Archive:

May 2005, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Does Being A Mother Make You Smarter?  That's what Katherine Ellison claims, briefly in this op-ed, and at more length in her book, The Mommy Brain.   Here are a few lines from the op-ed to give you an idea of her argument
The human brain, we now know, creates cells throughout life, cells more likely to survive if they're used.  Emotional, challenging and novel experiences provide particularly helpful use of these new neurons, and what adjectives better describe raising a child?
. . .
And there are other ways that being a dedicated parent strengthens our minds.  Research shows that learning and memory skills can be improved by bearing and nurturing offspring.  A team of neuroscientists in Virginia found that mother lab rats, just like working mothers, demonstrably excel at time-management and efficiency, racing around mazes to find rewards and get back to the pups in record time.
And here's another op-ed, with a reaction to Ellison's book from Janice Lynch Schuster, a mother of six.  Schuster seems both pleased and skeptical, I would say.
- 3:32 PM, 8 May 2005   [link]


Fixing Old Roads For Seattle Is Good:  Building new roads for the rest of the state is bad.  That's the conclusion I draw from this Danny Westneat column, in which he explains his switch from opposing new gas taxes in 2002 to favoring them in 2005.   Here are the key sentences:

That old plan, called Referendum 51, was pretty much $8 billion worth of pork and hot asphalt.   Much of it was for new highway lanes.  It pledged to turn Interstate 405 into a 12-lane, neighborhood-spoiling behemoth.

It did next to nothing to fix the most decrepit highways, such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the Highway 520 floating bridge.

In contrast, three-quarters of the money now goes to fixing the highways we've got, not building new ones.

Westneat lives in Seattle, so it is understandable that he might favor projects that make his life easier.  But I don't understand why he thinks it fair to tax the entire state and then spend nearly all the money on a city that already gets more than its share of the pie.  (Consider, for example, just how big a subsidy the University of Washington is to Seattle, if that last statement puzzles you.)

State senator Tim Sheldon claimed, in a radio interview last week, that people in the two counties in his district, Mason and Kitsap, have the longest commutes in the state.  (I haven't checked that, but it certainly seems plausible.)  So his constituents — who are probably less well off than the people in Seattle — will be subsidizing Westneat and company.  If Westneat thinks this is fair, I would like to see him explain why.

Or perhaps he simply hasn't thought about it.  It often seems that, for Seattle Democrats like Westneat, that the part of the state that you can not see from the Space Needle might as well be invisible.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The current plan is not even good politics, at least not for those who want to preserve the Democratic majorities in the state legislature.  A political tactician would advise putting the main projects in swing districts, not in safe Democratic areas.

I should add that I was not entirely in favor of the 2002 plan.  I would like to see us begin with some simpler approaches, such as removing some of the restrictions on what I like to call the "low occupancy" lanes.  Perhaps these lanes are necessary during rush hours, but they simply impede traffic most of the time.  And we should drop the enormous subsidies for commuter rail, and divert that money to something more sensible.)
- 9:21 AM, 8 May 2005   [link]


Happy Mother's Day!  To all the mothers out there, including this worried mother duck.  Whose concern for her ducklings reminded me so much of the concern mothers have for their toddlers.



Is this the same mother duck as last year and the year before?  Could be; all three pictures were taken in the same area, but I have to admit I can't identify individual ducks.

(And, if you missed it last year, you may want to read this post, which explains how and why ducklings all hatch at the same time.)
- 7:37 AM, 8 May 2005
Reflections:  It has nothing to do with Mother's Day, but there's a curious detail in the picture.  There's a reflection of the mother duck just under her, as you would expect.  There's another on the right part of her bow wave, again, just as you would expect.  And then there is what I believe is a third, the small dark spot in the lower right corner.  I think the wave formed a mirror that reduced the duck's image to what you see.   If so, that's the first time I have seen anything like it in any of the pictures I have taken — and I love to take pictures of reflections.
- 5:19 AM, 9 May 2005 [link]


Strange Pattern Of British Election Returns:  As I was watching the British election returns I was surprised to see Labour jump out to a big lead in seats won and keep that lead for some time.  I would have expected, since the voting procedures and timing are uniform, that the three main parties would have won seats in the early returns in about the proportions that they did in the whole election.  From the comments on some of the blogs, I concluded that these early Labour wins were typical, just what had been seen in most recent elections.

A commenter from Australia asked the reason for this pattern at the Guardian site and was told that it was simply a rural-urban difference.  The rural districts, where the Conservatives are stronger, are slower to report simply because it takes them longer to get the votes to the central counting office.  That seemed plausible to me, and it also seemed plausible, after I had thought a bit more about it, that it might take the Conservative districts longer to count once they had the votes because they typically have higher turnout.

When I decided to get some sleep, the Conservatives had won, as I recall, 196 seats, and there were still more than 40 yet to be decided.  (I may be wrong on the timing; I didn't take notes and am not always accurate when I am short on sleep.)  Given the pattern I had seen to that point, I expected the Conservatives to win a significant share of the remaining seat, anywhere between ten and thirty.  But they won just one more.   I wasn't the only one surprised by the stall in Conservative gains; I notice that Chris Bertram, a British academic who undoubtedly knows more about British politics that I do, saw the same thing, though with different emotions.

