Monday, February 28, 2005

It Didn't Start With John Howard

Over at The Warren there is a great post pointing out the significance of this day in Australian/United States history.

From The "Has-To-Be-Seen-To-Be-Believed" File

From The Democracy Guy (Via American Future): oops! Forgot About 9/11

On Friday, the front page at DailyKos, the blogosphere's most visited temple of lefty latte chugging Howard Dean worshippers, featured a post by some guy calling himself Armando, positing his theory as to why John Kerry did so poorly in the South in 2004 compared to Bill Clinton in 1996. It's a rather unremarkable analysis, except for the band-aid correction which Mr. Armando made to his carefully crafted genius a few hours after the first person to read the thing noticed that something was left out.

Update [2005-2-25 17:33:16 by Armando]: HProf points out my brain lock - the most important difference between 1996 and 2004 was the reemergence of national security as the single most important Presidential issue.

And thus, in stark relief, is revealed the problem in the Democratic Party today. Some anonymous guy takes whatever time it took to craft some big answer to a big question about the Democratic Party, and simply forgets that September 11 happened. The guy can't even bring himself to type the characters "9/11", prefering to call it some "reemergence of national security," as if it just oozed out of the electorate like gay marriage or prescription drug coverage.

Mr. Armando, take a look around. The reason the roads are filled with cars carrying those annoying yellow ribbon magnets is 9/11. The reason every visit to an airport is tense and irritating is 9/11. The reason fire engines look different, their sirens sound different, the reason my mother pauses uncomfortably every time CBS breaks into her soap opera with breaking 9/11. It is everywhere. It is the world we live in. What world are you living in?

Unfortunately that last question is one you might not want to hear the answer to.

Reclaimation Projects Of Spring

Spring training doesn't just offer a renewal of hope for fans alone. This feel good story comes from the Cardinals camp in Florida (via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch): Road Back Leads To Jupiter

Tattered, emotionally worn and derailed by anxiety attacks and injury, Bill Pulsipher made a surprise visit several years ago to the New York Mets' spring training facility to ask for a job - on the grounds crew.

Once among the Mets' gleaming young pitchers, Pulsipher appeared to heads groundskeeper Tommy Bowes as a man "down and out," rudderless without baseball. So Bowes made him a deal.

There were outfields to mow, infields to rake, chores to do, but Pulsipher had to pledge to spend just as much time working out as well. Bowes offered the lefthanded pitcher a chance to rebuild his career.

Starting at ground level.

"He built the same mounds he once threw off of," Bowes said. "Instead of just coming out to work, I wanted him out and wanted him to be on the mower. Give him a chance to clear his head and be around ballfields again. See if he really did want to walk away from it."

Good luck to him.

Besides, you can never have enough left handed pitching.

Intellectual Limitations (Including My Own)

I have many pet peeves. One that annoys me most consistently is the relative lack of knowledge displayed by many reporters/journalists about social science methods. Every election cycle brings scores of newspaper accounts in which it is clear, to any who have had social science training, that the reporters just do not understand the basics of polling. And this goes beyond the television guys telling us that Candidate X has a one point lead based on an opinion poll with a margin of error of 4% (as bad as that is.) It's clear that many do not know what a "random sample" is exactly, or what the real difference is between a poll of "likely voters" and "registered voters." These difficulties can extend beyond election polling data, as it did in the controversey that arose a few years ago when the Census Bureau wanted to use statistical sampling to generate some of their numbers. The press was, as a whole, singularly ill suited to explain the differing positions to their audience. They would have been bettered served by having the members of their audience who knew something about the statistical methods involved explain it to them.

I've often blamed the advent of journalism degrees for breeding a kind of complacency in journalists. Stressing journalism as "method" as opposed to stressing "content knowledge" too often produces writers who only kind of know what they are talking about. Obviously such a view would not account for all working journalists, but enough of them to matter. For example, I've always thought that the public would be better served by having economists who took a couple journalism classes writing to them on the topic, as opposed to journalists who took a couple of economics classes.

I bring up economics because this is one of my own weaknesses. I don't know enough about economics to know when a journalist is getting it wrong. I don't know enough to always understand what real economists are talking about either. An example would be this article in Foreign Affairs: The Overstretch Myth

The statistic at the center of the foreign debt debate is the net international investment position (NIIP), the value of foreign assets owned by U.S. residents minus the value of U.S. assets owned by nonresidents. Until 1989, the United States was a creditor to the rest of the world; the NIIP peaked at almost 13 percent of GDP in 1980. But chronic current account deficits ever since have given the United States the largest net liabilities in world history. Since foreign claims on the United States ($10.5 trillion) exceed U.S. claims abroad ($7.9 trillion), the NIIP is now negative: -$2.6 trillion at the start of 2004, or -24 percent of GDP.

Unpacking the NIIP gives a better sense of the risk it actually poses. It has two components: direct investment, the value of domestic operations directly controlled by a foreign company; and financial liabilities, the value of stocks, bonds, and bank deposits held overseas. At the start of 2004, foreign direct investment in the United States was $2.4 trillion, while U.S. direct investment abroad was about $2.7 trillion. (Direct investment is relatively stable, changing mostly in response to changes in expected long-term profitability.) Removing direct investment from the equation leaves $5.1 trillion in U.S.-held foreign financial assets versus $8.1 trillion in U.S. financial assets held by foreign investors.

In a very rough sense I can follow this part of the discussion O.K. However, I soon get in over my head.

This last figure represents a whopping 74 percent of U.S. GDP -- a statistic that would seem to give ample cause for alarm. But considering foreign ownership of U.S. financial assets as a percentage of GDP is less enlightening than comparing it to the total available stock of U.S. financial assets. At the start of 2004, total U.S. securities amounted to $33.4 trillion (some 50 percent of the world total). Foreign investors held more than 38 percent of the $4 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds, but only 11 percent of the $6.1 trillion in agency bonds (such as those issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac); 23 percent of the $6.5 trillion in corporate bonds; and 11 percent of the $15.5 trillion in equities outstanding. These foreign liabilities are the result of a string of current account deficits that have grown from 1.5 percent of GDP in the mid-1990s to an estimated 5.7 percent of GDP -- about $650 billion -- in 2004. Economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimate that ongoing deficits of 3 percent of GDP would bring the U.S. NIIP to -40 percent of GDP by 2010, and that it would eventually stabilize at around -63 percent. If the deficit remains at today's level, they foresee the NIIP growing to -50 percent of GDP by 2010 and eventually to -100 percent.

These estimates, however, fail to consider that future dollar depreciation and market adjustments in interest rates and asset prices will likely check the increase of the NIIP. Dollar depreciation against the euro and the yen in 2002 and 2003 kept the NIIP flat despite large current account deficits. The same result is likely for 2004 (final numbers will not be available until the end of June). Thus, although the NIIP will surely continue to grow for many years to come, its increase will be far less dramatic than many economists fear.

Now, I'm not a complete dolt. I understand the words, but I know I don't understand their full significance. Based on their performance in using polling data, I'd have much less confidence in a journalist trying to explain it to me than an economist who minored in journalism.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Planning Your European Vacation

If you ever wanted to visit the Cathedral at Chartes you might want to decide to do that sooner rather than later. From Mark Steyn: The U.S. Can Sit Back And Watch Europe Implode

CIA analysts predict the collapse of the EU within 15 years. I'd say, as predictions of doom go, that's a little on the cautious side.

But either way the notion that it's a superpower in the making is preposterous. Most administration officials subscribe to one of two views: a) Europe is a smugly irritating but irrelevant backwater; or b) Europe is a smugly irritating but irrelevant backwater where the whole powder keg's about to go up.

For what it's worth, I incline to the latter position. Europe's problems -- its unaffordable social programs, its deathbed demographics, its dependence on immigration numbers that no stable nation (not even America in the Ellis Island era) has ever successfully absorbed -- are all of Europe's making. By some projections, the EU's population will be 40 percent Muslim by 2025. Already, more people each week attend Friday prayers at British mosques than Sunday service at Christian churches -- and in a country where Anglican bishops have permanent seats in the national legislature.

