October 2007, Part 2

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Sometimes The Supporters Provide The Best Arguments Against A Candidate:   As in the case of this London(!) fund raiser for Barack Obama.
While a few of the people I spoke to had also attended Mr Clinton's fundraiser, most were firmly entrenched in the Obama camp.

With few exceptions, the reasons for their support centred around Mr Obama's international outlook.  His Iraq policy garnered praise, some cited the fact that he'd lived abroad as reason enough to elect him.

One man said Mr Obama's refusal to wear one of Mr Bush's ubiquitous American flag pins, which the senator called a substitute for real patriotism, sealed the deal for him.
Why did they cite such absurd reasons?  Because the junior senator from Illinois has no achievements at all in national politics, and no significant achievements in Illinois politics.  He hasn't done anything, so they have to come up with nonsensical reasons to vote for him.  (And one wonders whether the last man has any idea just how many flags surround the president of the United States, any president.  If Obama is that allergic to American flags, then, should he be elected president, he will spend the next four years with a serious case of hives.)

And Michelle Obama nailed it down, just in case you have any reason left to believe that Obama is qualified to be president.
Amidst her predictable but confident rhetoric on the simple, honest American values she and her husband share ("He will always tell the truth, even if the truth is inconvenient"), Mrs Obama also played to the concerns of the expat audience, saying: "You can't have a vision for this country if you don't understand the world."
Ms. Peck, who writes on food for the Telegraph, may not realize how ridiculous that first claim, that Obama will always tell the truth, is.

First, no one always tells the truth.  No one.

Second, there are times when a president should not tell the truth, for instance when he is being diplomatic, or when he is concealing a military secret.  (I almost feel like apologizing for mentioning such obvious points.  But Peck doesn't say that the crowd roared with laughter, so I assume some there took the claim seriously.)

Third, as the Daily Mail showed earlier this year, Obama has not told the truth about his father, or himself.  He hasn't always told the truth in the past, and there is no reason to expect him to start now.  (In fact, of the major candidates, I would say that he is the least likely to tell the truth, the most likely to make up a convenient fantasy.)

There are, of course, many other reasons not to vote for Obama, such as his ties to Tony Rezko, his membership in a church many consider racist, his acceptance of genocide as a possible cost of a too early withdrawal from Iraq, and so on.  But we don't even need to think about those minor defects, considering what his supporters say about him.
- 4:57 PM, 16 October 2007   [link]

Another Scofflaw At The Seattle PI:  Last year, Stefan Sharkansky caught columnist Joel Connelly allowing two friends with no legal residence here in Washington state to register at his vacation home.  (They live in Washington D.C. and registered here, I would guess, so that there was some chance their votes might make a difference in presidential elections, though that isn't what Connelly says.  They have since dropped their illegal registrations.)

Two weeks ago, Stefan caught another scofflaw at the PI, editorial writer D. Parvaz, who registered illegally at her work address.  (Washington law requires that voters register at their home address, as many (most?) states' laws do.)

Three of the four people in these two cases of vote fraud are journalists, and the fourth is the wife of a journalist.  There are reasons many people think that "mainstream" journalists are not much interested in vote fraud — when it benefits Democrats, as it usually does.
- 2:54 PM, 16 October 2007   [link]

How Is Majority Leader Harry Reid Doing?  Not very well, say Nevadans.
Molly Ball of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Senator Harry Reid's favorable rating in Nevada has "plunged dramatically," according to a new poll.  Currently, Reid's favorable rating is at 32%, while his unfavorable rating is at 51%, a net 23-point drop from the last poll taken in early May when Reid scored a 46/42 favorable/unfavorable rating.
For what it's worth, Reid's ratings are now almost identical to those of President Bush — who has had a much less favorable press.
- 1:22 PM, 16 October 2007   [link]

Americans Agree With President Bush:  But trust the Democrats more on SCHIP.  That's the paradoxical finding in a recent Gallup poll on the insurance plan for the working poor.
A majority of Americans trust Democrats to handle the issue of children's health insurance more than President Bush, but they agree with the president that government aid should be targeted to low-income families, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows.

Two days before the Democratic-controlled House attempts to override Bush's veto of a five-year, $35 billion expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the poll shows that opinions on the issue are mixed.

Fifty-two percent of respondents say they have more confidence in Democrats to deal with the issue, compared with 32% for Bush.

Slim majorities back two positions at the core of the president's opposition to the expansion:

•52% agree with Bush that most benefits should go to children in families earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level — about $41,000 for a family of four.  Only 40% say benefits should go to such families earning up to $62,000, as the bill written by Democrats and some Republicans would allow.

•55% are very or somewhat concerned that the program would create an incentive for families to drop private insurance. Bush and Republican opponents have called that a step toward government-run health care.
Rightly concerned, I might add.

Such is the distrust for Bush these days among Democrats and independents that Gallup might have gotten even stronger support for his positions if they had left his name off the one question.

You can decide for yourself whether some of the voters are being illogical.
- 8:18 AM, 16 October 2007   [link]

Paul Krugman Changes His Mind:  As Tom Maguire documents in this thoughtful post, the civil and fair-minded Princeton professor (and New York Times columnist) has changed his mind:
So let me recap — at one time Krugman thought Gore's grasp of economics was dismal, yet he now derides those who still think so.  And, contra Krugman, the Republican ice cap on global warming is breaking up.  How about that.
Although Maguire does not mention it, among those who accept global warming as a fact, and accept that part may be caused by humans is President Bush.  That's one reason he has been backing nuclear power (unlike Al Gore).

