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July 31, 2004

Dealing with a Bad Back

I travelled to my parents' farm with a bad back and four children. The combination slows everything down immensely, but I've learned some things:

1. Children aged 2 to 5 are immensely useful for picking up things for people who can't bend over.


2. For my back, at least, heat works better than cold, despite what some experts say. I suspect that heat causes muscles to relax, and their tensing up is what causes my particular problem. For other people, inflammation would be the main problem, and for that, cold might well be better.

3. Canes are useful. My father has two canes, in particular, that I liked. One is an ordinary crooked cane, probably made of ash, which doubles as a yardstick. That one, he said, was too precious to lend-- you can only get them at Farm Progress shows. The other is a folding cane, made of metal, with a glossy wood handle and a rubber tip. It has what I think are called "shock cords" inside-- the elastic cords that are inside modern tent poles.

I note that the Day of the Jackal scheme would probably work very well for terrorism--- construct a multi=part gun from cane parts, to be assembled past the check point. Of course, there a million other ways to get edged weapons, good enough for hijacking purposes, onto an airplane (or the easy, if expensive, way to get anything at all on board-- bribe a guard with a million dollars or by threatening to kill his children). What the stupid security precautions stop is just thinks like penknives that solid citizens might use to thwart a hijacking. I wonder, by the way, if that successful downing of the hijacked plane on 9-11 would perhaps have been prevented if security had been tighter? Did they use such things as penknives and metal forks to fight the terrorists? I don't think there's evidence either way.

And yet I've heard very little criticism of the much-hated President Bush for his airline security policies, except perhaps for having *enough* useless precautions! (And, I should add for accuracy, from the Right, for not allowing *pilots* to carry weapons.) That is no doubt because useless, silly, policies make the Old Women of Both Sexes who comprise a majority of our voters feel safe if the policies are onerous, regardless of whether they are effective. If, however, the Libertarians want to go from 1% to 3% of the vote, they should make this their big issue.

4. A solid baby stroller makes a good walker, better than a cane. For someone like myself, it is no problem for the stroller to be heavy, either.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2004

Recent Entries at the Rasmusen Weblog

Here are some recent posts at my other website, http://www.rasmusen.org/x/ :

Measuring Inequality-- Kaplow 2003 working paper

The Value of Information and Consumer Values

James Miller's Game Theory at Work (McGraw Hill 2003)

Rebecca Blank and William McGurn's Is the Market Moral?(Brookings 2004)

Posted by erasmuse at 08:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Measuring Inequality-- Kaplow 2003 working paper

A bad back and access difficulties are slowing down my blogging, but I have gotten a bit more reading done. One stimulating paper is "Why MEasure Inequality?" by Louis Kaplow of Harvard Law. The theme is that standard measures of inequality in income distribution are flawed because they are not related to any purpose for which you would want such a measure. I've got lots of comments, enough of which are of general interest that I'll write some of them up here.

First, of all, some numerical examples would be useful. Imagine the following income distributions.

A1: Andrew gets 10 dollars per hour. Belinda gets 10 also.

A2: Andrew gets 11 dollars per hour. Belinda gets 1000.

By any measure of inequality, A2 is "worse". Yet most people would prefer society A2 to society A1. In particular, a utilitarian would say A2 is better, because everybody is better off, and a Rawlsian would say A2 is better, because Andrew, the poorest person, is better off in it.

It is true, though, that someone who values Utility and Equality as separate good things, and puts a very strong weight on Equality, would say that A1 is better. That would be true egalitarianism, which although it sounds silly to me, at least has logical consistency.

Most people, however, who say they think inequality is bad don't really mean it. Instead, they are confused utilitarians, who do not mind inequality per se, but think it is inefficient for one person to have a lot more income than another because the rich person doesn't get as much value from his last dollar as the poor person would.

If, however, you really do think inequality is unfair, you are on your way to preferring Society A1-- you should be willing to make everybodypoorer if that will reduce unfairness, after all. If something is evil, it is worth everybody paying something to get rid of that evil.

Muich of Kaplow's working paper is about situations where it is hard to define whether Society X or Society Y has more unequal income distribution. He starts off, though, by saying (roughly) that any definition should say that if distribution B1 is the same as distribution B2 except that if the richest person in B2 has transferred money to the poorest person to reach B1, then B2 is more unequal.

I would dispute even that. Consider the example below.


Society B1. The king has 750 in wealth. Each of 4 dukes has 55. Each of 1000 peasants has 5.

Society B2. The king has 950 in wealth. Each of 4 dukes has 5. Each of 1000 peasants has 5.

B1 can be reached from B2 by taking 200 from the king and splitting it equally among the 4 dukes. But is B1 a more equal income distribution? In society B2, the king is the only rich person, and there is otherwise perfect equality. Aristocrats are no richer than peasants. In daily life, most people are on terms of perfect equality, as a result.

In society B1, on the other hand, an aristocracy has emerged. The king is still vastly richer than anyone else-- that has changed very little. But now there are 5 times as many "rich people". It looks to me as if B1 is much more unequal.

This is not an unrealistic example. In international comparisons, we often will want to compare a tyranny == which levels people out-- to an aristocracy or a market economy-- which tends to create a large class of rich people.

This example illustrates Kaplow's big point nicely. To figure out a good measure of inequality, we have to think hard about what we mean by inequality, which will boil down to what kind of question we are trying to answer.

I've lots more to say, but I'll defer the rest till another day.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:09 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 26, 2004

Numerical analysis of Media Bias: Joe Wilson IV, Broaddrick, Hemings

Captain's Quarters has a good entry of numerical measurement of the media bias in the initial Joe Wilson IV story and the reporting of how it turned out to be based on lies. He describes a Howard Kurtz story from the Washington Post.

This is another in my collection of stories on how the Washington Post beats out the NY Times and the TV networks as far as accuracy. (See my Sandy Burglar story of NY Times vs. Wash.Post.) This one has the nice feature that it originates with the Washington Post. That paper seems to be smart enough to realize that it could eliminate the NY Times as a rival if it shows liberals how much news they miss by reading the NY Times.

This difference came up in my 1999 web study, "Broaddrick and Hemings" too. There, I do some numerical study of how newspapers reported on Clinton's rape of Juanita Broaddrick compared to their treatment of the rumors about President Bush and some woman (*very* flimy rumors) and how they treated the misreporting of the story of Thomas Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemings (where the DNA discovery actually exonerated him more than anything else).

Posted by erasmuse at 04:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Value of Information and Consumer Values

One research theme I've been pursuing is the implication of a consumer not knowing his own value for a good he might buy. This has well-known implications when the problem is of product quality, a dimension going from bad to good that is the same for everybody and that is known to the seller, if not the buyer. What I have looked at is the situation when what the buyer doesn't know is a value *unique to himself*, or to the particular transaction. Here are summaries of the papers:

"Explaining Incomplete Contracts as the Result of Contract-Reading Costs," in the BE Press journal, Advances in Economic Analysis and Policy. Vol. 1: No. 1, Article 2 (2001). http://www.bepress.com/bejeap/advances/vol1/iss1/art2. Much real-world contracting involves adding finding new clauses to add to a basic agreement, clauses which may or may not increase the welfare of both parties. The parties must decide which complications to propose, how closely to examine the other side's proposals, and whether to accept them. This suggests a reason why contracts are incomplete in the sense of lacking Pareto-improving clauses: contract-reading costs matter as much as contract- writing costs. Fine print that is cheap to write can be expensive to read carefully enough to understand the value to the reader, and especially to verify the absence of clauses artfully written to benefit the writer at the reader's expense. As a result, complicated clauses may be rejected outright even if they really do benefit both parties, and this will deter proposing such clauses in the first place. (http: //Pacioli.bus.indiana.edu/erasmuse/published/Rasmusen_01.negot.pdf).

"Getting Carried Away in Auctions as Imperfect Value Discovery" Bidders have to decide whether and when to incur the cost of estimating their own values in auctions. This can explain why people seem to get carried away, bidding higher than they had planned before the auction and then finding they had paid more than the object was worth to them. Even when such behavior is rational, ex ante, it may be perceived as irrational if one ignores other situations in which people revise their bid ceilings upwards and are happy when that enables them to win the auction. (http://www.rasmusen.org/papers/carried-rasmusen.pdf).

"Strategic Implications of Uncertainty Over One's Own Private Value in Auctions." Bidders have to decide whether and when to incur the cost of estimating their own values in auctions. This can explain sniping-- flurries of bids late in auctions with deadlines-- as the result of bidders trying to avoid stimulating other bidders into examining their bid ceiling more carefully. (http://www.rasmusen.org/papers/auction.pdf).

A new thought I just had is that this relates to the classic decision theory problem of The Value of Information, which I used to teach to 1st-year MBA students at UCLA (I've not been teaching first-years for five years or so, even at Indiana-- I wouldn't be surprised if this topic has now been dropped as too technical and upsetting to the students). The question is how much a decisionmaker should pay for information. The most valuable insight is that often he shouldn't pay anything.

I'll use consumer valuation as an example. Suppose I am thinking of buying a new car. How much time should I spend thinking about how much I like the BMW 300 series? Let us assume first that I don't enjoy thinking about cars, so this is a cost rather than recreation. Also, to make it precise, let us focus on the particular information of whether I really like the way the rear bumper looks. What is the greatest number of minutes of thinking time I should be willing to spend to find the answer?

One profound point is that I cannot answer that question unless I know (a) The value of buying the car if it turns out the bumper is ugly, (b) The value of buying the car if it turns out the bumper is pretty, and (c) The value of not buying the car at all.

Suppose that on reflection I decide I would buy the car even if the bumper is ugly. Then the information is worthless to me, and I shouldn't spend any time whatsoever thinking about it.

Or, suppose I decide I wouldn't buy the car even if the bumper were pretty. Again, the information is worthless to me. BIG LESSON: Information that won't affect the choice is useless.

Only in the case where the beauty of the bumper would swing the value of buying the car from negative to positive should I spend any time at all thinking about that feature. And we could then calculate the maximum number of minutes I should be willing to spend acquiring that information.

I find this idea coming up constantly in daily life, chiefly in the context of shopping. I will be shopping with someone, and we will decide that item X is really not suitable. I can then use this idea to say, "OK-- let's stop thinking about it, and go on to item Y. We really don't need to decide whether X is very bad, or merely bad." Or, if we decide to buy Z: "OK- let's buy it. We don't need to agonize over whether it has feature W or not, because we know we'd buy it even if it turned out to lack W."

Option theory enters into this too. I wonder if the Decision Theory texts look at it using option theory from Finance?

Posted by erasmuse at 12:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 25, 2004

James Miller's Game Theory at Work (McGraw Hill 2003)

This economist at Smith College was in tenure trouble because of his conservatism. His game theory book, one of the many competitors of my own book, looks pretty good, though so close in style to Dixit and Nalebuff, Dixit and Skeath, and Macmillan, good books all, that I wonder about the need for it-- especially when Dixit, Nalebuff, and Macmillan are such big names. I was only bold enough to write the 1st edition of Games and Information as an assistant professor because in 1989 nobody else had written a book on game theory in the post-1975 style and everybody wanted to read such a book. I knew I'd have the best book simply because it would be the only book-- though it wasn't for long, it turned out.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rebecca Blank and William McGurn's Is the Market Moral?(Brookings 2004)

Rebecca Blank and William McGurn's Is the Market Moral?(Brookings 2004)

The Pew Forum and Brookings jointly commissioned this little book on what a Christian's attitude towards the economy ought to be, by a liberal and a conservative. I found it a bit disappointing. Both authors are competent at economics, and both spend a lot of time talking about what economists know already-- that markets work very well, that there is some market failure and some government failure, and that people claim to base some rather silly economic policy prescriptions on religion. Both, however, are very much establishment figures, if of different parties, and they are too respectful of each other and others. Since they both do know economics, it is quite clear that each could have said some very pointed things about the economic idiocies of their own groups-- Blank about the Naderism of the Liberal Church, and McGurn about the Namby-Pamby Socialism of the Roman Catholic Church. And of course each could have gone after the other's group.

Becky Blank points out one difference that is almost amusing stereotypical: she quotes the Bible a lot (which is actually pretty good for a liberal), but Mr. McGurn quotes Roman Catholic church documents. And it seems where they disagree is in that Blank thinks norms are important and a market economy relies on virtue, whereas McGurn thinks that somehow free markets create virtue. I'd give Blank a victory on points there. Adam Smith's point is not that free markets make people virtuous, or that selfishness is what makes markets work, but that markets work well *even if* people are selfish and bad, so long as they at least keep their bargains and don't steal from each other. If they are virtuous, that is all the better, but what is nice about markets is that they are more robust than socialism to the presence of rascals.

Neither author meets head on the hard questions for a Christian economist, most of which, I think, concern private behavior rather than government policy. Here are some I would have liked to have seen discussed more:


1. Ought a Christian to be rich?

2. Ought people to be encouraged to work hard by the use of material incentives? Such incentives are, of course, effective, but are they too corrupting?

3. Ought a Christian to force non-Christians to pay taxes to give to the poor?

4. What laws should a Christian use to restrain immorality?

5. Ought a Christian to use the law to restrain blasphemy?

6. Should Christians let the poor suffer if to help them would make them lazy or otherwise immoral?

7. Is it wrong for a Christian to put emphasis on the material well being of himself or others instead of on spiritual things?

8. What makes a Christian liberal different from an atheist liberal? What makes a Christian conservative different from an atheist conservative?

I suppose I ought to try answering these myself some day.

The book has a couple of websites on the back cover which I might visit-- www.pewforum.org/dialogues and www.brookings.edu/religionandsociety.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Joe Wilson, Novak, State, CIA, Clinton

Here are some more tidbits from Joe Wilson's book, The Politics of Truth. These pertain to the Plame-Wilson scandal more directly than my earlier excerpts on Joe Wilson's background.

First, on the question of who leaked Plame's name to Novak we hear on page 345 (I deleted the page number by accident--it is 3 hundred something):

[Of Novak] "He cited not a CIA source, as he had indicated on the phone four days earlier, but rather two senior administration officials."

I wonder if Novak's source really was someone in the CIA. If I were working on such a story, I'd call up my CIA contacts before my White House contacts. But I wouldn't use attribute the leak to the CIA in my story-- I'd say (truthfully) that it was a government official. Maybe "senior administration official" is a term of art among Washington journalists, and it isn't suppose to refer to senior CIA officials. But maybe Novak was just telling a white lie to protect his real source.

I have commented before on how strange it is that the CIA would commission Wilson for the Niger mission, when he would obviously sabotage Administration policy. From what Wilson says, it seems the State Department-- another bureaucracy unhappy with Vice-President Cheney and the hardline crowd-- was in on the mission. On page 17, Wilson says he went and told Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner about his Niger trip before he left, and Kansteiner approved it and gave him a little help.

There are some interesting bits on Wilson and Plame that I hadn't heard about before. Page 240 says that the reception at which he met Valerie Plame at the Turkish Embassy was where he and a general were accepting an award from the "American Turkish Council" on behalf of the European Command. His adultery is confirmed (he was still married to wife number two, though she gets very little mention in the book. On page 242 he reports of Valerie Plame," 'Ladies don't date married men,' she announced firmly as I tried to hold her hand," but her qualms didn't seem to last even a few months. "Soon after our return to Washington, we decided to move in together." I guess that doesn't count as dating. Something very surprising was, we learn on page 278, that Valerie "suffered a bout of postpartum depression". That is very serious stuff-- often more accurately termed "psychosis" than "depression". Sometimes such mothers even kill their children, or never recover. What are the implications of a psychotic CIA employee specializing in weapons of mass destruction?

Finally, on page 240 Wilson relates a weird story about how President Clinton worked a crossword puzzle while Wilson briefed him before a meeting with the President of Mali, "But when his African guest arrived, Clinton was brilliant. He demonstrated an understanding of Mali and a keen interest in his visitor and the issues being raised; it was virtuoso performance." It's not the doing something else while fatuous bureaucrat briefs you that surprises me, but that Clinton was doing a crossword puzzle rather than reading other papers or watching a computer screen. He wouldn't have been intending to insult Wilson; it is hard to imagine that a crossword puzzle is relaxing if you're doing it while being briefed on Mali; he wasn't doing it under a deadline. So why was he doing it? I guess Wilson was lucky Clinton only had a newspaper present instead of an intern.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Joe Wilson, Kerry, and The Commissar Vanishes

Instapundit says that mention of Joe Wilson has been carefully excised from the Kerry for President website, though he still has a speaking spot at a Nation magazine panel at the Democratic Convention. I wonder if Sandy Berger mentions have been given the same treatment. It reminds me of a very good book, The Commissar Vanishes, about how Stalin kept having to change official documents as he kept on purging Old Bolsheviks. The book has wonderful before and after versions of Soviet pictures. I recall some story-- it must have been just after Stalin died and Beria was killed in the succession fight-- of how all the libraries were sent copies of a new,long, article on the Bering Strait that they were to use to replace the old article on Beria in their encyclopedias.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wilson-PLame:Evidence from His Book on His WASPiness and Career

I've been hobbling around with two canes the past day as a result of a backache, and so missed blogging yesterday. But I got some reading done.

