Thursday, July 31, 2003

Einstein Lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction!!!

Inexcusable intelligence failures!!

Despite the absurd fears and warnings of those "in the know", Nazi's never had an advanced nuclear program!!

Well, that's how it seems that modern journalists would cover the story, anyway.

Some applicable quotes from the above two links:

After a German and an Austrian discovered fission in 1938, almost everyone thought Germany would be the first to build nuclear weapons. In August 1939, Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt of the threat. Dread of a Nazi A-bomb drove the Manhattan Project. Yet an Allied mission code-named Alsos, following on the heels of troops liberating Europe, found only a primitive program. No working nuclear reactor. No large quantities of separated Uranium-235, a basic bomb ingredient. No credible bomb design. "Sometimes we wondered if our government had not spent more money on our intelligence mission than the Germans spent on their whole project," wrote Alsos scientific director Samuel Goudsmit.


From as early as 1939, those "in the know" in the United States worked under the constant fear that Germany might have as much as a two-year lead in the development of a nuclear weapon. Unless and until the United States had positive knowledge to the contrary, we had to assume that the most competent German scientists and engineers were working on an atomic program with the full capacity of German industry at their disposal. Anything less would have been derelict.


The Alsos III mission entered Germany on February 24, 1945. However, now an additional urgency occupied much of their time. None of Germany's nuclear materials and absolutely none of the German scientists must be allowed to fall into Russia's hands. This new element was the source of much intrigue as the Allies advanced toward Berlin. For instance, one key German facility lay square within the planned Russian zone. There was no way that the Americans could reach the facility first so General Groves made a request to General Marshall to have it destroyed. On March 15th, 612 Flying Fortresses of the 8th Air Force dropped close to 2,000 tons of high explosives on the Auergesellschaft Works in Oranienburg just to the north of Berlin. The plant was totally destroyed.

Further intrigue ensued with a little known tactical Alsos mission labeled Operation Harborage. After France fell to the Allies, it was decided to give the French a "zone of occupation" in Germany when they finally surrendered. The zone given to the French was originally designated as an American zone. A few suspected nuclear research facilities, including the research center reputed to be in the Hechingen area was in the planned French zone. General Groves states: " As I saw it, there could be no question but that American troops must be the first to arrive at this vital installation, for it was of the utmost importance to the United States that we control the entire area that contained the German atomic energy activities...I was forced to initiate some drastic measures to accomplish our purpose."

The strategy behind Operation Harborage was to have a sizeable force, perhaps at the Corps level, cut diagonally across in front of the advancing French army and seize the area long enough to capture the people we wanted, seize and remove all available records, and destroy any remaining facilities. The operation was initiated in April 1945 and Hechingen was captured on April 24th. Col. Pash seized a large atomic physics laboratory and took into custody several sought-after scientists including Otto Hahn, Carl von Weizacker, and Max von Laue. It was learned that Heisenberg, Gerlach, and a few others had left Hechingen two weeks prior and were possibly in Munich or at Urfeld in the Bavarian Alps. On the 27th, the German scientists were transferred to Heidelberg for further questioning, where information on the whereabouts of German atomic research records were revealed by von Weizacker. They were sealed in a metal drum which was stored in a cesspool in back of von Weizacker's house.

Here's another:

Friday, July 25, 2003

I've been following the Valerie Wilson saga pretty much from the beginning, though (as with most things) I haven't commented on it here. I have made a few comments on it (under the SN ENDER) here. I also made comments on an earlier thread, but it seems to be history. They do tend to delete unused threads very quickly there, so don't be surprised if the above link no longer works.

Anyway, the entire matter is extremely troubling and the Bush Administration needs to get on top of it in a hurry. I never thought Ari was very good, but his replacement looks to be even worse. They need to investigate it and charge whoever is responsible if appropriate, fire them if not, or, failing that, explain why neither of those options were best. It seems quite clear to me that whoever did it, did it with malice aforethought - and if they didn't, they need to be fired for stupidity anyway. It seems to me that Mark Kleiman has done the best job keeping abreast of the unfolding story, and although I have historically disagreed with the majority of his positions and conclusions (he is a lefty after all), I have also found him to be quite honest. In fact, I am making this post in something of a response to his noting that the "right" blogosphere hasn't been commenting much. Though let's note that my readership probably hovers between 0 and 1 (and that's only when I'm looking myself).

I myself don't quite know what to think. It's crystal clear to me that whoever Novak's source was tried to smear Joe Wilson, but in possibly the most moronic way possible. It's astounding how short-sighted it was. In fact, it's so obviously a stupid thing to do (even absent the other reasons not to do it) that the whole thing doesn't make sense from the few pieces of the puzzle currently available. The aforementioned Mark Kleiman has thought of a scenario that would seem to resolve the contradictions somewhat, and I think that it may turn out that the real truth of the matter is somewhat similar to what he envisioned. As a bonus, it would put Bush in perhaps the best light of any other scenario I can imagine. Whatever the case may be, Bush & Co. need to do the right thing and clean house.

