January 2004, Part 2
Jim Miller on Politics
Mars Versus Earth: Here's a light-hearted discussion of the success Mars has had defeating our probes, with an explanation of the causes of each lost probe. Mars is way ahead on points.
(American sports fans may need an explanation of "demoted to division". As I understand it—and those who actually do should feel free to correct me—in some other countries a team that performs badly can be demoted to the minors. For example, if the NBA teams followed that procedure, the Orlando Magic, with a record of 9 wins and 30 losses, would be in danger of being moved to the CBA next year.)
While I am mentioning the funny aspects of Mars exploration, here's a comparative weather report.
According to Cornell University News Service, the temperature inside the Gusev crater on Mars measured 12 degrees early Wednesday afternoon.Finally, something serious about Mars, though it may not seem so. Nearly all scientists believe that Mars is now very dry. There are good reasons for that, which makes some of the pictures from Spirit, which show what looks like mud, all the more puzzling.
- 1:10 PM, 16 January 2004 [link]
"The Reason": Another rhetorical trick used by Bush opponents is to claim that Saddam's WMDs were "the reason" we liberated Iraq. Local talk show host Dave Ross of KIRO radio used that trick after being defeated in an interview by Vice President Dick Cheney. (You can listen to the interview here.) After the interview, perhaps smarting from his defeat, Ross argued, using just that phrase, that "the reason" we liberated Iraq was Saddam's WMDs. Since we have not found warheads yet, Ross concluded that the whole premise for the war was false.
(Somewhat contradictorily, Ross also mentioned Saddam's connection to terrorism—and got that wrong, too. What the administration has said quite consistently about Saddam and terrorism is this: Saddam gave open support to some terrorists. He may have worked with al Qaeda in various ways, but the extent of the connections is still obscure. Both points are undeniable. This is not difficult to get right, but Ross, like many other Bush opponents, has trouble doing so.)
It is dishonest to claim that the Bush administration had just one reason for liberating Iraq because they consistently gave many reasons. You could hear them in Bush's speech to the United Nations a little more than a year ago, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, and in Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations just before the war. In the State of the Union speech, for example, Bush mentions the importance of upholding the United Nations, Saddam's violations of the ceasefire agreement that halted the first Gulf War, Saddam's support for terrorism, and the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam's rule. (I have argued, from the beginning, that Saddam's violations of the ceasefire agreement were, by themselves, a legitimate reason to end the ceasefire, though they did not require us to do so.)
For some other supporters of the liberation, these other reasons were the important ones. That was true for a number of honest people on the left, notably Labour MP Ann Clywd and journalist Johann Hari.
There was not just one reason for liberating Iraq and Bush opponents like Dave Ross should be honest enough to admit that. To say "the reason" is to deceive.
Even with the WMDs, the situation is not as Ross appears to think. American intelligence was worried not so much about Saddam's weapons, but his programs, not the shells in the stockpiles, but the scientists and technologists working on creating more. The Kay report, presented to Congress last October, still serves as a good summary of our current knowledge. It is true that:
We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone. We are actively engaged in searching for such weapons based on information being supplied to us by Iraqis.But it is also true that:
We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002.And that discovery of "dozens" of activities proves the essential point that the Bush administration made before the liberation. Saddam was working on WMDs, just as Bush and Powell said. Cheney tried to explain this to Ross during the interview, but Ross seemed not to understand him.
Is there any chance Ross will correct this? Not much. He is poor at corrections, as many on the left are, in my opinion. Nor is it likely that he will allow a caller to his show to make these corrections. To the best of my knowledge, he does not regularly have "open line" times or "disagreement days".
- 10:04 AM, 16 January 2004 [link]
Some Political Charges Are Just Too Useful To Correct: In his latest column, Matthew Miller repeats the charge, which we have heard so many times before.
White House deception in a State of the Union address actually preceded the infamous 18 words on uranium in Niger last year.And what were those "infamous" 16 words? Using powerful search techniques, I found the words here. (I went to www.whitehouse.gov, where you can find the speech listed under major speeches. Which just shows you how tricky the Bush White House can be.)
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.These 18 words have been converted by Bush's opponents to a claim that "the United States knows that Saddam Hussein bought uranium from Niger", which is wrong in several ways. First, we were repeating a claim that came from British intelligence, a claim that the British government sticks to. (Later the Bush administration backed away from these words, not because they were false, but because we could not independently confirm the British intelligence.)
Second, Bush is saying that Saddam tried to buy uranium in Africa, not that he succeeded. (Although it drew almost no attention, former ambassador Joseph Wilson once made a similar statement. He, too had seen reports that Saddam attempted to buy uranium.) Third, as Matthew Miller should know, Bush did not say Niger, but "Africa".
Now why are these words infamous? And where is the "deception"?
The rest of the column is devoted to gleefully recycling some of the more sensational charges in the Suskind book, written with the help of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. Miller must have rushed his column, because he does not mention that O'Neill has backed off from some of his more controversial statements and will probably vote for Bush this year.