(Fans of conspiracy theories may prefer another explanation.  The earlier pieces were written by Professor Krugman; the later pieces, including his columns, are written by a graduate student, who is trying to discredit Krugman — with considerable success.)
- 7:29 AM, 16 October 2007   [link]

The Costs Of Empire:  In Niall Ferguson's Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, I found some extraordinary statistics on the costs of the British empire.
A Royal Commission reported in 1863 that the mortality rate for enlisted men in India between 1800 and 1856 was 69 per thousand, compared with the rate for the equivalent age group in British civilian life of around 10 per thousand.  Troops in India also had a much higher incidence of sickness.  With quintessentially Victorian precision, the Commission calculated that, out of an army of 70,000 British soldiers, 4,830 would die each year and 5,880 hospital beds would be occupied by those incapacitated by illness. (p. 173)
That's just in India, though that is where Britain kept most of its land forces.  There would have been more routine losses elsewhere in the empire, as well.  And India was not even close to the most dangerous place that British soldiers served during that time.  That was Sierra Leone, which the British had established as a place for freed slaves.

As you may recall, the current fatality rate for American soldiers, even with the Iraq war, is about 1 per 1000.  For a half a century, the British accepted a fatality rate in India about 70 times as high for their soldiers.  Most of those fatalities were from disease, not combat losses, but a man who dies of malaria, rather than a bullet, is still dead.

The total numbers lost by the British during this period were far larger, in the proportion to their population (less than 20 million at the beginning of the period, about 30 million at the end), than our current losses are.

Were these losses unpopular?  Not according to Ferguson,  Later in the book, he has this to say about the empire during Victoria's reign:
Yet imperialism did not have to pay to be popular.  For many people it was sufficient that it was exciting.

In all, there were seventy-two separate British military campaigns in the course of Queen Victoria's reign — more than one for every year of the so-called pax brittanica.  Unlike the wars of the twentieth century, these conflicts involved relatively few people.  On average, the British armed forces during Victoria's reign amounted to 0.8 percent of the population; and servicemen were disproportionately drawn from the Celtic periphery or urban underclass.  Yet those who lived far from the imperial front line, never hearing a shot fired in anger save at wildfowl, had an insatiable appetite for tales of military derring-do.  As a source of entertainment — of sheer psychological gratification — the Empire's importance can never be exaggerated.
. . .
But it was above all through the popular press that the Empire reached a mass audience at home. (pp. 251, 255)
The men who ran the mass newspapers of the time, for example, the Daily Mail's Lord Northcliffe, believed that wars helped them sell newspapers.  (There may be some parallels between Northcliffe and American publishers like William Randolph Hearst.)

The two time periods, for the deaths, and for Victoria's reign, are not the same, though they overlap.  But I think that the argument that many of Britain's imperial wars were popular, in spite of losses that would seem enormous to us, is still solid.  And I think it is hard not to conclude that their very different mass media had much to do with that popularity, especially near the end of her reign.

(Americans may wonder why the Royal Commission was making that report in 1863.  The report was one of the many British reactions to the Great Indian Mutiny in 1857.   The Mutiny forced the British government to rethink many of its policies, including relying too heavily on troops raised in India.  Although the British increased the number of British troops in India after 1857, the losses from disease limited the amount of increase that they could afford.  By 1881, according to Ferguson, the British had not quite 70,000 British troops in India — and about 125,000 native troops.)
- 6:11 PM, 15 October 2007   [link]

Good News On Air Travel:  You can feel safer when you get on an airplane.
After two infamous crashes in 1996 that together killed 375 people, a White House commission told the airline industry and its regulators to reduce the domestic rate of fatal accidents 80 percent over 10 years.  That clock ended Sunday.

They have come close to reaching that goal.  Barring a crash before midnight Sunday, the drop in the accident rate will be about 65 percent, to one fatal accident in about 4.5 million departures, from one in nearly 2 million in 1997.

There have been no fatal airliner crashes involving scheduled flights this year in the United States and just one fatal accident: a mechanic who was trying to close the cabin door of a chartered Boeing 737 on the ground in Tunica, Miss., fell to the pavement during a rainstorm.
Actually, as a graph accompanying the article shows, the decline began long before that meeting.  (The graph, which does not seem to be available on line, shows that there were more than 1 fatal accidents per million departures in 1997, 1999, and 2001, but that rate had fallen by about half by 1996.  But, nonetheless, this is still good news, even if Matthew Wald may be crediting the wrong people and the wrong administration.

Very good news on cancer.
Good news on the cancer front: Death rates are dropping faster than ever, thanks to new progress against colorectal cancer.

A turning point came in 2002, scientists conclude Monday in the annual "Report to the Nation" on cancer.  Between 2002 and 2004, death rates dropped by an average of 2.1 percent a year.

That may not sound like much, but between 1993 and 2001, deaths rates dropped on average 1.1 percent a year.

The big change was a two-pronged gain against colorectal cancer.

While it remains the nation's No. 2 cancer killer, deaths are dropping faster for colorectal cancer than for any other malignancy -- by almost 5 percent a year among men and 4.5 percent among women.
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 50,000 people die from colon and rectal cancer every year.  And deaths are dropping for lung cancer, as more and more people give up smoking.

So much of our good news comes in this form found in these two articles: statistics with good trends.   Such articles have much less emotional impact than stories of individual tragedies, such as this one — but they are far more important in the long run.

(I'll send a complaint about the Wald piece to the public editor at the New York Times, but I doubt that I will even get a response.)
- 2:38 PM, 15 October 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Humberto Fontova reveals the real Che Guevara.
October 9, 2007, marked the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara's death. The predictable outlets are gushing forth with the predictable tributes.  From Reuters to the AP and from the Los Angeles Times to MSNBC, you will search these "news stories" in vain for any mention of the fully documented details of Che's capture and death.  The sources for these "gallant crusaders for the truth" (as Columbia School of Journalism heralds its graduates) were--as usual--the propaganda ministers of a Stalinist regime.
. . .
And nary a mention, amidst all the adulation, of the one genuine accomplishment in Che Guevara's life: the mass-murder of defenseless men and boys.  At everything else Che Guevara failed abysmally, even comically.
About 14,000 of those defenseless men and boys.

And if you want to know more about this disgusting man, you can buy Fontova's book, Exposing the Real Che Guevara: And the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him.
- 11:11 AM, 15 October 2007   [link]

The NYT Joins The Consensus:  Yesterday's New York Times had an article with one the plainest statements yet on the Israeli raid on Syria.
Israel's air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.