PS I do have ONE single bit of information that I seem to be the only one to come across. Or maybe it's so insignificant that no one else has bothered. That's me though, dealing in overlooked minutia. The information pertains to what her name really is. Though most people I have seen have decided to call her Valerie Plame, let it be noted that in all of Joe Wilson's online bios it says that he is married to "the former Valerie Plame". It seems pretty clear that she doesn't go by Valerie Plame anymore. This would seem to leave two choices: Valerie Wilson or Valerie Plame-Wilson. If you'll note, I refered to her above with the simpler Valerie Wilson. I chose it because I came across the following website:

This appears to be a geneology list on people investigating certain names from a particular Ukranian city. Someone who identified themself as Valerie Wilson was looking into the background of the name Plame. The E-mail account given would seem to match her husband's name (with her first initial substituted for his middle initial), so I think that Valerie Wilson is the most appropriate name to use at this juncture. Unfortunately, nailing down the right name didn't help me turn up any more information from Google as I had hoped. The E-mail address didn't help either.
Fascinating column on California politics:

So I wondered: who had the recall crowd recruited to speak to Latinos at this well- attended Capitol press conference, just as the story was making national news? Would it be somebody big, like the hip, new vice-chairman of the California Republican Party who is working to open up his party, Mario Rodriguez?

Dave Gilliard returned a blank look to the Latina reporter. Clearly, it hadn't even crossed anyone's mind to have a Spanish speaker on hand.

This is just the sort of gaffe that tells you exactly how people in the California Republican Party still think. It's still as white as snow. It's still as out of it as a comatose patient in an intensive care ward.
I told this story to Pat Caddell, former pollster for Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, and a national Democratic commentator who was probably the first public figure to push the idea of recalling Davis last year. "California Republicans are the dumbest people I have ever met," Caddell harrumphed of the crowd currently overseeing the recall.
So what did Mulholland really say that day?

He attacked the homeless.

"Voters should know the kind of people bused in to do the circulating!" Mulholland boomed. "The Republicans don't want judicial review of the types of people they had circulating petitions! The homeless! And convicted felons!"
Does the Democratic Party condone the idea that these petition-gathering jobs, which require no previous experience, should not be offered to the homeless? Perhaps the homeless are not even worthy of the right to vote?

I called Steve Smith, the well-to-the-left laborista who Davis appointed as California's top labor bureaucrat in order to placate state labor unions.
Smith is now campaign manager of Davis' humorously named Taxpayers Against the Governor's Recall. Smith's spokesman Nick Velasquez assured me they'd call back, but they never did. Was it because their "two felons" allegation has gotten too embarrassing now that the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the two felons worked at Rescue California just a short time---and were then promptly hired by the Gray Davis side to gather signatures for a non-binding pro-Davis petition?

via Mickey Kaus

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Foxnews is reporting that we might have gotten dumb and dumber, Saddam's sons! Great news if true.


Monday, July 21, 2003

Interesting Q&A Wilson did for the WAPO on April 03, 2003.

Some highlights:

Boston, Mass.: Mr. Wilson, thank you for taking our questions. What happens if we do not find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Joseph C. Wilson: Whether we find them or not is now immaterial. The liberation is now the rationale. If we don't find them, discussion about them will cease and we will focus on the other reasons the administration has articulated. If we do find them, world public opinion will only change on the margins.

and a follow up:

Bethesda, Md.: I don't understand. In the first answer you say the rational is liberation so WMD do not matter. While I couldn't disagree more, in the second answer you say this isn't a war of liberation. Does this make sense?

Joseph C. Wilson: The administration has offered a menu of reasons for the war. WMD was one of them. The answer was to the question of whether finding WMD would make a difference in how the war is perceived. And the answer is no. Here in the US we have bought off on the other reasons so for us it does not matter. Overseas, they think there are any number of other reasons behind what we are doing so again if we find WMD it wown't change their position as to why we are doing what we are.

This sentiment seems to be in direct contrast to what he wrote in his piece for the NYT, What I didn't find in Africa, when he wrote:

The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

THIS is supposed to be a NEWS story? The title, "White House Tries to Defend Uranium Claim", alone gives it away. The WH didn't 'defend' the claim, because, of course, it is indefensible. Instead they merely 'tried' to defend it. The story is a rather pathetic hack job.
This makes three - THREE - different ways that anti-Bush partisans have attempted to twist what he said. Amazing how much 16 words can be spun. Let me list them:

1. Cut off the first 4 words. Nothing like removing a clarifier to change a sentence's meaning.

2. Change a broad claim - "from Africa" - into a much narrower one - "from Niger".

3. Completely change the base charge, from 'seeking to purchase' to 'actual purchase'. I bet there are people in jail all over the country, convicted on conspiracy charges, who now wish their juries had been comprised soley of journalists and pundits.