(Matthew Miller worked in the Clinton administration as a budget analyst. Sometimes his columns reflect the views of an honest budget analyst. And sometimes, as in this latest, they reflect the no holds barred partisanship so characteristic of the Clinton administration. That partisanship will lead readers who are not themselves blind partisans to distrust the rest of his work, rightly. It is that partisanship, in fact, that has kept me from even looking at his book, though parts of it sound interesting.
And one last amusing point. Miller is on a National Public Radio weekly show, "Left, Right, & Center". He's the "Center", which shows just how far left NPR is.)
- 6:46 AM, 16 January 2004 [link]
Muslims Don't Get Along Well With Jews, as everyone knows. Muslims don't get along well with Christians, as anyone familiar with the history of the last millennium knows. Muslims don't get along well with secularists, as anyone who reads the news from Europe knows. Muslims don't get along well with animists and pagans, as anyone who has read about the civil war in the Sudan knows. Muslims don't get along well with Hindus (or Sikhs), as anyone familiar with the history of India knows. Today, I was not surprised to learn that Muslims do not get along well with Buddhists. Muslim separatists attacked an army camp in southern Thailand, and then showed why Muslims have trouble getting along with others.
The raiders had rounded up the soldiers at the camp and tried to separate Buddhist from Muslim soldiers, the source said.This may have been a mistake. Although Thailand is a mostly Buddhist country, it does not have a pacifist tradition. Thailand's history is filled with rulers who were both Buddhists and remarkable warriors.
- 2:31 PM, 15 January 2004 [link]
Worth Reading: The best columns at the Seattle Times often come, not from one of their regular employees, but from "guest columnist" Matt Rosenberg, a Seattle writer. Three recent columns on Iraqi blogs, global democracy, and charter schools will show you why I say that.
What I especially admire about his columns is their honest advocacy. Rosenberg makes arguments, rather than attacking partisan opponents. He wants to improve the world, not knock down his political enemies. I don't agree with everything he says, not even in those three columns, but I always enjoy his columns and often learn from them.
- 1:48 PM, 15 January 2004 [link]
If Don't Like Political Ads, be glad you are not in Iowa. So far, the Democratic candidates have spent $90 per caucus participant on television ads. Or, $100 per participant, according to Reuters. Although this level of spending must set all kinds of records, so far I haven't seen any charges that Howard Dean, who is spending the most, is trying to "buy" the election
- 1:09 PM, 15 January 2004 [link]
Global Freezing: In the 2000 election, Al Gore showed that he was one of the more inept politicians ever to win a major party's nomination. For more evidence that Gore simply wasn't meant for a political career, consider the timing of his latest speech on global warming.
Accuweather is predicting the temperature will reach a high of a bone-rattling 14 degrees this morning - accompanied by snow and high winds - while Gore blasts the Bush administration's policy on global warming.Now, as I have said before, the weather on any particular day or week says almost nothing about global warming. But the timing of the speech does illustrate, once again, Gore's terrible political judgment.
- 10:02 AM, 15 January 2004 [link]
Free Spirit: The Mars Rover is out of its lander and ready to begin exploring.
Controllers called it the most significant 10 feet (3 meter) drive in history. The drive took 78 seconds, ending with the back of the rover about 2.6 feet (80 centimeters) from the foot of the egress ramp.This part of the mission was one of the most worrisome to NASA, judging by the extra time they took to do it, after the original path was blocked by one of the air bags.
It is too soon to say that Spirit will be a complete success, but the odds now look very good that it will be. And, it is worth remembering that most missions to land on Mars have failed completely, so even this partial success beats the curve.
- 8:17 AM, 15 January 2004 [link]
Every American Campaign Draws A Few People who see it mainly as an opportunity for humor. (Well, almost every campaign. If there were humorists in the 1968 campaign, I sure missed them, and I doubt that many laughed during the 1864 or 1944 campaigns.) This year, Republican Kevin Schmidt has been illustrating the description of the Democratic candidates as nine dwarfs by getting photographed next to them. Since Schmidt is almost tall enough to play forward in the NBA, at 6 foot 7 inches, this sometimes results in absurd visual contrasts.
Here's Schmidt's site. You can find the pictures of Schmidt with the candidates near the bottom of the left column.
Some of his posts catch the goofiness that is a part of our campaigns, but often overlooked by serious journalists. I rather liked this story from a post on December 29th.
Well, it was Sunday night in Des Moines, and since there really wasn't anything else to do, I, along with my father, went to see Howard Dean have a milkshake poured on his head. Dean was at Stella's, a 1950's style café in Urbandale, a suburb of Des Moines, on his Caucus 4 Change tour.And the sight would be, too. Oh well, we know what he means.