The description of the target addresses one of the central mysteries surrounding the Sept. 6 attack, and suggests that Israel carried out the raid to demonstrate its determination to snuff out even a nascent nuclear project in a neighboring state.  The Bush administration was divided at the time about the wisdom of Israel's strike, American officials said, and some senior policy makers still regard the attack as premature.
I mention this article, not to needle the New York Times for being slow to cover this news — though they were — but to illustrate, again, the problems with too great reliance on anonymous sources.

You may recall that, just last week, the New York Times had a much less clear article, saying that there was dispute within the Bush administration over the interpretation of the Israeli intelligence.  In this article, they now admit they got it wrong last week.
The New York Times reported this week that a debate had begun within the Bush administration about whether the information secretly cited by Israel to justify its attack should be interpreted by the United States as reason to toughen its approach to Syria and North Korea.  In later interviews, officials made clear that the disagreements within the administration began this summer, as a debate about whether an Israeli attack on the incomplete reactor was warranted then.
But implicitly blame their error on anonymous officials.

Since we do not know who these officials are, we have no way of checking these stories, no way of determining whether the Times has it right now.  The second story is probably more accurate, but it is, inevitably, incomplete, and incomplete in ways that make it hard for the ordinary reader to interpret.   Nothing in these articles gives us much of a clue which officials decided to leak these stories — and what their motives might be.  (I don't doubt that insiders could make good guesses about both the identities of the officials and their motives.)

These shortcomings are almost inevitable when reporters depend on anonymous sources for their articles.   The stories are almost always incomplete and uncheckable.

(Here's my earlier post in which I mentioned the first New York Times article.)
- 10:36 AM, 15 October 2007   [link]

Only The News That Fits Our Agenda:  That isn't as snappy as the official New York Times slogan, "All the News That's Fit to Print", but it would be more accurate.  On Saturday, their New York competitor, the New York Post, published this scathing editorial on a story that the New York Times has, so far, been unwilling to print.
The posthumous award of the nation's highest battlefield honor to a Long Island war hero has become another black mark for the Gray Lady.

The New York Times carried not a whisper of news yesterday about the bestowal of the Medal of Honor to Navy Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue - the first time the honor has been given for action in Afghanistan.

Area veterans, as well as Murphy's neighbors, were outraged - but not all that surprised - that the paper carried nothing about Murphy in Friday's editions, unlike The Post, The Daily News and Newsday, which all carried prominent reports and photos.

"If he had killed 15 people, he'd be on the front page of their newspaper," fumed James Casey of Malverne, a Vietnam vet and past commander of the state American Legion organization.
Is there any doubt that Casey is right?  (Unless, of course, those 15 were enemy terrorists.)

If, unlike the New York Times, you are interested in what Lieutenant Murphy did, you can find an account in this Navy Times article.
Murphy, 29, was leading a four-man reconnaissance and surveillance team during Operation Red Wing in Afghanistan's rugged Hindu Kush mountains June 28, 2005, when the team was spotted by Taliban fighters.   During the intense battle that followed, Murphy and two of his men — Gunner's Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Danny Dietz and Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Axelson — were killed.  A fourth man, then-Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell, was seriously wounded and knocked unconscious, but managed to escape. Luttrell was rescued days later.

Murphy was killed while phoning in for reinforcements.  The tragedy continued when enemy fighters shot down one of the transport helicopters carrying the rescue force, killing eight more SEALs and eight Special Forces operators.  The 11 SEALs killed marked the largest single-day loss of life for the tight-knit community.
It continues to amaze me that we have such men fighting for us.

(Here's some history on the Medal of Honor.   You'll notice that it isn't handed out every day.)
- 7:04 AM, 15 October 2007   [link]

Educational Backbones, Educational Fat:  In 2005, Kate Riley of the Seattle Times claimed that our community colleges are the "workhorses" of our higher education system.  I replied, asking her to identify the "show horses" of our higher educational system.  A fair question, I thought, but not one that Riley wanted to take up.

Today, her boss, Jim Vesely, made the same argument, but used a different metaphor.

The same hubris that killed Caesar sometimes is evident when the major four-year universities describe the community colleges.  But community colleges are the backbone of the education system, adjusting to each region and needs with the efficiency of a Web browser.

(Incidentally, I am not sure classical scholars would agree that hubris killed Caesar; in fact I am pretty sure that they would agree that a gang of assassins, among them Brutus, killed Caesar.  And I will repeat the offer I have made before to local journalists:  If you are unsure about a metaphor, email me and I will check it for you.  It is a little hard to visualize a backbone "adjusting to each region and needs with the efficiency of a web browser".  Even the most skilled chiropractor might have trouble with that one.)

A different metaphor, but the same point that Riley made.  So I will adjust my question to the metaphor and ask Vesely to answer this question:  If community colleges are the backbone of our higher education system, what parts are the fat?

That there must be some fat in the system should be obvious to anyone who understands that humans are fallible, that bureaucracies are made up of humans, and that bureaucracies often preserve errors, rather than correcting them.  But American journalists are not much interested in giving our colleges and universities the same critical attention that they might give to, for instance, a local zoning board.

To help persuade them that our colleges and universities might deserve some critical attention, I will bring in a witness that might surprise them — former Harvard president Derek Bok.  As I noted in that post, Bok — who should know if anyone does — admits that we have no idea what, if anything, students learn in college.

Tests of writing and of literacy in mathematics, statistics and computer technology suggest that many undergraduates improve these skills only slightly, while some actually regress.  Many corporations have to offer programs to teach their college-educated employees how to express themselves.

Although most colleges require students to study a foreign language, they rarely require enough study to achieve a reasonable competence.  Only 15 percent of undergraduates enroll in courses of the kind needed to acquire real proficiency

(Here's Bok's op-ed and his book, Our Underachieving Colleges, if you want to know more about his thinking.)

Finally, this time I will add another, even more troubling question:  Are there parts of our higher education system that are worse than fat, that are cancers, or other kinds of diseased tissues?