I decided if I was going to abuse Joe Wilson IV, I ought to buy his book, humorously titled, The Politics of Truth. I was happy to find evidence confirming my predictions about him. It must be kept in mind that he has no qualms about lying, but even liars slip up and let a lot of truth through. That is one reason why I think the lying-to-the-FBI law that caught Martha Stewart is a very bad law. That law says you need not talk to the FBI, but if you do, and lie, you go to jail. A beter law wouldsay that you *do* need to talk the FBI or you go to jail, but you are free to lie if it's just the police and not a court. That way,the police, experts in detecting lying, would get a lot more information.

Anyway, here is noteworthy information from the Wilson book. If anyone thinks Wilson's has any credibility left to destroy, the book is good for that too, but I focussed on what we might learn about his career, about his motivations, and about the CIA.

In this post: Wilson and his career:

Page 31: Wilson's uncle was mayor of San Francisco from 1912 to 1931 and then governor of California 1931-1934. Another uncle was a U.S. Representative.

Page 33: His family was Episcopalian, though his first wife was Jewish.

Page 34: He spent his high school years in Europe--Nice, Mallorca, Montreuz, and Biarritz. Page 35: "My only experience with the public sector up to that point had been collecting unemployment insurance during the winters at Lake Tahoe,..."

The prediction of my earlier post is confirmed: Wilson is a classic example of the Limousine Liberal-- Northern California subspecies. Keep in mind that the traditional habitat of this type has been the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party, and the traditional enemy is the rest of the Republican Party-- The Old Guard, Southerners, Taftites, Reaganites, Goldwaterites, Southern Californians, traitors to their class such as the Bushes, ethnics of the Slavic, Irish, or southern European varieties, anyone religious, and anyone who shops at K-Mart.

We also learn about his politics:

Page 32: "When in 1967 Muhammed Ali declared he had nothing against the Vietcong, it made sense to me and my friends even as it sent chills down the spines of our parents."

Page 63: When he worked for Al Gore as Foreign Service Fellow, "I saw myself, then as now, as center-left in my outlook on social issues and as a realist in foreign policy."

Page 239: " While I generally voted for the Democratic candidate for president, President Bush had received my vote in the 1992 election that brought Clinton into office. Not surprisingly, my votes generally reflected the political agenda most important to me: foreign policy and national security."

p. 282. Vitriolic comments about Florida 2000: "I had railed against such conduct in flawed elections in Africa , and disliked it just as much in my own country." He claims that the "gutter tactics" of "an out-of-state rabble" stopped the recount in Dade County.

Page 321: ."The Christian Right, with its literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation, had become increasingly strident in promoting war in the Middle East as necessary for the return of Jesus and the subsequent "rapture" promised on Judgement Day."

Page 439: "By uncritically favoring Likud, President Bush has done our Israeli friends and allies no favors." Again, as on page 321, he says that the rapture is the goal of American evangelicals.

Again, we have the Liberal Republican, even down to being willing to vote for a preppie Bush against an Arkansas Democrat. Note how he admits to not having anything against the Vietcong. And, of course his knowledge of evangelical Christianity is embarassingly wrong. For those readers of mine who also know little of this (but are, I hope, less willing to show their ignorance in print), the idea of the rapture is unique to "Dispensationalism", a 20th Century school of exegesis that is common but not the mainstream of Evangelicalism. Also, it isn't clear to me what the rapture has to do with support for Israel even for Dispensationalists. More simply, evangelicals support Israel so strongly (more strongly than American Jews) because Israel is an outpost of Western civilization, which evangelicals support, because they feel kinship with Jews, and because Islam is far more hostile to Christianity than religious Judaism (secular Judaism is another matter!).

And we learn about his career:

Page 209:"I had no intention of remaining in the Foreign Service any longer than necessary to qualify for my retirement, which was just a few years off." This, about 1995.

Page 275: "I had risen about as high as I could in the Foreign Service and decided it was time to retire and try something else in life while I was till young enough to make the transition.

Page 275: "My list of clients was small, as I did not want to overextend myself while learning the ropes,but my geographical reach extended into Africa, Western Europe, and Turkey. The breadth of companies and sectors was already fascinating for me. I had become involved in gold mining in West Africa-- including in Niger, which was just opening up some fields-- as well as telecommunications and the petroleum sector."

Page 341: After his New York Times article attacking the Administration on July 6, 2003, "All that week after the article appeared and the one following, I played as much golf as I possibly could."

My earlier post had sources suggesting that he left the Foreign Service before he qualified for retirement, and involuntarily. I also wondered whether his "consulting" was actually a real job, or whether he just played a lot of golf. Apparently, he didn't have many clients and he did play golf. Another prediction confirmed? Maybe tomorrow I'll report more from this book.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2004

Recent Posts at My Other Weblog

Here are recent post titles at my other weblog, at http://www.rasmusen.org/x/. Deduction Thresholds and Tax Recordkeeping
Splitting Infinitives
Topics at the Controversy Weblog
Does the Charitable Deduction Have Impact?
The New South: Desegregation or Air Conditioning
Splitting My Weblog into Two
Joe Wilson's Lies, His CIA Friends
Recent U.N Atrocities in the Congo
Mary and Martha; Hessel Park Church, Champaign
Protestwarrior.Com Poster Images

Posted by erasmuse at 05:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Deduction Thresholds and Tax Recordkeeping

It's now 4 a.m. I was awakened by my 4-year-old's crying over a bad dream or something and can't get back to sleep after calming her down, because I have such exciting ideas about tax law stimulated by our excellent weekly law-and-econ lunch from yesterday. Here's a question that came up that might be worth formal modelling.

Current U.S. tax law lets me itemize and deduct certain things only to the extent that they exceed a threshold percentage of my adjusted gross income. For example, I think I can deduct Unreimbursed Employee Business Expenses only to the extent that they exceed 2% of income (I might be wrong on the threshold, so take this as a hypothetical if you like). This is supposed to reduce record- keeping, because if I have such expenses that only add up to 1% of income, there is no point in keeping such records.

I suggested that this ought to apply to expenses deducted in calculating Self Employment Income, an "above the line item" too. While we agreed that it was hard to say why Employee and Self-Employment expenses should be treated differently (except for maybe making it harder to deduct *Self-Employment* expenses, since it's easier to cheat when no employer is involved), the question came up of whether the difference really means that there is less incentive to keep records for Employee expenses. The doubt arises because this is not like partial deductibility when, say, 98% of expenses are deductible instead of 100%. That certainly reduces the incentive to keep records, if only slightly. Instead, it is a threshold. Suppose my income is $100,000 and my Employee expenses are $9,000. I can deduct $7,000 of that, but only if I keep records for the entire $9,000 of expenses, including the first $2,000. Moreover, do we really need to worry about wasteful record keeping by someone who has $100,000 in income but only $1,000 in Employee expenses? That person will only keep the records if the cost of doing so does not exceed the benefit he receives.

So there's the question-- is reduced record keeping really a good motivation? I'll not try answering it now.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Splitting Infinitives

In a post on poor writing in the New York Times--- "They have offered theories about what that purpose may have been, like an effort to withhold information..." --- I wrote

In the old days, a Times reporter would have written They have offered theories about what that purpose may have been, such as an effort to withhold information , to at least get the grammar correct, or They say the purpose may have been to withhold information , to make it less verbose and clearer.

A reader kindly commented:

I heartily approve of parsing text from the Times and the Post, but if you're nitpicking grammar, you might want to tidy up your own, "to at least get the grammar right." :-)

and

BTW, pls. feel free to edit out my comment above (and this one too!) along with the split infinitive, should you choose to make changes.

I am grateful for his comments and the way he wrote them. One of the perils of writing about writing is that mistakes undermine one's credibility (why?-- perhaps by indicating that the writer doesn't really think the topic so important). And I wouldn't mind admitting a mistake and rewriting the passage. I can almost always find ways to improve something I've written, even in scholarly papers that are way beyond the tenth draft, and I very much believe in nitpicking grammar (see my recent post on commas and Eats, Shoots & Leaves). But here, again, is what I wrote,

In the old days, a Times reporter would have written They have offered theories about what that purpose may have been, such as an effort to withhold information , to at least get the grammar correct, or They say the purpose may have been to withhold information , to make it less verbose and clearer.

Here is how I would rewrite it:

In the old days a Times reporter would have written, "They have offered theories about what that purpose may have been, such as an effort to withhold information," to at least get the grammar correct, or "They suggest the purpose was to withhold information," to reduce verbosity and increase clarity.

I would retain the split infinitive, "to at least get the grammar correct", rather than change it to "to get the grammar correct, at least". I admit my advocacy of the split infinitive is controversial, but it is controversial only because there are good writers on both sides of the issue-- that is, my advocacy is controversial rather than just perverse.

The first issue is whether it is okay to split infinitives at all. I don't see why not. The main objection is formalist: that "to get" is like one word, and in more logical languages than English would indeed be one word. An infinitive in Latin would be something like "amare"; in French, "etre"; in Russian-- if my distant memories are correct-- "pahnimats". It would be strange to put an adverb in the middle of a verb-- "I ex-carefully-plored the island" instead of "I carefully explored the island."

Against this formalist objection I would put three other considerations. First, it is standard to split infinitives in our spoken language, and in some cases to do otherwise sounds contrived. Second, splitting the infinitive often creates no ambiguity or change in meaning. Third, an equally good formalist argument can be made for putting the adverb inside the infinitive in some cases-- that do so shows that the adverb is really part of the verb idea being expressed. "To at least get the grammar correct" is one idea, whereas "To get the grammar correct, at least" is two ideas, as the pressure for a comma helps show. Thus, there is a slight difference in meaning. And in rebuttal to Latin's use of the one word "amare" for "to love", note that Latin would also use the one word "amo" for "I love", yet formalists do not object to splitting a verb-idea by writing "I always loved her".

A second issue is whether it is proper to split the infinitive in this particular example. I'm running out of time, so I will try to be brief, and might end up being sloppy. As I said in the last paragraph, there is a slight difference in meaning depending on whether I split the infinitive or not, and I want the meaning that has the split infinitive. Also, "To get the grammar correct, at least" has a very awkward rhythm, a sort of gallop to it. "To GET the GRAMmar corRECT, at LEAST." If instead I write, "To at LEAST get the GRAMmar corRECT," I have a more subtle and suitable meter. Equally important, I put the emphasis only on the important words-- "least", "grammar", "correct"-- and not on "get".

But now I should return to the New York Times. They used "like" instead of "such as". But didn't I do the same when I said, An infinitive in Latin would be something like "amare"? And isn't "like" commonly used in place of "such as" in spoken English?

The questions are related. I could equally well have written 1. An infinitive in Latin would be something such as "amare". But there is a difference in meaning from 2. An infinitive in Latin would be something like "amare". Sentence 1 says that Latin infinitives are similar to "amare", whereas sentence 2 says that one example of a Latin infinitive is "amare" without claiming that other Latin infinitives have any similarity to "amare".

Common spoken usage blurs this distinction, and thus is bad. The New York Times shows this. We can tell that in this case the writers meant that "an effort to withhold information" was just one example of a Republican theory, and that other theories were not necessarily similar to that one. But by using "like" they suggest that other theories were like the one they cite.

Of course, there is a deeper problem than grammar here too, because it is not clear that the Times reporters actually think that Republicans have more than one theory. That is why in the rewrite I propose for them I dispense with talk about theories and just say that Republicans suggest that Berger was trying to withhold information. If the Times reporters actually do mean to say that Republicans are not accusing Berger of any one thing and have multiple theories to explain his theft, then the reporters should tell us about more than one of the theories.

Am I foolish to spend so much time on this small point? Perhaps. But I find it an entertaining issue to explore, and if I could actually improve the writing of some people that would be much to the public good. In fact, if this post even makes people take writing more seriously that would be the public good.

I should warn those who may comment on it, though, that I might be too occupied this next few weeks to reply.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2004

Prosecutorial Discretion: Valerie Plame and Sandy Burglar

Juan non-Volokh at the Volokh conspiracy has a post on the question of whether the leaker of Valerie Plame's employment at the CIA should be prosecuted. I had a thought on this and the Sandy Burglar case.

What cases should a prosecutor choose to prosecute? Two prime considerations are "1. Should the person whom I think did X really be punished, or is their conduct excusable, even if illegal?" and "2. Even if I think the person did X and should be punished, do I have enough evidence that I have a good chance of convincing a jury?"

Juan non-Volokh at the Volokh conspiracy has a post on the question of whether the leaker of Valerie Plame's employment at the CIA should be prosecuted. I had a thought on this and the Sandy Burglar case.

What cases should a prosecutor choose to prosecute? Two prime considerations are "1. Should the person whom I think did X really be punished, or is their conduct excusable, even if illegal?" and "2. Even if I think the person did X and should be punished, do I have enough evidence that I have a good chance of convincing a jury?"

I won't discuss (1) here, as applied to either the Plame case or the Berger case, despite its importance. What about (2)? Here, I think the Plame case should clearly be abandoned by the prosecutor. It is crazy that he has not dropped it already. Suppose he thinks he can find out who leaked the information. He still has to convince all 12 members of a jury that all of the following things are true beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. The defendant really is the leaker. Whoever the defendant is, his lawyer will argue that the prosecutor was under pressure to find a culprit and that there are political considerations. It will probably be the defendant's word against one or two witnesses who are heavily political people and who have strong motives for shifting blame from one person to another. Reasonable doubt will be hard to overcome.

2. The defendant knew that Plame not only worked for the CIA but was a covert agent within the past five years (if I remember the statute correctly). Note that Novak did not claim she was a covert agent-- that was leaked later by someone else (was it by someone at the CIA itself-- I forget). Note, too, that she is the mother of twins, has been living in America for some time, and was involved enough in CIA administrative affairs to be writing a memo suggesting her husband for the Niger mission. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the leaker knew she was a covert operative would be close to impossible.

3. The defendant intended to make the information public. I'm guilty here of not bothering to look at the statute, but would someone be guilty if they told Novak Plame was a CIA agent intending for that to just be background information, not to be published? The defense lawyer could argue that the leaker had not told the world that Plame worked for the CIA, just Novak, and suggest that maybe Novak was the one to blame for actual publication.

Moreover, there is another hurdle: jury nullification. Suppose the judge says that it would be a serious felony for a government employee to reveal Plame's name to Novak even if no harm was done because it was common knowledge in Washington anyway, she hadn't worked covertly for some years, the disclosure was motivated by her misbehavior in pushing her husband for a mission, and the leaker had not intended for the information to be published. Would the jury really vote unanimously to send the leaker to jail? I doubt it.

Thus, I see very little chance that the government could get a conviction. And if I am right, a good prosecutor would say, even before learning the identity of the leaker: prosecuting this case would be a waste of government resources, because we'd lose.

Now switch to Sandy Berger's theft of secret government documents. Again, forget item (1), the item of justice. Could a prosecutor get a conviction? Easily. I'm not sure of the elements of the crime, but at most I expect there are just two (a) Did Berger intentionally take notes and/or take the documents themselves, rather than accidentally dropping certain select documents in his pants on several visits?, and (b) Did Berger know he wasn't supposed to do those things? Both of those seem pretty easy, when we're dealing with a former National Security Advisor. (Probably item (b) is not even a necessary element. You don't have to know that burglary is a crime to be guilty of burglary. But the jury might balk at convicting, say, an ordinary citizen who had never been told that he was viewing secret documents and they weren't free samples he could take home with him.)

The Berger case seems to be a slam-dunk. It might be prudent to appoint a special prosecutor, since the Democrats will scream that the prosecution is politically motivated. But it is actually disgraceful that Berger has not already been indicted, tried, and convicted, since the crime seems to have occurred in the fall of 2003 and it is such a simple case. No wonder people like Berger think they are above the law-- it seems they really are, even when Republicans control the Justice Department!

Posted by erasmuse at 10:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

How to Write Distorted News: NYTimes v. Washington Post

Via Instapundit, I discover that Belgravia Dispatch has a wonderful dissection of the amazingly biased New York Times July 22 story on Sandy Berger. It is a good post to read for two reasons: (1) To see how a journalist carefully twists facts, and (2) To see yet another example of the liberal bias at the New York Times has wrecked the paper while the liberal bias at the Washington Post has not stopped it from being a reliable news source.

The Washington Post July 22 story is " Archives Staff Was Suspicious of Berger, Why Documents Were Missing Is Disputed." Here are the first three paragraphs.

Last Oct. 2, former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger stayed huddled over papers at the National Archives until 8 p.m.

What he did not know as he labored through that long Thursday was that the same Archives employees who were solicitously retrieving documents for him were also watching their important visitor with a suspicious eye.

After Berger's previous visit, in September, Archives officials believed documents were missing. This time, they specially coded the papers to more easily tell whether some disappeared, said government officials and legal sources familiar with the case.

The New York Times July 22 story is "White House Knew of Inquiry on Aide; Kerry Camp Irked." It does not actually say what Berger did until the 14th paragraph (up to then, the story is about his persecution by Republicans) and then only vaguely:

The Justice Department declined to comment. The department is investigating whether Mr. Berger broke federal law on the handling of classified material by removing from a secure government reading room a handful of documents related to an after-action report on the 1999 millennium plots, as well as notes he took during his review.

In preparing for testimony before the Sept. 11 commission, Mr. Berger viewed thousands of pages of intelligence documents. He said he removed the documents by mistake, but Republicans accused him of stashing the material in his clothes on purpose. They have offered theories about what that purpose may have been, like an effort to withhold information that reflected badly on the Clinton administration.