Some of us think an Islamic Europe will be easier for America to deal with than the present Europe of cynical, wily, duplicitous pseudo-allies. But getting there is certain to be messy, and violent.

Until the shape of the new Europe begins to emerge, there's no point picking fights with the terminally ill. The old Europe is dying, and Mr. Bush did the diplomatic equivalent of the Oscar night lifetime-achievement tribute at which the current stars salute a once glamorous old-timer whose fading aura is no threat to them. The 21st century is being built elsewhere.

That is why I say, given world history, if you want to see any of the Christian sites of Europe you'd better get moving. Don't believe me? Go and try to find an Armenian church in Turkey. I'm not talking about the congregations, I'm talking about the buildings.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hotel Darfur

Here is a terrific piece from James Glassman: "We Think You're Dirt"

I'm no movie critic, but the best film I've seen this year, without a doubt, is "Hotel Rwanda." It's so good, I saw it twice in a week, including once in the company of my 12- and 14-year-old nephews, who left the theater as edified, angry, uplifted and drained as I did.

The film, directed by Terry George, is the true story of a Europhile hotel manager who simply wants to raise his family without complication and to do his job with "style." Suddenly, thrust into a moral crisis, he rises to leadership and saves the lives of 1,268 adults and children during the genocidal slaughter of nearly one million minority Tutsis by Hutu militias and soldiers between April and July 1994, as the world sat on its collective hands.

Unfortunately, "Hotel Rwanda" is not nominated as best picture for this Sunday's Oscars (8 p.m. Eastern on ABC), eclipsed in the judgment of the Academy by such clunkers as "The Aviator." But Don Cheadle is up for best actor, Sophie Okonedo for best supporting actress, and George and Keir Pearson for original screenplay.

I agree with all of this. "Hotel Rwanda" is, far and away, the best movie I saw this year and deserved more recognition than it will get. One wonders if its central message, which can only be called "interventionist" at heart, turned off the Academy. If that is true it would be a sad statement indeed.

Michael J. Totten, writing on TechCentralStation last month, called the U.S. and European attitude toward Rwanda in 1994 a manifestation of the Genovese Syndrome, a reference to Kitty Genovese, who was knifed to death in New York in 1964 as neighbors looked on without trying to help her.

Now, the Syndrome is being played out in Sudan, whose Darfur region is the site of an "ethnic cleansing," or genocidal, campaign by militias with government support -- in a replay of Rwanda. The U.N. Security Council has passed resolutions threatening sanctions, but it hasn't issued sanctions or taken serious steps to restrain the attackers, who have killed an estimated 70,000 and created 800,000 refugees.

President Bush was among those moved by "Hotel Rwanda" and recently asked to meet with Paul and Tatiana Rusesabagina, who now live in Zambia. They got together in the Oval Office on Feb. 17, along with Mrs. Bush, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and National Security Advisor Steve Hadley.

Rusesabagina had recently returned from Darfur with a delegation that included five congressmen and Cheadle, and his message to the president was that "what is going on in Darfur is exactly what was going on in Rwanda….

"The rest of the world failed when the genocide was taking place in Rwanda. The [U.N.] soldiers ran away and left on our own. Today, there is no one who is intervening really in a good way in Darfur. Darfur is left on its own."

And, seemingly, if the U.S. doesn't decide to act unilaterally, Darfur will continue to be left on its own.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Media Bias Quantified

QandO points me towards a new study of bias in the media: A Measure of Media Bias (download the whole thing here)

I've read the whole thing, although I'll admit I only skimmed over their mathematical models, and it seems like a pretty competent piece of social science. I'm sure people could have quibbles with some of the decisions they make in their approach, but it seems to me that they have gone about this task in a fair and conscientious manner. Their basic idea is to construct ADA (Americans for Democratic Action) scores for media outlets by noting which think tanks they use for support in news stories and comparing them to members of Congress who use the same sources for support. Therefore they are not defining bias in an absolute fashion, but in a comparative fashion. Thus they can say if Newspaer X were a Senator they would be most like Ted Kennedy or Bill Frist.

I'm not gonna go over all of their methodological byways. The paper is littered with caveats and special considerations (everything from dealing with gerrymandered districts, to Mitch McConnell singlehandedly skewing the score of the ACLU), but their basic measures seem sound.

The findings? The wind up defining the center as a score of 50.1 on the ADA scale (although they also construct another "center" score of 54.0 as well.)

Next, we compute the difference of a media outlet’s score from 50.1 to judge how centrist it is. We list these results in Table 4. Most striking is that all but two of the outlets we examine are left of center. Even more striking is that if we use the more liberal definition of center (54.0)—the one constructed from congressional scores from 1975-94—it is still the case that eighteen of twenty outlets are left of center.


Fox News’ Special Report is approximately one point more centrist than ABC’s World News Tonight (with Peter Jennings) or NBC’s Nightly News (with Tom Brokaw). In neither case is the difference statistically significant. Given that Special Report is one hour long and the other two shows are a half-hour long, our measure implies that if a viewer watched all three shows each night, he or she would receive a nearly perfectly balanced version of the news. (In fact, it would be slanted slightly left by 0.4 ADA points.)

Special Report is approximately thirteen points more centrist than CBS Evening News (with Dan Rather). This difference is significant at the 99% confidence level. Also at 99% confidence levels, we can conclude that NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight are more centrist than CBS Evening News.


Another implication of the scores concerns the New York Times. Although some claim that the liberal bias of the New York Times is balanced by the conservative bias of other outlets, such as the Washington Times or Fox News’ Special Report, this is not quite true. The New York Times is slightly more than twice as far from the center as Special Report. Consequently, to gain a balanced perspective, a news consumer would need to spend twice as much time watching Special Report as he or she spends reading the New York Times. Alternatively, to gain a balanced perspective, a reader would need to spend 50% more time reading the Washington Times than the New York Times.

The full chart looks like:

Period of ADA Observation -- Score
ABC Good Morning America 6/27/97 - 6/26/03 -- 56.1
ABC World News Tonight 1/1/94 - 6/26/03-- 61.0
CBS Early Show 11/1/99 - 6/26/03-- 66.6
CBS Evening News 1/1/90 - 6/26/03-- 73.7
CNN NewsNight with Aaron Brown 11/9/01 - 2/5/04 --56.0
Drudge Report 3/26/02 - 7/1/04 60.4
Fox Special Report with Brit Hume 6/1/98 - 6/26/03 --39.7
LA Times 6/28/02 - 12/29/02 --70.0
NBC Nightly News 1/1/97 - 6/26/03-- 61.6
NBC Today Show 6/27/97 - 6/26/03 --64.0
New York Times 7/1/01 - 5/1/02 --73.7
Newshour with Jim Lehrer 11/29/99 - 6/26/03-- 55.8
Newsweek 6/27/95 - 6/26/03-- 66.3
NPR Morning Edition 1/1/92 - 6/26/03-- 66.3
Time Magazine 8/6/01 - 6/26/03-- 65.4
U.S. News and World Report 6/27/95 - 6/26/03-- 65.8
USA Today 1/1/02 - 9/1/02 --63.4
Wall Street Journal 1/1/02 - 5/1/02-- 85.1
Washington Post 1/1/02 - 5/1/02 --66.6
Washington Times 1/1/02 - 5/1/02-- 35.4

average 62.6

Compare this with your favorite legislator:

Legislator Ave. Score

Maxine Waters (D.-Calif.) 99.6
Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) 88.8
John Kerry (D.-Mass.) 87.6
average Democrat 84.3
Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) 80.9
Joe Lieberman (D-Ct.) 74.2
Constance Morella (R-Md.) 68.2
Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) 63.7
John Breaux (D-La.) 59.5
Christopher Shays (R-Ct.) 54.6
Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) 51.3
James Leach (R-Iowa) 50.3
Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) 49.7
Tom Campbell (R-Ca.) 48.6
Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) 48.0
Dave McCurdy (D-Ok.) 46.9
Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) 43.0
Susan Collins (R-Me.) 39.3
Charlie Stenholm (D-Tex.) 36.1
Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) 35.8
Tom Ridge (R-Pa.) 26.7
Nathan Deal (D-Ga.) 21.5
Joe Scarborough (R.-Fla.) 17.7
average Republican 16.1
John McCain (R.-Ariz.) 12.7
Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) 10.3
Tom Delay (R.-Tex.) 4.7

Maybe not conclusive, but damn interesting.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Good 'Ol Fashioned Monkey Trial In Kansas

From the KC Star:

Kansas' evolution debate will play out in a 10-day, courtroom-style hearing this spring, with experts from both sides testifying before a school board panel.