Part of the answer for this pattern, I learned from Natalie Solent, is that Northern Ireland, with 18 seats, counts later than the rest of the United Kingdom — for reason that the BBC either does not know or chooses not to print.  None of the three major parties won any seats in Northern Ireland, so I was wrong to think that the Conservative had chances at 40 more seats.

But it still seems that the Conservative lost nearly all the other late declaring seats, and for that I have seen no explanation.  I'll have to see if I can find a site that gives the timing of the wins for the seats so I can look for the reasons for the Conservative stall at the end.
- 3:10 PM, 7 May 2005   [link]


Cow Blogging?  Coyote blogging?  Statue blogging?  I don't know what category this picture falls into, but I post it in case someone else can figure out what the artist meant.



That is a coyote on the cow, but that's the only clue I have beyond what you can see in the picture.  I have looked at this statue for years and have to admit that I don't even have a hypothesis on its meaning.

(If you want to cheat and use the net, I can add this much to help you search for the answer.  The statue is on a street in downtown Kirkland.  That should be enough for you to find the exact name of the statue, and the name of the artist.)
- 4:39 PM, 6 May 2005   [link]


Kirkland Campaign Rally:  This morning I went to a campaign rally in downtown Kirkland.  Governor Gregoire came to my suburb to sign environmental bills, or, as I would say, "environmental" bills.  Nearly everyone there (perhaps 150 people all together) was a Democratic official, or an activist who usually supports Democrats.  The audience gave Gregoire a standing ovation when she started her speech, and they gave similar support to all the other Democratic officials.  (A single Republican official, Toby Nixon, was there as well.)

The symbolism was not perfect; Gregoire arrived with County Executive Ron Sims in a chauffeur driven hybrid, but left in a Lincoln town car, which does not, unless I am badly mistaken, come in a hybrid version.

I'll have more to say about the rally later, after I have had a chance to look through all my pictures, but I can't wait to pass along this thought from Gregoire.  Our governor, having just signed a bill that will raise gas taxes by nine cents a gallon, thinks that gas prices are too high.  I was trying to behave, but I could not keep from laughing after that.  That statement was doubly funny at this bill signing, since most environmentalists think that gas prices are too low, not too high.

The president of the Sierra Club, Larry Fahn, was at the rally — which may show just how worried Democratic allies are about Greogoire's chances of staying in office.  (For what it is worth, Fahn looks like the kind of B movie villain who wants to throw someone off their ranch, which now that I think about it, is probably exactly what he wants to do.)

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 1:19 PM, 6 May 2005   [link]


Labour loses Blaenau Gwent:  But not to the Conservatives, or even the Liberal Democrats.
Labour suffered a sensational defeat in its safest Welsh seat as Tony Blair secured an historic third term victory.

Independent former Labour AM Peter Law overturned a 19,000 majority in Blaenau Gwent to win by 9,121.
. . .
Blaenau Gwent delivered by far the biggest shock. Mr Law, the local Welsh assembly member who left Labour in protest at the party's use of all-women shortlists to pick its candidate, received 20,505 votes, or 58% of the total.
Labour tried to increase the number of women in parliament (already at a record level) by forcing some constituencies to nominate women.  They required those constituencies to choose their candidate from "all-women shortlists".  In this safe seat, that policy backfired, with a popular local man leaving the party and defeating its choice.

Similar quota policies are found in many countries, including the United States.  Some state Democratic parties use quotas to allocate party positions, though I don't know of any that have formally used them for nominations to public offices.  (The widespread use of primaries here would make that difficult to do, of course.)  On the whole, I would say quota policies benefit factions within a party — and slightly reduce a party's chances of overall success.
- 8:06 AM, 6 May 2005   [link]


Correct Color Coding:  One of the minor pleasures, at least for me, of looking at British election maps is that they get the colors right.  Look at this map for an example.   Labour seats are shown in red, Conservative seats in blue, and Liberal Democrat seats in (chuckle) yellow.  Now, if we could just convince American journalists to use the same coding as their British cousins . . .
- 7:50 PM, 5 May 2005   [link]


Hung Parliament?  Iain Murray now thinks that it is possible that no party will have a majority in the new parliament.   As I said, this election may be more interesting than widely predicted.

Americans who recall the 1948 Truman upset will remember that it took most of election night before the news organizations realized that Truman would win.  New information takes some time to be absorbed when it conflicts with long held beliefs.
- 6:29 PM, 5 May 2005
No Big Upset Tonight:  Not with Labour winning 317 seats as I write.
- 8:20 PM, 5 May 2005   [link]


Where Is The Starting Line In The British Election?  Those who follow British politics closely already know this, but if I ever had, I had forgotten.  Luckily the far left Independent, which doesn't seem to have any significant live coverage, does have those numbers.  There are 646* seats in the British House of Commons.  After the last general election in 2001, Labour held 413 seats, the Conservatives 166 seats, the Liberal Democrats 52 seats, and the minor parties 28 seats.  In the four years since, I suppose there have some small shifts from by-elections, but that should give you an idea of just how deep a hole the Conservatives had to climb out of.