- 6:37 AM, 15 January 2004
More: Emailer Doug Sundseth reminded me that, in 1968, comedian Pat Paulsen ran for president as a candidate of the STAG (Straight Talking American Government) party. He had so much fun doing it and got so much press that he repeated the run in 1972, 1992, and 1996. Here's a site Sundseth found with a sketch of Paulsen's career.
I may have forgotten Paulsen's run because I have such strong memories of the disasters that year, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the riots in many major cities, including those during the Democratic convention. I was living in Chicago then and left to avoid that riot, since I had almost been caught in the one that followed King's assassination. At the time, I was sharing an apartment with a reporter for a news service that covered local news for the four main Chicago newspapers. He had the unpleasant experience of first having rocks thrown at his car by the demonstrators, or "hippies" as they were called then, and then having the Chicago police beat on his car with their nightsticks.
- 8:37 AM, 16 January 2004 [link]
Free Speech Is Mostly Respected In Britain: But there are exceptions.
A preacher who held up a sign in a town square calling for an end to homosexuality, lesbianism and immorality was "properly convicted" of a criminal offence, the High Court ruled yesterday.Hammond was physically attacked while holding his sign, but the article does not mention any arrests of his attackers.
The sign caused a furore as a group of 30 to 40 people gathered round. Mr Hammond had soil thrown at him and water poured over his head.I wonder what British authorities would do to Episcopalian clerics from Nigeria, or Muslim leaders from almost anywhere, who made the same arguments as Hammond did.
- 3:41 PM, 14 January 2004 [link]
Canada's Largest Newspaper says that President Bush is like Hitler. Or perhaps not quite as good. Columnist Thomas Walkom admits that Bush has not done what made Hitler infamous:
He [Bush] has constructed no death camps and only one concentration camp—at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.(Guantanamo is not a concentration camp.) But he also sees Bush as less admirable than Hitler in some ways.
True, also, that the U.S. leader shares Hitler's taste for military costumesValthough to be fair to the German dictator, he did serve on active duty in wartime.(And, no, Bush has no special taste for military costumes. He wore a flight suit for the carrier landing because regulations require it for someone sitting in a pilot's or copilot's seat.)
Having established the similarities between Bush and Hitler to his own satisfaction, Walkom goes on to smear Canadian politicians who try to get along with Bush. Those who do, he thinks, are like the leaders of the small European countries who tried to appease Hitler. (He gets the history wrong in some of his comparisons. For example, Belgium was first allied to France and then shifted to neutralism after German power grew.) One wonders. Does Canada have laws against slander? The current Prime Minister, Paul Martin, would seem to have an excellent case against Mr. Walkom, just on the basis of this column.
This is not a small matter. The Toronto Star has a daily circulation of more than 460,000. An American newspaper with the same share of our market would have a circulation of about 4,500,000. No American newspaper comes close to that.
To be fair, I should add that when I checked today's edition of the Star, I found this editorial applauding progress that President Bush and Prime Minister Martin made in their talks at the Americas summit. I did not find any letters attacking Walkom's column, however.
It was gratifying to see this reply to the column from a competitor of the Star, and attacks on it from Canadian bloggers Damian Penny and Bruce Rolston.
- 3:21 PM, 14 January 2004
A Correction And More: I originally put the circulation of the Star at 480,000 daily. I have corrected it above.
Today's Star has several letters criticizing the column; the best, I think, is one from Len Rudner, writing for the Canadian Jewish Congress:
[Walkom's] comparison is an insult to those who suffered, died and sacrificed to destroy Nazism and it is an insult to the government and the people of the United States of America.More that 40,000 of those who died were Canadian, as Walkom may have forgotten. Rudner makes an important point. It is absurd to compare Bush to Hitler, and it is obscene to diminish Hitler's crimes by this kind of comparison.
The Star also published two letters from Americans, both silly, though from opposite sides. One attacked the Walkom column in a way guaranteed to cause offense; the other, a reply to the editorial, urged Canadians to be hostile to the United States—as long as Bush is president.
- 7:35 AM, 15 January 2004 [link]
Howard Dean Urged Unilateral Military Action in Bosnia during the Clinton administration. Here's the text of his 1995 letter to Clinton. The humanitarian arguments he makes in the letter would apply to Saddam's Iraq, as well, though I doubt that he would admit that now. He does not make a strategic argument for intervention in Bosnia; he favored intervention because he thought it was the right thing to do, not because he thought that the United States would gain from it.
Dean's letter reminds me of George McGovern's switch on Cambodia, though McGovern switched in the opposite direction. When the Khmer Rouge first took over Cambodia, McGovern thought that they would be an improvement over previous American-backed regimes. In 1972, he campaigned for president promising to bring the boys home, promising to withdraw from all of Southeast Asia. McGovern, like others on the left, had come to be so suspicious of the American government that he preferred to believe propaganda from a Communist movement.
By 1978, enough stories had come out of Cambodia to show McGovern that he had been wrong. Here's how Samantha Power describes his switch in her book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.