Notice the sentence I put in red. It's not just deceptive writing, but poor writing that has crept into the Times. In the old days, a Times reporter would have written They have offered theories about what that purpose may have been, such as an effort to withhold information , to at least get the grammar correct, or They say the purpose may have been to withhold information , to make it less verbose and clearer. In the old days, if one reporter had written so badly, his co-author would have caught it and rewritten it. In the old days, if two reporters had written so badly together, especially on a major story, their editor would have caught it and rewritten it. Not today, though.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:40 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Berger, Instapundit, and Weblog Advantages

Is Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor and until recently one of Kerry's top security advisors, a bumbler, or is he a dangerous criminal? Those are our two choices, which does not say good things about Clinton and Kerry. All the evidence points to "dangerous criminal", and what Berger himself has to say confirms it more than it refutes it.

Instapundit has a great post that shows the value of weblogs, in which he quotes emails from readers. First, though, the story itself about Berger's removal of classified documents. Here's Byron York's summary of the Berger affair:

First, Berger has reportedly conceded that he knowingly hid his handwritten notes in his jacket and pants in order to sneak them out of the Archives. Any notes made from classified material have to be cleared before they can be removed from the Archives --- a common method of safeguarding classified information -- and Berger's admission that he hid the notes in his clothing is a clear sign of intent to conceal his actions.

Second, although Berger said he reviewed thousands of pages, he apparently homed in on a single document: the so-called "after-action report" on the Clinton administration's handling of the millennium plot of 1999/2000. Berger is said to have taken multiple copies of the same paper. He is also said to have taken those copies on at least two different days. There have been no reports that he took any other documents, which suggests that his choice of papers was quite specific, and not the result of simple carelessness.

Third, it appears that Berger's "inadvertent" actions clearly aroused the suspicion of the professional staff at the Archives. Staff members there are said to have seen Berger concealing the papers; they became so concerned that they set up what was in effect a small sting operation to catch him. And sure enough, Berger took some more. Those witnesses went to their superiors, who ultimately went to the Justice Department.

Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds, has a very good roundup of emails from his readers about whether what Berger did was common, sloppy practice in government circles, and whether government workers even know the rules about security. ( Jonah Goldberg at the NRO Corner says he's gotten lots of them too, but, to my disappointment, he doesn't bother to quote them.) To summarize: everybody knows the rules, they are taken very seriously, and Berger had to have known he was breaking the law in a serious way. Here's one example of an email sent to Reynolds:

Just to back up some of your other correspondents. I spent 27 years total in the AF - with a Top Secret clearance. I had at times, specific appended code word clearances, which are controlled on a strict need-to-know basis - because they often involve sensitive sources (say, you are getting data from a mole in the Itanian Gov. - that particular data would be graded TS and then given a code word to further identify it as very sensitive and to restrict access from those with just general TS clearances). In a nutshell, the security system from least classified to most classified was: Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, Top Secret codeword). When we worked on Top Secret codeword (it might read something like Top Secret Fishhook), it was in a vault and our notes were put in burn bags. We were not allowed to take any notes out -period. We clearly understood that you didn't screw around with Secret, much less TS or TS codeword. For us a slip-up meant the slammer. What Berger did is so far removed from accepted security procedure, that I can only see two possible explanations: dishonesty with an ulterior motive (political CYA, I would guess) Or he's crazy. There is no way a veteran in the security business doesn't understand the gravity of walking out with TS codeword data.

and here's another:

I really do not see how the bumbler theory makes any sense, and I highly object to the idea that people who work with very highly classified information simply forget the rules. Only someone who DOES NOT work with very highly classified information could possibly make that charge.

A first advantage of weblogs is that they allow for instant response-- news *and* commentary more quickly than the newspapers and TV can even manage news without commentary.

A second advantage is unbiasedness, in aggregate. There are so many weblogs and it is so easy to start one that the liberal establishment cannot suppress information. Even liberal weblogs will confront awkward facts, because otherwise the more intelligent of their readers will know it-- competition is just too tight.

A third advantage is accuracy. Weblogs can publish corrections instantly,and they can document their claims by linking to other webpages. If they link, readers can check and do their own analysis of the raw data. If they don't link, readers can know to be skeptical. Another part of this is that bloggers have personal reputations to protect. A journalist can jump from one newspaper to another after writing inaccurate stories, and his impact on the credibility of the entire newspaper is small anyway. Instapundit is one person. Moreover, that one person has a real job-- as a law professor-- and if he lies in his weblog it will hurt him in his real job too.

A fourth advantage-- finally coming to the Instapundit-on-Berger example-- is reader feedback. Readers who know more than the blogger can email him and give him information as yet unpublished. Sometimes this will be corrections, going back to my third advantage, but often it will be supplementary information such as the answer to the reasonable question, "Does everybody ignore the rules on removing classified documents, so Berger's offense was not really serious?" Readers of weblogs will know the answer to this, based on convincing evidence from government employees who know what they're talking about. Readers of newspapers will not. Even if a news story purports to answer it, readers will be properly skeptical of bias. In theory a newspaper could do the same thing as Instapundit and publish numerous quotes as evidence, but for some reason--space considerations perhaps-- newspapers don't.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 21, 2004

Does the Charitable Deduction Have Impact?

Clayton Cramer notes

I discovered a few years ago, when I had a remarkably good year (thanks to Nokia's acquisition of my employer), that above about $130,000 gross income, you start losing your charitable deductions. A person who makes $10,000,000 a year, as near as I can tell, gets almost no more benefit on his taxes from giving $1,000,000 to charity than giving $5,000. He might well give the extra money, but it won't lower his federal income taxes more than a couple bucks. (Talk about a really stupid tax policy, if the goal is to encourage charitable giving.)

If this is true, which I'm skeptical of, then the charitable deduction doesn't exist for many (most?) of the people who would itemize donations. Charitable deductions do enter into the Alternative Minimum Tax, but I forget how, having only once been caught by AMT.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mark Steyn on Joe Wilson

Mark Steyn , as usual, writes a situation up with insight and style:

What do Joe Wilson's lies mean? And what does it say about the Democrats and the media that so many high-ranking figures took him at his word?

First, contrary to what Wilson wrote in the New York Times, Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire uranium from Niger. In support of that proposition are a Senate report in Washington, Lord Butler's report in London, MI6, French intelligence, other European agencies -- and, as we now know, the CIA report, based on Joe Wilson's original briefing to them. Against that proposition is Joe Wilson's revised version of events for the Times.

This isn't difficult. In 1999, a senior Iraqi "trade" delegation went to Niger. Uranium accounts for 75 percent of Niger's exports. The rest is goats, cowpeas and onions. So who sends senior trade missions to Niger? Maybe Saddam dispatched his Baathist big shots all the way to the dusty capital of Niamy because he had a sudden yen for goat and onion stew with a side order of black-eyed peas, and Major Wanke, the then-president, had offered him a great three-for-one deal.

But that's not what Joe Wilson found. Major Wanke's prime minister, among others, told Ambassador Wilson that he believed Iraq wanted yellowcake. And Ambassador Wilson told the CIA. And the CIA's report agreed with the British and the Europeans that "Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Africa."

...

That's what lying is, by the way: intentional deceit, not unreliable intelligence. And I'm not usually the sort to bandy the liar-liar-pants-on-fire charge beloved by so many in our politics today, but I'll make an exception in the case of Wilson, who's never been shy about the term. He called Bush a "liar" and he called Cheney a "lying sonofabitch," on stage at a John Kerry rally in Iowa.

...

The obvious explanation for Wilson's deceit about what he found in Africa is that his hatred of Bush outweighed everything else. Or as the novelist and Internet maestro Roger L. Simon put it, "He is a deeply evil human being willing to lie and obfuscate for temporary political gain about a homicidal dictator's search for weapons-grade uranium."

Posted by erasmuse at 09:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vaclav Klaus on Michael Moore

From World Magazine:

"We were used to such things in the communist days."

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, after watching the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. He predicted that the film would have little impact on public opinion in the nation: "Everybody has open eyes and can understand that this is propaganda."

Posted by erasmuse at 09:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sandy Berger and Clinton Security Lapses: A History

George Neumayr of The American Spectator has a nice wrap-up of the numerous security breaches of the Clintonites, exemplified best and most recently by former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger's theft of secret documents:

The image of Sandy Berger stuffing notes into his socks at the National Archives conveys the culture of carelessness and corruption under Bill Clinton far better than anything the 9/11 Commission will report. The Commission fails to see that the fundamental explanation for America's porous security before 9/11 is not structural but cultural. Eight years of Clintonian indiscipline exposed America to attack by disciplined terrorists.

America's elite are too enlightened to notice that lax morality produces lax security. But America's enemies are happy to notice even if America's elites won't. Like robbers sizing up a slipshod neighborhood as an easy target, the terrorists saw from the security lapses America casually accepted during the Clinton years that a 9/11 attack was possible.

...

Recall when ex-bar bouncer Craig Livingstone, elevated to a security position in the Clinton White House by Hillary Clinton, "inadvertenly"(Berger's word for cramming notes into his clothing) lifted 900 FBI files on political appointees from the Bush Sr. and Reagan administrations.

...

When one of Clinton's CIA directors, John Deutch, inadvertenly took home a CIA-issued computer with top secret information on it, Sandy Berger rushed to his defense, and succeeded in persuading Clinton to pardon him. "Berger and other senior White House officials believed Deutch deserved a pardon even though his home computer security violations were egregious. They cited his overall contributions to the government over many years and the fact that there is no evidence that any of the classified material he mishandled was ever obtained by unauthorized individuals," reported the Washington Post back then.

...

During the Clinton years, you could always count on a report about something missing, from laptops White House interns lifted to computers and documents untraceable at vital agencies. After the State Department lost a computer once, the Clinton administration explained it away merely as an official forgetting to close a door to a "secure" conference room. When White House officials walked off with hundreds of thousands of dollars of presidential souvenirs from Air Force One at the end of Clinton's term, that was explained away as precedent. When a spy placed an eavesdropping device in the State Department, that too was an accidental oversight. Apparently he just walked through the front door. The FBI reported after the incident that its officials had seen a Russian spy loitering near the Foggy Bottom entrance.

Hazel O'Leary, Clinton's Energy Secretary, had figured out his security ethos early on, and just dispensed with security badges for visitors to nuclear labs. Placing security badges on foreign visitors, she famously explained, was discriminatory. Then it was learned that nuclear secrets had been nabbed by Chinese Communists. Sandy Berger's response? "We're talking about breaches of security that happened in the mid-1980s."

Berger was criticized at the time for being blasé about security lapses and failing to report Chinese espionage at nuclear labs to Congress, and for having gone out of his way to interfere with a Justice Department investigation of Loral Space & Communications Ltd. for an illegal transfer of missile technology to China. Berger's Loral lobbying (the press reported that Loral chairman Bernard Schwartz was one of the Democrats' largest soft-money contributors during 1995-1996, and had hired a former National Security Council spokesman) was successful.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2004

Linda Ronstadt and Liberal Hatred of Conservatives

Linda Ronstadt says This is a good example of an aspect of the "unconstrained vision" that Thomas Sowell noted long ago in A Conflict of Visions: a visceral hatred of opposing views and an unwillingness to tolerate the possibility that people might be wrong for innocent reasons. No conservative singer would say this about having Michael Moore socialists in his audience. He would expect there to be some, but would have the attitude that there are lots of stupid people in the world, many of them quite nice, and all of them worth singing songs for. Even a Communist has the right to live. But for Linda Ronstadt, it is one of the injustices of the world that she has to be in the same room as a Republican for an hour.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The New South: Desegregation or Air Conditioning

I just came from a good lunch with Profs. Epling and Gupta. An interesting question came up. The South progressed remarkably economically and intellectually 1950-2000, integrating with the rest of the US more than it ever had. Was this due to the end of segregation? Or was it due to air conditioning? Both are plausible theories.

How would we test this? One way might be to regress per capita incomes on a time trend, percentage of houses with air conditioners, and voter turnout among blacks, using county level data, if it is available. I wonder if it's been done.

Posted by erasmuse at 01:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Kerry Fooled by Wilson-- Deutsch and Berger Style

Remember: the most important thing about the Plame-Wilson kerfuffle is not those two rascals but their supporters in the CIA, the Press, and the Democratic Party. Mark Steyn writes well about John Kerry:

And what about John F. Kerry? Joe Wilson campaigned with Kerry in at least six states, and claims to have helped with the candidate's speeches. He was said to be a senior foreign policy adviser to the senator. As of Friday, Wilson's Web site, restorehonesty.com, was still wholly paid for by Kerry's presidential campaign.

Here is the crucial paragraph:

Some of us are on record as dismissing Wilson in the first bloom of his unmerited celebrity. But John Kerry was taken in -- to the point where he signed him up as an adviser and underwrote his Web site. What does that reveal about Mister Nuance and his superb judgment? He claims to be able to rebuild America's relationships with France, and to have excellent buddy-to-buddy relations with French political leaders. Yet anyone who's spent 10 minutes in Europe this last year knows that virtually every government there believes Iraq was trying to get uranium from Africa. Is Kerry so uncurious about America's national security he can't pick up the phone to his Paris pals and get the scoop firsthand? For all his claims to be Monsieur Sophisticate, there's something hicky and parochial in his embrace of an obvious nutcake for passing partisan advantage.

That puts it well: Kerry and his advisors have been fooled and embarassed by an opportunist, because they wanted to make America look bad to help win an election. The thought of a President Kerry is scary. We'll go back to the Clinton days of CIA chiefs and National Security Advisors who care so little about security that they even break federal laws by taking classified materials home with them. (Sandy Berger stole 9-11 documents, and is the subject of a criminal investigation right now.)

Posted by erasmuse at 09:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 19, 2004

Splitting My Weblog into Two

I've used this weblog mainly as a commonplace book, a place to record my thoughts. At the same time, I like having other people see my ideas, especially if they disseminate them to others. And, I would like to be able to use my audience to get comments on my ideas and to ask questions.

For example, I am just working on a paper on optimal parking lot size, and I just thought of an idea that might be worth mentioning. A classic example in some branch of mathematics is a hypothetical town in which the opening of a new connecting road slows down traffic immensely, because of the bottleneck it creates. But I can't remember the source. Do any of my readers? If I had the readership of Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, I could probably find a reference. This is a great advantage of weblogs, because a magazine writer with a readership of a million would *not* be able to get that kind of help from his readers.

So, I would like more readers. But at the same time, I want to write about things that interest me, and not many people have the same interests as I do. How many people combine conservatism, Calvinism, economistical thinking, Midwestern pride, and pleasure in statistics? Three, maybe?

So I will try a test. I will set up a second weblog. One weblog will be for current affairs, and the other will be for everything else. I intend to try doing some cross-listing, but we'll see how well that works. The original weblog address at

http://www.rasmusen.org/x/

will be for Everything Else, and a new address at

http://www.rasmusen.org/x/archives/c/

will be for Current Affairs. The search engine box for each will search both of them (which is why I have the peculiar URL for the Current Affairs blog).

Posted by erasmuse at 09:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Splitting My Weblog into Two

I've used this weblog mainly as a commonplace book, a place to record my thoughts. At the same time, I like having other people see my ideas, especially if they disseminate them to others. And, I would like to be able to use my audience to get comments on my ideas and to ask questions.

For example, I am just working on a paper on optimal parking lot size, and I just thought of an idea that might be worth mentioning. A classic example in some branch of mathematics is a hypothetical town in which the opening of a new connecting road slows down traffic immensely, because of the bottleneck it creates. But I can't remember the source. Do any of my readers? If I had the readership of Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, I could probably find a reference. This is a great advantage of weblogs, because a magazine writer with a readership of a million would *not* be able to get that kind of help from his readers.

So, I would like more readers. But at the same time, I want to write about things that interest me, and not many people have the same interests as I do. How many people combine conservatism, Calvinism, economistical thinking, Midwestern pride, and pleasure in statistics? Three, maybe?

So I will try a test. I will set up a second weblog. One weblog will be for current affairs, and the other will be for everything else. I intend to try doing some cross-listing, but we'll see how well that works. The original weblog address at

http://www.rasmusen.org/x/

will be for Everything Else, and a new address at

http://www.rasmusen.org/x/archives/c/

will be for Current Affairs. The search engine box for each will search both of them (which is why I have the peculiar URL for the Current Affairs blog).

Posted by erasmuse at 09:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Joe Wilson's Lies, His CIA Friends

Here's a post from Junkyard Blog speculating on who in the CIA might be giving Joe Wilson quote to the press.

Googling Valerie Plame, the top two sites I found were The Nation article and Mark Kleiman, both from 2003. They make amusing reading now that Wilson's credibility has been busted. The Weekly Standard has an excellent summary of his lies.

Posted by erasmuse at 08:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Recent U.N Atrocities in the Congo

In May, I commented on the atrocities by Canadian and Belgian U.N. peacekeepers in Somalia, which were markedly worse than what American soldiers did in Abu Ghraib prison. Now, in the Congo, yet another example of atrocities by U.N. peacekeeping forces is ignored by the mainstream press. Via Instapundit comes this story:
Johanneswburg - The defence ministry says it has no knowledge of a United Nations report detailing sexual attacks on minors by South African soldiers stationed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

There have been allegations of 50 cases of sexual attacks on minors carried out by Monuc, the United Nations mission to the DRC, in Bunia in the north-east of the country over the past year.