You'd have to go back to 1936 to find comparable imbalances in the United States Congress.

(*Don't know how they handle ties, though their Speaker is chosen from the members of parliament, and does not vote, as I understand it.
- 5:43 PM, 5 May 2005
More:  Here's the official explanation of the Speaker's role in the British House of Commons.  When a member is chosen to be Speaker, they take a vow of nonpartisanship, more or less, and from then on, in effect no longer belong to a party.  Speakers ordinarily stay in office even when party control changes.)
- 6:15 PM, 5 May 2005   [link]


Exit Polls are predicting a narrow win for Labour.
A BBC/ITN exit poll has projected a reduced majority for Tony Blair's Labour party of 66 seats after polls closed in Britain's general election.
But:
[CNN's European Political Editor Robin] Oakley cautioned, however, that exit polls in British elections have been wrong in the past.
If the exit poll is right, then it would appear that the British pre-election polls were, once again, biased toward Labour, because this margin is about what one would expect if the Labour and Conservative parties tied in the popular vote.

And that "if" may be bigger than usual because so many voters are voting by mail.  I would not expect those who vote by mail to have the same vote patterns as those who don't.

This election could be more interesting than most predicted.
- 3:58 PM, 5 May 2005
Correction:  I found a better article on the exit poll; the BBC predicts that Labour will win 37 percent of the popular vote, the Conservatives 33 percent, and the Liberal Democrats 22 percent.
- 5:11 PM, 5 May 2005   [link]


Who Will Win The British Election?  All the polls say that Labour will.  And the journalists seem quite certain that Labour will win, in part because the apportionment of the constituencies favors Labour.  I have seen arguments that the Conservatives would have to win the popular vote by more than 5 percent in order to win a majority in parliament.  The betters agree.  As I write this paragraph (just after 1 PM, PDT), the bookies are giving odds on a Labour victory between 50-1 to 100-1.

That said, there are some reasons to think that the Conservatives have a chance.  (I should add immediately that I don't claim any expertise in British elections.)  First, the polls in Britain have been much worse than those in the United States, in previous elections.   For example:
1992 General Election.  The vast majority of polls were over the top with the Labour share with one or two notable exception Gallup and Harris.  Not one single poll produced results that even hinted that John Major would win by a margin of 8%.  Probably the biggest polling failure there has ever been.

1997 General Election.  The pollsters fared better but forty-eight of the 50 polls in the final month over-stated Labour by up to 11%.  Two ICM surveys stopped it being a clean sweep of failure.

2001 General Election.  Every single poll from every single pollster got Labour wrong and the error in every case was an over-statement.  Even Rasmussen - the only pollster to get the Tories right - had Labour 2% higher than it was.
This consistent failure and the consistent bias is quite surprising, given modern polling techniques.   If my memory is correct, this is a worse record than the famous 1948 presidential election in the United States, when Truman surprised the pollsters with a come from behind win.

And, most observers seem to think that turnout will be low, which would favor the Conservatives.

There is still a third reason that Conservatives may do better this time than in recent elections; the quasi-alliance between Labour and the third party, the Liberal Democrats, has broken down over the liberation of Iraq.  Some supporters of the two parties have, in recent elections, voted tactically, so that, for instance, if Labour was the third party in a constituency, some Labour voters would vote for the Liberal Democrats, in an effort to defeat the Conservatives.

Conservatives have been spending most of their efforts on what Americans would call the "swing" districts, and what the British usually call "marginals".  Possibly with some success.

Do these add up to enough to make me think that the odds may be too high for a Labour victory?   Maybe.  What I would need to know is what steps the polling firms have taken to improve their accuracy.  If they haven't changed much, then a bet on the Conservatives might make sense — at the current long odds.

As the polls are about to close in Briton, I will end with these election predictions:   In no particular order, here are the predictions from Iain Murray, pollster Robert Worcester, Daniel Davies, and Natalie Solent.   Most of them know far more than I do about British politics.  For those who want more coverage, you might, as I am going to do, read Iain Murray as he live blogs the election.

One other prediction from the Instapundit seems like a sure bet:
If Blair loses or does badly, the press will say that the election was a referendum on the Iraq war and Bush.  If Blair does better than expected, the press will say that the election was about local issues of no greater significance.
I'd give a hundred to one odds that he's right on that.  And I will add a prediction of my own, for which I would give almost as high odds.  Because 15 percent of the electorate has applied for mailed ballots, there will be a surge in vote fraud.

I think the polls have closed in Britain, so I'd better post this now.
- 2:18 PM, 5 May 2005   [link]


The British Election is today.  And Britons have a wide variety of minor parties to choose from, some serious, some less so.  Among the latter group is the by now traditional Monster Raving Loony Party and an interesting newcomer, the Death and Dungeons Party, which has some intriguing promises.
It pledges to reintroduce hanging, "but only for minor offences such as writing graffiti and dropping litter".  Murderers and those guilty of improper use of mobile text abbreviations will be disembowelled.

The new school leaving age would be nine, with "thickie" children forced to take up manual labour.   The party also pledges to occupy and annexe France, and to have tax rates of 90%.
Some in this country — I don't know about Britain — might be attracted to the idea of disembowelling for those who drive while using cell phones.