But McGovern had come to the conclusion that events in Cambodia amounted to genocide, and for him this carried steep and unavoidable consequences. McGovern felt such a diagnosis meant first that the United States had to condemn the KR, which it had hardly done at all since the terror began. But it also meant that the United States had to contribute its military might to stopping the horrors. In August 1978 Senator McGovern publicly urged the Carter administration to consider deploying an international military force to launch a humanitarian intervention. It was time for the United States and its allies to ask, "Do we sit on the sidelines and watch an entire people be slaughtered, or do we marshall military forces and move in quietly to put an end to it?" (pp. 132-133)McGovern argued that our previous intervention in Southeast Asia gave us more responsibility, not less, to stop the genocide.
His statement got a flurry of attention, but no one in the Carter administration gave any serious thought to the idea. Carter combined a taste for smarmy statements about human rights with a childish idea of real politics. Since we were working with China to counterbalance the Soviet Union, the Carter administration chose to ignore the genocide committed by China's small ally, Cambodia.
(This switch shows McGovern's strengths and weaknesses. He was a fundamentally decent man and a brave one. He piloted a B24 on 35 missions during World War II and won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism on one of them. But he was also a man who was poor at seeing the world clearly, as his early support for a takeover by the Khmer Rouge showed.)
- 1:25 PM, 14 January 2004 [link]
Iowa Caucuses Get Covered as if they were primaries. But they aren't. They draw many fewer people. There are about 550,000 registered Democrats in Iowa. In 2000, just 61,000 attended the Iowa caucuses at the beginning of the Gore-Bradley contest. This year about 100,000 are expected, about as many as are drawn by a major college football game. With turnout this low, the participants are usually unrepresentative of their parties, sometimes drastically so.
Caucus rules are very different from primary rules; they really are caucuses, in which people vote many times, bargain, and form coalitions. The procedures are complex enough so that initial results, with all the political talk they generate, are often wrong and must be corrected weeks later. (If you are curious about those procedures, here's a description from a New York Times article.) Corrections are especially likely with candidates in third place or lower.
All these differences make predictions about and from the results of the caucuses, difficult. Do not be surprised if, late Sunday, there are results that do not match the polls. And, do not be surprised if the winner of the Iowa caucuses goes on to lose one or more primaries, especially those open to independents.
- 7:45 AM, 14 January 2004 [link]
Paul O'Neill Is Already Backing Away from his criticisms of President Bush. He has more or less disowned the "blind man in a room of deaf people" quote, and told Katie Couric that he probably would vote for President Bush in November. Much to her displeasure, I'm sure.
O'Neill's performance reminds me of the Philadelphia athlete who had a book ghost written for him. When the athlete was asked about some of the more controversial incidents in the book, he said he hadn't read it. Similarly, perhaps O'Neill should deny ever having spoken to Ron Suskind, if it isn't too late for that.
- 10:19 AM, 13 January 2004 [link]
Having Trouble With Your Computer? Maybe it has too many potatoes. This sounds like a story of a remarkably inept scam, but I can't help but think there may be more to it.
- 7:30 AM, 13 January 2004 [link]
British Doctor Harold Shipman is not someone most Americans have heard of. But we should know about him, since there are lessons in his murderous career, now ended for good by his suicide.
He was jailed for life in January 2000 for murdering 15 patients while working in Hyde, Greater Manchester.I don't know of any American doctors or nurses who have killed that many, but more than one has taken advantage of their access to patients and drugs to become serial killers. James Stewart's book, Blind Eye, is a meticulous investigation of one of them, Dr. Michael Swango, who may have killed 35 people. Stewart mentions others, including nurse's aide Donald Harvey who confessed to killing 52.
Several things helped Swango escape detection for so long, and I suspect that similar factors may have helped Shipman. First, of course, is that we are naturally less suspicious when a person who is ill dies. Second, medical professionals find it very hard to suspect their fellow professionals, especially doctors. At several points in his career, Swango was rescued by other doctors who chose to ignore what nurses and relatives had said about his actions. Third, the law enforcement people who pursued him were inept to an extent that would be comical if the results had not been so tragic.
There is a technical fix that might make killing by medical professionals easier to detect, as well as having substantial other benefits. It is possible to judge doctors and hospitals against statistical standards. Comparative studies have shown wide differences in the success rates for both doctors and hospitals. The studies have been done to find ways to help doctors and hospitals improve, but similar statistical studies would make careers like Shipman's, Swango's, or Harvey's far more detectable.
- 7:21 AM, 13 January 2004
More: Those on the right tend to be unsentimental about mass murderers like Shipman, seeing his suicide as no loss. Some on the left value even people like Shipman, as several pieces in today's Guardian showed. For example, here is a column by a "former chief inspector of prisons" who is terribly bothered that a mass murderer finally took his own life. He even suggests that life sentences be abolished so as to give those like Shipman some hope. (Not that there are many in that category; if I understand what he means by a "natural life" sentence, there are only "some 20" British prisoners who must plan on never getting out. That seems extraordinarily low to me.)