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:37 PM, 14 October 2007   [link]

Congratulations To The Seattle Times:  And to reporters David Heath and Hal Bernton, for this fine article on earmarks.  First, some bottom line numbers:

People who benefit from earmarks generally give money to those who deliver them: Of the nearly 500 companies identified as getting 2007 defense earmarks, 78 percent had employees or political action committees who made campaign contributions to Congress in the past six years.

Though individual contributions are limited by law, people at companies that received defense earmarks gave lawmakers more than $47 million.

The 2,700 earmarks Congress put in the 2007 military spending bill cost $11.8 billion.  The Pentagon didn't ask for the money in its budget and, because its budget is capped by law, cuts had to be made to find room for the favors.

Second, a reminder that sometimes those earmarks are not just wasteful, but actively harmful.

In June 2005, Rep. Wu of Oregon arrived in Iraq and handed out free T-shirts to Marines.  He was promoting the wares of InSport, a Portland-area company that makes fast-drying polyester shirts.

Earlier that year, Wu and other Northwest lawmakers got a $2 million earmark in the defense bill to sell T-shirts to the Marines.  Wu said the shirts would be far more comfortable than the cotton ones the Marines wore under body armor.

But there was a big problem with these T-shirts, a problem encountered in the deserts of Iraq and in 1982 during the Falklands invasion.

Polyester clothing melts in intense heat, adhering to the skin.  "This essentially creates a second skin and can lead to horrific, disfiguring burns," said Capt. Lynn E. Welling, the 1st Marine Logistics Group head surgeon, who conducted research in Iraq in early 2006.

Months after Wu's visit, a Marine wearing a polyester T-shirt was riding in an armored vehicle in Iraq when a bomb hidden on the road exploded.  Even though the Marine wore a protective vest, the shirt melted in the explosion, contributing to severe burns over 70 percent of his body.  Doctors had to extract the shirt's remains from the Marine's torso.

But there is much more in the article, so you will want to read the whole thing.  And if you are in this area and don't usually buy the Times, you should buy today's issue.  When journalists, especially local journalists, commit journalism, we ought to support them.

And there is a bonus.  The Times has constructed an earmarks database, which you can access here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(I have started digging into this problem myself, and have found some interesting patterns.  I may have some posts on the subject later.

And a reminder:  Earmarks are not necessarily bad in themselves.  But they are often abused, and it is no accident that two ethically challenged House members, unindicted ABSCAM co-conspirator John Murtha and James Moran of Virginia, are number one and number three in total money for earmarks.)
- 9:27 AM, 14 October 2007   [link]

Light Rail Arguments:  Compare two recent columns, each about light rail in Portland, Oregon.  First, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times.  After telling us that he enjoyed riding the Portland system, he quotes one(!) other rider who also likes trains (though he says he talked to more), and then concludes with this:

Buses are more flexible.  But light rail concentrates development (see the fresh condo complexes sprouting along the MAX line).  With such a transit mix, Portland at least has a shot at confronting congestion and global warming.  Seattle seems to prefer talking.

The upcoming Proposition 1 is complex.  It's $10.8 billion of light rail and $7 billion of highways, spread over three counties.  Every voter has to calculate the tax burden and decide whether it's worth it (I'll write more about the highway and cost issues later).

All I'm saying in this column is that if we build more light rail, we will love it.  As Portland plainly does.  It's pricey.  But it's reliable, quiet and, when designed so the tracks aren't right in the street, fast.

So maybe we'll start acting like a big city and build some real rapid transit.

Randal O'Toole has done more than ride Portland's MAX; he has studied it, as you can tell from his column.

Portland's public transit has done nothing to relieve the region's growing congestion; its high cost has sparked a taxpayer revolt; the developments along the rail lines were themselves heavily subsidized; and those subsidies led a crafty cabal of ex-politicians and developers to milk the system for their own gain.

How do Portland-area residents feel about local light-rail projects?  They voted against raising taxes to build more light-rail in 1998.  In 2002, they voted against a ballot measure increasing neighborhood densities — as transit-oriented developments do.  In 2004, they supported a property-rights measure that challenged the very foundations of Oregon's land-use planning system.   Planners have ignored all these votes and are building light rail with tax-increment financing and other hidden tax increases.

Portlanders were especially upset when local papers revealed in 2004 that the region's planning had been manipulated by a "light-rail mafia," led by former Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, that directed rail construction contracts and developer subsidies to an inside group of contractors and builders.   Meanwhile, budgets for schools, fire, police, and public health have all been cut, as property taxes that would normally go to those services have been diverted to subsidies for rail transit and high-density developments.

Portland officials spend more than half the region's transportation funds on transit, but that doesn't mean Portlanders ride it.  In fact, since Portland began building rail transit in the 1980s, transit's market share of commuting has actually declined from 9.8 percent to 7.6 percent, mainly because the high cost of rail in a few corridors forced the transit agency to reduce bus service in some parts of the region and prevented improvements in others.

That 7.6 percent is the share of commuting; the light rail share of total travel is much lower, less than 3 percent.  The folks in Portland love those trains; they just prefer not to ride them 97 percent of the time.

Westneat has feelings; O'Toole has facts.  And the low number of people in Portland who actually ride the MAX shows that Westneat's feelings are not widely shared there.  The idea that we should spend billions to make 5 percent of the population feel good, feel that they live in a "big city", seems absurd to me.

And Westneat, in all his talk about Seattle, does not mention one crucial fact:  The Sound Transit area is not just Seattle; a quick check showed me that Seattle has about 20 percent of the population that will be taxed for his light train joyrides.  I see no reason why a reactionary city like Seattle should get filet mignon, while the more progressive parts of the area get table scraps.

Then there is the little matter of life and death.  There are many roads in this area, for example Route 2, that are known to be dangerous, that kill people every year.  Westneat, and others like him, prefer to spend money on trains, instead of roads, so that that they can feel good.  But choosing light rail over roads means that some of Westneat's neighbors will die, neighbors who could have lived if the choice had gone the other way.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(There are a number of mistakes in Westneat's column.  For example, he claims that since the trains are electric, they are "mostly pollution-free".  There is no way of generating electricity that does not produce some pollution.  That's true even of nuclear energy, one of the cleanest forms.   The trains may not be producing much pollution, but the power plants that generate electricity to run them are.