...

The Star newspaper reported on Monday that a South African colonel in Goma allegedly sexually molested his young male interpreter. Investigations by the UN found that he had requested male interpreters under the age of 18 since the start of his mission.

He was repatriated to South Africa, but there was no indication that he was investigated or prosecuted on his return.

The UN probe follows an investigation by The Independent in London, and a cable sent last month from the Monuc office in Kinshasa to the UN headquarters in New York detailing sexual abuses against minors.

As always, whether we're looking at Catholic priests, bad service by an airline, the Waco massacre, Ruby Ridge, or Abu Ghraib, the thing to focus on is not the evil or incompetence of those doing the bad things, since all large organizations will contain bad people. Rather, we should focus on the response of the organization-- whether it punishes the evildoers, rewards them, or does nothing. South Africa and the U.N. are looking bad in this respect.

Posted by erasmuse at 09:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2004

Mary and Martha; Hessel Park Church, Champaign

I was in Urbana-Champaign over the weekend for the Worldwide Foursquare International Conference, or, more accurately, the 2004 Uni High Reunion for the classes of '76 to '87. I'll post more on that later, but it being Sunday, I'll try to post on a religious theme before I go to bed. We went to the Hessel Park Church (Christian Reformed), since it had a nice website and the Christian Reformed Church is fairly sound, despite its unfortunate concession to feminism a few years of allowing women to be elders. Either Pastor Bossenbroek or somebody else there has administrative talent, I deduce from numerous details such as photos on the wall, an elaborate website, the idea of people bringing up food offerings, page numbers for bible readings, a lady bringing pictures books for my girls to look at during the service, dual offering plates for church and deacon's, unusually beautiful but inexpensive art features, etcetera, all unusual in a small church with a congregation of only about 60.

The sermon was pretty good. It was on the Martha and Mary story in Luke 10:

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

This is a profound story, as worth writing a book about as the Abraham Sacrificing Isaac story that is behind Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. I hadn't made the connection with the two episodes immediately preceding it in Luke 10, which are the Certain Lawyer and the Good Samaritan:

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

These are all closely connected to the fundamental issue of Faith versus Works. The first command is to love God, but the second command is to love thy neighbor, and they are both commands. Moreover, "If you listen and don't act on what is said, then you didn't really hear it," something very akin to the idea of Jonathan Edwards that communication requires not just that the Sender transmit some information, but that the Receiver care enough to receive what is sent. How can anyone tell whether the Receiver has done that? -- By how the Receiver behaves after the information is sent.

I thought about two personal applications. One is the giving of an economics seminar. Suppose I am presenting a paper at Anonymous University, and they treat me royally, picking me up at the airport, feeding me caviar, and housing me in a five-star hotel-- but although they clap after my seminar, nobody asks a single question or argues over a single point in my paper. I will feel deflated, not elated. They weren't listening. But if at Unknown University they take me to McDonald's for the seminar dinner, house me at the Motel Eight, and cut off the discussion at exactly 5 p.m. even though I'm not finished, but they argue every point and ask all the right questions, then I will feel my trip was worthwhile.

The second was to worrying about noisy kids during the service. Since this church was too small to have a Sunday School (just a nursery for the very little ones such as my Benjamin and Lily), Amelia and Elizabeth stayed with me and Helen during the entire service-- as opposed to leaving just before the sermon, their normal practice. Martha would worry about keeping control of them lest they bother everyone else. Mary would--perhaps-- let them distract, and focus on God. So perhaps I should let them bother people more.

Since they stayed for Communion, I tried explaining it to them (despite I Corinthians 14: 34-35, " Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.") I was gratified that Amelia drew the attached picture. It depicts some people who are happy because Jesus let his body be killed for them.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2004

Protestwarrior.Com Poster Images

Clayton Cramer refers us to a marvellous website of slogans for conservative bumper stickers and protest signs. Maybe I'll add more later, when I have more time. See the thumbnail images at www.protestwarrior.com.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Logical Fallacies, Illustrated by Critics of IQ Tests

Via Instapundit, I found kimberly Swygert's list of logical fallacies using IQ testing as a running example, she having been inspired by Nizkor's list of logical fallacies, which uses Holocaust Denial for its examples. I've edited down her post to the version below, not bothering with ellipses.

Appeal to an Unnamed Authority.

This fallacy is committed when a person asserts that a claim is true because an expert or authority makes the claim and the person does not actually identify the expert. Since the expert is not named or identified, there is no way to tell if the person is actually an expert. Unless the person is identified and has his expertise established, there is no reason to accept the claim.

As in, "Critics say tests are biased toward minorities." Simple, to the point - and wrong.

* "Early psychometricians were white men, so they must have been racist." (Ad Hominem fallacy.)

* "Most teachers oppose standardized testing, so it must be wrong." (Appeal to Belief and Biased Sample fallacy.)

* "This standardized test upset an elementary school student, therefore it is wrong." (Appeal to Pity fallacy, at which Michael Winerip is an expert.)

* "I don't take tests well, so there's no way the SAT could predict my college grades." ( Relativist Fallacy.)

* "It was in the news this week that there was a scoring error on the PRAXIS; ETS must make a lot of those errors." (Spotlight fallacy.)

* "You're a psychometrician, so of course any argument you make in support of testing must be taken with a grain of salt." (Circumstantial Ad Hominem, not to mention surreal.)

* The "Live By the Statistics, Die By the Statistics" argument.

Evidence suggest X cannot be true, thus, Y must be true regardless of evidence.

This occurs when testing critics argue the inappropriateness of using a standardized test for predictive purposes, allegedly because the correlation of the test score with the dependent variable is "too low," but then suggest alternatives (such as interviews or essays) with no corresponding data to show that these alternatives are better predictors (as demonstrated here). This seems like a twisted alternative to the Burden of Proof fallacy; because testing critics have (they believe) provided proof that a test is not good enough, this relieves them of any obligation to provide proof that the alternatives they suggest are any good.

* The "Emotionally-charged Yet Undefined Word" fallacy.

X is true, even though no one knows what X is.

The obvious example here is bias, a word which is used in every article critical of standardized tests, yet is rarely properly defined.

* The "800-Pound Gorilla In the Room" fallacy.

The cause of A must be anything other than what is most awkward to admit is the cause of A.

This is related to the Confusing Cause and Effect fallacy, in which one assumes that because A and B regularly occur together, A is the cause of B, and the Post Hoc fallacy, in which A occurs before B, therefore A must be the cause of B. But in the testing critic version, even when A and B always occur together and A always predates B, it must be true that A cannot be the cause of B. This happens when someone observes that, for example, poor teaching based on ill-defined concepts and "progressive" ideas often predate poor test scores, yet testing critics will claim that home life, discipline issues - indeed, anything except the curriculum - must be the cause of the low scores. It hardly needs to be said that this is also related to the Wishful Thinking fallacy.

* The "Omniscient Observer" fallacy.

Item X was created for Person A. Person B cannot solve Item X; therefore, Item X is not appropriate for Person A.

I'm thinking here of the logical fallacy that led reporters and observers to assume that because Governor Bush (who hasn't taken geometry in 30 years and doesn't use the stuff in daily life) couldn't answer an FCAT geometry item on the spot, he has no right to insist that Florida's high-schoolers take the test.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 16, 2004

The Heavy Make-Out Sessions of V. Plame, CIA Agent

In previous posts such as this one I've discussed other aspects of the Plame-Wilson affair, but I just noticed that the January 2001 Vanity Fair article has some evidence on the honest of Valerie Plame herself. Early in the article it says,
On the third or fourth date, he says, they were in the middle of a "heavy make-out" session when she said she had something to tell him. She was very conflicted and very nervous, thinking of everything that had gone into getting her to that point, such as money and training.

She was, she explained, undercover in the C.I.A. "It did nothing to dampen my ardor," he says. "My only question was: Is your name really Valerie?"

Later in the article it says, in commenting on Novak's column that said Plame worked for the CIA:
Plame herself thought instantly that the leak was illegal. Even members of her family did not know what she did.

I see an inconsistency. Plame meets a consultant at a party at the Turkish embassy, falls for him immediately (see the rest of the article), and tells him about her job on the fourth date. But she doesn't tell "members of her own family", and she is appalled when a journalist somehow finds out and says she works for the CIA. Maybe if the journalist had gotten his information from a "heavy make-out" session instead, she wouldn't have been so upset.

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The CIA, Joseph Wilson, and Valerie Plame

Joseph Wilson is an opportunistic liar of no great interest in himself, but his story opens up interesting questions about the CIA and about the theoretical difficulties of managing bureaucrats. As I recount in earlier posts such as this one, when Vice- President Cheney tried to prod it into action on investigating the possible Iraq-Niger connection, the CIA chose an anti-Administration activist who is affiliated with a pro-Islamic think tank and was a political appointee of the previous, Democratic Administration to investigate. Moreover, the CIA seems not to have required him to sign an agreement not to disclose his secret mission to the New York Times, despite knowing that he loves publicity, and the CIA was strangely willing to confirm that his wife, Valerie Plame, was categorized as a secret operative, and unwilling to disclose that she suggested her husband for the job. What are we to make of this?

The January 2001 Vanity Fair article has some useful data. First: Vice- President Cheney (a proxy for President Bush) thought the CIA was doing a bad enough job that he wanted to see their raw data rather than trust that their analysis had anything backing it up, and that he visited the CIA in person to try to get them moving:

According to an October 27, 2003, story by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, there seemed to be a tendency by Cheney's office, among others, to bypass the analysts and use raw intelligence given directly to the administration.

...

Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, visited the C.I.A. several times at Langley and told the staff to make more of an effort to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and to uncover Iraqi attempts to acquire nuclear capabilities. One of the people who objected most fervently to what he saw as "intimidation," according to one former C.I.A. case officer, was Alan Foley, then the head of the Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center. He was Valerie Plame's boss. (Foley could not be reached for comment.)

What is "intimidation" to the employee, of course, is "criticism for laziness" and "pressure to uncover past mistakes" to the boss. I had a good session with my PhD students today, one of whom is working on a mathematical model of bureaucracy and term limits, and how policy results from the interaction between voters, politicians, and bureaucrats. He has focussed on modelling policy preferences as a continuum between Liberal and Conservative, but I realize that there are two other dimensions worth his investigation. I can summarize these in the context of the CIA: "A: Let CIA employees play golf all day" versus "B: Make CIA employees work long hard hours" and "A: Let sleeping dogs lie" versus "B: Uncover past CIA mistakes". The CIA prefers option A in each case, and the politician--whether Democrat or Republican-- prefers B. Since each side has power, the ultimate policy will be somewhere in between.

It wasn't just Wilson who lied-- it was the CIA. Again, from Vanity Fair:

Phelps and Royce [of the July 22,2003 Newsday story] also cited a "senior intelligence official" who said that Plame did not recommend her husband for the Niger job, adding, "There are people elsewhere in the government who are trying to make her look like she was the one who was cooking this up, for some reason. I can't figure out what it could be. We paid his (Wilson's) airfare. But to go to Niger is not exactly a benefit. Most people you'd have to pay big bucks to go there."

Here is what this looks like to me. There are widespread indications that the CIA is incompetent. Vice President Cheney was pressuring the CIA to do a better job. The CIA decided to fight back. They are, after all, experts in information and disinformation. So they gave Wilson the Niger mission to simultaneously pretend they were making efforts to investigate and to create a news story to embarass Cheney.

Both sides-- the Administration and the CIA-- knew this was just one battle in a bigger war. President Bush has been careful to praise the CIA over and over, despite the obviously bad job it has done, despite the embarassment it creates for him, and despite its higher levels being determined by the Clinton Administration for 8 years and by a Clinton appointee even after that. Why? Because Bush is a smart administrator. He knows that the CIA is a tough agency to discipline, especially when foreign affairs require it to function well in the short run. Any kind of reform of any organization is going to hurt short-run performance in exchange for helping long-run performance. Sometimes the short run is just too important to sacrifice. Moreover, the CIA is well positioned to fight back. Its activities are secret, so it is hard to disclose incompetence to the public, and the CIA can badly hurt the Administration in two ways-- by purposely giving it bad or incomplete information so the Administration later looks foolish, and by leaking embarassing information to the press. It can also claim that if the Administration tries to make it more effective that the Administration is bringing politics into what is an agency staffed by people with no opinions of their own, pure technocrats working for the good of the country. The CIA is uniquely positioned to make this claim-- they can say that they deserve very big budgets and have done extremely good work, they just can't give any evidence of it, because that would reveal secrets to the enemy.

Of course, the main enemy may be the taxpayer, but that is left unsaid.

So-- in this case, the CIA made it clear that if someone from the Administration messed with them even in a small way, they'd hit him hard and they'd be quite willing to hit below the belt. That is especially important because talk of fundamental overhaul of the agency is in the air-- even reorganization that would prevent the CIA Director from being such a defender of his bureaucracy-- and such talk has to be stopped before it gets far.

Why, then, did Cheney leave himself open to this kind of attack? He is an old hand at bureaucracy, after all.

(a) He does want to get results with bureaucrats, and wants to have reputation for toughness. He's worked with the Defense Department, one of the toughest agencies, and has learned that fear works better than love.

(b) He is in a stronger position than most vice-presidents, because he was chosen for his talent rather than for political advantage. Bush clearly chose him because he wanted a smart senior advisor with lots of experience-- there's no other reason to choose a Wyoming oil industry executive with no political constituency. The typical VP is someone like Quayle, Gore, or Edwards, who is chosen to give a slight advantage in an election and who therefore is

dispensable after the election is over. (c) Cheney is hard to scare. He is used to insult, used to running big organizations, and cares more about his legacy than about winning the next election. No doubt he would cheerfully step down as VP if Bush wanted him to-- it is not a stepping stone to something else for him.

Thus, this episode may give us some insight into the perils to be faced in administrative reform.

Posted by erasmuse at 01:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Further Reflections on Joseph Wilson's Career

Here's a fuller bio than I had in my earlier post, based on information mostly from PBS (I am not quoting them)

1988 to 1991: Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. During "Desert Shield" he was the acting Ambassador and was responsible for the freeing of several hundred American hostages. He was the last official American to meet with Saddam Hussein before "Desert Storm. He was number two, in charge of administrative matters, to April Glaspie, the career diplomat who it seems in July 1990 made Saddam think the U.S. would not mind if he invaded Kuwait and has not held an ambassador-level job since. She left on vacation later that month, leaving Wilson in charge, and after Saddam invaded Kuwait a few weeks later she didn't return to Iraq. The Air Phase of the First Gulf War started in January 1991.

1992-1995: U.S. Ambassador to the

Gabonese Republic and to the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe from 1992 to 1995 (one ambassador for those two countries is standard) 1995-1997: Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of United States Armed Forces, Europe

June 1997 - July 1998: Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council

Just looking at this record, without Clifford May's anonymous sources, it isn't clear that he left the Foreign Service involuntarily. Maybe he just wanted to move into political appointments with the Clinton Administration, whose politics were more congenial to him than the administrations from 1980 to 1992.

The January 2001 Vanity Fair article contains lots of useful information, especially if you connect it to what else we know. There is mention of Wilson's Turkish connection:

He had met Plame in February 1997 at a reception at the Washington home of the Turkish ambassador.

We learn that he is rich and that he was having an affair with Valerie Plame in or before the year he divorced the second of his three wives. The article says "On the third or fourth date, he says, they were in the middle of a 'heavy make-out' session" and from the following excerpt we see that they were looking at houses and discussing marriage in 1998, the same year he was divorced:

The Wilsons live in the Palisades, an affluent neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on the fringe of Georgetown. In winter, when the trees have no leaves, the back of their house has a stunning view of the Washington Monument. They'd first seen the house in 1998, when it was still being built, and they had instantly fallen in love with it. Even so, Plame took some persuading before they made an offer. "She's very frugal," explains Wilson. "My brother who's in real estate had to fly in from the West Coast and explain that a mortgage could cost less than our rented apartment in the Watergate."

Plame also told Wilson that she'd be moving with him into the new house only as his wife. Records show that Wilson and his second wife, Jacqueline, to whom he was married for 12 years, were divorced in 1998. By the mid-90s, Wilson says, that relationship had pretty much disintegrated. "Separate bedrooms-and I was playing a lot of golf," he says.

Note, too, that exactly as I speculated in my earlier post, he was playing a lot of golf in the 1990's-- not the sign of a successful career.

On the positive side, the article (which, it must be noted, is extremely positive and takes a known liar-- Wilson himself-- as its source for much of what it says) has some good things to say about Wilson's career:

... Wilson also came back to Washington, as a senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council, where, according to the Reagan administration's assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Chester Crocker, he was the most effective person in that job during the Clinton administration.
and
In 1992, Wilson was rewarded with the ambassadorship to Gabon, where, he says, he helped persuade President Omar Bongo-"the most clever politician in African politics," according to Wilson-to have free and open elections.
Of course, when Crocker says that Wilson "was the most effective person in that job during the Clinton administration," that may be damning with faint praise. And we also learn that
Former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Wilson had had a "less-than-stellar record."
How about the question of whether Wilson's consulting job is real or phantom?

After only one year in the job Wilson decided to retire and go into the private sector because "we wanted to have kids, and felt that it had become very difficult to live off two government salaries." He set up a consultancy, J. C. Wilson International Ventures, with an office in downtown Washington at the headquarters of the Rock Creek Corporation, an investment firm of which little is known. Wilson's right-wing critics have been quick to condemn the affiliation as "murky," though Wilson does not work for Rock Creek and merely rents space and facilities there.