On trial is the theory of evolution, and the verdict could go a long way in determining the science curriculum taught in state schools.

Evolution critics want school curriculum to include alternatives, or at least challenges, to the theory.

Hearing dates are not yet set. The public may attend the hearings but will not be allowed to speak.

A three-member Board of Education subcommittee will hold the hearings and report its findings to the full board before members vote on the science standards.

Proponents of the idea of intelligent design say the hearing will give them an opportunity to show the evolution's weaknesses, and why alternatives to the theory should be taught too.

The big problem I have with most of these discussions is that they are usually framed in shockingly arrogant and ignorant ways.

For example, what do we mean when we refer to the theory of evolution? The fact is people are often referring to very different things. To me evolution is the "change over generations in a gene pool and its population of phenotypes." It is within this change that the processes for natural selection and random mutation play out. And at the level of genotypes (the actual genetic makeup of organisms) and phenotypes (the morphological, physiological and behavioral attributes of organisms) "evolutionary theory" is staggeringly well supported by the evidence.

However, for many, evolution does not remain at the level of genotypes and phenotypes. Because the theory works so well at the genotype/phenotype level many take it that some analagous process must be working at other levels. Depending on what exactly we are talking about, this idea can be more or less compelling or plausible. It has certainly led to some downright silly speculation, such as E.O. Wilson & Charles Lumsden's postulation of a "culturgen" as a base unit of "cultural evolution." It has also led to scientists assuming (I use the word deliberately) that evolution has greater explanatory powers than it actually possesses.

Take the case of Dr. Michael Behe and his argument in Darwin's Black Box. Dr. Behe's basic point is that the evolutionary models presented to explain many biochemical processes are seriously lacking. He's right, they are. In many instances they are non-existant. "Don't worry," evolutionary purists tell us, "Even if we don't know how these biochemical processes could have evolved, we are safe in assuming they did evolve." What Dr. Behe asked is "Why is it safe to assume that?" There has been no satisfactory answer from the "evolution is everything" camp to that question. One trouble lies in the underlying complexity of the biochemical processes involved. This complexity is often used by the "evolution is everything" camp to explain why no competent account of biochemical evolution has heretofor been produced. "It's just too difficult!" they exclaim. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't (Dr. Behe has his doubts), but that still doesn't answer the question as to what scientific principle allows you to take an explanatory theory from one level of analysis and assume it works at another level.

For example, Newtonian physics works just fine at the level of ordinary human life. Alright, now let's assume that you just scale Newtonian physics up to universal size. It still works fine, right? No, it doesn't still work fine. Ultimately new theoretical frameworks had to be created to handle this fact. The same thing happens if you scaled down physics to the sub-atomic particle scale. Does the failure of Newtonian physics to scale up (or down) invalidate the law of gravity on a human scale? Of course not. And were we to find out that evolutionary processes do not play out at the biomolecular level would that then invalidate evolutionary theory at the genotype/phenotype level? Of course not. Yet the "evolution is everything" club act as if it would. That is simple fear mongering, not science.

The KC Star article also says:

Intelligent design is the idea that a higher power has directed life's development.

This statement is misleading. Proponents of ID such as Behe do not argue that evolution does not take place at the level of the genotype/phenotype. To simply lump them in with the creationist crowd is intellectually dishonest.

The controversy over evolution is “the big dog on the porch … the 800-pound gorilla,” said board Chairman Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, who also leads the subcommittee. Abrams said the hearings could be “useful and enlightening” to everyone in the state.

Topics will include how to teach evolution, its validity as a theory and the definition of science.
But supporters of current standards say the hearings could make Kansas the laughingstock of the nation, much as in 1999, when the board voted to de-emphasize evolution in the state's curriculum, leaving the decision to teach evolution up to local districts. Supporters also worry that the hearings will favor rhetoric over hard science, especially before a panel that is critical of evolution.

“The perception among many of my colleagues is this is rigged,” said Steve Case, a University of Kansas research scientist who leads the state science curriculum committee. “I have a terrible fear for Kansas that this could be portrayed as a Scopes trial.”

Case was referring to the 1925 trial of Tennessee high school teacher John Scopes, who was charged with breaking the law by teaching evolution.

Case, asked by the committee to find scientists to defend evolution, said he wasn't sure he could find people who would submit to the hearings.

I wish the reporter had asked the begged for follow up question at this point. You can't find biologists to speak at the state's science curriculum committee meeting? Why? Isn't Kansas paying the salaries of dozens of them at state Universities? Is rubbing elbows with religiously minded people really that odious? What gives?

Thursday's hearing brought out about 150 residents, mostly from Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence. They represented the diversity of the debate: defiant creationists and unapologetically secular professors, as well as Christian evolutionary biologists, scientists who reject the theory and professors who worry new standards would disadvantage students in an increasingly high-tech society.

I've heard such statements in the past that not teaching kids evolution in high school would somehow "disadvantage" them and it has always struck me as being a completely vacuous argument. The only "disadvantage" I can see is not knowing what evolution really is, and it seems that this "disadvantage" could be remedied by 30 minutes of reading by a college student. There are hundreds of evangelical high schools in this country that are not teaching evolution as a matter of course, but I've yet to see a single study pointing out that those kids are unable to finish college because they have been "disadvantaged" by not being taught evolution in high school.

I don't hold with creationism. It is a theory, if such it can be called, that cannot withstand serious scrutiny. Intelligent Design, at least as Dr. Behe proposes it, can stand up to scrutiny, and will until the evolutionists can produce verifiable evidence to the contrary.

What should this mean for schools? Well, I honestly do not have a problem with schools not teaching evolution in public high schools if people are morally offended by it. I seriously doubt that any meaningful knowledge of evolutionary theory is being imparted by curriculums today in any event. I also do not think that ID can be effectively taught to the average high school aged person. Creationism should never even be considered.

I guess I'm wondering if shoving evolution down the throats of evangelical christians is really a goal worthy of this much time, money and energy. I tend to doubt it.

Hometown Buzz

It was interesting growing up in a place like St. Louis. Whenever it was brought up in a national context it was usually to show just how much of a basket case it really was, and with good reason. For about a seventy year period (1910-1980) it seemed as if every decision made by our civic leaders was the wrong one. For every notable good decision (building the Arch, or building Busch stadium downtown) there were dozens of awful decisions. The result was a moribound central urban core, rife with crime and decay and bereft of residents.

Of course I didn't live downtown, I lived in one of the near-in suburbs. But then again, almost no one lived downtown. The truth is during the 1970's and 80's the central life of St. Louis was played out in the close suburbs (St. Louis County) and not in the city, which was in many ways an alien palce to County residents. The urban riverfront area was just the place you went to see Cardinals games, or take out-of-towners to see the Arch. The urban core just was not central to most St. Louisians lives.

That seems to be changing. Since the 80's historic neighborhoods in the City have started to come back. (See here, here, and here for examples) People have even started to move back downtown, mostly in renovated loft apartments. It seems like a ludicrously small thing, but it was a big step recently when a supermarket (presently the only supermarket downtown) recently opened in St. Louis. There were finally enough people living there to support it.