Some may wonder why I call Seattle reactionary.  That seems obvious to me, but may not be to others, especially those on the left.  On the whole, the political class in Seattle wants the races to be treated differently, is fond of 19th century technology, such as trollies and light rail, and generally wants to manage every detail of a citizen's life.  All of these, especially the last, are very old ideas.  In fact, the last idea goes back to ancient Sumeria.  I think it is fair to call their support for outmoded ideas, ideas that have not met the test of time, reactionary.

Earlier posts on these columns here and here.)
- 1:32 PM, 13 October 2007   [link]

KUOW's Gang Of Four On Al Gore And Light Rail:  Today,the second half of KUOW's Weekday program began with a commercial for the station.  It is fund raising time for this NPR affiliate.  The plea reminded me why I don't contribute, and why I urge others not to contribute, either.  The host of Weekday, Steve Scher, named some of the great guests he had had on the program that week, among them Naomi Wolf, Sherman Alexie, Garrison Keillor, and Richard Rhodes.

Alexie might be interesting, and I am sure Rhodes would be, but Wolf and Keillor actively repel me.   None of the four voted for President Bush.  And I am nearly certain that no one who decides content at KUOW voted for Bush, either.  I don't believe in supporting organizations where I could not work.  Or to put it another way, organizations that discriminate against minorities, especially minorities that I belong to.

After the fund raising introduction, KUOW's Gang of Four started their discussion with Al Gore's Nobel Peace Price, or as I like to call it, his reprimand.  (Since it has so often been given to those who have damaged the cause of peace.)  To his credit, the host, Steve Scher did know about the British court decision I discussed in this post, and mentioned it as part of his introduction.  After that — and some wonderfully funny lines from Al Gore — the discussion degenerated.   For example, no one brought up Bjorn Lomborg's arguments on global warming, arguments any serious person must consider.

As far as I can tell, none of the four have any significant training in science, mathematics, or statistics.  As far as I can tell, none would know a simulation if it bit them in the foot.   But they all are certain that Al Gore is basically right about global warming, and that it is a terrible problem.  (To his credit, Westneat did seem to grasp the idea that there might still be some controversy about Gore's ideas.)  For my own mixed views on the subject, see this disclaimer, if you have not already read it.

From there they slid into a discussion of the state of American science, probably because Berger had written a column on the subject.  All were sure that federal support for science was inadequate; none had any numbers, or knew that the federal support for science had grown rapidly during the first years of the Bush administration, after stagnating under Clinton.

At the end of the show, they came back to the main subject of last week's show, Proposition 1, which will spend billions to build a few roads here — and extend a very wasteful light rail system.  The gang opposes the roads and supports the light rail.  Why became a little clearer from what Westneat said.  He had gone down to Portland, ridden their light rail system, enjoyed it, and spoken to other riders who enjoyed it, too.  Westneat did not say how much his joyride cost — not what he was charged, but what it cost, since the rides are heavily subsidized — and the other three were not interested in that point either.

Do any of the gang have limits on the amount they want others to pay to subsidize these joyrides on light rail?  Presumably, but none mentioned them.  Nor did Westneat consider the idea that he should pay for his own joyrides.  Or even half of his own joyrides.  For the gang, light rail is good in itself, and the costs only set limits on how much of this good thing we can buy.   (Full disclosure: I rode the subway to work for several years while I was living in Chicago, and have ridden subways in New York, Washington, D.C., London, and Paris, so I have some personal experience with light rail.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.  (Which Westneat mentioned, without naming.)

(The grade today was 0.07, mostly because Scher mentioned the British court decision, and because Berger noted that Sound Transit had not delivered what it had promised the last time it asked the taxpayers for money.  The grade might have been higher had Parvaz not included, as she usually does, some adolescent insults for President Bush.  I am not sure that she understands that when she says that President Bush and Mahmoud Ahmandinejad are "two sides of the same coin", or that the Bush administration is "intellectually bankrupt", she discredits herself.

If I recall correctly, Scher read one email from someone who was not a leftist, which also helped their grade.

As I usually do, I heard a significant factual error.  Scher said that the peace prize was Swedish; in fact it is awarded by a Norwegian committee, unlike the other Nobel prizes.  None of the others caught his mistake.)
- 3:17 PM, 12 October 2007   [link]

Bumpass Hell, Part 1:  After looking over the Sulphur Works and having a little lunch, we hiked down to an even more active area of Lassen Volcanic National Park, Bumpass Hell.

Bumpass Hell 1, 2007

The name comes from an unfortunate cowboy, Kendall Vanbook Bumpass.
One day Bumpass stumbled upon the area and his leg was badly scalded when it broke though a thin crust above a mud pot.  He told his friends and townspeople about it, describing it as "hell."  A newspaper editor was interested in the story and convinced Bumpass to take him to this place.  Unfortunately, Bumpass' leg broke through the crust again - this time it had to be amputated.
As you can tell from the picture, there are now walkways to protect visitors from similar accidents.  Walkways with many warning signs about the dangers.

We could smell the area long before we could see it, and we could hear the activity even from where this picture was taken.

As you can tell from the picture, the 16 acres there are being rapidly eroded away as the sulphur compounds break down the rock and soften the soil.  The little ponds you can see in the picture look much less appetizing when you get closer.  There are, I am sure, some very interesting bacteria in those ponds, but not much else grows there.

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

You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours here and here.)
- 12:52 PM, 12 October 2007   [link]

What Did Jimmy Carter Learn From His Failed Presidency?  That he should have sent one more helicopter on the hostage rescue mission.
Speaking with XM Radio's Bob Edwards on Tuesday, former President Jimmy Carter (you know, the guy who gave the "malaise" speech) told the radio host that he "would not want to have changed anything" during his presidency.