...

"I have a number of clients, and basically we help them with their sort of investments in countries like Niger," explains Wilson. "Niger was of some interest because it has some gold deposits coming onstream. We had some clients who were interested in gold.... We were looking to set up a gold-mine company out of London."

That doesn't really tell us much, except to say that though he lists himself as "Strategic Advisor" for Rock Creek Corporation, he is not really an employee-- just a tenant-- and so must not be getting any salary from them. Thus, I conclude the opposite from Bryan Preston and Roger Simon, who seem to worry about how much he was making from Rock Creek Corporation-- instead, it looks like he is making no money from them, and just wants to list an affiliation so it seems like he has a real job. Further investigation might determine who is right.

The Vanity Fair story tells us more about Wilson's background, including how his first wife got fed up with him:

Wilson is the son of freelance journalists who lived in California and then moved around Europe while he and his brother were growing up. He went to the University of California at Santa Barbara and characterized himself as a "surf dude" with some carpentry skills. In person, he gives off a charismatic, relaxed air, and someone who was with him in Baghdad said it's easy to underestimate him. In 1974 he married his college sweetheart, Susan Otchis, and in 1976 went to work for the State Department. His postings included Niger, Togo-where his wife became pregnant with the first set of Wilson twins, Joseph and Sabrina, now 24-South Africa, and Burundi. It was in Burundi that Susan "decided she'd had about enough of me" and left him, he says. He remains on good terms with the family.

Also in Burundi, Wilson met his second wife, then the cultural counselor at the French Embassy there. They spent a year back in Washington on a congressional fellowship, during which time he worked for Al Gore, then a senator from Tennessee, and Tom Foley, then House majority whip. "It was," Wilson says, "happenstance" that he worked for two Democrats. Then he returned to Africa as deputy chief of mission in the Congo Republic, where he helped Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker set up the process that led to negotiations for the withdrawal of the Cuban and South African troops from the Angolan Civil War.

This is all interesting, but what is most interesting is not Wilson's desire to go to Niger and discredit the Bush Administration, but the CIA's desire to help him do it. I'll post on that separately in a little while.

Posted by erasmuse at 01:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 15, 2004

My Movable Type Customizations, Links to Templates

Please excuse the untidiness of this weblog during the past week. In the shift to Movable Type, I've not gotten into a satisfactory routine yet as far as a method for posting and then checking the post. Also, I've done a lot of fiddling with the formatting, which is in some computer language of which I don't even know the name (java? perl?). I am happy that nonetheless I can use trial and error and a bit of thinking to make the changes I want.

Just in case anybody likes my customizations, and so I'll remember them myself, I'm posting my "templates". Unfortunately I didn't think till halfway through to start putting in comments to indicate where I changed things, but I did document a little of it. A preliminary warning: I first downloaded Movable Type 3.0, but the trackbacks didn't work and the manual is written for MT 2.6 and hence is wrong for the new version. So with some effort I found MT 2.661 and moved everything over to it, which seems to work better.

Movable Type has various templates. Most of them seem to be totally unimportant, I discovered after some effort. The two that really matter are the Main Index and the Stylesheet.

My new Main Index template is http://www.rasmusen.org/x/archives/main.index.july15.2004.htm. Here's some of what I did:

  1. I replaced the default search with a freeware Picosearch searcher box. This allows me to search my old archives as well as the new Movable Type archives (I copied the old archives to the new directory), and to allow ANY WORDS and SPECIFIC PHRASE searches.
  2. I deleted the calendar (who uses an archive calendar, anyway?).
  3. I added my photo.
  4. I moved the ancillary materials-- search box, archives, etc.-- from the side to the top, and widened the main entry. I would have liked to narrow the lefthand gray vertical strip, but I couldn't figure out how.
  5. I added a Policies link to a separate HTML file.
  6. I arranged the Archives listing, latest 10 topics, search engine, and so forth to try to look ok and not waste too much space. I retained the "Powered by Movable Type", even though I think I could easily have deleted it, since the MT people should get some credit for providing this for free.
  7. I added my email address and a link to the old archives and weblog.
  8. I put "Recent Entries" and the title of each entry into a red font.
My new Stylesheet template is http://www.rasmusen.org/x/archives/stylesheet_july14.2004.htm. I think the main thing I did there was to indent paragraphs.

The Individual Archive template controls posts viewed individually instead of all strung together. My new Individual Archive template is http://www.rasmusen.org/x/archives/indivdiual.entry.archive.july15.2004.htm. I increased the font size and put the heading "Comment" in red. I ought to put the names of comment authors in red too- haven't done that yet.

The Data-Based Archive controls the archives of a given month all strung together in one file. My new Data-Based Archive template is http://www.rasmusen.org/x/archives/databased.archive.july15.2004.htm. I increased the font size and put the titles in red, and changed the spacing.

Movable Type is nice because it provides satisfactory default formatting but does allow customization in this way.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Electronic Books

Why don's we have the simple technology needed for electronic books? What is needed seems rather simple, technologically:

We need a small hinged screen that looks just like a conventional book, with a slot into which the user can insert a small memory RAM card (say, 8M) containing plain ascii texts. The device would have software that would divide the text up into pages. When you reach the end of page 1, you would hit a button at the bottom right-hand corner that would refresh the left screen with page 3 while you are reading on page 2. When you get to the end of page 2, you'd hit a button that would refresh the right screen with page 4. On the cover would be other dedicated buttons that would allow you to go directly to any page number of your choice (you'd hold it down a page numbers would whiz past until you got to the one you wanted). There would be no ON/OFF button-- that would be one just by opening and closing the book, with a timer to turn off automatically if you forget. It would run on two AA batteries, or, if that isn't enough power, plug into a wall outlet for recharging.

Notice that in all respects this is as close to a conventional book as possible. The conventional book is a great design. All it lacks is the ability to add new texts to a given shell, so that currently if you want to take 20 books on vacation or into your hammock you've got too big a pile to carry.

In contrast, the WSJ ($) today tells us of a rather pitiful couple of new electronic readers:

Now the world's two biggest consumer-electronics companies -- Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial, the maker of Panasonic devices -- are giving the digital book a whirl in Japan, though not yet anywhere else.

Both recently started selling electronic readers that let users view a variety of material downloaded from Internet sites. But despite some attractive services and compelling technology, a week of testing the Sony Librie and Panasonic SigmaBook reminded me how great paper still is.

...

Part of the problem is that the Librie display's response is excruciatingly slow. "Turning" a page takes a full second, and using the jog wheel to move the cursor through menus is frustrating. It's still tolerable if you're chugging through a story from start to finish, but returning to a section you've read before is a real slog unless you've had the foresight to "bookmark" the page you want.

Where the Librie really fails is in its handling of digital content. It can only view content that comes from a site run by Publishing Link, a Sony-affiliated company with investments from most of Japan's big publishers. Users download digital books to their computers from there and then transfer them to the Librie, ...

The article shows a picture of something like a tablet PC, with a zillion buttons and a single screen. Surely the geeks of Akibahara can do better than that. I suppose the problem is that they don't actually ever read books,having acquired a mistrust for them from their extensive experience with the uselessness and deception of computer manuals. Thus, they are trying to make a small computer for reading rather than trying to imitate the classic book design.

This is part of a general failing of technology geeks: the failure to realize that the best innovation is one which looks and feels almost exactly like old- fashioned technology to the user, so there is practically no learning cost and no risk in buying it. We saw this with PC's: computer people didn't realize that they were successful mainly because most people wanted to buy a glorified typewriter. We saw it with email too: that is successful because it is almost the same as writing a letter. The best technology is the technology that is invisible.

Posted by erasmuse at 05:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2004

The Wilson-Plame Affair: Career Motives?

In a recent post I discuss the lies of Joseph Wilson IV, the husband of Valerie Plame. One angle that has not gotten enough attention is why he and his wife wanted him to go on the mission to Niger. The most likely explanation is that Wilson wanted to make the President look bad, and planned all along to write his notorious New York Times op-ed, and that the CIA, for its part, wanted to pretend they were investigating the Niger-Iraq connection but actually wanted to bury the topic, because if any connection were found it would make their previous ignorance of it look bad. That's the kind of explanation I thought about a year ago when this first came up.

But there's another possible explanation, complementary to the first. This other possibility is that Wilson wanted to go to Niger on a CIA mission in order to help his consulting business. His wife dutifully proposed it to the CIA, and her bosses were willing to go along with it as a favor to her, a kind of bonus payment.

Let's think about that scenario. It's hard to get much public evidence, but I can lay out what we have and what would confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis.

First, let's look at Wilson's current job situation. Clifford May at NRO tells us:

Wilson spent a total of eight days in Niger "drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people," as he put it.

...Oddly, too, as an investigator on assignment for the CIA he was not required to keep his mission and its conclusions confidential. And for the New York Times , he was happy to put pen to paper, to write an op-ed charging the Bush administration with "twisting," "manipulating" and "exaggerating" intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs "to justify an invasion."

...

In 1991, Wilson's book jacket boasts, President George H.W. Bush praised Wilson as "a true American hero," and he was made an ambassador. But for some reason, he was assigned not to Cairo, Paris, or Moscow, places where you put the best and the brightest, nor was he sent to Bermuda or Luxembourg, places you send people you want to reward. Instead, he was sent to Gabon, a diplomatic backwater of the first rank.

After that, he says in his memoir, "I had risen about as high as I could in the Foreign Service and decided it was time to retire." Well, that's not exactly accurate either. He could have been given a more important posting, such as Kenya or South Africa, or he could have been promoted higher in the senior Foreign Service (he made only the first of four grades). Instead, he was evidently (according to my sources) forced into involuntary retirement at 48. (The minimum age for voluntary retirement in the Foreign Service is 50.) After that, he seems to have made quite a bit of money — doing what for whom is unclear and I wish the Senate committee had attempted to find out.

Actually, I wonder whether we know if he "made quite a bit of money". He seems to be driving a Jaguar and wearing fancy clothes, but when somebody is a liberal white Democrat with a name like "Joseph Wilson IV" and a career in the Foreign Service, you wonder if there might be some inherited WASP money there. Against this theory, the Middle East Institute Media Resources tells us that

Ambassador Wilson was raised in California and graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1972.

(Note, by the way, that this website, dated 2002, also says "He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters." He made no secret of his marriage to someone whose supposed job sounds awfully like a CIA cover job. )

PBS says

Currently, Wilson is CEO of JCWilson International Ventures, Corp., a firm specializing in Strategic Management and International Business Development. He is also an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

A forum had a caller asking him what he actually does for a living:


Alexandria, Va.:...Also, could you tell us a little bit about your company JC Wilson International? Thank you.
Joseph C. Wilson: We do political risk assessment for companies wanting to do business in Africa Europe and the Middle East.

He didn't go into any more depth, which I think is significant.

It seems, too that he is a "Strategic Advisor" to the CPS :

Corporate and Public Strategy Advisory Group (CPS) is a consultancy company providing strategic advice in public affairs and business and investment development, to the public and private sectors.

CPS actually seems to be a Turkish consulting firm, as a glance at its personnel shows. Why is Wilson linked to them? Maybe he's knows a lot about Turkey too. Or maybe they're eager to have a former U.S. Ambassador on their masthead, and he's willing to sell his name cheap.

Those are our facts. What can we make of them? Well, here are my speculations. WASPy liberal Joseph Wilson IV graduated from Santa Barbara in 1972 and didn't want to dirty his fingers with a job in business, so he went into the Foreign Service. He didn't do terribly well there, and was eased out at age 48, two years before the earliest voluntary retirement age. What was he to do? He kicked around in various political appointments in the Clinton Administration for a few years, he put up his shingle as a consultant, and he did odd jobs for CPS and anyone else he could get work from. In America, even if you're rich, you're supposed to have a job if you're under age 65. If you can't find a job or don't want to, the conventional way out is to call yourself a consultant and change the subject if people rudely ask you exactly what being a consultant means.

But you know that some consultants actually make money, and that if you are a consultant on political matters, one way to earn money is by seeming to have important contacts in government. Your wife is one such contact, but she's pretty far down the totem pole. Nonetheless, she can help. She can get you a gig visiting a foreign capital-- it's only Niger, but you're desperate-- as a representative of the CIA, on a mission of the highest importance. Your air fare is paid, as is the bill at the one decent hotel in Niger (only about 100 bucks a night, at the Hotel Sofitel I'm guessing). That doesn't matter much, though, and neither does the fact that you can't get paid anything because that would violate the federal anti-nepotism law, 5 USC Sec. 3110. What matters is that you come back to America and, since somehow you didn't sign any nondisclosure agreement, when people ask what you did last year, you can say, "Oh, lots of stuff. For example, when the CIA needed to send someone to Africa to check on possible uranium sales to Iraq, they naturally thought of me, and after some thought I agreed to take the time to go, since I do like to serve my country even now that I've joined the private sector."

Is this part of his motivation? I don't know. You've got the same facts as I do now. I still think the "Get Bush" motivation-- which, note, has also been a huge source of publicity and income for him-- is the main thing. But 8 days in Africa would be worth it for the boasting value alone, whether that value came back in actual consulting contracts or just in preserving one's self-respect as a man ashamed of involuntary early retirement.

This hypothesis could easily be disproved if it was false. What we would need is a copy of Wilson's tax returns or some other measure of how he is spending his time. If he is making lots of money from consulting and seems to have more business than he can handle, the hypothesis is false. If, on the other hand, he isn't doing much business at all, and is spending a lot of time at the golf course, then the hypothesis becomes more plausible.

If the hypothesis is true, a new question arises. It would certainly be unethical for his wife to have gotten him a CIA consulting gig just for their own private purposes when she knew he wouldn't do the best job of it, but would it be illegal? It would be if he were paid cash, but he was not. Suppose, though, that she plainly admitted that he was given the job for the purpose of helping him get private consulting contracts. Would that be illegal? I don't know.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:46 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Selling Art to the Masses and Tracy Lawrence's "Paint

Via Daps Lyrics, here are the words to a Tracy Lawrence song I like, "Paint Me A Birmingham"

He was sitting’ there, his brush in hand
Painting’ waves as they danced, upon the sand
With every stroke, he brought to life
The deep blue of the ocean, against the morning’ sky
I asked him if he only painted ocean scenes
He said for twenty dollars, I’ll paint you anything

Could you Paint Me A Birmingham
Make it look just the way I planned
A little house on the edge of town
Porch going’ all the way around
Put her there in the front yard swing
Cotton dress make it, early spring
For a while she’ll be, mine again
If you can Paint Me A Birmingham

He looked at me, with knowing eyes
Then took a canvas from a bag there by his side
Picked up a brush, and said to me
Son just where in this picture would you like to be
And I said if there’s any way you can
Could you paint me back into her arms again?

Could you Paint Me A Birmingham
Make it look just the way I planned
A little house on the edge of town
Porch going’ all the way around
Put her there in the front yard swing
Cotton dress make it, early spring
For a while she’ll be, mine again
If you can Paint Me A Birmingham

Paint Me A Birmingham
Make it look just the way I planned
A little house on the edge of town
Porch going’ all the way around
Put her there in the front yard swing
Cotton dress make it, early spring
For a while she’ll be, mine again
If you can Paint Me A Birmingham
Oh paint me a Birmingham

The music is important, of course. Poetry seems to be in the doldrums since 1950 or so, just like classical music. Could it be that the talent that would have gone into both has gone into writing popular songs instead? That's where the money is, and someone with talent can do equally good work either place.

Some might deny this, and say that popular music is no place for an artist, because the masses won't buy good music. Suppose we grant the premise-- that the masses like bad songs better than good songs. Although I'm an economist, and economists usually are too bound to the idea of "consumer sovereignty"-- that consumer decisions cannot be criticized on grounds of taste-- I am quite willing to abandon the idea in contexts like this. But let's think about the implications of consumers not being willing to pay as much for artistic music as for schlock.

The key is to make the right comparison. Suppose Artist A is trying to write good, artistic songs for the masses. He will of course earn far far less than Artist B, equally talented, who prostitutes himself to write bad, schlocky songs for the masses. But that is not the proper comparison. Rather, we must compare Artist A with Artist C, who is trying to write good, artistic songs, but in the venue of classical music. I bet Artist A will make far more money than Artist C. He will certainly make more money from royalties, and the only question is whether Artist C makes enough from subsidies from nonprofits and government to come anywhere close. If you're writing good music, maybe it won't sell as well as bad, but if the mass market is a thousand times bigger than the classical market (for newly composed music, that is), a conservative estimate, then you can do far better with a 1% market share than a classical composer could with a 100% market share (900% better, in fact, in this example).

Posted by erasmuse at 09:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Effect of the Minimum Wage

Steven Landsburg usually makes more sense than he does in the Slate post in which he discusses the minimum wage. He makes three claims that seem to me wrong. The claims are (1) and (3) in my paraphrase):

1. Published studies of the effect of the minimum wage on employment cannot be trusted because of a selection effect: a study which found no effect would not be published, but a study which found a study due to a trick in the data *would* get published.

2. "It is almost impossible to maintain the old argument that minimum wages are bad for minimum-wage workers."