Let's set the scene:

Someone is on trial for conspiracy to commit murder. The defense has just called their star witness, a former investigator for the police who did some investigation on the case at his former employer's behest.

Defense attorney: "What evidence did you uncover to substantiate the prosecution's charges?"

Star witness: "Nothing! There was no evidence that the defendant committed a murder. Everyone I spoke with knew that no murder had been committed. Why, the alleged victim is in court, so how could a murder have been committed?"

Defense attorney: "No further questions."

Sounds absurd, doesn't it? It get's worse.

DA: "Did you uncover any evidence that the defendant attempted to hire someone to murder the victim?"

Star Witness: "Well, I did find someone who said that a freind of the defendant approached him about committing the murder."

DA: "Well, doesn't that support the charge?"

Star Witness: "Is that the best evidence you have? Get real. What I uncovered doesn't prove that he conspired to murder anyone."

What is this farce an analogy of? The claims made by Joe Wilson and the various "Bush Lied"TM proponents, of course.

Re-read Wilson's screed printed in the NYT. Some relevant quotes:

I was not surprised when the ambassador told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq, and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington.


It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

Now the conflation begins:

Then, in January, President Bush, citing the British dossier, repeated the charges about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Africa.

The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them.


The question now is how that answer was or was not used by our political leadership. If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.

However Bush never charged that Saddam purchased uranium from Niger, he instead charged (that the British had intelligence which indicated) that he had ATTEMPTED to purchase uranium from Africa. The actual "16 words" from the SOTU:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

What did Wilson write which contradicted this simple statement? Not a single thing. Yet, as in my analogy, it gets worse.

From Tenet's July 11th statement:

He [Wilson] reported back to us that one of the former Nigerien officials he met stated that he was unaware of any contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of uranium during his tenure in office. The same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.

From Condoleeza Rice:

The other thing is that the reporting, at least, of what Ambassador Wilson told the CIA debriefers says that, yes, Niger denied that there had been such a deal made, that they had sold uranium to the Iraqis.

It also apparently says, according to this report, it also apparently says that one of the people who was meeting with the Iraqis thought that they might, in fact, be trying to use commercial activity to talk about yellow cake.
So what the director says in his statement is that they believed, when they looked at what was reported about the Wilson trip, that it was inconclusive. They therefore did not brief it to the president, the vice president or any senior officials.

From British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw:

But, as CNN have reported, Ambassador Wilson's report also noted that in 1999 an Iraqi delegation sought the expansion of trade links with Niger -- and that former Niger government officials believed that this was in connection with the procurement of yellowcake.

"Uranium is Niger's main export. In other words, this element of Ambassador Wilson's report supports the statement in the government's dossier.

So, according to three different officials who had access to Wilson's debriefings, he DID uncover evidence regarding Saddam seeking to purchase uranium. This evidence SUPPORTED Bush's statement. Yet, somehow, the only truly relevant information that Wilson uncovered missed being included in his article. I wonder how that happened.

To make matters even worse, when Wilson was informed that his lie of ommission had been uncovered and exposed, what was his response? In an interview by Time:

Wilson dismissed the suggestion, included in CIA Director George Tenet's own mea culpa last week, that this validates what the President claimed in this State of the Union address: "That then translates into an Iraqi effort to import a significant quantity of uranium as the President alleged? These guys really need to get serious."

Of course, no Administration source has made the claim that his report was the only basis for the claim. In fact, they readily acknowledge that his report in and of itself was 'weak' and 'inconclusive'. What they DO say, a charge that is completely supported (in stark contrast to, say, Wilson's), is that his investigation in fact buttressed the claim Bush made in the SOTU, and did nothing to dimish it.

PS Most of the information here came from:


However, as Mickey Kaus might say, he completely buried the lead (or does Kaus use the pretentious 'lede'?), by instead haring off against one of Josh Marshall's more flagrant inaccuracies.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Micky Kaus had a post about an apparent conflict between two reasonable sounding Republican complaints against a prescription drug benefit.

The first complaint is that, like all other government benefits, spending on this one will go way, way up in the future. Once the camel gets it's nose under the tent, spending on this new entitlement will spiral out of control.

The second Republican criticism is that drug companies will no longer make as much money, and will thus not have as much money to spend on R&D to develop new drugs.

He points to the apparent inconsistency of government drug spending growing out of control, and yet having drug companies not being able to afford R&D. He requested that someone E-mail him if they could resolve this, but while I E-mailed a response solving the problem, he hasn't posted anything to his site. I thought that I would post it here, on the off chance someone actually drops by, and the even smaller chance that they would be interested.

What will get government spending spiraling out of control are two factors, increasing numbers of people eligible for the program, and increasing numbers of drugs covered. As the Baby Boomers retire, and life expectancy rises, more and more people will qualify for a "seniors" drug benefit. Just an obvious conclusion from current demographics and trends. While the case for the benefits received by this growing number of government benefactees is less strong, the chance that they will in fact grow must approach 100%.

Both of these trends will act to dramatically increase government spending, but will also act to reduce drug company profits. The government will, like the governments of Canada and Europe, act to push prices down on the drugs that they include for any benefit. This will, likewise, push drug company profit margins down. As increasing numbers of people are covered for an increasing number of decreasingly profitable drugs, drug companies profits will be severely squeezed, leading to substantial cuts in R&D. Not only will lower profits (and therefore lower cash flow) hurt R&D, the very likelihood of potential drugs being included in a government price sceme will make the cost/benefit analysis numbers for potential drugs come out much worse, decreasing the likelihood of them being attempted.

On a tangent, I can see this having other effects as well. The Law of Unintended Consequences is alive and well. In addition to cutting R&D, what other things will drug companies do in effort to maintain profitability? It seems to me that they would try to divert whatever R&D money they have left to drugs which would be unlikely to be covered by any drug benefit. This would, of course, lead to an even greater lack of new drugs for the very people that Congress wants to assist.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Steven Den Beste notes that any debt we may owe to France from the American Revolution has long been paid, after both World Wars. I've noticed many people talking about this supposed debt we owe France, usually in response to someone talking about the debt they owe us from WWII. It's usually accompanied by a snide comment, as in "You don't know much about history, do you? If it wasn't for France, we would be a part of the UK!"

I've actually never expected France to show much, if any, gratitude for our actions in WWII. That war ended more than 20 years before I was born, and in fact before the vast majority of either country's populations were born. It's been almost 60 years from France's liberation, and people just don't think that way. This line of reasoning is, of course, even stronger with regard to a 200+ year old 'debt'.

What makes the case for any US debt to France completely nonsensical, however, is related to another point Den Beste raised in a later post . Any debt we may owe is to the French monarchy, not to the heirs of it's opponents. If you want to talk about debts from the American Revolution, there is actually a far stronger case to be made that it is the French Republic who owes the US.

Our revolution was their inspiration, we began the series of revolutions which swept away the old monarchies.

We provided the proof that other forms of government, which gave power to a much broader range of people, were viable.

We weakened the French Monarchy by draining soldiers and funds.

I just don't understand why anyone would believe that we owe France anything. The closest equivalent I can think of (and it's really not that close), is to say that Communist China owes Russia for the support Mao received from the USSR.

Anyway, this talk of historical debts is really much ado about nothing. As I stated earlier, I don't expect anyone from either country to let this history influence them much one way or another. What I DO expect, is for someone who claims to be an ally to act like one. And if they fail to do so, then I will modify my actions accordingly. When a country's actions contradict their words, I know which to give credence to.

France is no ally of ours, and they are fast approaching enemy status as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003


Statistics are essential for dealing with most political issues nowadays. What are the effects of a tax cut? What would ratifying the Kyoto Accord cost? What would the benefits be? Are we in a recession? How much do the 'poor' pay in taxes? The answer to all these questions lie in statistics.

That partisans spin statistics like a top, when they aren't lying about them or outright making them up, is well established. I'm not interested in rehashing any of that, though a few days ago I found a good example in Newsweek. What I'm interested in exploring now is the extent that even solid figures, used appropriately in the correct context and by a fair and honest person, can STILL be misleading and wrong.

There is a concept in mathematics, the name of which unfortunately escapes me right now, in which the answer to a particular problem can only be taken to the decimal place of the least exact term in the equation. For example, in multiplying 102*10.5*2.05*7.055794654661, your answer should not contain ANY numbers to the right of the decimal point, because one of the figures being multiplied didn't have any. (By the way, if the 102 was given as 102.00, you would be justified in answering in tenths (the degree of precision now being limited by the 10.5)) Giving an answer out to tenths, or hundredths, or thousandths would give the illusion that your result is that precise, but that would not truly be the case. This rule really didn't really mean anything to me as a student, it was just one more thing to learn to keep from tripping up on a test. It wasn't until much later that I realized the wisdom of it.

Back to statistics, I wish there was a way to find a similar easy way to clue people in on the precision of any particular statistic, but I have never been able to come up with anything remotely feasable. Unfortunately, the very rule used in mathematics above actually acts to give users of various statistics a false sense of reliability.

Do I have an example? Sure, tons. Let's use a biggie - GDP. How is GDP calculated? I would bet that most people don't have a clue, perhaps even a majority of those who use GDP figures to buttress their own arguments or tear down someone else's. Here is a decent primer for the various methods used to calculate it. The most common (it has the benefit of being the easiest to understand and use) is the expenditure model:


Which means that GDP is made up of C (consumer spending) plus I (investment) plus G (government purchases) plus NT (net trade, export minus import).

Remember that the growth of this figure is constantly being reported, and is always given - annualized - to the tenth of a percent. What does this indicate to someone with some vague recollection of their Jr. High math class? First off, it's given out to tenths. Hey, it must be pretty solid. Then remember that they are extrapolating an annual number from monthly results, and realize that they really seem to be claiming accuracy into the hundredths.

But how accurate are GDP figures really? According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, GDP increased (in chained 1996 dollars (ie. adjusted for inflation)) from 8508.9 in 1998 to 9439.9 in 2002. But let's think about what we were buying in 1998, and for how much. In 1998, you could buy a brand new Pentium II, for the bargain price of about $1500. Contrast that with 2002, when I bought one of the then new Pentium IVs for about 1500. Today you can get Pentium IVs for quite a bit less than 1000. (I bet you could easily buy a computer today for less than $500 that would run circles around a 'top of the line' 1998 Pentium II.)

Let's try a quick test now: How much would selling 10 million Pentium IIs at 1500 in 1998 have added to the calculated national GDP? And how much would selling 15 million Pentium IVs at 1000 this year add to our GDP? If you came up with 15 billion in each case, have a beer on me. But how can this be? How can increasing our computer production by 50%, and the quality of our product by several magnitudes possibly leave our Gross Domestic Product figures... unchanged? The answer is, even though it appears to be a solid, precise figure, GDP is actually a rather blunt instrument, and the longer the period you are looking at, the worse it does. The next time you see someone trying to compare GDP growth between decades, remember this page, it's implications on the GDP comparisions, and try not to laugh in their faces.

THIS phone, weighing 'just 28 ounces' with a battery life 'for 30 minutes of talk time and eight hours of standby', was selling for 3995.00 in the 1980s!

Another problem inherent is the inclusion of government spending. The examples of government overspending have been with us for my entire life, with the $100 hammer, and the $200 toilet seat cover being particularly ubiquitious. But even those examples don't come close to illustrating the waste that the G component includes. For an example of what I'm talking about, let's say the federal government builds a bridge. Let's further assume, to be more than fair, that it is built on schedule and on budget, and is built with the proper materials and within code specifications - a beautiful 25 million dollar bridge. This is what GDP is supposed to measure, right? Now for the other shoe to drop: it is named the Byrd Bridge, and built in a location in WV that not more than 50 people a day use. Will we really get 25 million dollars of utility out of that bridge? Of course not. I'm certainly not saying that there isn't waste in any of the other figures, but all governments are prodigiously wasteful, they always have been, and almost certainly always will be. The bigger the 'G' in the equation, the more the GDP figure overstates the 'true' GDP in my opinion.

Keep this in mind whenever you see comparisons between various country's GDPs. How much of each consists of individual decisions, and how much that of such and such a country's government.

And how much should military spending count towards GDP? I understand why it is counted in full now, but, especially when you consider how much of the US military spending is actually being devoted to protecting our allies, I wonder if this component could be better if treated a little differently.

I could go on, but it's getting late, and I think I've made my point.

Statistics are indispensible. It's impossible to make an informed decision about so many things without the use of various statistics. However, you always need to keep in mind the limitations, both real and potential, inherent in each one.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Well, here's some news on Yahoo, from the AP:

French strikers disrupted train and bus service and sanitation workers dumped garbage in the street in the fourth day of a nationwide protest Friday against government plans to reform pensions.

The strikes came as tourist season gathered pace ahead of summer. On Friday, tourists were seen waiting in vain for airport buses.

Angry strikers stepped up their provocative action. Demonstrators cut power lines at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, halting all outbound traffic for several hours, a spokesman for state-run rail authority SNCF said.

Overall, one of every three trains in Paris was affected by the action on Friday. In the southern city of Marseille, only one tramway was running.

The trouble was expected to mount next week. Tuesday — the day Parliament begins debate on pension reform — is marked for major bus, train and airport strikes.

The transport workers, led by the Communist-linked CGT, have been joined by teachers and other public sector workers. Sanitation workers protesting in Lyon dumped garbage in front of City Hall in protest.

Not quite calling it rioting, but at least it's something.

And yes, if something like this were happening in the US, it would dominate news coverage not just here but all over Europe. While this can partly be explained by the fact that we are "the last superpower", while France is ... well, France - it doesn't explain the near news blackout.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Both Instapundit and USS Clueless have items noting the current labor riots in France. Both have also noted the remarkable absence of media coverage of said riots. I thought that SURELY I would be able to find SOMETHING relevant in European papers. No luck so far, but I did manage to find this rather ironic item, in the UK's Observer:

Let's help rebuild Iraq's labour movement

Trade unionists around the world must help Iraqis create one of the vital building blocks of a free society - whatever the US corporations think.

Yes! Who wouldn't be thrilled to have the Iraqis unionized? Only those 'evil' US corporations, of course.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Great piece by Jonah Goldberg the other day:

Diversity is another of those words we imbue with all nobility and goodness without question or reservation. And that's nonsense. If diversity were always and everywhere good we would be clamoring for more midgets in the NBA. We would demand that mobsters get jobs at the FBI and we would consider it a grave problem that not enough blind men — and women! — were applying to be crossing guards, snipers, and surgeons.

Indeed, if diversity were always a boon to the educational process, we would decry the ghettos of backwardness we call all-women's colleges and historically black universities. After all, are not blacks and women in the most need of educational support? Lee Bollinger, the former president of the University of Michigan (and current president of Columbia University) recently declared:

Diversity is not merely a desirable addition to a well-run education. It is as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare. For our students to better understand the diverse country and world they inhabit, they must be immersed in a campus culture that allows them to study with, argue with and become friends with students who may be different from them. It broadens the mind and the intellect — essential goals of education.

Well, if it's an essential goal of education, let's diversify Morehouse College right now before one more black kid is forced to study without the benefit of experiencing the glories of sharing a dorm with a few Asian and white kids. And since it's an established fact that blacks are more educationally disadvantaged than most, doesn't that mean that integrating black schools is even more of an imperative than getting a few more African Americans at Harvard?

Many of our greatest scientists, statesmen, soldiers, and artists attended remarkably un-diverse institutions. Indeed, many of our greatest black leaders attended all black, and often all black male, institutions of higher learning. And yet, if I were to say that a black man can't be properly educated unless some of whitey rubs off on him, I'd get in a lot of trouble.

But that's the diversity argument in a nutshell.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Last month I was flipping channels before going to bed, and I happened to land on Austin City Limits. They had a re-broadcast of a concert by Tom Waits from 1978, and I was absolutely mesmerized. I had a vague familiarity with his name, but I'm pretty sure that I had never actually heard his music before.

I've now bought a few of his older albums, and highly recommend them. (Not that that anyone reading this will likely give a damn about my musical choices.) He does a mixture of blues, jazz, and other influences. It has a strong feel to me of an older period (1930's?). Great, soulful, raspy voice.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

On a message board that I frequent, two separate people have quoted from a Newsweek column regarding the federal court nomination disputes written by Eleanor Clift a couple of weeks ago. Amazingly, the article doesn't seem to be available on the internet anywhere, at least that I have been able to find (and I devoted more than a few minutes to locating it). I've refuted it both times, once in depth, and a second time on the fly. They tend to remove threads very quickly there, and so I actually (gasp!) visited my local library and made a copy of the article (Newsweek May 19, 2003 Page 9) to discuss here. Now if it comes up again, I will just link to this post.

The majority of the article is OK. With the exception of the final paragraph, the only quibble I have with it is that it lists the Democrat's complaints regarding a particular nominee without presenting the Republican response, but this is minor. However, the final paragraph is a major, major problem. I'll do a mini-Fisk on it:

"Battles over court nominees have intensified since 1996"

Sorry, they've 'intensified' since at least the Bork nomination battle, to say nothing of the Thomas fiasco. To establish the beginning date of the escalating nomination battles at 1996 places any blame or change in approach at the feet of a Republican majority, instead of at that of the Democrats where it belongs.

"when the Republicans unveiled a deliberate strategy to slow President Bill Clinton's appointees. The GOP put secret holds on nearly 60 nominees."

Prior to this article, I've never heard of any allegations, let alone solid proof of this allegation of the GOP's use of 'secret holds'. Ms. Clift certainly offers none. While it is extremely hard to prove a negative, I will offer substantial evidence that she is flat out wrong on this point. has a spreadsheet which gives various information regarding federal judicial vacancies for every month from January 1991 to February 2003. It makes for some quite interesting reading. On January 1, 1996, there were a total of 50 vacancies - the lowest total in Clinton's presidency. On January 1, 1997, there were a total of 83. While this rise may look a little suspicious, please note that a mere three months before, there were only 62 vacancies. Clearly there many new vacancies in this period, and the Senators were undoubtedly a little pre-occupied with the elections of that time.

While the vacancy figure continues to climb to a maximum of 100, it is also important to note the small fraction of the vacancies which Clinton even bothered to submit a nominee. While the site has an unfortunate gap in the information on pending nominees in this timeline, it appears that in the period from 8/96 to 6/97 - the time frame that the vacancy rate climbed so precipitously - Clinton NEVER HAD MORE THAN THIRTY nominees pending! It's sort of hard to blame the Senate for the vacancies when less than half of the judgeships have nominees pending. It's also rather difficult to have "secret holds on nearly 60 nominees" when the most nominees during the period seems to be 42.

Even without taking into account the normal time needed to perform (legitimately) the Senate's duty of advise and consent, I think that it is safe to say from these numbers that this claim is complete and utter bunk.

"When Clinton left office, the vacancies on the federal bench were at a record high"

THIS is the most obvious and egregious lie in the piece. I honestly cannot believe she wrote it, and that some fact checker and/or editor allowed it. It is so far wrong that it's almost breathtaking. According to, when Bush Sr. left office the vacancy rate was in triple digits. On 5/1/91 the vacancy figure was 146! When Clinton left office, it was in single digits. Could she have really made such an obvious and easily checked lie? Could it be instead which is peddling such trash? Let's let the ABA be the judge:

In total, during the 106th Congress, President Clinton nominated 116 individuals and the Senate confirmed 73 nominees (15 to the U.S. courts of appeals, 57 to the U.S. district courts, and one to the Court of International Trade) and rejected one. At the close of the 106th Congress 67 vacancies remained (25 in the U.S. courts of appeals and 42 in the U.S. district courts) and 41 nominations were returned to the President. In December 2000, President Clinton exercised his recess appointment power by appointing Roger Gregory to the 4th Circuit.

Note that this figure of 67 vacancies agrees with's number as of 12/4/2000. While the vacancy figure went up during the period between the election and President Bush's inauguration, this is also normal. Should the Senate be blamed for the 13 additional vacancies by January 2001, or should we use the ABA's figure of 67 for the "record high" number of vacancies at the end of Clinton's term. Ultimately, the lie is so huge it doesn't matter, so let's use 80.

The ABA has this to say for vacancies in the recent past:

• The current vacancy rate is high, but certainly not the highest in recent memory. During past-president George Bush’s term of office, there were 129 vacancies at the beginning of the 102nd Congress and 131 the following year. When Clinton took office in 1993, there were 115 vacancies on the bench and this climbed to 122 in 1994. The vacancy rates at the end of various sessions of Congress also have been as high or higher than now: 131 in 1991, 103 in 1992, and 112 in 1993.

This also agrees with's figures. Were the vacancies at the end of Clinton's term a "record high" or did she write a blatant lie? You be the judge. (My apologies for channeling Johnny Cochran for a moment).

"today they are the lowest in 13 years."

She's finally back on truthful ground, but she's spinning for all she's worth. We are currently at 45 vacancies, according to the federal government. This is actually the lowest in more than 13 years. What she doesn't mention is that under Clinton we were, not once, but TWICE down to 50 vacancies. One of these was in 1996, the year of those mysterious 60 "secret holds". Note that both of these lows came under a REPUBLICAN MAJORITY! With the Senate in the opposition party's hands, Clinton twice achieved a vacancy rate he never approached with a Democratic Senate. In contrast, Bush had to wait for the Senate to fall into his own party's hands before he could approach the low under Clinton.

Making this contrast worse, is that Bush (with the exception of the period immediately after his inauguration) has been far more proactive in nominating judges. In the same period of their respective Presidencies, where Clinton had only nominated people for roughly a third of the vacancies, Bush has actually already nominated people for several judgeships that aren't even vacant yet! Today there are more nominees than vacancies, pending announcements of people known to be retiring, etc.

"But Republicans say the system is broken, and Bush accuses Democrats of damaging judicial independence. That's a hard case to make: of the 13 circuit courts in the country, Republicans control eight, Democratic appointees control three, and two are divided between the parties"

This is simple a red herring. What does the make-up of the circuit courts have to do with "judicial independence"? Would having them all equally split between Republican nominated judges and Democratic judges mean that they are "independent" in any meaningful way? This split has nothing to do with "judicial independence" at all, they are simply a function of who has been getting elected President. While the last 10 years have been split 7-3 Democratic - Republican, over the last 20 it's been 12-8 Republican-Democrat, and over the last 30 years it's been 18-12 Republican-Democrat. Judges last a LONG time, so looking at these longer time frames is appropriate. The breakdown simply reflects the political realities of our system of government. So why the blather? I guess it's better to obfuscate than dwell on the actual arguments when you cannot answer them.

This final paragraph consists of nothing but blatant lies, lies of omission, exaggerations, and obfuscations. Pathetic.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

It looks like Andrew Sullivan is a reader! At least, he seems to have picked up on the exact two quotes that I did below.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Some interesting tidbits on the NY Times scandal at Seth Mnookin's Raw Copy. First is NY Times reporter Tim Egan - "Hopefully, we’ll go back to valuing what we have: people who care about the drift of this country, and are given the time and respect to tell it right.”

So what the Times has is ... a bunch of people who care about the (apparently rightward) drift of the country. It seems that in his opinon, this is, if not the only common trait they share, at least the most important. I'm sure that in 'telling it right' they all make sure to eliminate their common bias.

The second item is from Todd Purdum, where he says in part, "But Rick Bragg’s method is not typical. It’s aberrant and repellent. Some of our colleagues have known this for years. Now the world knows it, and we’re all the poorer.”

So Bragg's methods were known 'for years', with no repurcussions. As if this isn't bad enough, Purdum seems to be at least as upset that the truth has gotten out, and as a consequence "we're all the poorer". I always thought that reporters were supposed to believe in exposing truth. I have to wonder who the 'we' that he refers to are. Are 'we' the NY Times, because of the loss of respect, deference, and influence? Are 'we' reporters in general for much the same reason? Or are 'we' Americans, poorer for losing an untrue illusion regarding the NY Times' standards and 'balance'?

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Hmm. I guess I should have first read the rules. I would say that as my blog first started last year, however fitfully, I'm disqualified. Oh well.

I didn't have much to say today anyway.
Well, it's obviously been quite awhile since I posted. I saw the news about NZ Bear's little contest, and thought I might as well start it up again. The chances of my actually winning a week is pretty slim, but what the heck.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Let's talk a little about statistics, data, and the uses they are put to in public analysis. Probably due to my accounting background, I tend to easier recognize problems inherent in certain types of comparisons. I want to use three different subjects to illustrate the basic point: education, crime (with a focus on the specific crime of murder), and economy.

With the ongoing problems with our public school system, it is natural for people to look to find some objective criteria to judge which schools, states, programs, etc. are working and which aren't. Given the importance of this area, obviously there is a lot of attention focused on the problem. Unfortunately, almost all of the data that people try to use to perform this task are woefully inadequate and/or misused. That those who use this data are by and large unaware of the problem only compounds it. Two of the most egregious examples, to my mind, are drop-out rates and SAT/ACT scores.

While drop-out rates are important in some respects, it is important to keep in mind the accounting principle of comparability. When comparing the financial statements of two different companies, it is vitally important for any type of meaningful analysis that they are following the same rules in recognizing income, expenses, etc (see. Enron et. al). It is just as important when comparing drop-out rates between states, and thus in effect makes any such valid comparison impossible. The reason is that differing states can have wildly differing stances on social promotion, widely different demographics, varied levels of difficulty in curricula, require passing grades on a certain standardized tests (versus not doing so), etc. etc. Drop-out rates can be a valuable tool for evaluating a particular school, or school district, but it's usefulness does not extend much farther in scale. It's also important to keep in mind that drop-out rates generally say something about how well a school or school system does with the children at the bottom, but says little about it's utility for the average or 'gifted' student .

SAT scores are just as bad. First, they have the converse problem to drop-out rates: they only measure the students who are planning to go (or at least wish to go) to college. The fact that the percentage of students who fit this criteria varies from school to school, from school district to school district, from county to county, and from state to state, should thus put you on your guard that composite SAT scores are highly misleading. Yet every year, state rankings are announced with great fanfare across the country, generally with only token or no acknowlegement of the limitations. This is one of the few pieces I have seen to highlight these limitations, though it is notable that it is in response to a politician trying to make hay out of the raw numbers.

With regard to murder rates, you would think that it would be pretty easy to come up with a murder rate that would compare quite well between different states and countries. It seems that you would be wrong. From this Reason article comes the startling news:

[i]"The murder rates of the U.S. and U.K. are also affected by differences in the way each counts homicides. The FBI asks police to list every homicide as murder, even if the case isn’t subsequently prosecuted or proceeds on a lesser charge, making the U.S. numbers as high as possible. By contrast, the English police "massage down" the homicide statistics, tracking each case through the courts and removing it if it is reduced to a lesser charge or determined to be an accident or self-defense, making the English numbers as low as possible. [/i]

In other words, if someone kills another in self defense, that death would be counted as a 'murder' in the US, but not in the UK. Also, if someone drives recklessly and kills another in a car accident and eventually pleads to vehicular manslaughter that would be counted as a murder in the US, but not in the UK. There are clearly any number of similar scenarios which would result in something counted as a murder here but not there. This goes a VERY long way to explaining how the UK can have such a higher violent crime rate, and yet have a lower murder rate. The disconnect had puzzled me for years, and, as far as I have been able to determine, the Reason article is the only place that this difference of methods has been articulated, and even here it was somewhat buried in the middle, and not given nearly the attention it deserves.

We finally get to the economy and where the idea for this post originated. When looking over what John Quiggin wrote (see below), he was relying in part on country-wide productivity measures.