Well, okay, maybe one thing.  Referring to the Iran hostage crisis, Carter said, "I have a specific regret in not having one more helicopter when I wanted to rescue our hostages.  If I had had one more helicopter, they would have been rescued.  I might have been reelected president."
What makes this especially strange is that Carter — to his credit — recognized, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, that he had been too optimistic about the Soviet Union, and changed course.   Among other things, he began the build up of the American military that Reagan continued.  But now, he can't admit that his earlier policies were wrong — even though he changed them at the time.
- 9:33 AM, 12 October 2007   [link]

Exquisite Timing:  Two days ago, a British judge found that Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, had nine serious errors.
Mr Justice Burton identified nine significant errors within the former presidential candidate's documentary as he assessed whether it should be shown to school children.  He agreed that Mr Gore's film was "broadly accurate" in its presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change but said that some of the claims were wrong and had arisen in "the context of alarmism and exaggeration".

In what is a rare judicial ruling on what children can see in the class-room, Mr Justice Barton was at pains to point out that the "apocalyptic vision" presented in the film was politically partisan and not an impartial analysis of the science of climate change.
In Britain, the public schools are not allowed to show politically partisan films, which is why this ended up in court.  As I understand it, the judge has ruled that the film may be shown, but that it must be accompanied with warning labels, or something like them.

The story that I linked to has a set of graphics illustrating the nine errors.  The most significant is this one: [Justice Burton] "also questioned Mr Gore's use of a chart suggesting a 650,000-year correlation between CO2 levels and global temperature."  But that correlation is the key to the argument made by Gore and other climate alarmists.

Today, as I am sure you know, Al Gore was reprimanded with the Nobel Peace Prize.   The reprimand was not as fitting as many recent reprimands; Gore has made a bad propaganda movie, but he has not made war more likely.  But it is wonderful that Gore received the reprimand just after a British judge ruled that his film is not fit, by itself, for British children.

(With nice timing, someone dug up the Washington Post's account of Gore's mediocre academic record.  It will not fill you with confidence about his ability to handle complex scientific questions.

Many are speculating about Gore's political plans; you can find a collection of speculations here.   I don't have any strong opinion on whether he will run for president or not, but I would say that he seems to be enjoying his new career as an unscrupulous televangelist more than he did his previous career as an often unscrupulous politician.)
- 5:41 AM, 12 October 2007
More:  John Podhoretz agrees with me that Gore appears happier (and more authentic) since he lost the 2000 election.
- 8:40 AM, 16 October 2007   [link]

Shots Before Visiting NASCAR?  Congressman Hayes is insulted.
House Homeland Security Committee staffers are on a peculiar mission to study "public health issues at events involving mass gatherings," which has personally insulted Rep. Robin Hayes of Concord, North Carolina.

The event: NASCAR.

The rub: the requirement that the Democrat and Republican staffers attending first be immunized against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria, and influenza.
Hayes doesn't think that's necessary, and I am pretty sure most doctors would agree with him.

Was bigotry behind this shots requirement?  It's is hard to think of another explanation.   The committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, isn't talking, so we don't have an alternate explanation.

(Democratic staffers got the shots; Republican staffers didn't)
- 12:55 PM, 11 October 2007
More:  The Medpundit says that the shots were not necessary.  Though flu shots might be a good idea in a few months.
- 1:05 PM, 15 October 2007   [link]

Is It Our Fault That Campaign Coverage Is Often Silly?  Howard Kurtz thinks it might be.
It's easy to blame the media for all that is wrong with campaign coverage in the 21st century, and I'm not shy about doing that.

But what if the problem is . . . you? That's right.  What if people are actually gorging on the silly and salacious stuff that they tell pollsters they don't want in their media diet?
Kurtz then uses Google searches to show that many of us are interested in the silly and the salacious.  What he finds should not surprise anyone who has noticed the popularity of the gossip magazines.

But it need not be an either/or question.  The media is delighted by some silly and salacious stories.  (Though not others.)  They did endless stories on the Mark Foley "sex" scandal, which involved no actual sex or broken laws, and are still delighted by any chance to mention Larry Craig, which also involved no actual sex or broken laws.  (Yes, I know he pled guilty to a misdemeanor, but I think that he would have won if the case had gone to court.)

Nor is the desire to find out about individuals necessarily silly.  For example, Kurtz mentions the many searches done to verify that Congressman Kucinich's wife (who is much younger and taller than he is) actually has a pierced tongue.  (She does.)  But doesn't that fact tell us something about both her and him?  Something that may be worth knowing, as we try to evaluate him as a possible president?  I think so.

I am not much troubled by the silly and salacious stories — within limits — but I am troubled by the lack of substantive stories, a lack that I try, from time to time, to remedy.
- 10:49 AM, 11 October 2007   [link]

Worried About That Israeli Attack On Syria?  Relax.  The Syrians say that the raid was repulsed, and that it hit an empty building.  So, no need to get too concerned.

There are people, cynical people, no doubt, who think that these Syrian denials are evidence that they were up to no good.

(The Syrians also say that it did not hit the location claimed by one Israeli journalist.  Incidentally, the headline for the article is inaccurate.  The Syrians are not saying that no raid occurred, but that it did not occur at the research center in Deir ez Zor.  It is possible they are telling the truth about that.)
- 6:50 AM, 11 October 2007   [link]

Welcome Canadians!  And a few new Americans.
I'm a born-bred Canadian, as well as my daughter and son, and I'm ashamed," Jill Irvine told FOX News.  Irvine's daughter, Carri Ash, is one of at least 40 mothers or their babies who've been airlifted from British Columbia to the U.S. this year because Canadian hospitals didn't have room for the preemies in their neonatal units.
New Americans because if the babies are born in the United States, they are American citizens — if they want to be.

In some ways this is a little puzzling, since one would expect that a bureaucracy could make reasonably accurate predictions about births, and the number of hospital beds they would need for them.

(And we soon may be welcoming expectant mothers from Britain, where they may have a similar problem.)
- 6:29 AM, 11 October 2007   [link]

The Shame Of Seattle:  On Monday morning, I was interviewed by Dan Sytman and David Boze on KTTH about my post on the homeless in Seattle.   After the interview, and after receiving some critical emails, I thought that I should repeat the central argument of that post, but make it more direct.

Seattle has a serious homeless problem.  Anyone who wants to verify that can do so by taking a couple of hours, as I did, to walk around Seattle's downtown parks, many of which have been taken over by the homeless.

This is shameful.  Seattle should be ashamed that ordinary citizens are afraid to eat lunch in a downtown park, ashamed that parents do not dare to bring their children to play in those same parks.

It is also shameful that Seattle allows (or tolerates, or encourages) anyone living like this.   For years I thought that the strongest argument for welfare reform was the damage that welfare did to those who received it.  (By the way, many on welfare, and many in neighborhoods where welfare was common, agreed with that argument.)  Similarly, if you care about the homeless, if you want them to have better lives, as I do, you will see their present condition in Seattle as shameful.  You will want something done about the homeless for their own sake.

If, that is, you actually care about the homeless.

As far as I can tell, on the whole Seattle does not care about the homeless.  Consider this fact:  Almost no one blames city officials for this shameful problem.  No one is saying, for example, that, if Mayor Greg Nickels does not do something about the homeless problem, then he does not deserve reelection.  (Partly that's because he's a Democrat and our local journalists are reluctant, to put it mildly, to blame elected Democrats for anything.  But only partly.)  Neither Seattle paper seems much interested in the problem, and it does not seem to be an issue in the city council races, as far as I can tell from across Lake Washington.

Next week, I have a follow-up post to show that the problem can be alleviated, and the week after that a post with some ideas on how it could be alleviated.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 3:39 PM, 10 October 2007   [link]

Suggestions For The New Site?  Next week I hope to start coding the new site.  I know generally how I want it to look.  It will use a tabbed menu bar to hide much of the current clutter, and will have an index for the right hand column, so that you can find particular categories of posts quickly.  (I plan to keep a limited number of categories there, rather than provide a general index, because I think that approach works better for most readers.)

Although it is unusual, I plan to keep the current flexible middle column because I think that makes it easier to read on different resolutions.  (Didn't know it was flexible?  Try moving the right side of your browser window and see.)  And I plan to keep the current fonts, for the same reason.

On the left hand side I plan to add a category for war coverage, since, if your local papers are anything like mine, you are not getting both sides of the story.  (Maybe just milblogs, but probably more.)

One faithful reader has already made a suggestion that I plan to use.  Currently, the posts are stored in archive files, with four files for each month.  As he noted, this makes it hard to email individual posts to friends.  It also makes it just a little slower, sometimes, to get to a post from a link.  So I plan to replace the current system with one that uses a single file for each post.

Any other suggestions? (Other than the obvious, like cleaning up the blogroll.  I have decided that I ought to review it regularly, perhaps once a quarter, but won't promise that I will actually do that.)

Before you send any suggestions, please remember this:  The site is hand coded, and I plan to keep it that way, because I enjoy tinkering with it from time to time.  But I am no web design expert, and so I will be less likely to implement a change that requires me to spend a lot of time studying or coding.  (But I have no objection to borrowing code to add features.  I am fairly sure, for instance, that I can find code to add a Google search to the archives, and I plan to do just that.)

I have been asked several times about adding comments.  What I think I will do is add "forums" — for some posts.  They will be something like the forums at Power Line, if you are familiar with that site, except that I will set up forums only for some posts.  This is one of the changes that requires a fair amount of work, so don't expect them soon.  One thing I might do, though it slows things down, is require all comments to be approved.  This may seem harsh, but you would be amazed at how much work there can be in policing comments, getting rid of spam, keeping out obscene language and libel, and even removing whole copyrighted articles.

Finally, I have a question for those who are using slow internet connections.  In general, does the site load quickly enough?  What about when I post one or more large pictures?   (There are several things I could do to speed up the display of pictures, for instance, compressing them more, at some loss in quality.  Or, I could use more thumbnails that link to larger pictures, though that would require more work for each picture, unless I automated it.)
- 1:37 PM, 10 October 2007   [link]

What Makes Jane Smiley Happy?  Terrible things happening to the United States.   Here's a sample:
It was a pleasant weekend for those of us who have been against the Iraq War from the beginning.  The Washington Post had an article on the bitterness and regrets of those in the Bush administration who concocted and ran the war and have now left.  Some of them have nightmares.  Nothing like the nightmares of the prisoners of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo or the Black Sites, but hey, a few nightmares are progress.
And there is much more along those lines.  I can't help suspecting that the reports of progress in Iraq, lower casualties for American soldiers and fewer Iraqis being murdered, may have ruined previous weekends for her.  If, that is, she believed those reports.

It is hard for me to understand how anyone living in the United States could be so filled with rage, especially someone like Smiley, who has, from what I can tell, led a successful and privileged life.

(If you are like me, you are only vaguely aware of who Jane Smiley is.  Here's a Wikipedia biography of the writer, with the basics of her life, and some of her best known lines.  Here, for example, is what she thinks of the Bush administration.
In a just world, these people would be taken out and shot.
(She probably opposes capital punishment, but is willing to make exceptions.)

And what she thinks of those who voted for him in 2004:
The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry . . . I suppose the good news is that 55 million Americans have evaded the ignorance-inducing machine.  But 58 millions have not . . . Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states . . .
It is good to see such respect for political opponents and ordinary American voters.)
- 11:14 AM, 10 October 2007   [link]

The Democratic Race Isn't Over:  In fact, the starting gun hasn't even fired.  You have probably seen some of the same articles and columns on the inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton that I have.  I don't believe them, and you shouldn't either.  Her nomination is by no means inevitable, though she is the clear favorite.

Those who argue that she is inevitable usually cite her strong lead in national polls of Democratic voters.  Those polls are not irrelevant, but they are not as important as they seem, because the first test is in Iowa, where the polls show a virtual three way tie between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.  (And, as you probably know, Iowa does not have a primary, but caucuses, which can be difficult to predict with standard polling methods.)

So, it is entirely possible that she will lose the Iowa caucuses.  In fact, at this point, I would say that it is more likely that she will lose than that she will win.  And if she does lose in Iowa, then what?  Then, judging by recent nomination fights, one would expect support to flow to her successful opponent (and perhaps to a third candidate, if that opponent is unacceptable to large segments of the party).  And if that opponent is able to use the gains from Iowa to win one or two of the primaries in the weeks after Iowa, then, at the very least, the race would be open, and the same people who are now doing stories on her inevitability would be touting her opponents.

There are issues that Edwards and Obama can use to undermine her support in Iowa.  Democratic voters are strongly opposed to the Iraq war, especially the highly motivated voters who are willing to go to caucuses.  Iowa voters are less tolerant of corruption than voters in most other states.  It is easy to see how her opponents might use the Hsu scandal to remind Iowa voters of all the other Clinton scandals.  (Richardson, now running fourth in the polls, could use the first issue, but might not be as successful using the second, since he was a member of Bill Clinton's cabinet.)

(More:  Dick Morris, discussing the Republican race, explains why the polls are inconsistent.   The Washington Times reminds us of the shifts in Iowa in the 2004 fight.)
- 8:29 AM, 10 October 2007
Still More:  The Clinton team appears to agree with my analysis, and is working very hard in Iowa.   According to the article, Clinton's organization is weaker than those of her two principal competitors, Edwards and Obama.)
- 8:49 AM, 10 October 2007   [link]

How Far Will Kids Go To Get Admitted To The Right College?  Some are even willing to write thank you letters.
Call it a testament to how carefully students court college admissions offices these days: Thank-you notes have become the new frontier.
. . .
Woody O'Cain, the admissions director at Furman University in South Carolina, said he received thousands each year.

"I laugh and tell people that's the kind of stuff that replaces the zeros on my paycheck," Mr. O'Cain said.  "I realize a lot of them are strategic.  A guidance counselor says be sure to write a thank-you note because they want it to be added to the file.  But there are plenty that are very heartfelt."
I sometimes meet high school kids who don't understand that thank you letters are not just the right thing to do, but, in some cases, the strategic thing to do.

(One mother mentioned in the article has old-fashioned standards; she sometimes took away her daughter's presents until thank you notes were written.

FWIW, Miss Manners says that thank you notes to colleges for campus tours are not required.  But all agree that those who write recommendations should be thanked formally.)
- 4:13 PM, 9 October 2007   [link]

John Tierney Has Another Example Of A False Consensus:  One that everyone ought to know about.
In 1988, the surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, proclaimed ice cream to a be public-health menace right up there with cigarettes.  Alluding to his office's famous 1964 report on the perils of smoking, Dr. Koop announced that the American diet was a problem of "comparable" magnitude, chiefly because of the high-fat foods that were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly ailments.

He introduced his report with these words: "The depth of the science base underlying its findings is even more impressive than that for tobacco and health in 1964."

That was a ludicrous statement, as Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (Knopf, 2007).  The notion that fatty foods shorten your life began as a hypothesis based on dubious assumptions and data; when scientists tried to confirm it they failed repeatedly.  The evidence against Häagen-Dazs was nothing like the evidence against Marlboros.
Koop was just stating the consensus at the time, a bipartisan consensus, as it happens.  But not one resting on a solid scientific foundation.

There's much more in the column on "cascade effects", which can produce this kind of error.  And there is this worrisome point:
Cascades are especially common in medicine as doctors take their cues from others, leading them to overdiagnose some faddish ailments (called bandwagon diseases) and overprescribe certain treatments (like the tonsillectomies once popular for children).
You can comment on the column here, if you want to.  (And if you read the comments, you will find that a number of leftists are certain that President Bush has made many of these cascade errors.)

(Here's my earlier post on mistaken scientific consensuses.)
- 2:43 PM, 9 October 2007   [link]

Worth Reading:  Ronald Bailey begin with a good question, and then provides an answer.
A Mexican migrant to the U.S. is five times more productive than one who stays home.  Why is that?

The answer is not the obvious one:  This country has more machinery or tools or natural resources.  Instead, according to some remarkable but largely ignored research—by the World Bank, of all places—it is because the average American has access to over $418,000 in intangible wealth, while the stay-at-home Mexican's intangible wealth is just $34,000.
. . .
The rest is the result of "intangible" factors—such as the trust among people in a society, an efficient judicial system, clear property rights and effective government.  All this intangible capital also boosts the productivity of labor and results in higher total wealth.  In fact, the World Bank finds, "Human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries."
According to the study, the rule of law is even more important than education.

(For an example of a country that has destroyed that intangible capital, it's hard to beat Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.)
- 12:24 PM, 9 October 2007   [link]

Jim Hoagland Has More On That Israeli Raid:  Buried near the end of this column on North Korea are some details on what was attacked.
Israel and Syria have both thrown unusual secrecy around the raid, refusing to disclose what was hit.

But highly classified U.S. intelligence reports say that the Israelis destroyed a nuclear-related facility and caused North Korean casualties at the site, which may have been intended to produce plutonium, according to a senior official with access to those reports.  The Israelis have provided the United States with photographs, physical material and soil samples from the site -- taken both before and after the raid -- according to two independent sources.
Perhaps those reports should be even more highly classified — but this is an interesting tidbit.  (And I assume it was deliberately leaked.)

By way of the National Review.

(The rest of column, on North Korea, is interesting, but also infuriating, because, as Hoagland admits, so little is known about North Korea.)
- 7:45 AM, 9 October 2007
More:  Hoagland had leaks from the Pentagon or the CIA; the New York Times counters with leaks from the State Department.  (Those who have followed these internal fights for even a short time will not be surprised to find the State Department (which does the negotiating) in favor of diplomacy, and the Defense Department (which does the fighting) in favor of military action.)
- 7:12 AM, 10 October 2007   [link]