Besides these two, there are are also these parties, all officially on the ballot in at least one constituency: the Church of the Militant Elvis, the Personality and Rational Thinking? Yes! Party, the Millennium Bean Party, the Max Power Party, the Telepathic Partnership, the Vote For Yourself Party, and the Virtue Cognitive Currency Appraisal Party.  (At least I think these parties are not serious.  That's the kindest interpretation, for most of them.)
- 10:56 AM, 5 May 2005   [link]


Trusting Experts:  And not trusting experts.  In February, I outlined the principles that govern when we can trust college professors.  The same principles I discussed there apply to experts generally.  And in the past few days, I saw two examples that show the application of those principles.

Let me take the easy one first.  By way of Keith Burgess-Jackson, I saw this exchange between Gary Becker and Richard Posner on nuclear power.  Posner, a judge with a reputation for brilliance, made this argument:
There are other negative externalities of nuclear power generation, however.  One relates to the disposal of the spent nuclear fuel.
. . .
So the problem of disposal assumes truly serious form because of the threat of terrorism, and of proliferation of nuclear weaponry more broadly.
At least Posner does not make the usual charges about waste storage.  The facts are, though, that the menace of "dirty" bombs has been much exaggerated and is much lower than the danger from more prosaic threats such as chlorine, which is shipped all over the United States in railway tank cars.  For example, this accident in North Carolina, in which just one chlorine tank car was breached, killed nine people. It is not hard to imagine how terrorists could do far worse.  A nuclear waste spill, in the same place, would have probably have had health effects at all.

It isn't hard to see why Posner erred; for all his brilliance at law, he is not an expert on nuclear waste.

The second example illustrates that same point, and several others.  Professor Juan Cole, a specialist in Middle East studies, makes a comparison that has to be read to be believed.  (In fact, even after reading it several times, I have trouble believing that a professor at a reputable institution made this comparison)  Here's the beginning and end of his argument:
What has the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s got to do with the dictatorial way the US Senate Republicans have begun acting with regard to judicial appointments?  The war pitted secular and religious forces against one another, killing over 100,000 persons in constant village massacres and urban assassinations over more than a decade.  One of the extreme religious factions, the Armed Islamic Group (French acronym GIA), became angered at US and French support for the secular-leaning military government.
. . .
In other words, the United States of America is on the verge of looking an awfully lot like Algeria did in fall of 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to exercise a tyranny of the majority in that country.
(The middle part of his argument has much of the apparatus of scholarship, but is, well, let's not be coy, nuts.)

Let's see.  The Republicans in the Senate would like to return to the procedures used for all judicial nominations, with the possible exception of Abe Fortas, prior to George W. Bush taking office in 2001.  They want the Democrats to follow the same rules that they did when Bill Clinton was nominating judges.  For that effrontery, Professor Juan Cole compares them to the people who set off a religious war that killed approximately 100,000 people in Algeria.   I suggest you take a few minutes to contemplate the thinking of a professor, a full professor at a reputable university, who would make that connection.

You will already have noted that Professor Cole is not a constitutional scholar or an expert on Congress, so he errs in part for the same reason that Judge Posner did.  But the larger part of his errors in this post stem from his extreme political views, views that distort much of his scholarship.   I said in my February post that there may be entire academic fields that actually do damage, net, and suggested that Cole's field, Middle East Studies, might be one of them.  Professor Cole has given us another reason to think I am right in that unhappy suggestion.

(For a professor of Middle East Studies, Cole is remarkably careless about his descriptions of the two sides in Algeria.  It would be better to describe the GIA as radical Islamists.  And those in the military government are, at least formally, Muslims, as we can see from the fact that Algeria's official religion is Islam.  The civil war was thus not between Muslims and secularists, but between two groups of Muslims.

Cole example by way of Stuart Buck.)
- 7:59 AM, 5 May 2005   [link]


Max Hastings, who opposed the liberation of Iraq, has some grudging second thoughts.
A friend who visited the White House recently described the president's buoyant account of his Iraqi crusade, which highlighted the fact that a national government has been formed.  Some progress is claimed towards normalisation in Shia and Kurdish regions.  Syrian withdrawal gives Lebanon a chance of making something of democracy.  Washington asserts that it is involving itself more than ever in the Middle East peace process.

None of these claims should be dismissed out of hand.
. . .
Such scepticism, however, should not prevent us from stepping back to reassess the progress of the Bush project, and satisfy ourselves that mere prejudice is not blinding us to the possibility that western liberals are wrong; that the Republicans' grand strategy is getting somewhere.
. . .
My own contacts say that the situation is improving, but remains precarious.  They suggest that criminal anarchy is gradually being stemmed. The recruitment and training of Iraqi security forces is going a little better.
And Hastings has some sound advice for those who, like Hastings, opposed the liberation of Iraq.
The greatest danger for those of us who dislike George Bush is that our instincts may tip over into a desire to see his foreign policy objectives fail.  No reasonable person can oppose the president's commitment to Islamic democracy.
. . .
It seems wrong for either neocon true believers or liberal sceptics to rush to judgment.  We of the latter persuasion must keep reciting the mantra: "We want Iraq to come right, even if this vindicates George Bush."
Hastings is wrong, I must add, to paint the disagreement over Iraq as between "liberals" and "neocons".  Hastings himself belongs to what many would call the "realist" camp; he doubts that democracy is possible in countries such as Iraq, however desirable it might be.  In practice, if not always in rhetoric, George W. Bush, like his father, mostly followed the realist line toward Iraq — before 9/11.  In general, realists are found on the right, both in the United States and in most other countries.