- 8:19 AM, 14 January 2004 [link]
Idaho Just Can't Get Any Respect From The Seattle Times: In August, reporter David Postman left Idaho out of the Northwest. In October, columnist Floyd McKay did the same thing. And yesterday, staff columnist Kate Riley implied that Idaho is not a border state. A glance at a map of Idaho, for example, here, will show you that Idaho has a small border with Canada. Well, I did say, just yesterday. that many Americans were ignorant of geography.
It is unfortunate that the Seattle Times does not know more about Idaho. The eastern part of Washington state has an economy that is similar to Idaho's, but is doing much worse. This state may have something to learn something from Idaho—if only that cities like Seattle are a drag on rural areas.
(The rest of the column is a sensible discussion of immigration problems. Most of Riley's columns are reasonable, though she did fall for the "if we don't do everything we can to preserve the privacy of terrorists, we aren't true librarians" nonsense.)
- 5:46 AM, 13 January 2004 [link]
Follow Up On AIDS In Africa: Four weeks ago, I mentioned the dissenting view about AIDS in Africa, that it was not as prevalent as commonly estimated. Now, there is a solid study from Kenya that supports that view.
A survey in Kenya has found fewer people may be infected with HIV than previously thought.(The Center for Disease Control seems to have done the actual study, with the cooperation of the Kenyan government.)
Kenya is not the only African country to have lowered its estimates of AIDS recently.
Similar population-based surveys in other African countries have also seen HIV prevalence rates downgraded.Now of course 6.7 percent is still horrific, but it is very different from 15 percent. Because AIDS tends to strike young adults, who are the most important part of any economy, a 15 percent rate would make the fear that an entire country might collapse seem reasonable. (Here's a story with some numbers on the incidence by age. Looking at them makes me wonder if the 6.7 percent figure is not for the entire population, but for those old enough to be sexually active.)
Finally, while searching for more information on Nyanza province, which has the highest incidence of AIDS in Kenya, I found this possibly relevant statistic: The province also has the highest incidence of violence against women.
- 3:13 PM, 12 January 2004 [link]
Under Construction: As you can see to the left, I have started revising the site. Most likely it will be a week or so before I finish even setting up categories for bloggers, so things will look a little unfinished for a time.
- 11:36 AM, 12 January 2004 [link]
If It Isn't A War, What Is It? In this column, Matthew Miller (who is, I must say immediately, no relation) agrees with Howard Dean that there is no war on terror.
No, in terms of the issues facing the nation in 2004, Howard Dean's most unique contribution - the place he departs from every other Democrat and all the major news media - is his correct refusal to accept George Bush and Karl Rove's language defining the post-9/11 struggle against terrorism as a "war" on terror.Miller thinks it wrong to call it a war on terror because that gives the Republicans a political advantage.
Dean's omission of the phrase "war" in this lengthy speech was no more accidental than Karl Rove's choice of it. If the indefinite struggle against terror is a "war," it de-legitimizes an entire universe of questions about White House priorities and behavior as petty distractions.This argument is so breathtaking that I hardly know where to begin. First, Miller provides not one bit of evidence that Rove had anything to do with calling the war on terror, a war. In fact, it has been called a war by a whole series of presidents, including Clinton. Second, the war on terrorism fits the standard definitions of war:
American Heritage Dictionary:(A Merriam-Webster definition I found on line is similar, but limits its first meaning to conflicts between states and nations. This is obviously wrong because it would exclude civil wars, guerrilla wars and wars in which one or more of the parties is a tribe or clan.)
Third, Miller would not even consider similar definitional sleight of hand on other subjects. Suppose that Republicans refused to call the slowdown that began in late 2000 a recession because that definition benefits Democrats. Would Miller consider that a reasonable argument, or silly beyond words?
For Dean, Miller, and anyone else who do not think we are at war with al Qaeda, let me review the basics. In 1998, al Qaeda openly declared war on the United States. They supported the Somali warlords against us in 1993. The attacked two of our embassies in Africa, killing hundreds of people. They attacked the USS Cole while it was peacefully visiting Yemen, killing a number of sailors and almost sinking the ship. As everyone knows, they attacked the United States on 9/11, killing about 3,000 people. And they followed that with attacks on our friends and allies in Bali, Tunisia, and other places.
It is true, as a matter of crude political calculation, that the war on terror helps Bush and Republicans. That is because Bush has a clear plan to fight the war and is executing that plan with some success. Democrats will do best, even politically, not by denying that we are in a war, but by developing their own strategies to fight it. When Howard Dean denies that we are in a war with al Qaeda, he provides more evidence that he is not fit to be president—unless you think delusions are desirable qualities in that office.
- 11:31 AM, 12 January 2004 [link]
Touchy, Touchy: The Guardian reads the United Kingdom entry in the latest edition of the New York Times Almanac and feels slighted.