3. A minimum wage increase will hurt employers.

First, let's have some discussion of the theory. Why do economists think that an increase in the minimum wage reduces employment? Assume some employers are actually paying the minimum wage before the increase (that is, we don't have a minimum wage of $.25/hour in an economy where nobody works for less than $5.00/hour anyway.) Consider three types of employers:


1. Employer A does not change the number of hours of worker time he buys when the minimum wage goes up.

2. Employer B reduces the number of hours of worker time he buys when theminimum wage goes up.

3. Employer C *increases* the number of hours of worker time he buys when the minimum wage goes up.

How many employers of each type will there be? Lots of type A, and lots of Type B, I would think-- or, if you like, at least a *few* of Type B. But I would expect zero employers of type C. Why would any employer react to minimum wage increases by hiring more workers? If he is so generous as to like to give away money, he would have done that even before the minimum wage increase. Thus, there will be some employers who don't react, and some who reduce employment, so on average employment will fall.

The theory is therefore unequivocal: people will be working fewer hours if the minimum wage is increased.

But how big will the reduction in hours be? That is the real question, and it might be very small, especially in the short run. If we increase the minimum wage from $6.00 to $7.00 today, employment might well be unchanged tomorrow. Even over six months, it might not change much, if managers need time to ponder, for example, whether it is worth cutting back on the hours a fast-food restaurant is open. Much of the impact will occur in the long run-- over a period of several years-- as employers decide not to open new outlets or not to bother refurbishing old outlets whose profitability has been hurt by the higher wages. In the meantime, old outlets may keep on operating with the same shop hours even if the wage is higher, given that the other costs of the shop are sunk already.

Finally, we must keep in mind that the theory just says that employers will hire less labor, not that they will hire fewer workers. A fast food restaurant might go from 30 employees at 6 hours per employee down to 30 employees at 5 hours per employee. That keeps employment exactly the same, but labor hours have fallen from 180 hours to 150 hours, the equivalent of firing 5 of the 30 employees.

Indeed, an increase in the minimum wage could even *increase* employment. Our restaurant might go from 30 employees at 6 hours per employee to 40 employees at 4 hours per employee. That is a big increase in employment, but a reduction in hours worked from 180 hours to 160 hours.

This is important in evaluating studies such as that in the famous 1995 book by Card and Krueger. Their original study looked at employment in a clever comparison of New Jersey with neighboring Pennsylvania, two states with different minimum wage laws. They concluded that an increase in the minimum wage had no effect. Taken literally, their statistical results seem to show that the increase in the minimum wage in New Jersey *increased* employment, but they don't push that conclusion, since they don't have a theory for it. Indeed, the result is so odd as to cast doubt on their entire study, because it suggests that unknown to them, something else entirely different was happening in New Jersey that coincided with the minimum wage increase.

Or, it might be that restaurants went from 30 employees at 6 hours each to 40 employees at 4 hours each as I suggested above. Neumark and Wascher (American Economic Review, 2000) take a look at hours instead of employment in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and come to a different conclusion; Card and Krueger, (American Economic Review, 2000) reply and criticze Neumark and Wascher.

So it is hard to measure the effect of the minimum wage. Now back to Landsburg's three points.

1. Published studies of the effect of the minimum wage on employment cannot be trusted because of a selection effect: a study which found no effect would not be published, but a study which found a study due to a trick in the data *would* get published. Point (1) is nicely hit by a July 9 comment of Jim Glass on Brad DeLong's weblog.

Is Landsburg really saying 95% of all studies have found the minimum wage to have no effect on employment -- and by so finding were deemed too "uninteresting" to publish, like Card & Krueger? If so, that ought to be easy enough to verify. Calling all studies!

A second, bigger, problem with point (1) is the claim that a study which found no effect could not be published. The conventional wisdom is that the minimum wage does reduce employment, so we'd actually expect selection bias *the other way*. "The minimum wage reduces employment" is a "Dog bites man" story. "The minimum wage does not affect employment" is "Man bites dog". Card and Krueger got a lot of mileage out of their study precisely because the results were so counter to theory.

A caveat:studies which show no effect would often not get published because editors would rightly be concerned about lack of statistical power-- a concept I explain in a recent post of mine. Suppose the data is not good enough to pick up the effect of the minimum wage-- even if it is a large effect-- because too many other things are going on in the economy that affect employment. Then, a study which cannot reject the null hypothesis of no effect also would not be able to reject the null hypothesis of a large negative effect.

Jacob Levy, at the Volokh Conspiracy, writes about this selection theory. His post prompted me to write this, since the Card-Krueger result has come up in the Indiana Law and Econ Lunch before and since Levy wrote

The econo-bloggers all seem to think Landsburg is basically right about the consensus view among economists.

I'm an economist who dissents from that view. Tyler Cowen has an interesting angle too: just as product quality falls when a price maximum is imposed, so we would expect job quality (e.g., air conditioning) to fall when a wage minimum is imposed.

Also, Steve Bainbridge has a good post where he says,

Being curious as to whether there really was a new consensus to which folks like Sowell and Neumark are just outliers, I did a little digging and came across "Consensus Among Economists: Revisited" by Dan Fuller and Doris Geide-Stevenson, published in the Journal of Economic Education (Fall 2003). They find a decline in agreement among surveyed economists between 1990 and 2000 with respect to the minimum wage: "It is likely that the recent research and debate concerning the effect of a minimum wage increase on employment have shifted economists’ opinion toward less agreement." Yet, while there has been a shift, in 2000 a plurality of the surveyed economists (45.6%) still agreed with the statement "Minimum wages increase unemployment among young and unskilled workers." Another 27.9% agreed with provisos, while only 26.5% disagreed. So perhaps there is less of a consensus than some would have you believe.


2. "It is almost impossible to maintain the old argument that minimum wages are bad for minimum-wage workers."

Jim Glass points us to a Cleveland Fed survey by Neumark, Schweitzer and Wascher (two of them were the critics of the Card-Kreuger study I cited). But I would not rely on the many empirical studies that do find negative employment effects. Finding the long-run effect on hours worked of a 20% increase in the minimum wage is hard to do accurately if at the same time, (1) tax rates are changing, (2) the economy is rising and falling, (3) import competition is increasing or decreasing, (4) big companies that hire lots of low-paid workers are changing their policies in various ways, (5) the criminality of young unskilled workers is rising or falling, (6) schools and junior colleges are changing the quality of the workers they produce...

That is why Card and Krueger tried comparing just two regions in adjacent states-- to control for these other things. But with just two states, you end up with the problem that maybe something special about one of the states that is not included in the study is driving the results.

So I find the theory more believable. A standard example of why the theory is compelling is to ask whether you believe the effect of an increase would be small if the increase were from $5.00/hour to $50.00/hour. If you think that big an increase would have an effect, how about from $5.00 to $6.00? From $6.00 to $7.00? From $7.00 to $8.00? ... From $49.00 to $50.00? To quote Jim Glass again,

... if we keep changes small enough so we don't see ourselves doing any visible harm we will be free to imagine we are doing a lot of good!

3. A minimum wage increase will mainly hurt employers.

Brad DeLong caught what's wrong with this. Employers who hire minimum-wage labor are likely to be in highly competitive industries-- fast food, agriculture, production of low-quality goods, and so forth. Their profits are just a normal return on capital. If their costs rise, their prices will rise too. There will be some short-run loss of quasi-rents-- with higher prices, sales will fall and some of the employers will go out of business. But those employers were not earning more than a bare competitive return to their talents and capital anyway, so they haven't lost much. And, indeed, starting from Landsburg's premise of no employment loss, there won't be any sales loss either, and thus no exit from the industry (if sales fell, then employment would have to fall too, unless we believe employers are willing to pay workers to stand around idle). Instead, the losers are consumers of the products and services of minimum-wage workers.

Posted by erasmuse at 03:51 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 13, 2004

ORSON SCOTT CARD ON MEDIA BIAS METHODS

Noted science fiction writer Orson Scott Card writes for the Wall Street Journal :

In a story on Donald Rumsfeld's remarks to the graduating class at West Point, here is the lead paragraph: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, making no mention of the prisoner abuse scandal that has led to calls for his ouster, told a cheering crowd of graduating cadets Saturday that they will help win the global fight against terror."

Let's see, how could there be any bias in that? Every word is true, right?

Except for this: Mr. Rumsfeld mentioning the prisoner- abuse scandal at a commencement address at West Point.

The lead, in other words, is not the graduation that is supposedly being reported, but rather Mr. Rumsfeld's failure to resign in the face of events that happened weeks ago. How is Mr. Rumsfeld's not resigning news? It's mentioned in this story only because the reporter does not want to let go of it.

This is bulldog journalism: Once you get hold of a story, you never loosen your grip until your victim dies--at least politically.

Does it happen to everybody? Or just Republicans? Well, try this fictitious opening paragraph: "Senator Hillary Clinton, making no mention of the $100,000 she once made by trading cattle futures with astonishing perfection, told a cheering crowd of activists that President Bush's globalist economic policy is hurting poor people in other countries and costing American jobs."

Nope. You've never seen it, and you never will. Because bulldog journalism only goes one way in our "unbiased" mainstream media.

Mr Card is very smart. This is an effective method to deceive without a simple lie. Rush Limbaugh actually referred to a variant of it on his show recently: make a charge, without any evidence, and say that the charge is so serious that it warrants investigation nonetheless. Then, the story becomes, " X is charged with crime Y", and the fact that there is no evidence can be ignored, if the newspaper or TV show so chooses. All that is necessary is to give the biased media outlet the "hook" onto which to pin the story it would like to be true.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2004

SIGNIFICANCE AND POWER IN STATISTICS

This is a note on a technical point I was writing to a law professor about which I might use in my own writing or teaching later.

Suppose we estimate the effect of capital punishment on murder to be a reduction in the murder rate of 3, and we want to know how accurate that estimate is, and whether we can be confident the true value is not really 0. The standard test is the t-test, which might give us a confidence level (or significance level) of 30%. Conventionally, our conclusion would be that we cannot reject the null hypothesis that capital punishment has no effect on murder.

But what does the 30% mean? It means this. Suppose that the true effect is indeed 0. If our model is correct, and we ran the same kind of test on 100 different samples of data, we would expect to falsely reject the null hypothesis of 0 effect in 70 of those 100 tests. Each test would come up with a different estimate-- 3, 7.2,-8.4, 1.9, 0.0, -2.1, etcetera-- and 70 of those estimates would be far enough from 0 that we'd falsely conclude that the true coefficient was not zero. Thus, this test would be very misleading on this data if the true effect is indeed 0.

Should we therefore conclude that the true effect is 0? Not really. There is a second desirable feature of a test: its power. A test's power is the probability that the test gives us the right answer given that the null hypothesis is wrong-- that is, the probability that we wrongly fail to reject the null. It could be that our data is so poor that our t-test cannot reliably detect an effect of capital punishment on murder even though the effect exists and is strong. That, indeed, is truly the big problem for statistical studies of capital punishment, and one reason I tend not to pay them much attention.

Let me explain more. Suppose the true effect is 3.5. The power of the t-test is that probability that we don't fail to reject the null hypothesis of a 0 effect, given that the true effect is 3.5-- a number that we might estimate to be equal to 45% in this example where our estimate was 4. Thus, it might be although we think our test is too unreliable to tell us that the true value is different from 0, we might at the same time think our test is also too unreliable to tell us that the the true value is different from 3.5. So we would *not* conclude that we can say capital punishment has no effect-- though we can't say it does have an effect, either.

The reason that power values are not reported in studies is that the value of the power depends on the true effect, something we don't know. There is just one null hypothesis, so it is easy to find the significance of a test. But there are lots of possible true effects. In the last paragraph, I assumed the true effect was 3.5, and got a power of 45%. If the true effect were not 3.5, but 1.2, then the power might be 7%. That would be because it would be very hard for a test to be powerful enough to distinguish between a true effect of 1.2 and a null hypothesis of 0. Or, it might be that the true effect was 17.5, and the power was 91%. If the true effect is as big as 17.5, it would be very unlikely that our test would cause us to believe it was 0.

Thus, in thinking about statistical studies that fail to find a statistically significant effect of X on Y, we must remember that maybe the data was just so poor that if such an effect did exist, the study wouldn't have found it anyway.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Plame-Wilson Affair: Wilson Lied

Clifford May at NRO has the best coverage of the unsurprising vindication of the conservative (or just non-alarmist?) view of the Plame-Wilson affair. (See my posts on Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson, and French trickery. ) Mr. May's article should be read in its entirety, but here is what I found new:
But now Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV — he of the Hermes ties and Jaguar convertibles — has been thoroughly discredited. Last week's bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report concluded that it is he who has been telling lies.

For starters, he has insisted that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, was not the one who came up with the brilliant idea that the agency send him to Niger to investigate whether Saddam Hussein had been attempting to acquire uranium. "Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," Wilson says in his book. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip." In fact, the Senate panel found, she was the one who got him that assignment. The panel even found a memo by her. (She should have thought to use disappearing ink.)

Wilson spent a total of eight days in Niger "drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people," as he put it. On the basis of this "investigation" he confidently concluded that there was no way Saddam sought uranium from Africa. Oddly, Wilson didn't bother to write a report saying this. Instead he gave an oral briefing to a CIA official.

Oddly, too, as an investigator on assignment for the CIA he was not required to keep his mission and its conclusions confidential. And for the New York Times , he was happy to put pen to paper, to write an op-ed charging the Bush administration with "twisting," "manipulating" and "exaggerating" intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs "to justify an invasion."

In particular he said that President Bush was lying when, in his 2003 State of the Union address, he pronounced these words: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

We now know for certain that Wilson was wrong and that Bush's statement was entirely accurate.

...

Yes, there were fake documents relating to Niger-Iraq sales. But no, those forgeries were not the evidence that convinced British intelligence that Saddam may have been shopping for "yellowcake" uranium. On the contrary, according to some intelligence sources, the forgery was planted in order to be discovered — as a ruse to discredit the story of a Niger-Iraq link, to persuade people there were no grounds for the charge.

But that's not all. The Butler report, yet another British government inquiry, also is expected to conclude this week that British intelligence was correct to say that Saddam sought uranium from Niger.

And in recent days, the Financial Times has reported that illicit sales of uranium from Niger were indeed being negotiated with Iraq, as well as with four other states.

According to the FT: "European intelligence officers have now revealed that three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq."

There's still more: As Susan Schmidt reported — back on page A9 of Saturday's Washington Post: "Contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence."

The Senate report says fairly bluntly that Wilson lied to the media. Schmidt notes that the panel found that, "Wilson provided misleading information to the Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on a document that had clearly been forged because 'the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.'"

The problem is Wilson "had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports," the Senate panel discovered. Schmidt notes: "The documents — purported sales agreements between Niger and Iraq — were not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger."

...

Schmidt adds that the Senate panel was alarmed to find that the CIA never "fully investigated possible efforts by Iraq to buy uranium from Niger destined for Iraq and stored in a warehouse in Benin."

...

... Now that we know that Mrs. Wilson did recommend Mr. Wilson for the Niger assignment, can we not infer that she was working at CIA headquarters in Langley rather than as an undercover operative in some front business or organization somewhere?

As I suggested in another NRO piece (Spy Games), if that is the case — if she was not working undercover and if the CIA was not taking measures to protect her cover — no law was broken by columnist Bob Novak in naming her, or by whoever told Novak that she worked for the CIA.

...

In 1991, Wilson's book jacket boasts, President George H.W. Bush praised Wilson as "a true American hero," and he was made an ambassador. But for some reason, he was assigned not to Cairo, Paris, or Moscow, places where you put the best and the brightest, nor was he sent to Bermuda or Luxembourg, places you send people you want to reward. Instead, he was sent to Gabon, a diplomatic backwater of the first rank.

After that, he says in his memoir, "I had risen about as high as I could in the Foreign Service and decided it was time to retire." Well, that's not exactly accurate either. He could have been given a more important posting, such as Kenya or South Africa, or he could have been promoted higher in the senior Foreign Service (he made only the first of four grades). Instead, he was evidently (according to my sources) forced into involuntary retirement at 48. (The minimum age for voluntary retirement in the Foreign Service is 50.) After that, he seems to have made quite a bit of money — doing what for whom is unclear and I wish the Senate committee had attempted to find out.

It would be interesting to see which of Wilson's many defenders in the blogosphere have commented on the discovery that he was lying-- something they vehemently denied earlier.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The So-Called "International Court of Justice"

The American Spectator has a prime example of the contemptibility of the International Court of Justice, commenting on its recent decision saying that Israel should take down the wall that defends it from the PLO- occupied territory:

Of its fifteen "judges," seven come from nations which have no rule of law and allow their citizens no rights of self-determination or due process of law. These stalwarts -- all of whom joined in the condemnation of Israel -- come from Communist China, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Russia, Egypt, Jordan, and Venezuela. Two more come from France and Belgium, two of the worst Israel-haters and Arafat-lovers of the European Union. Another comes from the Netherlands, ever- willing to join the EUnuchs in making U.N. mischief. That makes ten of fifteen, more than enough to predetermine the outcome of any issue, be it one of Israel or the United States.

Another measure is set by the "court's" own procedures. One of the judges, Elaraby of Egypt, used to be an Egyptian diplomat, assigned to the U.N. to join in any Israel-bashing nonsense in the General Assembly.

...

