.  We join together now to urge you, in the words of Proverbs 24:11-12, to "rescue those being led away to death."  We pledge to do everything we can to rally support in both Congress and the U.N. to support your leadership in ending the horror in Darfur.
I think that plea is addressed to the wrong president; instead it should be addressed to the president of Egypt, Muhammad Hosni Mubarak.  To end the killing in Darfur, it is necessary to intimidate the government of the Sudan.  Egypt is just to the north of the Sudan and has a strong enough military to defeat Sudan's conventional forces easily.

Or perhaps the plea should be addressed to the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.   Although the Saudis do not have formidable conventional forces, they do have enough money to bribe Sudan on a massive scale (or to pay for military operations by other Muslim powers).

Since both President Mubarak and King Abdullah are Muslims, their intervention in Sudan would not draw the same automatic opposition that ours would.  Either, working by himself, could probably end the Darfur conflict; together they certainly could, and more quickly and more easily than we could.   So shouldn't this plea be addressed to them?  If, that is, ending the conflict is more important to you than embarrassing President Bush and the United States.

And that, I am sorry to say, is why so many want to dump these problems in President Bush's lap.   They increases his political difficulties.  But if we honestly want to solve the problems, we should look to other leaders and to other countries.

(Here are some numbers on the Korean militaries from my 2003 Britannica Almanac: North Korea has about 1 million men in its armed forces and spends about 27.5 percent of its GDP on the military.  South Korea has about 700 thousand men in its military and spends about 3.4 percent of its GDP on the military.  The total population of North Korea is about 22 million; the total population of South Korea is about 48 million.  Those numbers from North Korea are probably roughly right, though any numbers from that country should be treated with skepticism.

Here are some numbers on the Egyptian and Sudanese militaries, from the same source.  Egypt has a population of about 65 million and armed forces of about 450,000.  Sudan has a population of about 36 million and armed forces of about 100,000.  About 50 percent of the Sudanese population is not Arab and about 30 percent is not Muslim, so a very large proportion of that 36 million do not support the current regime.

And still another way to end the conflict in Darfur might be to send in the mercenaries.  The one thing we know will not work is to send in another UN force.  Do these evangelicals know that?  I suspect that at least a few of them do.)
- 10:13 AM, 19 October 2006
More:  Faith McDonnell, a cofounder of the Sudan Coalition, makes a similar argument about Sudan, except that she is more accurate than I was.  The person most responsible for the Darfur misery is the Sudanese dictator, Omar el-Bashir.  And the person who has done the most for the persecuted in Sudan?   McDonnell has an answer to that question, too.
. . . President Bush has done more for persecuted people in Sudan than anyone before him.
And so he has, though Jim Wallis and the other "Evangelicals for Darfur" may never admit it.
- 8:44 AM, 23 October 2006   [link]

Can The GOP Keep Control Of The House And The Senate?  Sure.  In fact, I would say that the odds currently favor the Republicans keeping control of the Senate for the next two years — and I think that most political observers would agree with that judgment.

The same observers would generally say that the odds favor the Democrats taking control of the House.  (Coincidentally, the Tradesports betters give, as I write, about the same edge to the Democrats in the contest for the House as they give the Republicans in the contest for the Senate: roughly 2-1 in each case.)

The thinking behind these guesstimates is not hard to understand; the Democrats have to win almost all the close Senate races, but only most of the close House races.  Polls show that the first is less likely than the second.  (But the Democrats did win control of the Senate in 1986 by just such a sweep of all the close races.)

I don't entirely agree with that thinking for either house, because it omits the possibility that the Republicans will win a few seats from the Democrats — and I think the chances are good for at least a few such Republican victories, for example, in the New Jersey senate race.

And I am not sure that the experts who have been predicting Democratic wins in the House necessarily have the right models*.  Jay Cost has been interested in the same question and did this sophisticated analysis of the "consensus" models from Charles Cook, the Rothenberg Political Report, and the Congressional Quarterly.
My working hypothesis is that, while the consensus opinion uses Cook, Rothenberg and CQ to estimate big Democratic gains, it is not using them properly.  Specifically, it is not making use of probability theory to predict.  Accordingly, the true consensus estimate has yet to be specified.  Think of it as the Greek distinction between opinion and true opinion.  There is a consensus opinion, but it suffers from some logical mistakes along the way, so it is not true opinion.
Here's what he found, using these consensus estimates:
As we can see, the results are somewhat contrary to the conventional wisdom.  The range here is between 15 and 18 seats switching — which is more consistent with the House still being a toss-up, with a slight lean toward the Democrats.
. . .
Our question now: what is the chance that the variation will be such that the GOP holds the House?  Unfortunately, the answer is much rougher because the calculations are quite complicated.  Depending upon the ranker and the model, the probability of a GOP retention ranges between a little better than 33% and a little worse than 50%.
That's as of now.  The Republicans could be hit by more bad news, or the stories could begin to help them.  One story is quite likely to help the Republicans, the continued decline in energy prices, especially gasoline prices.  And I have long thought that Republicans generally gain during a campaign, simply because some voters see their arguments for the first time.  In fact, I thought that they were beginning to make just such gains when the Foley "scandal" broke.  The Republicans are not, in general, short of the money needed to get their message out in the next three weeks, so they still have a chance to make up some ground, and enough time, though their time margin is smaller than one would like.

Let me summarize.  As of now, I would take a bet, at even odds, that the Republicans would retain the Senate.  I would not take a bet at even odds that the Republicans would retain the House, but I do think they have a real chance to keep control there, too. (And, after looking at the data, I might take a a bet at the current odds.)

(*For statistics buffs, I will add that constructing such models is not trivial, since you must assume some linkage between the races, but not complete linkage.  There most likely will be a national tide for the Democrats, but will be far higher in some districts than others, and in a few it may actually be lower than usual.

There are two technical points that should be kept in mind when looking at the polls results for House and Senate races.  It is just as difficult to get a good sample of a state or a district as to get a good sample for the entire nation.  And the polling companies, in general, have less experience at doing those kind of samples.  So their results are, in general, less accurate than they are for polls on national races.

Second, predicting turnout is more difficult for off-year elections than for presidential years, because the turnout varies more in off-year elections.  All the predictions about elections from polls from professional pollsters rely on models of turnout — and those models are often wrong, especially in off-year elections.  So when you see those confidence intervals cited in articles on poll results, you should probably expand them a little for off-year elections.)
- 4:43 PM, 18 October 2006   [link]

For More On The Dangers Of Organic Produce, you may want to read this longish, heavily-documented post.   Here's the bottom line:
1. Organic farming practices are not safer and may, in fact, be less safe than non-organic farming practices.
Which is what I said in this September post and in this October post.

I probably should clarify something I discussed in the second post.  There are, broadly, two kinds of risks that people worry about from our foods, bacterial contamination and cancer.  The first risk is far more important, and the studies consistently show that "organic" foods are more likely to be contaminated by harmful bacteria.

Many worry, mistakenly in my view, about getting cancer (or other diseases) from pesticides often used in conventional farming.  But if that is your worry, then you should know that you may actually get more pesticides from "organic" fruits and vegetables than you do from their conventional counterparts.  (Read my October post if you missed my argument on this subject.)

If safety is your criterion, then you should avoid "organic" products.

By way of Jay Manifold.

(In my September post, I expressed skepticism about the New York Times coverage of this issue.  If you read the entire GMO Pundit post, you will find more reasons for skepticism.

In my October post, I said that I did not know of any evidence that "organic" foods were more nutritious.  Today's New York Times has a brief description of an experiment comparing organic and conventional wheat.  The researchers found no difference in nutritional value between wheat grown "organically" and wheat grown conventionally.)
- 3:57 PM, 17 October 2006   [link]

Some People Deserve To Be Fired:  For example, color commentator Lamar Thomas.
Saturday's mid-game brawl between the University of Miami and Florida International University claimed its first off-the-field victim Monday when Lamar Thomas, a former Miami player who cheered the fight on from a broadcasting booth and even threatened to join it, was fired from his announcing job.
. . .
When the head-stomping, helmet-swinging brawl erupted during the third quarter, Thomas not only repeatedly cheered UM on, but said he wanted to join them in taking a shot at the FIU team.

"You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked," Thomas told viewers.  "You don't come into the Orange Bowl playing that stuff.  You're across the ocean over there.  You're across the city over there.  You can't come over to our place talking noise like that.   You'll get your butt kicked.  I was about to go down the elevator and get into that thing."
I suspect that Thomas did not win a sportsman of the year award during his playing days.

(Here's a video of this nasty brawl, and here's a confused description of how it may have started.)
- 2:58 PM, 17 October 2006   [link]

Bill Clinton Comes Out For Torture:  In extreme cases.  And hardly anyone notices.  Alan Dershowitz, who proposed allowing torture in some extreme cases several years ago, thinks more people should.
Now I see that former President Clinton has offered a similar proposal.  In a recent interview on National Public Radio, Clinton was asked, as someone "who's been there," whether the president needs "the option of authorizing torture in an extreme case."

This is what he said in response: "Look, if the president needed an option, there's all sorts of things they can do.  Let's take the best case, OK.  You picked up someone you know is the No. 2 aide to Osama bin Laden.  And you know they have an operation planned for the United States or some European capital in the next . . . three days.  And you know this guy knows it.  Right, that's the clearest example.  And you think you can only get it out of this guy by shooting him full of some drugs or water-boarding him or otherwise working him over.  If they really believed that that scenario is likely to occur, let them come forward with an alternate proposal.
. . .
Clinton summarized his views in the following terms: "If they really believe the time comes when the only way they can get a reliable piece of information is to beat it out of someone or put a drug in their body to talk it out of 'em, then they can present it to the Foreign Intelligence Court, or some other court, just under the same circumstances we do with wiretaps.  Post facto . . .
Imagine the howling from, for instance, the New York Times, if President Bush had said the same thing.

(You can find my own, mixed views on torture in this post, where I describe FDR's support for waterboarding.)
- 2:42 PM, 17 October 2006   [link]

Civil Rights Lawyer?  That's how the Associated Press described Lynne Stewart, who was just sentenced for aiding the terrorist who planned the first attack on the World Trade Center.   (As I have mentioned before, that first attack would, if it had succeeded, have killed far more people than the second attack.  The terrorists hoped to topple one tower into the other and start a general conflagration, killing as many as 250,000 people.)
Civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart arrived at her sentencing packed for prison.  With medication, books and a pair of sweat pants, she was prepared to begin a stay that could have stretched for 30 years.
But she got a much lighter sentence, thanks to a Clinton-appointed judge who appears to have believed that Stewart was, or had been, a "civil rights lawyer".

The AP wasn't the only news organization that called her a civil rights lawyer; so did the the BBC and Reuters.   (To its credit, the New York Times called her a "radical defense lawyer", which is accurate and fair.)

Anyone who thinks that Lynne Stewart is a civil rights lawyer should look at her own list of famous cases.  Again and again she has defended terrorists in court.  I don't see a single true civil rights case in that entire list — unless you think that murder and skyjacking are civil rights.

And she has, by her own admission, a narrow view of where civil rights should apply.  Here's a quotation from Wikipedia
She described her position in an interview as "a strange amalgam of old-line things and new-line things.  I don't have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous.  Because so often, dissidence has been used by the greater powers to undermine a people's revolution.  The CIA pays a thousand people and cuts them loose, and they will undermine any revolution in the name of freedom of speech."
In other words, those living under communist rulers have no civil rights.  That's the view of many communists, but it is seldom stated so plainly.  (And, contrary to what she says, there is nothing new about it.)

The murder of somewhere around 100 million people by the leaders she admires has not changed her opinions.

Her record and her views are either unknown to the news organizations that called her a "civil rights lawyer", or, in their opinion, compatible with that label.  (There is an even more cynical explanation for their use of "civil rights lawyer", but I won't explore that possibility in this post.)

(One of her many supporters deserves special mention.  George Soros, the leftist billionaire, contributed to her defense fund.

You can find more on her career here.)
- 11:11 AM, 17 October 2006   [link]

It Was A Plutonium Explosion:  Our intelligence operations found enough residue from the North Korean test to end some of the speculation.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that North Korea's test explosion last week was powered by plutonium that North Korea harvested from its small nuclear reactor, according to officials who have reviewed the results of atmospheric sampling since the blast.
So, it wasn't a fake, as a few suspected.

And the test was, almost certainly, a partial failure.
"This is good news because we have a reasonably good idea of how much plutonium they have made," said Siegfried S. Hecker, the former chief of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now a visiting professor at Stanford University.  Mr. Hecker, who has visited North Korea and is one of the few foreigners to have seen parts of its nuclear infrastructure, said that it was his guess that "they tried to test a reasonably sophisticated device, and they had trouble imploding it properly."
Note that Hecker says "device", not "bomb".  Hecker is implying that the North Koreans did not explode a weapon that could be put into a missile, and that they still have considerable work to do before they have such a weapon.  Of course, a nuclear device could still be delivered in other ways, with a ship, for example, but it does pose a less immediate threat than a bomb that could be delivered by a missile.

If you read further in the article, you will find some Clinton administration talking points, but not much else.  The reporters, Thom Shanker and David Sanger, don't even mention the 1992 agreement, which supposedly ended all development of nuclear weapons in both Koreas, or the very substantial bribes that the Clinton administration gave to North Korea.
- 7:22 AM, 17 October 2006   [link]