Finally, I have started to see positive stories about St. Louis in the MSM. CNN did a lengthy piece recently about the city as a Mecca for "hip-hop" artists. It may not sound like much, but when you have heard nothing but "basket case" for so long, it can make even a story about "hip-hop" sound like music to my ears.

I suspect that the 21st century will see a nationwide trend towards reinvigorated urban centers. And I don't mean the small enclaves of Yuppiedom that there have often been to this point in time, but stable and safe neighborhoods with families raising children. You can call it a "New Urbanism" that rediscovers that cities can be great places to work, live and play.

My prediction is that the 2010 census will show that St. Louis has reversed a decades old trend. I predict the census will find more people living in St. Louis in 2010 then it found in 2000.

The irony is that I'll probably never live in St. Louis again to enjoy it all.

A Cure For Blogophobia?

Patterico has it.

I have a very simple suggestion for mainstream media types who feel in any way threatened by bloggers: whenever you hear the word “blogger,” think: “reader.”

After all, bloggers who aren’t discussing your newspaper are irrelevant to you. And bloggers who are discussing your newspaper are simply part of your readership.

In other words, they’re your customers. And, while the customer may not always be right, the customer deserves to have his complaints heard.

The main difference between your readers who are bloggers and your other readers is that your blogging readers have a voice – one that you can’t entirely control. On an individual level, each voice is ridiculously small; for 99% of bloggers (including me), it can’t even arguably begin to compare to the power of the newspaper’s voice. Still, it’s more than we had before.

While the voices of the bloggers may tend to be more critical, they are also more engaged. For them, reading the newspaper and thinking about news are important pursuits. These are the people you should be listening to.

A reasonable, well-balanced, and thoughtful set of observations. Which is exactly why the MSM will ignore them.

Past, Present & Future (Not An Al Stewart Post)

There is an interesting post over at American Future about Bush in Bratislava that asks the following question:

It's often said that Americans have a short historical memory, that we are so preoccupied with the future that we forget the past. Isn't this criticism more applicable to the people of Western Europe?

As phrased I think the answer to this question is "no." If they question were rephrased as "Are the Europeans so concerned about the present that they forget the past and ignore the future?", then I could answer affirmatively.

I hope Bush has had a better time in Bratislava than a buddy and I did back in 1992. We walked all over town but couldn't find a place to spend the night. Ah well, at least Bratislava offered some of the best girl watching in Europe. I can't remember a place that had quite so many drop dead gorgeous women wandering around. Bush probably didn't get a chance to notice any of that. What a shame.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Indiana Will Show Us The Way? Really? Maybe.

Doug from over at points me over to this piece in the Indy Star: House OKs higher price for eminent domain

The Indiana House voted Tuesday to make it more costly for government to condemn private property for the sake of commercial development, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that could lead to even more restrictions.

Supporters of House Bill 1063 complained that the wants of developers have trumped the rights of average citizens. They argued that eminent domain laws, which allow the government to buy property against the owners' wishes, have strayed far from their original purpose of making it possible for roads and other necessities to be built.

"We've gone from a public use to a public good," said Rep. David A. Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, the author of the bill. "That's a pretty subjective term."

Wolkins' bill would force cities, counties and other governments to pay a premium for property they condemn to make way for commercial development -- such as new subdivisions, shopping centers or manufacturing plants.

I wish this article spelled out directly that we are talking about the government taking property away from one private citizen and giving it to another private citizen, but otherwise it is presented succinctly.

I loved this quote:

"The bill makes it more difficult and costly for cities to do economic development," said Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel. "I'm not sure what this bill is trying to fix."

Translation: "I'm wealthy and powerful, so I don't uderstand why I shouldn't be able to force poor people to sell their homes to my wealthy and powerful associates? After all, can't we all agree that poor people have no right to live on property with scenic river views? It's just common sense to me."

The newspaper article makes the mistake of conflating "public use" eminent domain cases with the much more nefarious "public good" cases.

Few things spark more ill will than when a city tries to claim a property that an owner doesn't want to give up. The city's Capital Improvement Board is now sparring in court with the owner of a Downtown parking lot that would be part of an IndyGo transit hub. The two sides remain far apart, representatives for the city and the lot owner said Tuesday.

While I'm sure there is all kinds of wrangling over what "fair market value" is for a piece of property that also produces yearly income (like a parking lot would), this is obviously a case where the property would be used for public use, in this case part of a mass transit system. This is entirely different from pushing elderly people from their homes in order that Home Depot can build a new store on that property.

Doing Something/Anything

If you have a moment go over to the Darfur: A Genocide We Can Stop website. Fill in their online petition. If you have a blog write a quick post about it.

So what if you're just a pebble in an avalanche.

What Real Journalism Is For

Must reading from Nicholas Kristoff in the NY Times: The Secret Genocide Archive

It is heartbreaking reading. There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from it: The genocide by the Arabs in Darfur must be stopped.

It probably wont be.

The Guardian's Answer To Everything: "It's The Jews Fault."

The Guardian's latest affront to human dignity, this time written by Patrick Seale: Who killed Rafik Hariri?

If Syria killed Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister and mastermind of its revival after the civil war, it must be judged an act of political suicide. Syria is already under great international pressure from the US, France and Israel. To kill Hariri at this critical moment would be to destroy Syria's reputation once and for all and hand its enemies a weapon with which to deliver the blow that could finally destabilise the Damascus regime, and even possibly bring it down.

So attributing responsibility for the murder to Syria is implausible. The murder is more likely to be the work of one of its many enemies.

These statements are breathtaking in their ignorance and their sheer stupidity. History is replete with instances of governments taking actions that, whether driven by panic or simple miscalculation, seem in retrospect to be "suicidal." Hell, you don't even have to crack a book to see examples of this. If anyone has read the newspapers or watched television news in the last few months you have seen the "suicidal" results of the attempt to murder Victor Yushenko in Ukraine. Since it clearly brought ill results to the previous regime and Russia, are we to conclude that they couldn't have don't it? According to this "logic" it seems we should blame the United States or the E.U. for the poisoning.

But wait, this ignorance and stupidity has a purpose.

If Syria did not kill Hariri, who could have? There is no shortage of potential candidates, including far-right Christians, anxious to rouse opinion against Syria and expel it from Lebanon; Islamist extremists who have not forgiven Syria its repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 80s; and, of course, Israel.

Of course, those damn dirty Jews! How could I have been so blind!

First of all, someone, anyone, please point to an example of the Israelis employing a suicide car bomber as a means of assassination. Secondly, please point to an example of the Israelis assassinating someone they didn't have a specific grievance with in order to reap the benefits of a secondary political reaction. The reason you cannot name examples of these types of actions by Israel is because there are no examples of these types of actions by Israel.

But wait, it's not the Jews fault alone.

The US and Israel have been trying to rally international support against Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has condemned Iran as a prime sponsor of international terror. Syria has been condemned as a "destabilising" force in the region, and is in the dock because of Hariri's assassination.

See! It must be the United States fault as well. (I wondered how long it would take for Seale to get around to blaming the U.S.)

The depths of deception the author of the piece is willing to undertake is nearly bottomless. Take the following statements:

Syria's military intelligence chief in Lebanon, General Rustum Ghazalah, was reported to have threatened and insulted Hariri to force him to accept the extension. This caused great exasperation among all communities in Lebanon. Hariri resigned as prime minister in protest.

Syria appears to have recognised its mistake. President Bashar al-Assad last week sacked General Hassan Khalil, head of military intelligence, and replaced him with his own brother-in-law, General Asaf Shawkat. A purge of the military intelligence apparatus in Lebanon is expected to follow.
(emphasis added)

How is any of this inconsistent with the theory that Syria killed Hariri? The fact is that it isn't inconsistent with that theory. Yet this is what is offered as proof that Syria couldn't have been involved!

The only "proof" this article gives us is the insinuation that Israelis will be Israelis. Jews will be Jews.

If Patrick Seale isn't an anti-Semite, he's doing a damn fine impersonation of one.

The Guardian should be ashamed of publishing this tripe.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Welcome To Serfdom... sure not to piss off the Lord of the manor. From Scotusblog on Kelo v. New London oral arguments:

In Kelo, the plaintiffs may get as many as three votes: Scalia; Thomas (who did not ask any questions); and Rehnquist (who was not there). But it was clear to O'Connor and Kennedy that the Court would have to overrule Midkiff and Berman to rule for the plaintiffs, an approach for which there was no majority. The only possible silver lining for property-rights advocates was that Justices Kennedy, Souter, O'Connor and Breyer all expressed concern that the traditional measures of just compensation under the Fifth Amendment may be subject to reconsideration. Justice Kennedy acknowledged the question wasn't presented in Kelo, but the Court's opinion or a concurrence may raise the issue, opening a new avenue of property-rights litigation.

It looks like the liberals love of untrammeled state power got the best of their rhetorical commitment to the poor and elderly.

Look, I realize that the Bush administration (the idiots) filed an amicus on behalf of big business in this case, but I will point out where liberal jurisprudence is seemingly leading us is nowhere most people want to go. Only the courts conservatives are where they should be on this case.

Let's hope that these oral arguments are not indicative of how the court will ultimately rule. I'll hope but I fear the worst.

Lying As Your First Resort

This is how New London and her allies present their side of the present question of eminent domain before the Supreme Court: Consider The Greater Good

Using eminent domain for the benefit of the community as a whole is never easy. Eliminating this important tool would hurt, not help, both citizens and their communities. The tool should compensate citizens justly with fair market value. And substituting judicial review for local decision-making is a bad idea.

This is all false. No one is advocating "eliminating" eminent domain. The question here is if the state can take property from one private citizen and give that property to another (wealthier) private citizen. This is a demonstrably different action than taking property for public use. Having the courts address this issue is perfectly reasonable. The notion that the legal system has not been deeply involved in eminent domain cases up until now is farcical.

The issue being argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether a city can condemn private property and transfer it to another private owner for economic development purposes.

This is not eminent domain. The fifth amendment declares "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." It beggars the imagination to see how giving someone's home to another for the purpose of developing their for-profit business can be construed as "public use." The fact that tax revenues will be produced as a result of this business is incidental to the taking in question. So call it what you will (I prefer the word "theft") it is not eminent domain.

Using condemnation only when a government entity will own the property - for example, for a highway or jail or to remove blight - unduly restricts a community's ability to manage growth and change. (ed. -For example, removing poorer folks or people on fixed incomes from their homes to put in a new strip mall or a Jiffy Lube.) Some of the nation's most successful community developments, such as the Pearl District in Portland, Ore., came about because a local government worked with private interests to assemble (ed. -or steal) many individually owned properties to build something that benefits the entire community. (ed. -As measured by increased tax revenues and the parties that city officials now get invited to attend. "Hey we threw 20 families from their ancestral homes, but now the city can provide the mayor with a free Audi and I've had caviar at the industrial developers soirees twice!")

Communities are not frozen in time. They are always changing - whether thriving or stagnating. Owning a piece of property does not guarantee it will be immune to change.

"Yeah you damn old people. Besides, I want a Barnes & Noble in the neighborhood." See they are not stealing your home, the property is "changing."

Our communities should not be hamstrung by having to wait for the courts to decide whether economic development objectives are "public" enough to satisfy the "public use" clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

Funny thing is, I happen to like the Constitution setting the groundrules for our rights and privileges as American citizens. I'm sorry if our Constitutional protections get in the way of the new Wal-Mart or Home Depot.

God, I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing here.

New London Calling

The Supreme Court today hears arguments in Kelo vs. New London and if there is any justice in the world New London will get their asses handed to them. From the Pittsburgh Trib-Review, Stop Chainsawing The Constitution:

Across America, government and big business are teaming up to condemn people's homes and replace them with shopping centers and megastores such as Costco, Ikea and Home Depot. In fact, from just 1998 to 2003, there were 10,000 reported cases of cities and states condemning or threatening to condemn homes and businesses to make way for private companies to expand.

Government's power to take property against the owner's will is called eminent domain; it is the subject of a case the U.S. Supreme Court will hear today. In Kelo v. New London, the court will consider whether the Constitution places any limits on eminent domain.

The Fifth Amendment says that private property may be taken only for "public use," which in the past meant highways or government buildings. But in Kelo, a Connecticut town decided to "revitalize" the community by taking several properties and replacing them with a hotel, a health club and a marina to accompany a new research facility for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company.

Health clubs and corporate research are private uses, not public uses. But the city argues that "revitalization" would increase tax revenue and "create jobs." And a public benefit, the city says, is all the Constitution requires.

If there were ever an argument that deserves to go down to ignominious defeat it is the argument that allows governments to use eminent domain to take property at will from one (poorer) private citizen and give it to another (wealthier) citizen. If such practices are allowed then it can never truly be said that anyone "owns" their homes. In reality you would be paying for the opportunity to occupy them at the government's indulgence.

The idea that the government can declare an area "blighted" when it doesn't maximize potential tax revenues stands the entire idea of American democracy on its head. In such a view the government doesn't exist to serve the needs of the people. Instead the people exist in order to provide revenue streams for the government.

If someone is going to take away my home that I might have spent 30+ years working for, there better be a real public interest involved, such as building a courthouse or an inter-state highway. It better not be taken so some fat rich woman has a place to do Pilates.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The GOP As Bully

(Via The Daily Kos) : Opponents of 'Clear Skies' Bill Examined

The chairman of a Senate committee that oversees environmental issues has directed two national organizations that oppose President Bush's major clean-air initiative to turn over their financial and tax records to the Senate.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who heads the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked for the documents 10 days after a representative of the two groups criticized Bush's "Clear Skies" proposal before a Senate subcommittee. Inhofe is the leading sponsor of the administration bill, which is deadlocked in his panel.

The executive director of the two organizations, which represent state and local air pollution control agencies and officials, charged that the request was an attempt to intimidate critics of the measure.

The organizations in question are the incredibly boringly named "State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators" (or STAPPA) and "Assn. of Local Air Pollution Control Officials" (or ALAPCO.) If anyone is looking for a possible insomnia cure head on over to their common website.

The committee's majority staff director, Andrew Wheeler, said the request for the groups' documents did not stem from their criticism of the legislation. He said the panel wanted to determine whether the groups represented only regulators' views or whether they also were subsidized by outside interests, including environmentalists or foundations.

The funding, Wheeler said, "goes to who they're speaking for."

...The Senate committee asked for the information because it had long-standing concerns about the decision-making process of the state air pollution group, and was pursuing those questions as part of its oversight responsibility, Wheeler said.

There is the barest hint of plausibility to this statement. If you look at the STAPPA/ALAPCO publications there isn't any indication as to how common policy positions are reached by the organizations. Without that transparency it is a little difficult, at least for a complete outsider like myself, to be sure the national organization is indeed representing the views of its members. However, there isn't much to indicate that they aren't. You can go read their testimony on things like Mercury emissions, or a letter they wrote to Rep. Joe Barton on the Kyoto Protocols, and while they do have the criticisms to make there doesn't seem to be a partisan quality to them.

"It has nothing to do with 'Clear Skies,' " he [Wheeler] said. "If we wanted to intimidate them, we would have done it before they testified, not after."

True, after the fact it looks like punishment not intimidation. STAPPA and ALAPCO have been around and testifying before Congress for over 30 years, so it is kind of hard to believe the GOP's "We just want to get to know you" line. I suppose the Republican's believe that since so many more state governments are in GOP hands organizations like these shouldn't be giving them a hard time. But I don't know why they should think that, since these groups are made up of professional administrators and not party hacks. (Thank God.)

That is not to say that I'm buying the Daily Kos's line that this proves that the Republicans are "fascists." (What DOESN'T prove that for the DK'ers?) But it does prove that some Republicans are depressingly thin-skinned.

Another Reason Not To Send Your Kid To Public School


An American soldier overseas is fuming over letters he received from Brooklyn middle-school children accusing GIs of destroying mosques and killing civilians in Iraq.

Pfc. Rob Jacobs of New Jersey said he was initially ecstatic to get a package of letters from sixth-graders at JHS 51 in Park Slope last month at his base 10 miles from the North Korea border.

That changed when he opened the envelope and found missives strewn with politically charged rhetoric, vicious accusations and demoralizing predictions that only a handful of soldiers would leave the Iraq war alive.

"It's hard enough for soldiers to deal with being away from their families, they don't need to be getting letters like this," Jacobs, 20, said in a phone interview from his base at Camp Casey.

The take of the school principal was that the kids came up with this stuff on their own. What a crock. My middle school years may have been a long time ago, but you cannot tell me that things have changed so much that teachers are no longer looking at what kids write in these sorts of assignments. The fact that the teacher in this case would not respond to inquiries is telling.

What's worse is some idiot (ok, ok that idiot will be Bill O'Reilly) will make a federal case out of this. Disapproval should be voiced, but there is no need to blow this out of proportion.

I disapprove. Now I'll go on to more important matters.


I routinely check to see what search terms people are using to find this blog. I have noticed that over the last few days web surfers from the middle east have been visiting here because they search for some variation of "al hareeri photo dead picture of" etc. It makes me wonder if the word on the "Arab street" is that the Al Hareeri assassination was faked by the U.S. (or Israel.) That's the only logical explanation that I can come up with for such searches.

I wonder if others are seeing this on their blogs?

It also makes me shake my head and wonder if the U.S. can ever have rational relations with the people of the middle east.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

"Uh, What's Wrong With it?"

From, Pining for the kibbutz?:

An indignant Israeli is suing a pet shop that he says sold him a dying parrot, reports the Ma'ariv newspaper. Itzik Simowitz of the southern city of Beersheba contends the shop cheated him because the Galerita-type cockatoo not only failed to utter a word when he got it home, but was also extremely ill. Mr. Simowitz adds that the shop owner assured him the parrot was not ill but merely needed time to adjust to its new environment.

(Gleaned from QandO)

The Crisis Of...

...Whatever It Is Exactly That The Democratic Party Is Supposed To Represent.

Long titile for a short post. Go over the American Future to read: The Closing Of The Liberal Mind

Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has written a scathing critique of the current state of American liberalism. His words and those of the Democratic party's left wing are so far apart that it's becoming increasingly apparent that we're in the early stages of a fundamental political realignment.

Bloggers Aren't The Only Ones Playing Gotcha...


The Philadelphia Daily News is attempting to create a new Bill Cosby controversey. They are just not very good at it.

MONTGOMERY County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.'s father helped to arrange Bill Cosby's purchase of the mansion where Cosby was accused of drugging and groping a woman, but Castor did not reveal the relationship to the alleged victim or her attorneys.

"Mr. Castor did not disclose that to us or our client," said Dolores Troiani, who, with her partner, Bebe Kivitz, represents the alleged victim....

Joseph F. Lawless, author of the book "Prosecutorial Misconduct," criticized Castor's disclosure to Cosby's attorney and not to the alleged victim's attorney.

"That absolutely speaks volumes about what happened in this investigation," said Lawless. "You draw your own conclusions about what that means."

Cosby bought the house on New Second Street in Elkins Park in June 1983, records show. Millionaire philanthrophist F. Eugene Dixon gave Bruce Castor Sr. the power of attorney to handle the sale to Cosby on June 8, 1983, records show. Dixon could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The elder Castor signed the deed on June 23, 1983, records show. The purchase price was $225,000, and the Cosbys paid cash, records show. Dixon and his wife, Helen, paid $275,000 for the home and property when they bought it in 1977, according to records.

I'll let BeldarBlog take it from here. If there's no fire nor even smoke, there's always hot air — Riiiight?

Umm-hmmm. Damning stuff, that is! But closely parsed, that mumbo-jumbo about "power of attorney" means that the current DA's father — a distinguished civil probate, trusts, and estates lawyer, now age 75 — represented the seller of the house Dr. Cosby bought. Still, we're supposed to conclude that because the DA's dad represented a party adverse to Dr. Cosby in a noncontroversial real estate transaction twenty-two years ago, the prosecution tanked the current investigation.

As I remember Bill Cosby saying in the great "Noah" sketch from one of his comedy albums that I memorized as a kid and imitated ad nauseum to my friends: "Riiiiiiight!"

Friends and neighbors, if there was any remote, arguable, theoretical, speculative appearance of prosecutorial conflict of interest — "Dammit, Dad always bitched about how that TV star had outsmarted him on that house sale! It nearly drove him to an early grave! Finally, now's my chance to get even!" — it would have disadvantaged Dr. Cosby (not his accuser), and needed to be disclosed to him, if anyone.

Call Me Harpo

If there is one issue of which it can be said that I have "harped" on while wrting this blog, I think the "Plame" affair and questions of "shield laws" for reporters would be it. (You can read my earlier ruminations, here, here, here & here.) A major complain I've had is that the portrayal of the issue in the media has been so one-sided and, frankly, biased. So I was happy to see that Steve Chapman has written a piece that actually does take a non-reporters view of the matter: In the Plame Case, The Press Goes Too Far. It also helps that he agrees with me that the press has not been covering this story fairly.

The news media have sided strongly with reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, who are threatened with jail unless they disclose their sources in the Valerie Plame case. Right now, that decision is starting to look like Custer's Last Stand. It's a battle the press can't win and doesn't deserve to win.


We have a federal law against uncovering CIA operatives for a very good reason. It would be a dead letter, though, if a government official could violate it with impunity by giving the information to a journalist.

The press is right in saying an important principle is at stake: its ability to get information that the public needs to know. But in this case, that principle should yield to the need to protect agents who are serving their country. Journalists might remember that sometimes, a vice is merely a virtue that is taken too far.

The benefit of Chapman's analysis is that he does exactly what he should do, namely, attempt to balance competing interests. The attempt by some reporters to make the protection of sources a nearly inviolable right just takes things too far. They will have to settle for something less.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Beware The Ides Of March


Landslide Records is pleased to announce that it will release the long awaited, all new, Webb Wilder compact disc, ABOUT TIME, on March 15, 2005. Loaded with a rockin’ combination of distinctive WW type originals and reverential cover tunes, ABOUT TIME more than verifies Wilder’s “electrifying” status amongst his “loving public.”

Yes, this qualifies as big news here in the Iconic Midwest. Pick up on it!

On Being Reasonable

In light of the official release of Larry Summer's "controversial" remarks, that underscored the inherent reasonableness of his opinions, the Washington Post today has an editorial that says, in effect, "get off Larry's back." Harvard's Free Mind

A primary function of universities is to ask questions and to advance knowledge, popular or otherwise. When they do this well, whole societies benefit: from scientific innovation, from smarter economic and social policies, and from a culture that values truth and reason above prejudice. This is why the battle over Harvard's president has broad national consequences. If Lawrence H. Summers loses his job for the crime of positing a politically incorrect hypothesis -- or even if he pays some lesser price for it -- the chilling effect on free inquiry will harm everyone.

The self-evident nature of this truth is what has made Summer's subsequent grovelling so difficult to watch. The ethos at Harvard (and much of academia more generally speaking) is one of idelogical conformity and not a spirt of free inquiry. What Summer's should have done, instead of his craven capitulation, is turn to these would be hegemons and say "No."

One can agree or disagree with this ranking of reasons or with Mr. Summers's reading of the research on gender and ability. But it's contrary to the mission of a university to attack people for provoking fresh thought on big issues -- issues that, as Mr. Summers rightly put it, "are too important to sentimentalize." The furious reaction from some members of the Harvard faculty may reflect disaffection with Mr. Summers's leadership on issues ranging from his questioning of tenure to his expansion of the campus. Mr. Summers has sparked controversies on other subjects, too, including political diversity in the law school, the quality of African American studies and campus criticism of Israel. If those subjects in part underlie the movement against Mr. Summers, his critics should engage them directly and not unjustifiably paint him as an anti-feminist bigot.

I've always thought that blaming Summer's for the relative lack of female tenure decisions is a classic example of scapegoating. In only one instance have I heard of Summer's intervening to deny tenure to a female faculty member, the celebrated "hip-hop scholar." (Somehow that term always seems to deserve more than just quotation marks around it. That doesn't produce the needed level of irony.) It is unclear how Larry Summer's has affected the decisions of the dozens of departments that actually make the tenure decisions. Scapegoating Larry is a good way for faculty members to deflect any blame attaching to themselves.

It is an open question as to how much scrutiny Harvard could stand, as in "put up with." You try telling someone from Harvard that they are wrong about anything. Then you will see their true commitment to "free inquiry." Or, more likely, the lack thereof.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Mad As A Hatter

Among the vagaries of my existence is the fact that I live in a household that subscribes to The Progressive Populist. I was perusing an article in it entitled "2004's 10 Worst Corporations" (evidently they are ALL bad, these are just the "worst") when I came upon this section (quoted from a longer online version):

At midnight on December 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.

Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness.

Over 20,000 people are forced to drink water with unsafe levels of mercury, carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.

Activists from around the world — including human rights, legal, environmental health and other experts — mobilized this year to demand that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, be held accountable.

Twenty years after this disaster, the company responsible for this catastrophe and its former executives are still fugitives from justice. Union Carbide and its former chairman, Warren Andersen, were charged with manslaughter for the deaths at Bhopal, but they refuse to appear before the Indian courts.

Let's see if I've got this straight. Dow having purchased Union Carbide's North American operation in 1999 now has to take responsibility for the Bhopal disaster of 1984? A disaster that involved a plant run by Union Carbide India LTD, which was not a wholly owned subsidiary of Union Carbide North America but which was a joint effort with the Indian government and individual shareholders, and which still exists today (re-named Eveready Industries India)? I'm sorry if the people of India haven't been able to get their hands on Warren Andersen or anyone else who is criminally liable in the case, but to dump responsibility for Bhopal on Dow for buying a different but related company is insane. By this logic if I buy shares of Volkswagon today do I have to take some responsibility for the Holocaust?

Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal? The people of Bhopal don’t agree. They say Union Carbide was responsible, and if Union Carbide is now owned by Dow, then Dow’s responsible. They refuse to accept Dow’s corporate shell game.

What shell game? If there are outstanding monetary judgements against Union Carbide NA, Dow should be liable for them when it purchased the company. Obviously there were none. So therefore it isn't. That isn't a "shell game," that's the law. That's the end of this story really.

And don't get me started about the facistic way they want to control what people are allowed to eat. (Read the bit about Hardee's Monster Thickburger to see what I mean. They can't point to any lie or misinformation that Hardee's perpetrated on people., Hardee's is just evil because they make a hamburger these people don't like. Fine, then don't eat one you braying jackasses.)

OK Boys & Girls, It's Reading Time

Here are the controversial remarks of Larry Summers:

The second thing that I think one has to recognize is present is what I would call the combination of, and here, I'm focusing on something that would seek to answer the question of why is the pattern different in science and engineering, and why is the representation even lower and more problematic in science and engineering than it is in other fields. And here, you can get a fair distance, it seems to me, looking at a relatively simple hypothesis. It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population. And that is true with respect to attributes that are and are not plausibly, culturally determined. If one supposes, as I think is reasonable, that if one is talking about physicists at a top twenty-five research university, one is not talking about people who are two standard deviations above the mean. And perhaps it's not even talking about somebody who is three standard deviations above the mean. But it's talking about people who are three and a half, four standard deviations above the mean in the one in 5,000, one in 10,000 class. Even small differences in the standard deviation will translate into very large differences in the available pool substantially out. I did a very crude calculation, which I'm sure was wrong and certainly was unsubtle, twenty different ways. I looked at the Xie and Shauman paper-looked at the book, rather-looked at the evidence on the sex ratios in the top 5% of twelfth graders. If you look at those-they're all over the map, depends on which test, whether it's math, or science, and so forth-but 50% women, one woman for every two men, would be a high-end estimate from their estimates. From that, you can back out a difference in the implied standard deviations that works out to be about 20%. And from that, you can work out the difference out several standard deviations. If you do that calculation-and I have no reason to think that it couldn't be refined in a hundred ways-you get five to one, at the high end. Now, it's pointed out by one of the papers at this conference that these tests are not a very good measure and are not highly predictive with respect to people's ability to do that. And that's absolutely right. But I don't think that resolves the issue at all. Because if my reading of the data is right-it's something people can argue about-that there are some systematic differences in variability in different populations, then whatever the set of attributes are that are precisely defined to correlate with being an aeronautical engineer at MIT or being a chemist at Berkeley, those are probably different in their standard deviations as well. So my sense is that the unfortunate truth-I would far prefer to believe something else, because it would be easier to address what is surely a serious social problem if something else were true-is that the combination of the high-powered job hypothesis and the differing variances probably explains a fair amount of this problem.

There may also be elements, by the way, of differing, there is some, particularly in some attributes, that bear on engineering, there is reasonably strong evidence of taste differences between little girls and little boys that are not easy to attribute to socialization. I just returned from Israel, where we had the opportunity to visit a kibbutz, and to spend some time talking about the history of the kibbutz movement, and it is really very striking to hear how the movement started with an absolute commitment, of a kind one doesn't encounter in other places, that everybody was going to do the same jobs. Sometimes the women were going to fix the tractors, and the men were going to work in the nurseries, sometimes the men were going to fix the tractors and the women were going to work in the nurseries, and just under the pressure of what everyone wanted, in a hundred different kibbutzes, each one of which evolved, it all moved in the same direction. So, I think, while I would prefer to believe otherwise, I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something. And I think it's just something that you probably have to recognize. There are two other hypotheses that are all over. One is socialization. Somehow little girls are all socialized towards nursing and little boys are socialized towards building bridges. No doubt there is some truth in that. I would be hesitant about assigning too much weight to that hypothesis for two reasons. First, most of what we've learned from empirical psychology in the last fifteen years has been that people naturally attribute things to socialization that are in fact not attributable to socialization. We've been astounded by the results of separated twins studies. The confident assertions that autism was a reflection of parental characteristics that were absolutely supported and that people knew from years of observational evidence have now been proven to be wrong. And so, the human mind has a tendency to grab to the socialization hypothesis when you can see it, and it often turns out not to be true. The second empirical problem is that girls are persisting longer and longer. When there were no girls majoring in chemistry, when there were no girls majoring in biology, it was much easier to blame parental socialization. Then, as we are increasingly finding today, the problem is what's happening when people are twenty, or when people are twenty-five, in terms of their patterns, with which they drop out. Again, to the extent it can be addressed, it's a terrific thing to address.

The bastard! The vicious, heartless bastard!

It is unbelievable that such a tentative, equivicating, hesitant discussion of genetic differences in cognitive abilities could possibly spark a controversey.

It also amazes me that reputedly intelligent people who say they believe in academic freedom can support both Ward Churchill's tenure and the intellectual lynch-mob going after Dr. Summer's neck.

Academia is the proper setting for Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

Signaling Intentions

There is a very telling, to put it mildly, opinion piece in this morning's Daily Star in Beirut written by former U.S. ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, Edward S. Walker Jr. and Maggie Salem: Bush took Hariri's death personally

For more than 25 years, Hariri championed an independent, free and sovereign Lebanon. He did so not as an expatriate, but as a participant in endless cease-fire negotiations, interim arrangements and finally the Taif Accord, which ended the country's 15-year civil war. In peace, he left an even greater legacy, leading his country through a tortuous postwar reconstruction process and restoring Beirut's former glory as a premier tourist destination.

But he will be remembered most for his last act in politics. He resigned in October 2004 after Syrian pressure led Lebanon's Parliament to amend the Constitution and renew the tenure of Damascus' devoted ally, President Emile Lahoud. Many contend that Hariri's principled stand cost him his life.

Tragically, Lebanon's recent history is littered with scores of unsolved assassinations, many attributed to Syria. With their own credibility at stake, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lahoud must accept offers of international assistance and find those complicit in and responsible for Hariri's death. Pinpointing responsibility will take time. In the interim, and given official Lebanese stonewalling, U.S. President George W. Bush has, quite rightly, withdrawn his ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey. French President Jacques Chirac should follow suit. So too should British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Given that Chirac actually went to Lebanon to attend Hariri's funeral it is not too difficult to believe that he and Bush will see eye-to-eye on this matter. Given the amount of widespread disaffection towards Syria evident in Lebanon it will be easier for ANY European power to insist that Syria be held to some level of accountability. What form that accountability takes is up in the air at the moment, but with Bush nothing is off the table. I'd think most everyone knows that by now.

As former diplomats in the region, we would normally champion dialogue. But Syria has abused the process. Assad holds high-level meetings and sends representatives to international forums in an effort to maintain his country's waning role as regional arbiter, and to cloak his regime's actions in the guise of respectability. There is, however, a peculiar disregard for follow-through on the substance of the discussions. Promises made are not kept. Ask any number of visitors to Damascus, from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to the last senior official to visit, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

In naval terms that would be called a shot across Syria's bow. The fact that Ambassador Walker, someone who has enjoyed the confidence of both Democratic and Republican administrations, is the one making these statements lends a great weight to them. I would not be surprised if he had the administration's blessing in making them. It clearly looks like an "unofficial" official statement to the effect that the U.S. is quite serious. If, as the piece suggests, France and Britain actually recall their ambassadors that will only underscore the importance of Ambassador Walker's remarks. It says in effect, this is what we will do; now, watch us do it.

In the weeks before Hariri's death, the opposition had effectively shattered the myth of Lebanon's internal fragility, a myth that sustains Syria's presence. A number of political leaders reached across confessional and personal fault lines to build an alliance that brought into question their neighbor's role in Lebanon's internal affairs. As the aftermath of Hariri's assassination begins, and with the official mourning period ended, Syria will likely revert to its old tricks and use the pretext of potential chaos and unrest to crack down on the opposition.

Damascus would be ill advised to follow such a course.

Washington and Paris must not abandon their commitment to a free Lebanon. There are ample signs that they will stay the course. Chirac was the only head of state present in Beirut for Hariri's funeral services. In Washington, Syria is frequently referred to as "low hanging fruit" and not without reason. Bush pledged in his inaugural address to end tyranny, and his advisers are actively looking for the most expedient ways of fulfilling his vision. What the perpetrators of Monday's attack may have miscalculated is Bush's personal anger with Hariri's assassination, which has just begun to manifest itself; recalling Scobey was only his opening move.

Or, "Just in case you missed the threat Mr. Assad, we can take you out whenever we want to...don't try us." But, now that we have shaken a big stick at them, the carrot is now offered:

Of course, there is a way out of this crisis. But Damascus cannot expect to continue peddling intelligence in Iraq, peace talks with Israel and intercession with Iran to trade off against maintaining its oppressive presence in Lebanon. Talking of an alliance with Iran against outside threats, as Syria did on Wednesday, is an old trick too. Far from scaring the Bush administration, such a move will likely embolden it to take an even harder line with Damascus and Tehran.

While Syria tries to ride out international attention, stave off further sanctions - particularly from the European Union - and recalculate the political price of occupying Lebanon, the Lebanese opposition must maintain pressure and continue to build cross-communal bridges.

In other words, Mr. Assad, the road to Damascus is your only path to salvation. We suggest you and your troops take it.

I, of course, cannot prove that this article was written with the sanction of the Bush White House, but it seems to suit too many needs to have been entirely accidental. From the tone and content of the article the most logical audience for it is the Syrian government. And with our ambassador recalled what could be a better way to do it?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Anti-Syrian Unity In Lebanon

The Daily Star in Lebanon is quite an interesting read today. It probably will remain so for quite awhile to come.

Fallen son laid to rest as Lebanese vent their anger:

An estimated quarter of a million Lebanese people, many chanting anti-Syria slogans, took to the streets of Beirut in an outpouring of anger and grief for the funeral of assassinated premier Rafik Hariri.

Observers said the funeral was the largest in Lebanese history as mourners from all confessions, ages and social backgrounds joined the procession.

But following requests from the Hariri family, government officials stayed away from the funeral. The only government official to attend was long-time Speaker Nabih Berri.

The family, which indirectly blames the government for the assassination, had rejected an offer of a state funeral and instead asked the Lebanese people to join them in their grief.

One of the mourners, Raja Halawi, said: "Today is important as Muslims, Christians and Druze have come together. They are all here to condemn the killing. They are all here for Lebanon and to tell Syria it cannot play with our fates any more."

As expected the Lebanese government is rejecting calls for an international investigation into the assassination of Hariri. Although the Swiss are being called in to help provide the government and the Syrians with technical expertise. There is widespread speculation that the claims of responsibility for the attack by a Palestinian youth are bogus.

Separately, Lebanese judicial sources revealed that investigators were expected to receive the results of DNA tests of people who had left Lebanon for Saudi Arabia and Australia after Monday's attack, from Australian and Saudi Interpol.
The results will be compared to DNA tests taken of the parents of Ahmed Abu Adass, the Palestinian who claimed responsibility for Hariri's assassination in a video broadcast on Al-Jazeera television.

Adass has been missing since Monday.

Neighbors of Adass in Beirut refuted the possibility of his involvement in the crime, saying the suspect suffered from drug problems and psychological disorders so pronounced that he had been interned repeatedly.

Others said he was not a fundamentalist, only having started to go to the mosque recently, and that he was not a seasoned driver, thus incapable of driving a van loaded with explosives.

Adass' claim to the crime, in the name of an obscure Islamic group, has also been questioned by experts, who suggest it required highly sophisticated technology that only a well organized group or government might possess.

As a columnist for the Daily Star noted the fact that Syria was instantaneously blamed for the murders just shows how precarious their hold in Lebanon is at the moment. If the United States and France can lead international pressure by presenting a united front in this matter, which seems likely, there is great hope that Syria can be pushed back without a military operation being necessary.Let's hope that hope is well founded.

Is There A Standard Here Or Not?

There has been some chatter about a statement made by some New York state GOP official that the Democrats "have refused to learn the lessons of the past two election cycles, and now they can be accurately called the party of Barbara Boxer, Lynne Stewart and Howard Dean."

The sticking point here is that Lynne Stewart is the "civil rights lawyer" recently convicted of aiding terrorist operations in Egypt. This got Howard Dean and other Dems in an uproar, (see post on The Moderate Voice and The Daily Kos) saying how outrageous it was to link Democrats with someone as despicable as Ms. Stewart. The Democrats have nothing whatsoever to do with such radical left wing riff-raff.

O.K. fair enough. But, if this is true let's see you stick to it.

Word now comes that billionaire George Soros has been bankrolling Stewart's defense. Up until now the Democrats have had no trouble taking Soros' money and associating with the man and the various organizations that he funds, such as

Of course, it could be argued that Democrats didn't know about Soros' involement with Stewart. Fair enough again. They know now. It seems to me that in order to retain the slightest modicum of consistency the Democrats have to shut Soros and his money out from this point forward. In the case of The People of The United States vs. Lynne Stewart, George Soros has clearly made his stand behind Lynne Stewart. That being so, standing behind Soros is the equivalent of standing behind Stewart as well.

Logically the Democrats have no choice but to make it clear that George Soros is not on their side, his money be damned.