For there, nestling amid the basic statistical and administrative information about this country - "Location: northwestern Europe", "Monetary unit: British pound" and the rest of it - comes this sobering assessment of our own dear country: "Slightly smaller than Oregon."The Guardian thinks these comparisons to American states comes from the CIA Fact Book, but similar ones can be found in American writing from before 1776. (And they offended some Britons then, too.) The comparisons are not putdowns, but an effort to cope with the widespread ignorance of basic geography in this country. Many Americans who know little about world geography can still recognize most of our states.
(Though other Americans have trouble with that part of geography, too. When I lived in the Midwest and the Northeast, I more than once ran into people who thought that Seattle was in the state of Oregon. I concluded that they knew about Oregon from studying the Oregon Trail in grade school and about Seattle since it is the largest city in the region, so that putting Seattle in Oregon seemed natural to them.)
I can't think of a geographical comparison that would not offend the Guardian. Would they feel better reading that "the area of the United Kingdom is about 2.5 percent of the area of the United States"? The one they suggest, "even bigger than Illinois and Indiana put together - and then some" does not seem like an improvement to me. (And may be wrong, too. The 2003 Britannica Almanac gives the area of the United Kingdom as 94,248 square miles, very slightly less than the sum of Illinois (57,918) and Indiana (36,420).)
- 8:58 AM, 12 January 2004 [link]
Regime Change In Iraq: Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has gotten considerable publicity for his charges that President Bush planned to overthrow Saddam Hussein from the very beginning of his administration. Less bitter people noted that O'Neill had the start time for regime change wrong. It was not 2001, but 1998:
Since the Clinton administration, the official position of the United States, backed by bipartisan votes in Congress, has been to call for "regime change" in Iraq. Even before taking office, Mr. Bush had spoken to exiled Iraqi opponents of Mr. Hussein about his desire to drive the Iraqi leader from power.As far as I could tell during the 2000 campaign, there was little difference between Gore and Bush on the issue of regime change in Iraq. (It is unfortunate that journalists did not make much effort to question the candidates on how they intended to achieve regime change.) Both favored it in principle, neither planned to commit many resources to it. Certainly before the 9/11 attack, the Bush administration did little to achieve regime change, other than to continue the Clinton policy of providing some aid to Iraqi exile groups. For example, there was no effort that I could see to begin training a "Free Iraq" army, something that could have been of considerable help in the campaign last year.
O'Neill makes much of the fact that there were plans for the liberation of Iraq. He errs in this because our military, like every other, makes plans all the time that no one expects to carry out. I once read that, as late as the 1920s, the American army was devising plans for an invasion of Canada. A plan, by itself, means almost nothing.
- 8:09 AM, 12 January 2004
More: The American Spectator's gossip column has this from a former Clinton official:
"We had the same stuff," says a former senior Clinton Administration aide who worked at the Pentagon. "It would have been irresponsible not to have such planning. We had all kinds of briefing material ready should the president have decided to move on Iraq. In fact, a lot of the material we had prepared was material that the previous Bush administration had left for us. It just isn't that big a deal. Or shouldn't be."
- 8:21 AM, 13 January 2004 [link]
Chemical Weapons found in Iraq. But I wouldn't make too much of it immediately, since they may be a cache left over from the Iran/Iraq war. Though the shells appear to be old, I fairly sure they were banned by the ceasefire agreement signed at the end of the first Gulf War. An Iraqi Colonel does say he has seem similar ones recently.
Ali Nimir, a former colonel in a Republican Guard artillery unit, said: "I remember seeing boxes of these kinds of armaments in our base two years ago. We were told that they were chemical weapons.Just as well they were found by Danish troops, though that won't stop our enemies from claiming that we or the British planted them.
- 3:41 PM, 11 January 2004 [link]
Killington Wants To Secede From Vermont: Town leaders at the ski resort, unhappy with Vermont's "arbitrary and capricious" tax policies, want to secede and join low tax New Hampshire. Let's see, who was governor of Vermont for most of the last decade?
- 7:24 AM, 11 January 2004 [link]
Corrections Are For Other People: Some time ago, after having one leftist blogger react rather grumpily when I reminded him that he should make a correction, and another refuse to make a correction after I had pointed out an error, I began to wonder whether there was a pattern here, whether those on the left in the blogosphere were more reluctant to make corrections than libertarians or conservatives. (I may have been more likely to suspect that those on the left were less willing to correct their mistakes from my experience with journalists like the Seattle PI's Joel Connelly and talk show hosts like KIRO's Dave Ross, both on the left and neither very good about corrections.)
To give a definitive answer to that question would require a very large study. (If you are interested in seeing one done, feel free to send me an offer, but you should know that the cost of such a study would be in six figures, at least.)