As a matter of international law, such as it is, the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. One of the basic principles that the court is supposed to follow is that it can't decide "contentious" issues when one of the parties to it -- in this case Israel -- has declined to submit the matter to the court to decide. The "court" blew past this restriction by saying that it had jurisdiction -- despite Israel's objection -- because the U.N. General Assembly is dealing with the overall issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

...

All you really need to know about the ICJ decision is that nowhere does it even recognize the fact of Palestinian terrorism against Israel. The whole decision talks about the "occupied" territories as if they were pacific realms, of no danger or even inconvenience to the Israelis. It concludes -- without factual predicate -- that the wall is not necessary for Israel to defend itself. The entire 65-page decision talks in terms of the Palestinian territories as if they were an ancient British forest or a modern Canadian city.

Remember all this next time you hear someone treat any ICJ decision as something to respect.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

POEMS FOR CHILDREN TO MEMORIZE

UPDATE, OCTOBER 4: See also Joanne Jacobs and The City Journal "In Defense of Memorization" by Michael Knox Beran, to which Pete DaDalt kindly drew my attention. By the way, we haven't gotten round to memorizing any poems-- kindergarten and preschool have somehow displaced it. By the time I figure out how to raise children, mine will be grown! That's why tradition would be helpful; it's hard to roll your own. We had a 5-year-old visiting us Saturday while her parents were moving from one one house to another. She was able to read a phrase painted on our breakfast nook wall, "Faith, hope and love-- but the greatest of these is love," and it turns out her mother has taught her to read in about three months. That made me wonder whether we should teach our Amelia something formally. How about poems? She won't learn those at school. She already has learned most of "The Owl and the Pussycat". Her Grandma Rasmusen had the good idea of asking each of her grandchildren for a child-specific performance for her birthday in April-- for example, 1-year-old Benjamin's singing a song and Amelia's recitation of a poem.

So I put together a list of poems for children to memorize. Half of these are too long, and it may be the whole plan will dissipate, but I'll see what happens, and keep my eyes open for other good poems. So far I have the following


YOU'RE NASTY AND YOU'RE LOUD (Jack Prelutsky)
A Story (Unknown)
Chartless (Emily Dickinson)
Whistling (Jack Prelutsky)
Little Seeds (Else Minarik)
A Spike of Green (Barbara Baker)
Hiawatha's Childhood (Longfellow)
The Wonderful "One-Hoss Shay" (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior)
The Spider and the Fly (Mary Howitt)
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (Clement Moore)
Home (Edgar Guest)

Posted by erasmuse at 11:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 11, 2004

DAVID AND URIAH THE HITTITE

I saw something new in this story today that I hadn't noticed before. Here is the story from II Samuel 11:

1: And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem.

2: And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. 3: And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath- sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? 4: And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. 5: And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.

...

14: And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15: And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

16: And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were. 17: And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab: and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also.

18: Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war; 19: And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king, 20: And if so be that the king's wrath arise, and he say unto thee, Wherefore approached ye so nigh unto the city when ye did fight? knew ye not that they would shoot from the wall? 21: Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.

22: So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for. 23: And the messenger said unto David, Surely the men prevailed against us, and came out unto us into the field, and we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate. 24: And the shooters shot from off the wall upon thy servants; and some of the king's servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.

25: Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it: and encourage thou him.

Notice two things. First, not only did David compass the deat of Uriah, but "there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also." Other soldiers died too, so that David might steal Bathsheba.

Second, Joab was rightly afraid of a double-cross. He feared that David--and others-- would criticize him for a foolish attack that got his men killed. David might have decided to use this episode to get rid of Joab as well as Uriah. Joab was perhaps reminding David that he had some dirt on David that he would reveal if David tried such a thing. But David doesn't try anything fancy: he tells the messenger-- and thus, public opinion-- that he does not blame Joab for the failed attack.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

TEACHING BY EXPERIENCE AND PARABLES

Page 56 of Perry Miller's Jonathan Edwards says Pastor Edwards sought "a Christian oratory"

...which would use words as God uses objects, to force sensations and the ideas annexed to them into men's minds through the only channel ideas can be carried to them, through the senses-- would such an oratory not force upon New England the awakening that three generations of prophets had called for in vain?

This was in connection with Edwards' elaboration of John Locke's idea that communication depends as much upon the receiver as on the sender of the message, or on the objective contents of the message. Pastor Mangrum's sermon today at ECC touched on this too. The text was from Lamentations 3, but he mentioned Jonah's lesson, which was given not first through words but through experience. Jonah had preached destruction to Nineveh for its sins, but then ...

2:6: For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7: And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9: Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10: And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

3: 1: But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. 2: And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. 3: Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

4: Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?

5: So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

6: And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah , that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.

7: But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. 8: And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.

9: And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.

10: Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: 11: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

The sermon also alluded to the story of David having caused the death of Uriah the Hittite so that he could marry Uriah's wife himself. In II Samuel 12, Nathan the prophet did not simply tell David he had sinned: he used a touching story:

1: And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. 2: The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: 3: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 4: And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.

5: And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: 6: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.

7: And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; 8: And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. 9: Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 10: Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.

11: Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. 12: For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

13: And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.

14: Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

This is something important for economists, professors, and fathers to keep in mind. Teaching directly is not always the best way.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 10, 2004

THE NEW YORK WHOOPI FUNDRAISER FOR KERRY

Here we have yet another example of (1) Bush-hating, and (2) the increased vulgarity of America. The New York Times report reports on this concert, the all-time record for political contributions raised in one event.

"Texas Bandito, how much money did you put in your pocket today?" John Mellencamp crooned in a country ballad. "You better split from that Texas Bandito, he's made this world unsafe today. Our thoughts are not free from the Texas Bandito, he's just another cheap thug that sacrifices our young ."

In a two-and-a-half hour gala that raised $7.5 million, a record for a single event, Chevy Chase poked fun at the president's pronunciation of "nuclear" and "terrorist" and said Mr. Bush had invaded Iraq "just so he could be called a wartime president." Paul Newman decried "tax cuts for wealthy thugs like me" as "borderline criminal."

The comedian John Leguizamo, who is half Puerto Rican, said the notion of Hispanics supporting Republicans was "like roaches for Raid." And Whoopi Goldberg, after joking about refusing to submit her material to campaign censors, made an extended sexual pun on the president's surname.

Then the Academy-Award-winning actress Meryl Streep asked which candidates Jesus might support.

"I wondered to myself during 'Shock and Awe,' I wondered which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families of Baghdad?" Ms. Streep said.

...

After the concert, Mr. Kerry's press secretary, David Wade, said, "Obviously John Kerry and John Edwards do not agree with everything that was said tonight," adding: "Performers have a right to speak their minds even when we don't agree with everything they say. That's the freedom John Kerry put his life on the line to defend."

But unlike one of Mr. Kerry's vanquished primary rivals, Howard Dean, who denounced racial humor and profanity at one of his own fundraisers in New York, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry hardly veered from their script when they mounted the stage at the end of the extravaganza, looking more subdued than they had all week.

"This campaign will be a celebration of real American values," Mr. Edwards promised, saying that voters "deserve a president who knows the difference between what is right and what is wrong."

Mr. Kerry, inviting his and Mr. Edwards's adult children onstage for a sing- along of "This Land Is Your Land," told the crowd that "every single performer" on the bill had "conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country."

It's to the NYT's credit that they reported this, and in this way.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

VANESSA REDGRAVE (U.N) CHARGES ISRAEL WITH INTENTIONAL CHILD MURDER

The United Nations reported earlier this year,

Ms. Redgrave is making her first-ever visit to Palestine, after nearly 30 years of campaigning for peace and justice in the Middle East, as a guest of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and as a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF , the United Nations’ children’s agency.

Now, in a more recent U.N. visit, the The NR Corner reports
The venue for this bizarre and spine-tingling charge was the colorful American Colony Hotel, where Palestinian politicians and propagandists prefer to meet foreign correspondents. ''Any Palestinian mother or schoolchild knows that a schoolchild who is dressed in the uniform can be and is frequently shot in the head -- not in the chest, not in the legs, in the head.''
That an actress believes anti-semitic canards is unremarkable, but that the United Nations sponsors her is another mark against that organization. It's not a surprising mark, of course-- a little more black on an already black wall.

I've noted before that if you believe that the United States ought to defer to the United Nations in foreign affairs, you pretty clearly accept that Israel ought to be destroyed. You may not favor that directly yourself-- you probably don't, if you're typical-- but you are saying that you will give up your own desires in favor of what the U.N. wants, and who would deny that the United Nations takes a dim view of Israel? An even more painful situation would arise if the U.N. took a position favoring seizing all Jewish property in Israel and allowing Arab militias to rape and kill freely. Someone who believes in multilateralism would have to accept that, and object to any attempts by individual countries such as the United States to stop the killing. Indeed, wouldn't you have to take the position that it would be immoral to stop killing that the U.N. has said is acceptable?

You may think I have gone over the top with the example of Arab militias killing Jews. But think for a minute. What is happening in Sudan's Darfur province right now? Arab militias are killing blacks, with the implicit approval of the Sudanese government. What is the United Nations doing? It is congratulating the Sudanese government on its human rights record by putting Sudan on the Human Rights Commission.

So, with regard to Darfur, the U.N. rewards the mass killing of black Moslems, a group that the U.N. doesn't particularly dislike. What, then, would the U.N. do to an Arab militia that kills white Jews? It seems the U.N. would have a hard time thinking of high enough praise for such an action.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

POSNER, EASTERBROOK, THE BOOKER CASE, DEFERENCE TO PRECEDENT, AND THE SENTENCING

Eugene Volokh comments on the recent Booker decision of the 7th Circuit, which provides one one of the always worthwhile exchanges between Posner (this time in the majority) and Easterbrook (in dissent). There are two big issues. One is whether a lower court should overrule Supreme Court precedent if it thinks the Supreme Court will, even if the Supreme Court has not yet done it. Posner says yes; Easterbrook says no. I think Posner is probably right on that one-- remembering the caveat of "if it thinks the Supreme Court will". The other issue, the substantive one in this case, is whether the recent Supreme Court Blakely decision means that a jury, not a judge, must make any factual determinations for criminal sentencing. That is harder. The idea is a foolish one, unless judges are to have no discretion at all. Traditionally, judges have looked to all aspects of the severity of the offense and the past history of the defendant-- and, indeed, the jury has not been allowed even to hear any evidence about the past history of the defendant. If the Supreme Court acts consistently with Blakely, it says that somehow nobody noticed over the past 200 years that this practice is unconstitutional and that juries, not judges, must decide facts at sentencing hearings. There would remain a limited role for the judge, but only to apply the law to the fact-finding of the jury.

Note that this will require a big increase in expenditure on criminal courts. Currently, many (most?) criminal cases do not require trial by jury, because a plea bargain is reached. The criminal pleads guilty, so no jury is needed, and the judge imposes a sentence. Now, it seems, the Supreme Court says that a guilty plea is not enough. The defendant must also plead agreement to all the facts that might affect his sentencing. Before, the jury was dismissed after it reaches its verdict, which is usually "guilty". Now, it must be continued for a separate sentencing hearing, or a new jury must be chosen with the entire voi dire process of challenges.

The Supreme Court seems to have been confused on this-- as usual, ruling things unconstitutional without thinking about logical consistency or policy implications. Posner wants to impose the logical consequences of Blakely on them; Easterbrook wants to save them from themselves, and perhaps make them retract Blakely.

Easterbrook notes that the parole system is also overthrown by Blakely if the sentencing guidelines require juries:

Think of the indeterminate sentence: zero-to-life with release in the discretion of parole officials. The federal Parole Commission eventually developed a set of release guidelines designed to ensure consistent treatment of offenders. See United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178 (1979). Parole- release guidelines might say something like: "Hold bank robbers in prison for 10 years; hold armed bank robbers for 20; hold armed bank robbers who discharge their weapons or take hostages for 30; add (or subtract) time from these presumptive numbers to reflect the size of the heist." If my colleagues are right, then such a system violates the sixth amendment.

Here is what I think is the heart of the substance part (as opposed to the procedure part) of Easterbrook's dissent:
...the only finding that is indispensable to Booker’s sentence is the one specified by statute: did he distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base? The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that he had. Where in the resulting statutory range of 10 years to life the actual sentence falls depends on complex interactions among drug quantity, gun use, violence, role in the offense (was defendant the mastermind or just a courier?), cooperation, obstruction of justice, criminal history, and other factors, none of which is a sine qua non in the same sense as the statutory thresholds.
Judges dislike the Sentencing Guidelines intensely-- which is natural enough, since the Guidelines constrain them. Now they'll see part of their power shift to juries, which will no doubt make them even more unhappy. It does seem, though, that judges will still get to grant clemency, and the juries will only be stuck with the task of enhancing sentences for unusually evil offenders.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

LILEKS ON MICHAEL MOORE

James Lileks blogs on Michael Moore in what will be a classic weblog entry. Moore wrote,

For too long now we have abandoned our flag to those who see it as a symbol of war and dominance, as a way to crush dissent at home. Flags are flying from the back of SUVs, rising high above car dealerships, plastering the windows of businesses and adorning paper bags from fast-food restaurants. But these flags are intended to send a message: "You're either with us or you're against us," "Bring it on!" or "Watch what you say, watch what you do."

and Lileks responds,

I knew a paranoid schizophrenic once. He believed that the New York Times was sending him personal messages through its front-page headlines. He might also have believed that car-dealership flags were telling him to watch what he said.

There's much much more in this vein.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 09, 2004

What Would Have Happened if there Had Been No Revolutionary War?

What Would Have Happened if there Had Been No Revolutionary War? Tyler Cowen discusses the very interesting question of what would have happened had America not become independent in 1776. I think he, Brad DeLong, and Eugene Volokh all are on the wrong track, because they are thinking about what would have happened had the 13 Colonies merged with Great Britain. If that happened, there would have been one government, which might have been more like the USA's or might have been more like Britain's; Britain would have had more strength in European wars, etcetera. Brad DeLong says

Certainly World Wars I and II would have been a lot shorter had Britain been able to draw on the resources of the Dominion of North America from their beginning. They might not have ever happened at all: Wilhelmine and Nazi generals would have had to have been seriously cookoo to ever engage in a two- front war, one front of which was against a Britain whose strength included the Dominion of North America. (They were, of course, cookoo: but there are limits to cookooness, even for the pre-1945 German General Staff.) American slavery would, in all probability, have come to an earlier and much more peaceful end. These are big minuses to lay at the door of the American Revolution--in addition to the terror and death of the two revolutionary wars themselves.

I, however, firmly endorse and support the American Revolution, in the sense that it looked like the right thing to do at the time. Remember that the political evolution of Britain toward democracy was not foreordained as of 1775. (Indeed, the pressure exerted by the example of the United States was a powerful democratizing force in Britain throughout the whole of the nineteenth century.) Britain in 1775 was a corrupt monarchical oligarchy--albeit one with much softer rule, a much more effective state, and a much broader and more open system of political competition within the oligarchy than has been standard in human empires. It is quite likely that--absent the American Revolution and the Great Democratic Example across the seas, and absent the long reign of Victoria--the political evolution of nineteenth-century Britain would have stuck where it was at the accession of George III, or even moved backward away from democracy to some degree.

Eugene Volokh says

Tyler's post below reminded me of an observation I once heard when talking about something similar: At some point, a British Empire that included America would have become majority American. After all, the U.S. now has five times the population of the U.K., and while the immigration patterns would have been different had America remained British, I suspect that there still would have been plenty of immigration.

And unlike with India, this would have been a part of the Empire that would have been populated by people who, one way or another, would have ended up being seen as Englishmen (even if many were of other ethnic extraction). I suspect the Americans' complaints about lack of political representation would have been resolved somehow, so the extra population would have meant extra political power. It surely would have meant extra economic power; the economic and cultural center of gravity of the Empire might not have shifted as quickly to the Western Hemisphere, but such a shift would likely have happened eventually.

Moreover, the extra volume of immigration -- which would have been inevitable given America's size, the economic opportunity it represented, and the value of immigration as a means to resist encroachments from the French and the Spanish -- would likely have changed the culture of the aggregate British Empire.