But most of those who opposed the liberation of Iraq opposed it for different reasons, reasons more often found on the left than the right.  Much of the opposition in Europe came from groups that are traditionally anti-American, especially when a Republican is president.  Much of the opposition also came from Muslim groups, for the obvious reasons.  Some of those on the left who opposed Iraq's liberation borrowed realist arguments, without any embarrassment about the enormous hypocrisy this revealed.  They were opposing, after all, the overthrow of a dictator many have called fascist and democratic elections in a third world country.

(And I can't resist ending with this general observation: The problem with realism, history shows, is that it isn't realistic, at least not in the long run.  And that seems to be what that supremely realistic man, Dick Cheney, decided after the 9/11 attack.  Along with many others in the Bush administration.)
- 10:21 AM, 4 May 2005   [link]


Minorities Are Discriminated Against At The New York Times:   Politically incorrect minorities, anyway.  That's the conclusion I draw from this account by an evangelical reporter, John McCandlish Phillips.
When the Times put me on its reporting staff, I was the only evangelical Christian among some 275 news and editorial employees, and certainly the only one who kept a leather-bound Bible on his desk.
Estimates of the number of evangelicals in the United States vary, running as high as 40 percent.   That's way too high, in my opinion, but 25 percent might not be too far off.  (Of course the number depends on whether you count black and Hispanic evangelicals; when newspapers write about "evangelicals", they usually mean white evangelicals, though they may not say so.)  When Phillips began at the Times, there were fewer evangelicals, but the "mainstream" churches then often held views closer to those of today's evangelical churches.

Phillips does not explain why his minority was so under-represented at the New York Times, but he does give us a hint.  There were skeptics at the New York Times who doubted the ability of a "deeply religious man" to be a reporter, enough skeptics so that two editors at the Times, A. M. Rosenthal and Arthur Gelb, felt they had to defend Phillips' work.

The lack of evangelicals and traditional Catholics at the New York Times (and most other newspapers) may explain why, in the last few weeks, there has been a silly scare over their influence, why Phillips had this experience:
I have been looking at myself, and millions of my brethren, fellow evangelicals along with traditional Catholics, in a ghastly arcade mirror lately -- courtesy of this newspaper and the New York Times.   Readers have been assured, among other dreadful things, that we are living in "a theocracy" and that this theocratic federal state has reached the dire level of -- hold your breath -- a "jihad."
Phillips gently debunks that distorted picture, giving lessons to columnists Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Colbert King, Eugene Robinson, Paul Krugman, and Richard Cohen, lessons that they badly need.   For instance, as Phillips mildly notes, Frank Rich would be unlikely to survive a week in a nation that actually had a "full-scale jihad", but feels free to charge that Republicans have begun one. (Since he only covers recent columns, Phillips does not address Cohen's smear of President Bush, whom he called an "American Ayatollah".  Neither Cohen not the Washington Post has ever felt it necessary to apologize for that.)

Would it fair to call Dowd, and all the others, bigots (which Phillips does not do)?  Perhaps, perhaps not, but they have certainly written some bigoted columns.  And the columnists, as Phillips shows, are wrong about many matters of fact — as bigots often are.

(I have said for some time that I expect a major newspaper to lose a discrimination lawsuit to an evangelical or to a traditional Catholic or Jew, so widespread are the attitudes that Phillips describes.  It is sometimes forgotten that civil rights laws generally give the same protection to religion that they do to race.  And that protection was needed since discrimination against Catholics and Jews was common in the decades before the passage of those laws.

The newspaper attitudes that Phillips describes may end up costing those newspapers serious amounts of money.)
- 7:11 AM, 4 May 2005   [link]


More On Terrorists And Libraries:  In this post, I linked to a Deroy Murdock article on the use terrorists have made of our libraries — and the outrageous policies of the American Library Association, which protect those terrorists.  Murdock is back with more examples and this conclusion.
"Today we learned the 9/11 murderers used our public libraries to access the Internet and help plan their travel prior to 9/11," House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R., Wisc.) said after [U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ken] Wainstein's 28 testimony. "This newly released information demonstrates the critical importance of the PATRIOT Act's Section 215, which allows for the production of business records with a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court order.  Section 215 provides — with appropriate safeguards — the tools necessary to help disrupt and prevent future terrorist attacks.  We put Americans' lives at risk if we foolishly provide sanctuaries — even in our public libraries — for terrorists to operate."

Sensenbrenner's lesson could not be clearer: Had the Patriot Act existed before 9/11, FBI agents could have used Florida and New Jersey library records (and perhaps others yet unseen) to forestall al Qaeda's slaughter of 2,977 men, women, and children.  Now that the Patriot Act does exist, it should let the FBI use library records to prevent whatever pageant of mass death the Islamofascists may be plotting for a city near you.
Even if the American Library Association doesn't like it.

And there is another group of evil people that Murdock has not mentioned in these two articles.   The internet has been a great boon to pedophiles, as well as to better people.   The police officers who pursue pedophiles have begun to use the net against them, something many of the pedophiles will know.  Will some pedophiles take advantage of the protection offered by public libraries that follow the ALA policies?  Sure they will.  They'll use our libraries, paid for by taxpayer dollars, to distribute kiddy porn, and to communicate safely with each other, for all sorts of evil purposes.
- 5:22 PM, 3 May 2005   [link]


Worth Reading:  John Tierney tries to convince Democrats (including, just possibly, some he works with at the New York Times) that George and Laura Bush are regular people.  He uses Laura Bush's performance at the correspondent's dinner last Saturday to make that argument, an argument that will be novel to many of those in Manhattan and similar places.
For the mainly Democratic audience - this was a crowd of Washington journalists and luminaries from Hollywood and Manhattan - it was an evening of cognitive dissonance.  How to reconcile this charming image on stage with the Bush they love to bash?

Mrs. Bush's performance, and her husband's reaction, wasn't a shock to the reporters who cover the White House.  For years they have tried to convince their friends outside Washington that Mr. Bush is actually not a close-minded dolt, and Mrs. Bush is no Stepford Wife or Church Lady.   Yes, they're Texans who go to church and preach family values, but they're not yahoos or religious zealots.
The Bushes are, in fact, Methodists, which should reassure those Democrats — if they knew anything about religious beliefs in America.  And, as I have mentioned once or twice before, George W. Bush has an MBA from Harvard.  And, as I may not have mentioned before, Laura was a librarian.

Tierney adds this point.
But middle-class Americans don't simply cast ballots for Republicans.  They also vote with their feet, which is why blue states and old Democratic cities are losing population to red states and Republican exurbs.
(Tierney, a libertarian, then asserts that religious values have nothing to do with those moves.   On that, I think he is simply wrong.)  That American citizens have been fleeing from places run by Democrats for decades is not a secret, except possibly from most of those who work at the New York Times and similar newspapers.  That Democratic leaders still don't seem to understand why they flee goes far to explain their party's decline and the rise of the Republican party.
- 12:57 PM, 3 May 2005   [link]


John Kerry Came To Seattle and Seattle PI columnist Joel Connelly interviewed him, but apparently couldn't think of any interesting questions to ask.  In particular, Connelly didn't ask this question.   Kerry promised, three months ago, on national TV, to sign his "form 180", which would authorize the release of all of his military records.  Kerry has yet to keep that promise and sign the form.  Why not?  I think that's an interesting question, even if Joel Connelly does not.  (Which may be why Kerry chose Connelly for this interview and not me.)

Here's Connelly's view of the dispute over Kerry's military record:
The Massachusetts senator was faulted, in particular, for a slow response when front groups aligned with the Bush campaign launched a smear campaign against his Vietnam War record.
The principal "front group" would be the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which included most of the officers who had served with Kerry.  (The group was later renamed Swift Vets and POWS for Truth.)  Nineteen of those officers were shown in a photograph used by the Kerry campaign; twelve of the nineteen said, on the record, that they considered Kerry unfit to be commander in chief.

If what they said was a smear, why is Kerry refusing, even now, to release all of his military records?  Or, as Mickey Kaus pointed out, all of the diary he kept during the war?   (Or, as I mentioned during the campaign, all of his medical records?)

(Just as a matter of ordinary ethics, and maybe even journalistic ethics, shouldn't Connelly provide some evidence for his claim that the attacks on Kerry were a smear campaign?  For instance, shouldn't he name at least one factual error by the Swiftvets?)

The common sense answer to those questions is that there is probably something in the records that Kerry wants to hide, especially since he acts as though he is planning another run for the presidency.  It is remarkable, though not surprising, how incurious "mainstream" journalists, including Connelly, have been about this.  One would think that lack of curiosity would be a serious fault in a journalist, but perhaps I don't understand the profession.

What is Kerry hiding?  I don't know, of course, but the speculation that he is hiding a less than honorable discharge (later upgraded during the Carter administration) seems plausible.   His contacts with the North Vietnamese and Vietcong in Paris during the war — while Kerry was still a reserve officer — would seem to merit at least that.

(As I said during the campaign, I did not consider Kerry's Vietnam record an important campaign issue, regardless of whether he was telling the truth.  Experience in commanding a small boat tells us little about a man's qualifications for the presidency.   But his unwillingness to release the records does pique my curiosity.

His postwar record, though, is another matter, especially his alliances with far left groups, alliances that, in my view, he has never properly explained or repudiated.

I like to help out journalists whenever I can and so I will mention two more questions that might be put to Kerry:  During the campaign, he attended churches regularly (something that aroused no fears of a theocracy, for reasons that escape me).  How many times has he attended church since the campaign ended?  During the campaign, Kerry said, again and again, that he was a Catholic.  How much money have he and his very wealthy wife contributed to the Catholic church, in, say, the last ten years?  Feel free to borrow those questions, Mr. Connelly, whether you attribute them to me, or not.)
- 11:03 AM, 3 May 2005   [link]


Some Plays are suitable for college campuses.
College administrators have been enthusiastic supporters [of] Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues and schools across the nation celebrate "V-Day" (short for Vagina Day) every year.
And some are not.
But when the College Republicans at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island rained on the celebrations of V-Day by inaugurating Penis Day and staging a satire called The Penis Monologues, the official reaction was horror.  Two participating students, Monique Stuart and Andy Mainiero, have just received sharp letters of reprimand and have been placed on probation by the Office of Judicial Affairs.
Before you read the whole article, you should note this warning:
Warning: The following contains adult (in this case, collegiate) language, along with gratuitous references to male and female genitalia.
Unfortunately, such language is necessary to discuss Ensler's play, and the Stuart and Mainiero's satirical reply.  But you should not let that distract you from the central point:   The double standards shown by the treatment given Stuart and Mainiero should disgust any fair-minded person.

And we shouldn't forget this scene from the Ensler play:
Its only romantic scene, if you can call it that, takes place when a 24-year-old woman seduces a young girl (in the original version she was 13 years old, but in a more recent version is played as a 16-year-old.)  The woman invites the girl into her car, takes her to her house, plies her with vodka, and seduces her.  What might seem like a scene from a public-service kidnapping-prevention video shown to schoolchildren becomes, in Ensler's play "a kind of heaven."
(Lawyers may want to count just how many state laws are broken in that play segment.)   Let me repeat the point that Sommers begins with:  Many college administrators think this message deserves their enthusiastic support.  And at least a few think that a satirical reply deserves punishment.
- 7:57 AM, 3 May 2005   [link]


Soak The Poor:  For the first time since the 1994 election, Democrats controlled both houses of the Washington legislature.  They celebrated by imposing new taxes, most of them regressive.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature pushed through a $481 million package of "sin taxes" and other revenue bills to balance the budget.

Cigarette taxes will shoot up by $6 a carton in July, liquor prices will increase and you'll begin paying sales tax when you sign up for an extended warranty on consumer goods.  Estate taxes will be assessed on about 250 large estates each year.

And, with the strong support of Governor Christine Gregoire, the Democrats pushed through an enormous increase in the gas tax.

During the campaign, Gregoire also said she wouldn't push for a gas-tax increase until taxpayers are convinced they are getting their money's worth for the nickel-per-gallon increase lawmakers approved in 2003.  She even criticized Rossi for having voted for the 2003 increase.
. . .
After staying on the sidelines throughout most of the session, Gregoire plunged into the transportation debate in the final days, threatening to drag lawmakers into special session if they did not act on a plan to increase the gas tax by 9.5 cents per gallon over the next four years.

The new taxes will help raise $8.5 billion, much of which will go toward replacing the viaduct and the 520 bridge.

All of those taxes, except the estate tax, are regressive.  They will all tax the poor relatively more than they do the well off.  How much more?  The data in the chart accompanying this article shows that sales taxes hit families with incomes below $20,000 more than twice as hard as they hit families with incomes above $100,000 (more than 7 percent versus 3 percent or less).   I haven't looked at patterns of spending for tobacco, alcohol, and gasoline, but I would expect taxes on them to be at least as regressive as general sales taxes.  I would expect, for example, that gasoline would be a far large part of a poor family's budget than it is of a wealthy family's budget — especially if the poor family lives in a rural area.

To be fair, I should add that it would not surprise me to learn that many of the Democrats who voted to soak the poor would have preferred to soak the rich.  Many, I suspect, would rather have replaced these new taxes with a state income tax.  But voters in this state have not the slightest desire for an income tax, and so the Democrats chose to raise the money in ways that hit the poor.

Why?  In general, as far as I can tell, the additional money (except for the gas taxes) will go for payments to unionized public workers.  The gas taxes will mostly go to a project entirely in Seattle (the Alaskan Way viaduct) and to a bridge connecting Seattle with the prosperous eastside suburbs (520).  Democrats in the legislature judge those payments and those projects worth the regressive burden they are imposing on the entire state, especially the poor who drive to work.

This puts the Washington Democrats at odds with the presidents of both parties for the last two decades; as I explained in this post, thanks to presidents Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43, the federal tax burden on the poor (especially working poor families with children) has been cut sharply.  As much as these four men differed, they agreed that the poor would be better off if they kept more of their own money.  Washington Democrats don't seem to agree.

Finally, I should mention, just so there is no confusion on the matter, that I do not oppose regressive taxes in every case.  For example, cigarette taxes — at some level — are probably a good way to discourage cigarette smoking.  What that level is must be determined empirically.   You could summarize my views by saying that regressivity in a tax is a disadvantage, but not, by itself, disqualifying.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:07 PM, 2 May 2005   [link]

How Much Do Scientists Agree On Global Warming?  It isn't that easy to tell.
Two of the world's leading scientific journals [Science and Nature] have come under fire from researchers for refusing to publish papers which challenge fashionable wisdom over global warming.
. . .
The controversy follows the publication by Science in December of a paper which claimed to have demonstrated complete agreement among climate experts, not only that global warming is a genuine phenomenon, but also that mankind is to blame.

The author of the research, Dr Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California, analysed almost 1,000 papers on the subject published since the early 1990s, and concluded that 75 per cent of them either explicitly or implicitly backed the consensus view, while none directly dissented from it.
. . .
However, her unequivocal conclusions immediately raised suspicions among other academics, who knew of many papers that dissented from the pro-global warming line.

They included Dr Benny Peiser, a senior lecturer in the science faculty at Liverpool John Moores University, who decided to conduct his own analysis of the same set of 1,000 documents - and concluded that only one third backed the consensus view, while only one per cent did so explicitly.
So who is right, Oreskes or Peiser?  If the Telegraph's summary of her paper is correct, then it seems nearly certain that Oreskes is wrong, that she misrepresented the degree of scientific consensus on global warming.  That doesn't mean Peiser is right in his conclusions, but for now I have to think that he is closer than Oreskes.

Now here is the most disturbing part of the affair.  Science had published Oreskes' paper, but refused to publish Peiser's refutation, on grounds that seem dubious.
Dr Peiser submitted his findings to Science in January, and was asked to edit his paper for publication - but has now been told that his results have been rejected on the grounds that the points he make had been "widely dispersed on the internet".
The paper was rejected even though, as Peiser notes, it refuted Oreskes' paper.  (Peiser claims that he did not publish his work on the internet before submitting it, by the way.)

Peiser is not the only scientist who has charged that principal scientific journals are biased on the subject of global warming.  And some of those critics do appear to have impressive credentials.  Can we trust Science and Nature, our two most prestigious scientific journals, on the subject of global warming?  That's not clear.

If Science and Nature are biased, we should be disappointed but not surprised.  This would not be the first time scientists have, as a group, gone off in the wrong direction.  Being human, scientists are subject to all the human failings — including the desire to hold fashionable ideas.

(As always when I discuss global warming, I include this disclaimer, which sketches my reasons for uncertainty on the subject.

And I should add a point about scientific consensus.  Though people outside a scientific field must, in most cases, rely on the consensus in that field, if there is one, the existence of a consensus does not show that a theory is correct.  Only the data can do that.  A consensus can not show that the current fashionable climate models accurately capture climate change; only tests against climate data can do that.  The key question is not what most scientists believe but what the data shows.)
- 6:36 AM, 2 May 2005   [link]


Should NPR Encourage Americans To Break The Law?  Yesterday, Rick Steves devoted his National Public Radio travel program to Cuba.  As you probably know, travel to Cuba is illegal for American tourists, though journalists and others with valid reasons can go there.  Let me set aside questions about the wisdom of this policy — about which I am undecided — and turn to what I thought was extraordinary about yesterdays' program.

Part of the budget for NPR comes from taxpayers, and it is responsible, indirectly, to Congress for the content of its programs.  This should, I think, put some constraints on the programming, constraints that I would oppose for private networks and stations.

Steves, and the home station for the program, KUOW, do not, apparently, agree about those constraints.  Steves spent the entire program yesterday urging, though never directly, Americans to break the law, and giving directions on how they can travel to Cuba with the least legal risk.  During the program, a man from a travel agency in British Columbia, that specializes in arranging Cuban tours, called in to explain the procedures for Americans.  (I suspect that the call was pre-arranged, though no one said so.)  It may seem odd to some, but I don't believe that taxes should pay for this kind of advocacy.  If Rick Steves wants to advocate law breaking, he should do it without the public subsidy.

An analogy may help Mr. Steves and KUOW understand this point.  Steves runs a very successful travel agency.  Some environmental extremists may object to this, because, after all, the jets that his clients use to get to Europe and elsewhere burn vast amounts of fuel, contributing, as the extremists would see it, to global warming.  I think it would be wrong for KUOW, or any other NPR station, to broadcast encouragement to those who would sabotage Steves' agency, or broadcast directions on how to do so.

A station supported by American taxpayers should not advocate breaking American laws, nor should it give directions on how to do so.  I'll try to get KUOW and NPR to agree on that simple point, but do not expect to succeed, given my past experiences.  Neither seems the least bit interested in listening to anyone who is not on the left.

Cross posted at Oh, That Liberal Media.

(Some may wonder about the content of yesterday's program.  I found it embarrassing, closer to a brochure from a Castro tourism agency than an honest account of Cuba.  Steves spent much of the program interviewing Chris Baker, the author of a Cuba tour guide.   It was amusing, and more than a little dismaying, to hear Baker, who is an enthusiast for travel to Cuba, correct Steves several times for excessive optimism.  But neither had much negative to say about the country.  For example, neither bothered to mention one of the big Cuban attractions for European tourists (or at least male European tourists) — the widespread prostitution.

Those who want a more honest account of Cuba can find it P J. O'Rourke's entertaining Eat the Rich.   Those who want to learn about the strange phenomena of western tourists to Communist "utopias" can find it in Paul Hollander's classic, Political Pilgrims.

Finally, there is an ethical problem about this program, and about Steves' travel programs on PBS.   Though I have enjoyed the latter, I have been bothered more and more in recent years by the fact that he and his agency were gaining an immense subsidy from what amounts to free advertising.   Why, I have wondered, should his agency — and not all its competitors — get this kind of boost from the taxpayers?)
- 6:11 AM, 1 May 2005   [link]