But there are ways to do a preliminary test of the idea. The way I chose is a simple one, a comparison of two leading bloggers, one a popular libertarian or conservative, and the other a popular leftist. It might seem that this would not show anything general, that the findings would be limited to those two people. I don't think that's true, because one of the things that a link to a blogger shows, or I should say often shows, is some approval of the person's ideas. Most of my links to bloggers, though not all, go to people I approve of, and I think that is true for nearly all bloggers. So, when we find a person many people link to, we find someone whose ideas and practices are widely approved and, I am sure, widely imitated.
Given my criteria, the choice of two bloggers to study seems obvious. On one side, I chose the "Instapundit", Glenn Reynolds, and on the other side "Atrios". When I last looked, "N. Z. Bear" was reporting 2121 links to Reynolds and 1288 links to Atrios.
I started by searching each site with Google for "correction". There were 9 hits on the Atrios site and 157 hits on the Instapundit site. Only 1 of the 9 hits at Atrios was to an actual correction of an error by Atrios, a silly controversy over the exact phrasing of the "nutty, slutty" description of Anita Hill. I sampled the hits at the Instapundit site and found that about 1 in 4 or 5 were corrections of his own errors.
Some use "update" to identify corrections; I've done it myself, though I think saying "correction" when you have erred is more honest. A search on the two sites found 32 hits for update at Atrios and 4260 hits at Instapundit. Some of the updates in both sites were actually corrections. I found 6 corrections in the 32 hits at Atrios. A sampling of the updates at Instapundit suggested that about 1 in 15 were actually corrections.
At this point I was convinced that the Instapundit usually corrected his mistakes. It looked like Atrios did not, so I did searches on "mistake" and "error" at his site and found almost no corrections in the 32 hits (most false) on those two terms. This finished covering the most likely cases, so I read through several months of Atrios to see if I had missed any error corrections by other names. Again, I found a few, but not many.
A neutral observer would ask me whether Atrios makes fewer mistakes than the Instapundit. Since the latter posts more often, some of the difference may simply be due to his greater number of posts. Or perhaps he is just more careless. Since I have not read all the posts of the posts of either person, I can not say for certain which has made more mistakes. But, of those that I have read, the frequency of errors is far higher for the posts by Atrios than for the posts by the Instapundit. In fact, I found many errors as I read through his posts. For example, he claimed, as many on the left have, that the story of Jessica Lynch was made up by the administration and used as propaganda. In fact, the administration did not make any public claims about about Lynch and the story came from one of the confusions inherent in war reporting. For the facts, see this post.
Or take his treatment of a larger subject that I have written about extensively, the exaggerated claims about the looting of the Baghdad museums. Many on the left (and in major news sources) swallowed the claims put out by the Baathist officials who had been running the museums, in spite of denials by the American military. When the facts came out, Atrios admitted he had been wrong, but then linked to this fierce post by Teresa Hayden where she defends Donny George, who put out most of the lies. As I understand her argument, which Atrios approves, it is all right to lie if it is for a good cause. That's not an argument that would lead anyone to put much faith in their other posts.
There is a lesson here, but it is not the one Ms. Hayden thinks. Donny George and other insiders have been accused by Iraqis of participating in the looting. The physical evidence makes it almost certain that some of the more valuable items were stolen by insiders, so there is nothing implausible about the charges. Those who defend Donny George may be defending a looter and a con man. As I understand it, it is not unusual for victims of con men to defend those who have conned them, but I doubt that Ms. Hayden wants to be in that group. And, despite what she says, there was nothing difficult about realizing that the original stories might be wrong. Here's my first post on the subject, which stands up fairly well, I think. (And, I should add that some on the right went too far the other way after it became clear that the original stories were wrong.)
Or consider the Atrios claim, made many times, that Bush was AWOL, absent without leave, from his National Guard service. Bill Hobbs, an experienced journalist, has investigated this thoroughly and come to the same conclusion that anti-Bush publications like the New York Times have, that some of Bush's paperwork is missing, something all too common in the National Guard, but that Bush almost certainly fulfilled his requirements honorably. (You can find the full set of his posts on the subject here.) If you read them, you will find a sharp contrast to Atrios; Hobbs presents the arguments on both sides and comes to a tentative conclusion. Since Hobbs has made himself something of an expert on this issue, you might think that Atrios would go to the trouble of replying to his arguments. I did not find any reply and a Google search of his site for "Hobbs" returned no hits.
The web searches, the reading of large numbers of his posts, and the examination of several issues convince me that Atrios, unlike the Instapundit, is poor about correcting his own errors. He does not grant the same leeway to those he disagrees with, as you can see in this post where he calls for the Instapundit to make a correction. Which the Instapundit does, as you can see here, providing a neat example for my general argument that libertarians and conservatives are better about correcting mistakes than those on the left. For the most part, I think it fair to say that Atrios thinks that corrections are for other people, those who do not share his rather narrow leftist views.
Let me end with this bit of advice: "On the other hand, when you make a mistake you fess up and fix it." You may be amused by the source. It is still good advice. If the author were to take it, he would have some work to do.
(A few of you may be wondering which two leftist bloggers I was referring to in the first post. All right, they are here and here.)
- 7:20 AM, 10 January 2004 [link]
Noam bin Laden, or maybe it was Osama Chomsky, was on the Chomsky Cult program this last weekend. Saturday afternoon I made careful notes about Noam Chomsky's views, as presented on the "Alternative Radio" program. I could have skipped much of my work since the Guardian's new star columnist, "Osama bin Laden" made many of the same arguments as the MIT linguist. (Chomsky was probably first, for those who care about such things, since the program was an interview done on 11 September last year.)
Chomsky and "bin Laden" agreed that the appropriate historical precedent for the United States was the Roman empire, that the United States was after control over oil, that this is a new form of colonialism, and that the Arab regimes were weak and unable to resist the US. Neither care a bit that the regime of the brutal mass murderer, Saddam Hussein, was ended. They agree that the United States has pursued consistent policies of trying to dominate the Middle East for decades and, as part of the West, for centuries.
Both found important evidence for their views in history, Chomsky from the 1953 coup in Iran, which he misrepresented seriously, and "bin Laden" from the experience of the Ghassanids. which he misrepresented seriously.
(The Ghassanids were Arabic tribes on the border of the Byzantine empire that the Byzantines subsidized to stop raiders from other Arab tribes, a policy they used with many other barbarians. After a long and devastating struggle with the Persian empire, the Byzantines stopped these subsidies out of poverty. This made it far easier for Mohamed and his successors to unite the Arabs against the Byzantines.)
Chomsky and "bin Laden" do criticize different aspects of American policy. As you would expect, "bin Laden" thinks American policy is partly a religious plot, while Chomsky does not mention that. But there were no conflicts between the two, judging by the Guardian column, which did not include the entire speech.
One place I would expect a conflict is in their different estimates of US competency. In the past, Osama bin Laden has seen the United States as helpless giant, not having the fortitude to withstand even a small attack and governed by foolish, shortsighted men. Chomsky, on the other hand, has always seen the United States as governed by wicked but competent men, who were capable of almost any level of ruthlessness. (Sometimes listening to Chomsky or reading him, I have found myself wishing that our policies really were pursued so effectively. His fantasy has some attractions when compared to the real world of bureaucratic blunder and lurches from one course to another.) In this interview, however, Chomsky said that US policy makers were blundering and, in the column, "bin Laden" made no mention of US blunders or weakness. So even that past difference has disappeared.
These strong similarities between the terrorist, and the anti-American professor, lead me to suggest, tongue in cheek, two ideas that those running the war on terror may want to pursue. First, those looking for bin Laden should check out Noam Chomsky's home. Perhaps bin Laden is hiding out in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his ideological ally. Second, perhaps Chomsky has taken up a new career at 75 and was the author of the "bin Laden" column. I don't know whether acting as a ghost writer for an (almost certainly) deceased terrorist breaks any laws or rules at MIT, but someone should certainly investigate the matter.
(And if someone with Photoshop skills wants to portray Chomsky morphing into bin Laden, let me know so I can point to it, or post it if you don't have a site of your own.)
- 8:34 AM, 9 January 2004 [link]
Peace Between Israel And The Palestinians will require an end to Palestinian terror attacks against Israel. So, are the Palestinians will even to promise an end to terrorism? No.
Palestinian organizations are refusing to accept U.S. foreign aid this year, rather than sign a pledge promising that the money will not be used to support terrorism.To my knowledge, the European Union, which sends millions to the Palestinians, does not require a similar pledge. They have even refused to investigate what everyone knows is happening: funds from the European Union finance terrorist attacks against Israel. Why anyone there expects this to lead to a good end is beyond me.
- 7:13 AM, 9 January 2004 [link]
Madonna will not be the subject of many posts here, but this is just too funny to skip. The material girl is accusing the Bush administration of suffering from the "'what's in it for me' syndrome" and thinking too small. As even I know, Madonna has some claim to be an expert on the "what's in it for me" syndrome. Her other criticism, that the Bush administration is thinking "too small", is too bizarre for me to even attempt an explanation.
- 6:48 AM, 9 January 2004 [link]
Chirac Is Trying To Appease The United States: That's how I read this article from the French newspaper, Le Figaro. The lead sentence is:
Face aux États-Unis, la France reste dans sa tranchée, mais brandit le drapeau blanc.Which I translate as: Faced with the United States, France remains in its trench, but waves the white flag.
Why would Chirac be trying to appease us now? Perhaps because of the string of successes we have had in the last few months. Chirac's objections to our liberation of Iraq were based in part on his expressed belief—genuine, I think—that our policy would fail. Now that we are succeeding, he will want to adjust his own policies to the new reality. Even if that means waving a white flag from the trench.
- 6:07 AM, 9 January 2004 [link]