But that is not the right counterfactual. It is crucial to remember that the American Revolution was a conservative revolution-- indeed,"revolution" is not a good name for it. For 150 years, the colonies had been pretty much self- governed. They paid their own way, and they made their own laws. Britain controlled their foreign policy, but that was about it. What provoked the Revolutionary War was that King and Parliament decided to try taxing the Colonies, a novelty. This could have come out either of two ways if war had not broken out:
1. The Colonies might have acquiesced in the idea of Parliamentary supremacy, as opposed to the idea that they were self-governing units under the King but with their colonial assemblies taking the place of Parliament. They would then have become mere dependencies, like Gibraltar or Minorca. 2. The Colonies might have successfully fought off the innovation of Parliamentary supremacy-- which, indeed, was Lord North's tardy peace proposal around 1779 (a proposal which would have deflected the war if he'd made it in 1775).
In neither case would the Colonies and Britain have become one country. Recall that Scotland, Ireland, and England were three separate countries in 1700, united only by having a single king in common, but with separate parliaments, tax systems, tariffs, peerages, and so forth. Being colored the same way on the map is not the same as being one country. The Union of Scotland and England in 1707 was a big deal, as was the less successful Union of Great Britan with Ireland a hundred years later. Blackstone, chapter 4, book 1 has a good description of this, though colored by Blackstone's belief in parliamentary supremacy. He discusses not only England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, but also such non-English dominions of the king as Berwick on Tweed, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and the American Colonies, of which he says:

OUR American plantations are principally of this latter sort, being obtained in the last century either by right of conquest and driving out the natives (with what natural justice I fhall not at present enquire) or by treaties. And therefore the common law of England, as fuch, has no allowance or authority there ; they being no part of the mother country, but distinct (though dependent) dominions. They are fubject however to the control of the parliament ; though (like Ireland, Man, and the rest ) not bound by any acts of parliament, unless particularly named. The form of government in moft of them is borrowed from that of England. They have a governor named by the king, (or in fome proprietary colonies by the proprietor) who is his reprefentative or deputy. They have courts of juftice of their own, from whofe decifions an appeal lies to the king in council here in England. Their general affemblies which are their house of commons, together with their council of ftate being their upper houfe, with the concurrence of the king or his reprefentative the governor, make laws fuited to their own emergencies. But it is particularly declared by ftatute 7 & 8 W. III. c. 22. That all laws, by-laws, usages, and cuftoms, which fhall be in practice in any of the plantations, repugnant to any law, made or to be made in this kingdom relative to the said plantations shall be utterly void and of none effect. (I changed f's to s's here and there)

At any rate, despite Blackstone, Result (1), return to the status quo ante bellum, was the more likely of the two, I think. In that case, even a growing America would not much have affected English politics or power. The Thirteen Colonies would have remained happily disunited and isolationist, grumbling about trade barriers (and perhaps going to war over them later) and paying for their own internal government but not forwarding any taxes or troops on to London. Note, however, that this would have prevented the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Thus, the Revolution was a good thing.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Student Evaluations and Grade Inflation

From a Management study of professors that I saw recently:

75% of our faculty is recognized by teaching awards. This is very positive. It says we have a great many excellent teaching faculty. It also says we are not stingy in our reward system.

This reminds me of a self-congratulatory remark I heard at a recent faculty meeting, in which someone said that our business school had made great progress because the student evaluations of professors had increased so much. Nobody else commented, so I interjected that our students had done even better--- their grades had increased remarkably over the past 20 years, and it was just wonderful that they were so much smarter than earlier generations of college students.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Weblogs: "Movable Type" Software

Some observations, mainly for myself, on using Moveable Type:

1. In installing, make sure the CGI files all have 755 permissions, *and* that the directory they are in has 755 permissions (777 won't work).

2. Rebuilding works much more reliably in Internet Explorer than in Mozilla.

3. The stylesheet template controls such things as the width of the weblog. The manual explains this quite badly.

4. The index template controls the main weblog page. The manual explains this quite badly.

5. In preferences, set things up for POST rather than DRAFT; and so no hard breaks are inserted.

6. Automatic trackback-- sending pings to websites that I cite-- doesn't work. I have Moveable Type 3.0, which is different from what the Manual talks about, so I can't figure out the problem. If you can get MT 2.6, get it instead.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2004

The CIA versus Vice-President Cheney

I've found another example of the curious battle between the Administration and the intelligence bureaucracy-- see, e.g, the Plame story and the King op-ed. In this case, the vice- president cited a Weekly Standard article based on a famous leaked memo from the Defense Department to Congress, and "senior intelligence officials", probably from the CIA or State Department, claim to know nothing about it. Brad DeLong writes
How Delusional Is Richard Cheney?

Robert Waldmann points us to a Dana Milbank story that says that Richard Cheney is highly delusional:

washingtonpost.com: Cheney, Bush Tout Gains in Terror War: Countering the staff of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, which found no "collaborative relationship" between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda, Cheney renewed his accusation that they had "long-established ties." He listed several examples and stated: "In the early 1990s, Saddam had sent a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service to Sudan to train al Qaeda in bombmaking and document forgery."

Senior intelligence officials said yesterday that they had no knowledge of this.

Professor DeLong notes that "senior intelligence officials" work for the Administration, and wonders if the Vice-President is delusional. My immediate reaction was, "Well, this isn't the first terrorist action that senior intelligence officials know nothing about. They usually seem to be three steps behind the press, Moreover, they hate Cheney, and Cheney despises the CIA." From the comment section of Professor DeLong's post, we find:
10. The Director of Iraqi Intelligence, Mani abd-al-Rashid al-Tikriti, met privately with bin Laden at his farm in Sudan in July 1996. Tikriti used an Iraqi delegation traveling to Khartoum to discuss bilateral cooperation as his "cover" for his own entry into Sudan to meet with bin Laden and Hassan al- Turabi. The Iraqi intelligence chief and two other IIS officers met at bin Laden's farm and discussed bin Laden's request for IIS technical assistance in: a) making letter and parcel bombs; b) making bombs which could be placed on aircraft and detonated by changes in barometric pressure; and c) making false passport [sic]. Bin Laden specifically requested that [Brigadier Salim al- Ahmed], Iraqi intelligence's premier explosives maker--especially skilled in making car bombs-- remain with him in Sudan. The Iraqi intelligence chief instructed Salim to remain in Sudan with bin Laden as long as required.
That's from the Feith summary.

And before you say it, no, the DOD never questioned the accuracy of Hayes's report - they in fact confirmed its accurary and sources. The DOD only questioned the conclusions which Hayes drew from that raw intelligence.

So. Now who is delusional?
Posted by am at July 3, 2004 11:19 PM


"So. Now who is delusional?"

Feith
Posted by Brian Boru at July 4, 2004 12:08 AM


No, that report was a summary of many intelligence reports from CIA, DIA, foreign and other agencies. All Feith did was to pull it together and present it to a congressional committee. The accuracy and fairness with which it chose and represented those reports has never been challenged.

Try again.
Posted by am at July 4, 2004 03:07 AM
The Feith memo was leaked to the Weekly Standard and reported on in November 2003 :
OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda--perhaps even for Mohamed Atta--according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

...

According to the memo--which lays out the intelligence in 50 numbered points-- Iraq-al Qaeda contacts began in 1990 and continued through mid-March 2003, days before the Iraq War began. Most of the numbered passages contain straight, fact- based intelligence reporting, which some cases includes an evaluation of the credibility of the source.

At the top of the Weekly Standard article it says,
Editor's Note, 1/27/04: In today's Washington Post, Dana Milbank reported that "Vice President Cheney . . . in an interview this month with the Rocky Mountain News, recommended as the 'best source of information' an article in The Weekly Standard magazine detailing a relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda based on leaked classified information."
The "senior intelligence officials" surely knew of the Feith memo and the Weekly Standard article. But they said "they had no knowledge of this," presumably as a way to try to embarass Cheney. The Administration is playing a dangerous game. It is trying to conduct a strong foreign policy in delicate foreign circumstances against heavy partisan domestic opposition while at the same time hoping-- if perhaps not yet trying-- to reform the two dysfunctional agencies-- the Defence Department and the CIA-- which are most important to the strong policies. The policies moreover are opposed by the third agency most involved-- the State Department-- though I don't recall any signs that the Administration is out to threaten the comfort of any career bureaucrats there. Rumsfeld and Cheney are perhaps the two major reformers, so we should expect to see lots of attacks on them from inside the bureaucracy.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kerry, Langston Hughes, Communism, and the Rectification of Names

Although liberals often link President Bush to the Nazis, Bush never quotes Nazis admiringly. How about Kerry? Does he quote Marxists admiringly? Yes. As Timothy Noah noted in Slate and William Buckley in National Review, and Andrew Sullivan in his weblog, Kerry has more than once quoted the title of a Langton Hughes poem "Let America be America again," which is about the glories of a communist takeover of America:

In the June 1 New York Times, David M. Halbfinger reports that the Kerry campaign thinks it's found a winning slogan in "Let America be America again." They couldn't be more wrong.

...

Hughes never joined the Communist Party, but he published frequently in its house organs and served as president to the party's principal African-American front group. The same year "Let America Be America Again" was published, Hughes signed a letter supporting the Stalinist purges; he had witnessed, with approval, one of the show trials himself.

Here's a bit more from "Let America be America again".
 

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--  
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--

 
Quoting from a bad person is not bad in itself, perhaps. If President Bush quoted a line from some entirely non-political poem of Ezra Pound or from some non-political essay of Heidegger's or De Man's, that would not justify calling Bush a Nazi. It does look bad, I must admit. In his sermon at ECC last Sunday, Pastor Mangrum told about an experiment he heard of that a teacher used on his classes.

The teacher would invent a number of quotations, and distribute two versions to two groups of students. Each version would attribute quotes to people like Hitler, Luther, Lincoln, Stalin, and so forth, but the two versions would attribute different quotes to different people. The teacher would ask the students to say how much they agreed with each quotation. The teacher always found that attribution trumps substance.

I should try that in one of my classes. I'd predict the same thing. But of course that is not reason in itself to criticize Kerry. If the line was from a bad author, but the line and the poem to which it alludes are both correct, then the evil or stupidity of the author does not affect that. Note that I have to add "and the poem to which it alludes", because in quoting one line, you are quoting the poem, unless you make sure to repudiate its associations. "Work will make you free" is a nice line, okay by itself, but if I quote it, I am also linking myself with the Dachau prison gate unless I say I am not.

At any rate, lack of bad context is not an excuse that helps Kerry. He quoted the title from a Hughes poem whose entire thrust is that the America that has existed so far in history is evil and must be replaced by an idealized America that is entirely different.

One might think this is just an unintentional blunder on the part of Kerry-- that neither he nor anyone on his staff has ever actually read the entire poem or knows anything about Langston Hughes. If it was a Republican saying "Let America be America again" that would be plausible. But what is especially striking here is that the idea of this poem *does* capture the way the Left thinks of America.

Here is what I mean by that.

This notion is of course fallacious. Suppose you hate chocolate ice cream, but you want to pretend you favor it. The leftist strategy would be to say,

"I love chocolate ice cream. To be sure, I hate the chocolate ice cream we have now, but that is not real chocolate ice cream. Real chocolate ice cream is white, and tastes like vanilla, and we must all strive to change the false, dark ice cream we have now into true chocolate ice cream."

What would be more honest would be to say, "I hate chocolate ice cream." Or, in the case of America, to say,
"I hate America. It is an evil country, based on capitalism, flag-waving, and other bad things. But I think that it can be replaced by a better system. We must wipe out the old, and replace it with the new."
Confucius was a wise man. This, again is the Rectification of Names problem.

Let's return to Langston Hughes, though. One article to look at is Eric J. Sundquist, "Who Was Langston Hughes?" Commentary, December 1996, Vol. 102, Issue 6:

A characteristic poem of the period, composed for the eighth convention of the Communist party in the United States, begins: "Put one more S in the U.S. A. / To make it Soviet."

In the Soviet Union itself, where he stayed on for almost a year, Hughes ignored clear signs of corruption and repression. Welcoming the privileges of membership in the International Union of Revolutionary Writers, he dashed off "Goodbye, Christ," a poem in which the salvific power of the church gives way to a Leninist pantheon and which would later so haunt his career as to become the centerpiece of an FBI probe. A set of essays for Izvestia favorably compared the Soviet justice system to the American, and in poem after poem in this period Hughes replaced a previously favorite image, the North Star of African-American freedom, with the Red Star of Soviet liberation.

See also James Smethurst, who says,

That Hughes was, with the exception of Richard Wright, the black writer most identified with the Communist Left during the 1930s is undeniable. Hughes's frequent publication of "revolutionary" poetry in the journals and press of the CPUSA, his activity in Communist-initiated campaigns such as the drive to free the Scottsboro defendants and on behalf of the Spanish Republic, his willingness to lend his name to Communist-led or Communist-influenced organizations (e.g., the John Reed Clubs, the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, the National Negro Congress, the League of Professional Groups for Foster and Ford, the League of American Writers), and his public support of the Soviet Union (including his signing of a statement in 1938 supporting the purges of the Old Bolsheviks and others by Stalin) all marked him as an open member of the Communist Left-- whether or not he formally joined the CPUSA.

A couple of other poems round out the picture. First, from Mensnewsdaily,
 


   Together,
    We can take anything:
    Factories, arsenals, buses, ships,     
    Railroads, forests, fields, orchards,
    Bus lines, telegraphs, radios,
    (Jesus! Raise hell with radios!)
    Steel mills, coal mines, oil wells, gas,
    All the tools of production.
    (Great day in the morning!)
    Everything--
    And turn ‘em over to the people who work.
    Rule and run ‘em for us people who work.

    Boy! Them Radios--
    Broadcasting that very first morning to USSR:
    Another member the International Soviets done come
    Greetings to the Socialist Soviet Republics
    Hey you rioting workers everywhere greetings.  
    And we’ll sign it: Germany
    Sign it: China
    Sign it: Africa
    Sign it: Poland
    Sign it: Italy
    Sign it: America
    Sign it with my own name: Worker
    On that day when no one will be hungry, cold, oppressed,
    Anywhere in the world again.

and one of Hughes's better-known poems:
 

Goodbye,
Christ Jesus Lord God Jehovah,
Beat it on away from here now.
Make way for a new guy with no religion at all --
A real guy named
Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME.


Is this the Democratic Party?-- "Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME" ? Remove the peasants and workers, and perhaps it is.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 07, 2004

Gypsies

Steve Sailer has interesting things to say, with source links, about the stealing proclivities of Gypsies. It is perhaps surprising that there do not exist more such groups in Western society, loyal to their clan but predatory towards outsiders, given that we are so vulnerable to crime and that the insider-outsider distinction is really the natural one for human beings. Maybe they do exist and I don't know of them. At any rate, here's what Sailer has to say:

As an American, I knew that the teenage males of some ethnic groups had a higher proclivity to steal , but I had never before heard of a group where many parents trained their toddlers to steal. Even more horribly, some parents break their children's teeth or bones as part of an insurance scam or to make them into better beggars.

We're not supposed to think about the victims of Gypsy criminals because, after all, crime victims are not real victims (i.e., they are just random human beings, not an organized political pressure group).

... The Rev. Larry Merino, who evangelizes among American Gypsies in Indiana, notes:
"Gypsies believe a myth that says a lot about the conception most people have of this group. It seems that a Gypsy stole a fourth nail at the crucifixion site that was destined to be used to nail the Savior's head to the cross. Since this act of larceny turned out to be an inadvertent act of mercy, God gave Gypsies the right to take things that didn't belong to them. Many Gypsies believe this is actually true! This being the case, it takes a missionary to this group a long time to undo what has been part of their culture for centuries."
That's why there's never been a Zionist or separatist movement among Gypsies. Jews could successfully start their own national homeland, away from their persecutors, but the Gypsies can't imagine living in their own country with no productive non-Gypsies to leech off.
Gypsies in Indiana! I wonder if I've met any? Actually, I now recall the story of the "Irish Traveller" Madelyne Toogood who was caught on tape punching her 4-year-old in the face in a Kohl's parking lot after trying to con the store by false returns of goods. So there do exist other groups besides Gypsies.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Barna on the Politics of Evangelical Christians, Conservatives, Liberals

The Barna Group tells us

Evangelicals are just 7% of the national population. However, they receive an inordinate amount of coverage during major elections because of their alleged influence in the political arena. Evangelicals were one of the most prolific supporters of Mr. Bush in the 2000 election: the incumbent received 83% of the votes cast by the group. (In the 1996 election, evangelicals were less impressed with the Republican candidates, giving Bob Dole 76% of their votes.)

In the forthcoming election, an even higher proportion of evangelicals - 86% - expect to cast their ballot for the President. (Only 8% plan to vote for Mr. Kerry.) The only voting blocks of similar consensus in their choice of a candidate are conservative Republicans (94% favoring Mr. Bush), people who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 (88% again supporting the Texan), liberal Democrats (95% in support of Mr. Kerry), and blacks (77% of whom expect to vote for the Democratic nominee). Gay adults, who constitute 4% of the adult population, are the population group most likely to vote (93% expected turnout) but they are comparatively less unanimous in their candidate of preference (67% to 23% in favor of Mr. Kerry).

It would not be surprising if 100% of Christians voted for one party, or that a party received 0% of Christian votes. Indeed, that is what we would expect. Suppose you are in Germany in 1930. In the election that year, would it be alarming if no Christians voted for the Nazi or Communist parties? No-- we should hope for that result, since both parties were anti-Christian. It would be improper for pastors to preach against the Nazis from the pulpit, I suppose, but outside the church they should be active. And there is nothing wrong with distributing the church membership lists. Indeed, the churches could be quite neutral on this, and distribute their lists to all parties-- but the Center Party (the Catholic one) would get the benefit. [By the way: I would not be surprised if, to the shame of Christianity, Lutherans voted heavily for the Nazis despite Nazi anti-Christianity. But that says more about the sincerity of the Lutherans of 1930 Germany than about true Christianity, I think. Just look at the secularism of the German Lutheran church now, and you'll understand. ]

Going a bit further, consider the black vote. It goes 77% Democrat. That means black churches must be going heavily Democrat too. Maybe that is because of improper partisanship from the pulpit, but we might expect it anyway.

Posted by erasmuse at 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 06, 2004

The New Cupola Spire at My Parents' Farm

This won't stay gold-looking long, but the new spire does look nice now.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 05, 2004

Fireworks over New York Applet

My parents sent me this good Fireworks over New York applet. Click on the sky, and fireworks burst on the spot.

Posted by erasmuse at 11:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack