Saturday, April 30, 2005

Orin Kerr on Judicial Politics

Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy comments in part:
"Is it just me, or has the news relating to the courts and the legal system been a bit weird recently? The big stories in the past few weeks have been filibusters in the Senate, Justice Sunday, the alleged Constitution-in-Exile movement, and Tom DeLay's criticism of Justice Kennedy. All of these stories have something in common, I think. They are mostly proxies for the political struggle to confirm the Bush Administration's choice to replace the ailing Chief Justice Rehnquist."

It's a good observation, and undeermines my recent argument that compromise, which would preserve the issue, would work to the benefit of the interest groups on both sides.

Final Budget Resolution--Payment Limitation

Here's the provision in the final budget resolution pertaining to agriculture:

" a) SUBMISSIONS TO SLOW THE GROWTH IN MANDATORY SPENDING AND TO ACHIEVE DEFICIT REDUCTION- (1) Not later than September 16, 2005, the House committees named in paragraph (2) shall submit their recommendations to the House Committee on the Budget. After receiving those recommendations, the House Committee on the Budget shall report to the House a reconciliation bill carrying out all such recommendations without any substantive revision.


(A) COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE- The House Committee on Agriculture shall report changes in laws within its jurisdiction sufficient to reduce the level of direct spending for that committee by $797,000,000 in outlays for fiscal year 2006 and $5,278,000,000 in outlays for the period of fiscal years 2006 through 2010."

Note that the cuts prescribed by the House prevailed over the smaller cuts ($171,000,000 in fiscal year 2006, and $2,814,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2006 through 2010) of the Senate.

Belated House Action, H.R. 1590, Payment Limitation

Two months after S. 385 (see my analysis) was introduced to implement the Administration's proposals on changing payment limitations, two Representatives introduced the companion bill in the House:

"H. R. 1590

To amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to restore integrity to, and strengthen payment limitation rules for, commodity payments and benefits.


April 13, 2005

Mr. KIND (for himself and Mr. FLAKE) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Agriculture"
Why the delay? Perhaps because the Senate is likely to be the decisive arena for this issue. The Senators from the cotton/rice states can play a bigger role in the maneuvering than their counterparts in the House. (Thank the compromise in the Constitutional Convention between big states and small states.)

Historical Hanging Terraces

In looking again at S. 385, there's a hanging terrace there. (Hanging terrace is, if memory serves, a geologist's term for a terrace formed during the Ice Age along the shore of a lake, when the level of the lake lowered because more ice melted, it left it hanging there, a geologic marker of a past historical event). In this case, the terrace is the name of the Senate Committee--it's a remnant of two issues: the shuffling of the Forestry Service between USDA and Interior back in TR's day and the origin of FDA in USDA before it became independent then into HHS. Regardless of the bureaucratic reorganizations, the committee jealously retained jurisdiction. The same power politics goes on today, with the Department of Homeland Security and its committees, much to the disgust of the 9-11 commission.

"S. 385

To amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to restore integrity to and strengthen payment limitation rules for commodity payments and benefits.


February 15, 2005

Mr. GRASSLEY (for himself, Mr. DORGAN, Mr. HAGEL, and Mr. JOHNSON) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry"

Friday, April 29, 2005

Horse is to Carriage as Politician is to Bureaucrat

I like Tom Friedman, but I have to disagree with this portion of his column this week on the Bolton appointment (saying that Bolton might improve the UN bureaucracy, but wouldn't work well to create support for the US):

"In short, I don't much care how the U.N. works as a bureaucracy; I care about how often it can be enlisted to support, endorse and amplify U.S. power. That is what serves our national interest. "
What Tom misses is that a politician is nothing without a bureaucracy to lead, or rather, a politician without a bureaucracy to lead, or aspire to lead, is a demagogue. Consider Arafat, who never had an effective bureaucracy in the Palestinian Authority. In the long run, if the UN doesn't work, its moral authority vanishes, and the value of its support becomes nil. The UN doesn't have to be a world government, but it has to be effective at what it tries to do.

A bureaucracy, like a carriage, both empowers and constrains the politician. It permits the victorious politician to deliver on his promises, thus enforcing accountability. It keeps the politician from galloping cross country in pursuit of every will o'wisp, thereby promoting stability. So the politician needs the bureaucracy.

Likewise, the bureaucrat needs the politician. A problem with the UN is that it doesn't have enough politics and enough effective bureaucracy. Without campaigns and elections, the balance between the UN civil service and politicians is skewed, so the bureaucracy loses its power. To change metaphors, without the exercise of doing things, and of changing course at the direction of its political leaders, a bureaucracy becomes flabby and self-absorbed.

I've no affection for Bolton, but if his appointment would shoot down the black helicopter myths, I'd applaud it.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

In Praise of Administrative Professionals

This week used to be Secretaries Week, which benefited the florists and restuarants of DC as each office unit took its secretary out to lunch and/or gave flowers. It's now been renamed Administrative Professionals Week. It's part of the inflation of titles and ranks that Paul Light highlights in government, though I suspect it's prevalent elsewhere. (How many vice presidents does a bank have, anyway?) Just a couple thoughts:

1 The impact of word processing, which meant that professional employees (in itself an example of title inflation--most such government employees are not professionals in the sense that 19th century doctors and lawyers aspired to) did their own typing and thereby reduced the number of clerk-typists and secretaries.

2 The importance of secretaries as an upward mobility route. While it's declined as more and more people go to college, it used to be a way for the smart and hard working to show their stuff and advance. (The 9-11 report observed that the FBI found many of its analysts in these fields, which unfortunately meant that analysts didn't have the prestige within the organization of the special agents.)

Bicycles and Slippery Slopes

What would we do without metaphors? Eugene Volokh has written a law article on "slippery slopes" and now Daniel Drezner mentions something that seems the mirror image: "bicycle theory". Here's Drezner's link
"The 'end of Europe' claim by Prodi is an extreme version of the 'bicycle theory' of international integration, which says that if there is any slowdown in integration, the process starts to wobble like a slow bicycle, eventually toppling under its own weight. This line was also used after the Maastricht accord was signed in the early nineties. I suspect that warnings like Prodi's will, if anything, further turn off people against what elites tell them about the European Union."
A Google search seems to link it to Fred Bergsten. The slippery slope is, in my telling, the idea that a small step forward will result in a long trip to an unwanted destination; the bicycle is the idea that an interruption to progress forward will result in a short trip to the ground.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ideas, For What They're Worth--II

Continuing along the lines of feedback, I'd suggest highway radar/display signs that show the average speed of vehicles on the highway.

Rationale: in Lake Wobegon, everyone drives faster than the average. I think there's a perception bias. First, I'd assume that the distribution of vehicle speeds on a highway is a skewed normal distribution, that is, there are very few vehicles going at or below the speed limit, and significant numbers going well above the speed limit. The peak of the curve is somewhere above the limit.

Second, assume you merge onto the highway and drive at your normal speed, maybe 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. You're going to be passed by vehicles going 70, 80 and 90; you're going to pass vehicles going 55. I suspect the speeders are going to make the biggest impact on you. You may well believe that the average speed is 70. But that may not be true. A display setup would show the truth.

(This idea is a takeoff from some research that supposedly showed that college students believe binge drinking is more prevalent than it actually is, resulting in a greater tendency to drink. I say "supposedly" because I've also seen a challenge to the research and don't know for sure what the status is.)

Ideas, For What they're Worth-I

Like most people, I have these great ideas (I think so, at least) that never go anywhere. On the off chance that some Google will come across these pages, I'm going to write them up and post them.

My first one--the local HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes on Interstate 95 tend to attract criticism from people who are stuck in stop-and-go traffic in the regular lanes and look over to see cars whizzing by in the HOV. They protest--the lanes aren't being fully used, so why not open them to everyone?

Using the principle that feedback is often good, I'd suggest a traffic counter/display sign over each set of lanes. The count would be a running tally of the cars passing the point during the last hour, multiplied by an occupancy factor. For HOV-3, multiply each car times 3; for the regular lanes, multiply times 1. This means the signs would compare the effectiveness of the lanes in carrying people. Thus the signs would show whether or not the HOV lanes are working as they're supposed to.

Power Line

John Hinderacker at Power Line attacks a Democratic rally against privatizing Social Security on Capitol Hill. I quarrel with this:
"This really is demagoguery at its worst. Federal employees already have a private contribution plan."
The Federal system is essentially a 401K on top of Social Security, which is how it was sold to us back in the 1980's. The existence or non-existence of 401K's doesn't support the "carve-out" approach to private accounts.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why a Compromise on Judicial Nominees Makes Cents

If the controversy over appellate court nominees is largely fueled by special cause lobbyists, then a compromise makes sense. From the point of the view of the interest groups, successful use of the nuclear option would remove controversies in the future. You'd only be able to lobby the Senate to get a majority, much harder than the current situation. That means you'd have less occasion to send junk mail to your supporters, rousing their fervor. The only downside to the compromise is the story of the boy who cried "wolf"; it would tend to undermine credibility. But damage to credibility can be repaired over time, so rationally, both sides should agree on a compromise in order to preserve the issue for future fund raising drives.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Reasons I'm a Liberal (Revised)

I'll add as I think of them. Here's a pretty good summary, albeit a bit bloodless.

1 I'm more concerned about incorporating the Golden Rule in our institutions than about erecting stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

2 Like Julian Simon, I believe people are the greatest natural resource, so if we have to throw money at problems, let's aim towards the schools, not the military.

3 Like Madison, I believe diversity is essential to a republic's survival. The more people of diverse opinions and interests the better.

4 I believe in the power of people, working together, to accomplish good, whether the organization is a charity, a religion, a corporation, or a government. As Benjamin Franklin said: "we must all hang together or we will each hang separately", an organization accomplishes more than individuals.

5 I don't think it's soft-headed to understand a person before judging them.

6 I don't think it's soft-hearted to strive for everyone to be well, and well-fed, well-housed, well-educated, and at peace.

Poor Harry Blackmun--Juan Non-Volokh on David Brooks Column, Revised

Juan Non-Volokh comments on David Brooks column, blaming Roe v. Wade for partisanship on justices.

The partisan divisions over judges are not Harry's fault. Blame Ike. He picked Earl Warren, who led the Court into what conservatives saw as upsetting hallowed tradition (Brown, Baker v. Carr), favoring Communists, coddling criminals (Gideon and Miranda), removing religion from public life (Engel), etc. etc. I believe all of are too young to remember those days, but "Impeach Earl Warren" was a war cry of the right, dating back to the late 1950's. Warren was even under attack by the ABA leadership (then a stalwart of the right).

That was part of the context for LBJ's selecting his successor (Warren got cute, too cute, by resigning in 1968 dependent on a successor, thus giving LBJ the chance to name the successor--LBJ named Abe Fortas):

This source provides a summary of Warren's career, including this discussion of the result:
" On July 11 the Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings. Shortsightedly, Fortas accepted the Judiciary Committee's invitation to testify. He was the first CJ nominee in history ever to do so. Warren had declined to do so, letting his record speak for him. Senators could not impeach Warren, but they whiplashed Fortas for cronyism with LBJ and drew him into a discussion and defense of several Warren Court decisions, many of which were decided before Fortas had joined the Court. On September 13, the embattled and embarrassed Fortas wrote Mississippi Senator Eastland, the anti-Warren Court Judiciary Committee chairman, that he would no longer testify. The full Judiciary Committee finally approved the Fortas nomination 11-6, moving it to the Senate floor. A coalition of southern Democrats and Republicans, urged on by Nixon, began a filibuster which could not be stopped by sufficient votes for cloture. Fortas wrote to LBJ requesting that his nomination be withdrawn. Immediately LBJ complied with deep regret. Everybody then besieged LBJ with a new nominee, but the proud old Texan refused to name a Fortas substitute. "
Rick Shenkman at POTUS writes:
" Any number of turning points could be selected. One that stands out was the 1968 fight to stop LBJ from naming Abe Fortas chief justice of the Supreme Court. Nothing like it had ever been seen in American history by one measure. For the first time ever opponents staged a filibuster to block a president's nomination to the Supreme Court."
The Post covers the Fortas filibuster here:

Ralph Luker at Cliopatria discusses Blackmun and incidentally agrees that Warren and the Fortas fight were keys.

The Roe decision was significant because it was the Burger court, thus undermining any belief Republican appointees would reverse the direction of the Warren court was undermined, and it was a hot button issue for a new group. Where the hardhats had seen the court as pinko, now their wives became involved.

Finally, Justice Scalia in the O'Connor/Breyer/Scalia discussion on C-Span traced the partisanship back "50 years", meaning for once he and I agree.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Agendas and Dog-Whistle Politics

Today sees William Safire discussing the origins of the phrase "dog-whistle politics", meaning messages that reach an intended audience but not others. And the Washington Post Outlook section has Jeffrey Birnbaum writing on "The Forces That Set the Agenda" " [warning, as of 2pm the link was faulty, giving only the title and not the text of the article]: "
In the grand scheme of things, Social Security isn't the nation's biggest fiscal problem. That's not my view. That's the assessment of Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a Bush political appointee before he became head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, who says that looming financial calamities in Medicare and Medicaid are larger and more immediate worries in a strictly budgetary sense." He goes on to discuss the role of organizations like AARP in making Social Security a focus. Small businesses played a key role in the estate tax debate.

I see both as relating to David Broder's column on the judicial nominee fight (see my post here).

The common thread is the individualization of politics, retail politics. In the 1940's and 50's, there were 3 TV networks, a handful of radio stations, some national magazines like Readers Digest, Life, Time, Colliers and that was it. Politically there was big business with the NAM and the Chamber of Commerce, big labor with the AFL and the CIO, and big agriculture with the Farm Bureau and Farmers Union. Throw in a few membership organizations like Knights of Columbus, Elks, League of Women Voters, American Legion, AMA, and ABA and you had the major political players.

50 years later media has proliferated, the membership organizations have lost their dominance, and mail-based advocacy organizations have multiplied. The key to all this is the original bureaucratic organization, i.e, the Post Office, with junk mail and the computerization of data. The new organizations spend much less time socializing at local and state levels and much more time raising money through mailed appeals and targeted media--dog whistles. Both Robert Putnam ("Bowling Alone" and "Better Together: Restoring the American Community") and Theda Skocpol "Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life" have written on this theme. They convince me.

Because people learned how to use computers to develop mailing lists, they could create magazines targeted to niche audiences. They learned how to massage census data and commercial data to refine their advertisements and magazines. From there it was a short step to applying the tools to politics, creating advocacy organizations to support lobbyists on K Street. In my own area of agriculture, the dominance of the Farm Bureau has been challenged by all the commodity groups, each one organized around a crop. The politics of specialization works differently than the politics I was taught in the 50's and 60's. While we still have farm bills, much of the Congressional work is done through the appropriations process and amendments to "must pass" legislation, whether it's the budget reconciliation measures, emergency legislation responding to agricultural "emergencies", or whatever. You get the explosion of "earmarks" of money for projects that never went through peer review in the case of science or through the authorization process in the case of pork.

With specialized communications networks and organizations at their disposal, political operators can work outside the vision of the mainstream media, whether it's to agitate the waves over judicial nominees or to fight over social security when Medicare is really in much greater trouble.

Can blogging, or anything else, change this? Doubtful.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

David Broder on The Appeal of A Court Fight (

David Broder early this week wrote a cynical column saying that politics is occuring on the Hill:

"the more important reason [for the uproar over appeals court nominees], I suspect, is that the interest groups that have mobilized over the judiciary find it very useful to broaden the battleground beyond the Supreme Court....

To maintain their supporters' interest -- and the flow of contributions that finance their staffs -- the interest groups need more fights. And that is what the regular turnover in the ranks of the appeals courts provides.

It matters not to these groups how much or how little the broad public knows of the records and personalities of these appointees. As long as activists can be convinced they are threats to the system -- or martyrs -- that will suffice."

I believe he was in error in not tracing the controversy back to Fortas (see this post) but otherwise is right on. Political rhetoric these days is devalued; issues which seem important lose their criticality when viewed over time and compared to the great issues of the past. (ed.: there speaks the disillusionment of the old). I saw a reference to "dog whistle" politics, that is issues directed towards the base that completely bypass the centrist voter. There's also a study that uses that logic to explain a rise in partisanship--parties are able to focus their message to their partisans, without losing the appeal to the center.

Never Buy Version 1.0 (Harshaw Rule 1), (Revised)

Revised April 23:
Apparently the system is working now. I'm a little dubious of the site as far as usability goes, but I always think I could do things better so disregard this sentence.

Comment April 22:
As if any further confirmation of Harshaw Rule 1 was needed, USDA released a new Website to support its new food pyramids. The idea is to provide personalized advice based on age and body mass index, with the further option of recording your food intake and exercise day by day. Nice idea, but insufficiently tested and supported. In a word, they underestimated the interest. Big mistake, because anyone turned off this week is unlikely to return.

I signed up for the food/exercise option and found the site working slowly earlier in the week. This morning I tried to login again and got an error message that a user should never get. To quote part of it:

The viewstate is invalid for this page and might be corrupted.

Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

Such a message should be intercepted and a more user-friendly message supplied instead. Contacted support, which was a hassle itself (the error message window should have a mailto link there) and got two responses, explaining that they were overloaded and I'd probably have to re-sign up. It's good I didn't spend much time recording what I usually eat and do or I'd be really angry.

User testing is one of my pet peeves, maybe this will trigger more blogging on the subject.

Update on USDA Position on Payment Limits

Interview with Secretary Johanns clarifying [sic] administration's position on cutting farm program payments.

Bernstein's Question for Liberals

Professor David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy poses an interesting question, unfortunately one that liberals have to face for 3 more years and maybe longer:

"if you are a liberal to moderate Democrat, would you rather have an outspoken libertarian like Justice Janice Rogers Brown on a federal appellate court, or even the Supreme Court, or a more typical cautious conservative Republican who got his position in part through pure political loyalty (cynics may say hackery)? Is Justice Brown's intellectual independence a plus from your perspective, because she is perhaps less likely to acquiesce to the wishes of the Bush Administration, or a minus, because she won't give a fig about what the New York Times editorial page says about her judicial opinions and is therefore less likely to 'mature' in office? "
My answer is, give me the hack. Before I go on, I should admit I know very little about the current appeals court nominees. I think I know something about living and about American history. That tells me I'd rather have the Brennan, Blackmun, or O'Connor type than the Scalia or Thomas. Or rather, give me a person who's shown signs of "growing", of making mistakes and learning from them, of living a full life exposed to the currents of the society and the world, yes, even including the NYTimes editorial page. (That test might have excluded Judge Souter, who seems notably insulated from the world.)

Bernstein goes on to raise the issue of individual rights in the midst of the war on terror, which may go on indefinitely. That is one difference--I see the war on terror as petering out and not posing a major threat to civil liberties. The different perspective is one reason for my preference; too much will happen in the next 20 years that we can't predict. I don't want to trust someone who found the truth at 25 and hasn't learned since.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

University as Information Traps

By mistake I taped a Charlie Rose interview with the President of Stanford, which was interesting. Rose asked how he would go about improving a school. The answer was rather general, hiring a good dean, hiring great professors which helps attract great students. The implication I drew from the discussion is that it's a circular process, a virtuous circle. Good leadership and one great professor helps attract other great professors and then great students. (He claimed that Stanford was continually raising the number and quality of its applicants.)

It struck me that the whole process has a dynamic of its own. The university invests in the school, the great professor invests by moving to the university, the great students invest by attending--it's to the advantage of everyone to portray the school as great. No alumnus wants to say that her aluma mater was a poor school. The university becomes an information trap, a black hole, in that it captures all negative information and only permits positive information to be aired.

I suspect you could extend the analysis to other organizations. Political appointees in DC are known for going "native" after they're appointed to head agencies. No one who's been in office for 6 months wants to say I head the worst, most disorganized, ineffective organization I ever saw. Perhaps the only exception will be John Bolton if he wins confirmation.

Karl Rove on Mainstream Media

Dana Milbank's report yesterday in the Post caused me to think more highly of Karl Rove (not a difficult job). Rove thinks the mainstream media is more oppositional than liberal:
"His indictment of the media -- delivered as part of Washington College's Harwood Lecture Series, named for the late Washington Post editor and writer Richard Harwood -- had four parts: that there's been an explosion in the number of media outlets; that these outlets have an insatiable demand for content; that these changes create enormous competitive pressure; and that journalists have increasingly adopted an antagonistic attitude toward public officials. Beyond that, Rove argued that the press pays too much attention to polls and 'horse-race' politics, and covers governing as if it were a campaign."
That seems about right to me. Though you have to add in other factors--the MSM don't seem to have had much exposure to the broad scape of America, lack historical and comparative perspective, have neither the time nor expertise to understand the workings of many organizations and institutions, and follow the crowd.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Karl Rove Agrees with Harshaw Rule

Dana Milbank covers a Karl Rowe talk to the newpaper people here:
"he [Karl Rowe] proposed a rule: 'Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, commentators should answer arguments instead of impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree.' "
Though Milbank went on to say the White House didn't follow the rule, it's still worthwhile. I've called it Rule no. 2 here.

Bureaucracy, Presbyterians, and Israel (Revised)

Professor David Bernstein in cited this article in The Jewish Week, concerning proposals among mainline religions to divest stocks in companies working in Israel. From the article:
"But many analysts have been baffled by the timing of the Presbyterian action that opened the divestment floodgates, and which Jewish leaders fear will give new impetus to divestment drives on college campuses and in several cities known for liberal activism.The Presbyterians began their divestment move just as Israel and the Palestinians were moving toward a renewed peace effort and as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accelerated his plan for withdrawal from Gaza....
The Presbyterians began their divestment move just as Israel and the Palestinians were moving toward a renewed peace effort and as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accelerated his plan for withdrawal from Gaza.
The article is unfair to Presbyterians on several counts (full disclosure, while a descendant of Presbyterian ministers and brother to a delegate to the 2004 Presbyterian General Assembly, I'm an atheist):

  1. First (given the theme of my blog) it ignores Presbyterian bureaucracy. (Ignorance of bureaucracy, of the nuts and bolts that make things happen, is often a problem when an outsider comments on an organization. ) The Presbyterians were one of the first federations in the new United States, with churches joined in presbyteries, presbyteries into synods, and synods into the church, all run democratically, meaning action takes time. The divestment resolution was put on the agenda for the June 2004 General Assembly by an "overture" from a Florida presbytery. It's worth noting that in May 2004 Gaza had exploded, the Israeli army was destroying many houses in Gaza, and the divestment idea was specifically aimed at Caterpillar. The bottom line is the writer's chronology is wrong. Not everyone marches to the same drummer.
  2. Second, Israel has bureaucracy, the PA does not. That is, Israel has an organized and democratic society. As such, it offers outsiders better pressure points as well as internal checks and balances. (Life is not fair. ) One of the failures of Clintonian Middle East policy was in not developing the PA bureaucracy (see Dennis Ross and "The Missing Peace") so there are few pressure points there. Thus outside groups and governments have more chance of success in pressuring Israel than the PA. It's only coincidence, but the same day the divestment resolution was passed, the Israeli Supreme Court said part of the route of the barrier/wall was illegal. Since then, the Israeli Army has decided that bulldozing Palestinian homes is ineffective as a deterrent to terrorism.
  3. Third, you might assume Presbyterians are Johnny-come-latelies to the Middle East, just sticking their long noses into other people's business. Not true. Their ties are intimate and long lasting. Oddly enough, the denomination was represented there before the Zionist movement was founded, notably founding the American University of Beirut. The 2002 General Assembly elected as moderator an Arab-American, who fled his village with his father and seven siblings in1948 (later returned). General assemblies have stuck their nose into the Israel-Palestine issue on several occasions. (Presbyterians are notable busybodies and vulnerable to taking "holier than thou" stances, IMO.) The Pentecostal denominations do not have this history.
  4. Fourth, while each denomination differs in its policies and approach, for Presbyterians the divestment was mostly directed at Caterpillar, which supplies the bulldozers the Israeli Army used to destroy Palestinian houses, both in retaliation for terror by a family member, and to clear "unauthorized" buildings and safe areas along borders. (Whatever the merits of the policy, "destroying homes" is not good PR.) Presbyterians have already divested any interests in companies supplying military equipment such as Boeing and Lockheed (targets of campus divestment campaigns). Is this because of their involvement with the Israeli military? No, the U.S. military.
  5. Fifth, the article is unbalanced in that the writer never quotes any Presbyterian, nor anyone else who is on the divestment side of the story. His named sources (he uses several unnamed sources) are two political scientists, a rabbi who's expert on Christian Zionism, and the inter-religious affairs director for the ADL, plus a member of the United Church of Christ who's opposing their move towards divestment. He does not report the conferences after the General Assembly resolution between Presbyterians and representatives of American Judaism.
  6. Finally, the article says/implies that "cultural war" between Presbyterians (and other mainline denominations) and Christian Zionists is the real issue, and Presbyterian perceptions of the actions of the Israeli government simply a pretext. Presbyterians do have a long history of dispute with the premillenial dispensationalists (both for good theological reasons, and ignoble social reasons, like disdain for less educated clergy). The writer sees this as the true motive because otherwise there's the mystery of why the pressure for divestment just when peace is in the air. As I explained in 1, the chronology is wrong, so there's no mystery to be explained. The truth is that people tend to take positions issue by issue. Presbyterians and organizations like the ADL will agree on some issues, disagree on others. The same goes for the Christian Zionists. (See here for Foxman's attack on one of them and here for the reasons the ADL ascribes for the divestment campaign.) We should resist the temptation to ascribe ignoble motives to opponents. *(Call it Harshaw Rule No. 2) added Apr. 20*
I would compare the article to a hypothetical left wing article arguing that Bush invaded Iraq because of the administration's ties to Halliburton and oil. It's an easy way to simplify and mischaracterize a complex situation. It's also very deeply wrong.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

DNA--Undercutting Prejudice?

The New York Times reports on a program of DNA testing at Penn State.
"When Don R. Harrison Jr. was growing up in Philadelphia, neighborhood children would tease him and call him 'white boy,' because his skin was lighter than theirs. But Mr. Harrison, a 'proud black man,' was still unprepared for the results of a DNA test, taken as part of a class at Pennsylvania State University, to determine his genetic ancestry.

'I figured it would be interesting. I'm light-skinned and I wanted to know my whole makeup,' said Mr. Harrison, a 20-year-old sociology major. But he was shocked by results showing him to be 52 percent African and 48 percent European: 'which I had no clue about, considering both my parents are black,' said Mr. Harrison. 'So I'm half white.'"
The rest of the article is interesting, suggesting to me that if such testing spreads widely, given $99 per test and human curiousity it should, maybe it will undermine remaining prejudices. When it's no longer a binary, white/black issue, but a spectrum, and when there's surprises (suppose George Wallace had turned out 5 percent black) prejudice at the intimate level will be difficult.

Political Plate Tectonics (Revised)

There was a piece in the NY Times today noting that conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants were joining forces over the Schiavo case: "a testament to the growing alliance of conservative Roman Catholics and evangelicals who have found common cause in the "culture of life" agenda articulated by Pope John Paul II." The writer recalled the antagonism between the two in 1960 when JFK was running. (Recall his speech in Houston to the Baptists.) One tension in the alliance is the death penalty. The evangelical right tends to support it, the Pope opposes it. Another tension is Iraq. The Pope opposed, the right supported.

But if those two political plates have moved since 1960, so have others. (Of course, talking of "plates" is a metaphor that over-simplifies the diversity among any set of people.)

Among others:

1 Jews and the mainline Protestant denominations. In the 1950's they were united in support of Israel, civil rights, and civil liberties. Since the late 60's the Protestants have turned against Israel, mostly over the occupation of the West Bank. Jews have mostly remained strongly pro-Israel, although some, a minority, have emerged who don't. While Protestants moved on Israel, most have stayed with the liberal civil rights agenda. Some Jews have turned against it, perhaps reacting to the excesses of the 60's. I don't know enough to say whether that ties to currents with Judaism and immigration (from USSR) and perhaps to greater security within the US (a Jewish President of Harvard). The mainline Protestants have also lost clout over the last 50 years so that plate may seem more like an iceberg.

2 The white South. Switched from Democratic conservatism/populism to Republican conservatism/populism.

3 Farmers.

4 Reagan Democrats

[To be filled out as they occur to me. Some may be more flip-flops than tectonics, like the switcheroo on balanced budgets. Others may be just political expedience, like China policy.]

5 A reference to the neocons switching from a Jeane Kirkpatrick realistic opposition to Carter liberal naivete to the Bushian position. There's an argument that it's different people, but Secretary Rice also made the switch.

What is an Import?

From a NYTimes piece

Indeed, the American-made content of a heart stent, a jet aircraft engine, or any imported item might be 50 percent of its value or more. But in the trade statistics, that distinction is not made; the entire value is listed as an import.

The pattern is evident in personal computers, which generally rely on chips from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices for much of their value. Fully assembled computers showed up as a $25 billion item in last year's import bill; the American contribution showed up separately only in export figures."

Sounds like a case where bureaucratic simplicity results in statistics that don't say quite what they seem to. I guess the export/import figures will still work for the economists--if we export $100 in parts for a PC and import a $125 dollar PC, the foreign country does $25 of work. But it's still a reminder to be very careful of statistics, they're often gathered at boundaries between organizations as a byproduct of other processes. So it's very easy to misinterpret.

Great Bureaucrats in History: Benjamin Franklin

Why old Ben, the quintessential American? Because I'll give him credit for creating the Post Office system. He didn't, actually, but was the dominant figure in its early days. The post office was critical in the evolution of America. Think about the situation in 1700--most transportation was by ship between a port in the colonies and a port in Great Britain. That meant communication between colonies was very limited and there was little chance for them to develop a consciousness of themselves as "American".

By 1760 there were roads (or at least a road) connecting the colonies and reasonable mail service. That mail service required setting up routes, hiring postmasters, setting rules and coordinating the whole effort. That was Franklin.

Besides, he was the most interesting American before Lincoln. Our high schools could spend a semester just discussing Ben, his writings, and works. The author of "Fart Proudly" surely can connect with today's teens.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bureaucratic Sieves, Rape, Applesauce, and Volokh

Eugene Volokh posted here on the issue of false reports of rape with the conclusion:

"the model does illustrate that it's perfectly possible to believe that (1) only a tiny fraction of women would ever lie about being raped, (2) a huge fraction of rapes are unreported (quite possibly even more than 50%, so that rape may be a highly underreported crime by many women, as well as overreported by a few), and yet (3) a substantial fraction of rape reports to the police are false." [Reason being, and I had to do the calculations myself, is that you're talking about two different bases: one is the large number of all women who are sexually active, a few of whom might falsely cry rape; the other is the much smaller number of women who were raped, a large proportion of whom may be reluctant to face the bureaucratic apparatus that deals with rape. ]
This got me to thinking about bureaucratic sieves. In the fall we would go to a nearby orchard, buy 3 or so bushels of apples, and mom would can applesauce. She'd cook the apples, then force the results through a sieve or strainer. What came through the sieve was applesauce to save, what didn't make it was the seeds, stems, bits of peel.

Or maybe I should think about a bloodier metaphor, perhaps a slaughterhouse. (See a Discover May 05 article on Temple Grandin and the relation of autism to the proper design of a slaughterhouse.) View a slaughterhouse as a bureaucratic machine for taking living breathing reality in all its multitudinous shapes and big brown eyes and converting it into steaks, roasts and hamburger.

My point is that sex and gender are various, interactions between male and female are wonderful and terrible and everything in between, and writers will continue to discuss the ins and outs forever. Now we come to rape, the reporting thereof, the writing of entries in blocks on prescribed forms, the conversion of reality into bureaucratic data points and decision criteria. This is one of the things bureaucracies do, transform reality into something that society can act upon.

Another way to make my point is the report of molestation in the Jackson trial. If Jackson is not convicted, was the report false? If the case had been settled out of court, would the report be true? Suppose the boy had never mentioned any of the alleged acts, but they happened, would it be molestation? Assume Jackson were dirt poor. Would the boy and his mother have gone through the bureaucratic process that led to the current trial? If so, would the alleged crime be the same or different (an innocent boy at the mercy of a multi-millionaire celebrity is a different reality than with a man with neither money, power, or (spiritual) authority)

For the purposes of Volokh's discussion, the available data is probably adequate. I maintain, however, that in the back of one's mind you must remember the process that converts apples into sauce, steers into beef, reality into statistics.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Professor David Bernstein (Revised Again*))

Professor Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy - commented, back in March, based on a misleading article in the Jewish Week (see this post for the URL and for my discussion of why the article was in error):

"Operating on the theory that the friend of my enemy is my enemy, liberal Christian groups have decided that Israel is the enemy, and that going after Israel is a relatively painless (though, it strikes me, rather ineffective) way to stick it to evangelical Christians and conservative Republicans more generally. Moreover, there is, it seems to me, the implied threat that if traditionally liberal Jewish groups and voters continue to increasingly pursue detente with the right, the American Christian left will join the international left in opposition to Israel. I can't be sure how big a role such considerations are playing in the divestment campaign, but I'm quite certain that I don't recall such overt hostility to Israel from the Christian groups during the Clinton administration. As with the Harvard faculty vote against Larry Summers, this is evidence that the results of the 2004 elections have left many traditionally powerful folks on the left very frustrated, and looking for targets to lash out against."
I think it's fair to say this is an example of how we (humans) tend to grab onto supposed facts that seem to fit our preconceptions. Professor Bernstein is a supporter of Israel and not a supporter of President Clinton or the left. He's also right that the 2004 election frustrated liberals. But he's reaching too far. (The illogic of opposing Israel in order to attack right wing American evangelicals might have been a tipoff the article has major problems.)

The reason that Christian groups were not pushing divestment during the Clinton administration can be stated simply: "Oslo agreement". Following the Oslo agreement, Israel and the PLO were engaged in negotiations through most of the Clinton Administration (see the Dennis Ross memoir). While there were terror attacks, assassinations, and expanding settlements through the 1990's, there was hope until the collapse of negotiations over Arafat's refusal to be a statesman. Even so, the "mainstream churches" were pushing their point of view throughout. (See the ADL publication, "Meeting the Challenge, Church Attitudes Toward the Israeli-Palestine Conflict", dated October, 2002 for lists of the resolutions and letters from the various churches.)

Since the beginning of the second intifada, the level of violence has reached unprecedented levels. From the Israeli viewpoint, it was forced into responding with military force and its responses were measured and limited. Some Protestant groups think otherwise and have increased their engagement with the situation since September 2000. So have some Catholics. Even the ADL sees them as concerned with justice for the weak and oppressed. Of course, Mr. Foxman believes they (referring to the Presbyterians) have swallowed the Palestinian narrative whole, but that's very different than a Machiavellian swipe at the "Left Behind" right.
What bothers me is the harm to dialogue among serious people. We have to be careful not to jump to conclusions, particularly when they fit our prejudices. In the words of Cromwell addressing the Scottish Parliament: "In the bowels of Christ, I beg you to consider you may be wrong."

* I've struggled with this post, and the associated one on the Jewish Weekly article, trying to get the tone and content right, and also handle the links. (Remember, I'm still learning this blogging.) One asset of being a new, unread blog is you can experiment.

Facts, Damn Facts, Disturb My Theory

Based on no expertise (when was that a prerequisite for blogging or for opinionating), I had the theory that childhood events were directly associated with adult success, that play developed skills and the brain and learning was life. Those damn scientists aren't content with the obvious truth, they have to test it. As reported by New Scientist News - Play fighters do not win in later life:

"[the scientist] found that young meerkats [those cute animals who look like cats and act like prairie dogs] who played frequently were no more likely to win play fights, adult fights or become a member of the dominant pair. Furthermore, meerkats showed no sign of improvement with extra play sessions (Animal Behaviour, DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.07.013)." So if play doesn't help in adult life, what's its purpose? The piece suggests that it may help in brain development. That would lead to the idea that meerkats with the most developed brains don't have an edge in adult life either. Ouch.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Yelling at Bureaucrats

The hearing on John Bolton raises the question of whether bureaucrats should be yelled at, or, more precisely, should bosses yell at bureaucrats lower in the hierarchy?

As my mother would say, people should always be nice to other people. However, because I once got in trouble for yelling at a subordinate, I've a little sympathy for Bolton. He's also been criticized for sucking up to the powerful (presumably Cheney, since he was known to disagree with Powell) and bullying the weak. That's more serious, but the thing worrying me the most is whether the powerful saw that he was a sycophant--in other words, if Bolton was poor at toadying then it's okay to give him another job. The horrifying thing about Uriah Heep was that people still trusted him. Otherwise, even terrible human beings can be useful.

More Positioning on Payment Limitations

Dan Morgan on the Washington Post Federal Diary does some inside farm politics:

Farm Subsidies May Not Face Limits ( "The Bush administration has signaled that it will not pressure Congress to enact limits on government payments to big farmers this year if lawmakers can come up with other ways to cut spending on agricultural programs by $5.4 billion."

The piece goes on to describe the current situation: the Secretary says USDA wants the reduction in payments, how we get there is negotiable; Ken Cook of EWG says "sellout", Sen. Grassley says USDA still supports me on reducing limitations.

Although there's a WTO deadline around July 1 that may come into play, I suspect the real deal comes at the end of the session, when appropriations have to be passed and legislating is done, bringing at least a temporary end to deal cutting. People like Lott and Chambliss can trade their votes on other issues for a compromise on payment limitation.

One thing to watch for real insiders: The President proposed a 5 percent cut in the program. One road to compromise would be to increase the percentage. The issue becomes for the agency in which order to apply the payment limitation, before or after reduction. In other words, if the limit is $300,000 and the gross payment before reduction is $400,000, if you reduce $400 K by 5 percent, it becomes $380,000, which is then reduced to $300,000 by the limitation. If you reduce the payment to the limitation of $300K, then apply the reduction of 5 percent, the net payment is $285,000.

We went through that issue in 1986, when the Gramm-Hollings-Rudman payment reductions applied across the board to civilian programs. It got tricky legally, but the attorneys okayed our applying the reduction after limitation. It's fair, but it's also a nightmare for the accountants. We, and GAO, finally decided in 1986 that our several billion dollars of payments couldn't be t properly accounted for. Just threw up our hands.

Caterpillar and Israel

Turns out there's a whole web site devoted to the issue of Caterpillar and Israel. See here. It seems to have focused on yesterday's stockholders meeting, which turned down down a motion on the issue.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have commented on the issue. This ties to the Presbyterian divestment. (The motion was in part sponsored by Catholic nuns, somewhat undermining the idea that divestment is a strike at the religious right.)

I shouldn't make the comparison, but I vaguely remember during the civil rights movement there was a sheriff in (I think) Albany, Georgia whose tactics contrasted with Bull Connor in Birmingham. Bull used police dogs and maybe water hoses, producing pictures that mobilized support for the movement. In Albany, the sheriff did a "rope a dope" routine (tactic used by Mohammed Ali to wear out an opponent) that frustrated MLKing by not giving him something to use. Obviously Israel's tactic of bulldozing homes, whatever the rationale and justification, is one that its opponents will try to capitalize on. Of course, MLK's are notable by their absence on the Palestinian side.

Any time a government is faced with opposition, there's an issue of tactics on both sides--a subject of perennial interest to me.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Whom Do Girls Like?

Those scientists are at it again, disturbing conventional wisdom.

New Scientist News - Risk-taking boys do not get the girls: "One idea is that risk-takers are advertising their fitness to potential mates by showing off their strength and bravery. This fits with the fact that men in their prime reproductive years take more risks. To test this idea, William Farthing of the University of Maine in Orono surveyed 48 young men and 52 young women on their attitudes to risky scenarios. Men thought women would be impressed by pointless gambles, but women in fact preferred cautious men (Evolution and Human Behaviour, vol 26, p 171)."

The piece suggests that risktaking impresses other males. That would establish a pecking order ,and we all know that women go for successful men.

(Note that at least the summary is chauvinistic--women are so stupid that they're impressed by stupidity coupled with risktaking. At the risk of being chauvinistic myself, perhaps women don't like the idea of cleaning up male messes.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Your Helpful Bureaucrat??

What is the appropriate division of responsibilities between a bureaucrat and her customer/client? I raise this question because of a news report that IRS was willing to do tax returns for taxpayers, which aroused the ire of Grover Norquist (and presumably H&RBlock). The issue came up in agriculture, as well. At one extreme you could argue that the bureaucrat is a public servant, and should do whatever is needed to serve the public and get the job done, whether it's collecting taxes or making farm payments. At the other, you say that the citizen is a mature responsible adult, who should be capable of doing whatever calculations and completing whatever forms the agency designs.

In the case of ASCS/FSA, the employees in the county offices were the neighbors and friends of the farmers being served. Naturally they tended to hold the hands of the farmers, particularly in the old days when many farmers were not experienced with paperwork. (It was also sexist, farmers being too male to bother with clerical work. It probably also was an occasion for racism and favoritism in general. A bureaucrat would go the extra mile for the person she liked or had empathy with, and be more rigid with those for whom she had no positive feelings.) The problem is if the farmer takes action based on erroneous advice from the bureaucrat. We had a section of law and a whole process to handle such cases.

One of these days I'll look at what the IRS does in such cases.

Privacy and Transparency

The New York Times had an article yesterday. Seems when the police arrested demonstrators at the 2004 Republican convention there were lots of video cameras rolling. In some cases, the police testified to one thing (demonstrator resisting arrest) and the tape shows another.

Reminds me of David Brin's book, The Transparent Society. One of the paradoxes is that by depriving bureaucrats, like the police, of privacy during their work hours, we can protect values, like not convicting people of crimes they didn't do. The same principle can apply in many places. I'd argue that it could be beneficial to collect personal data, so long as the database and its use were totally transparent. More in future days.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Comments on White House Farm policy proposal

: "Comments: Morgan should have done some more homework on the White House farm policy proposals because one of them -- putting a strict and harsh limit on nonrecourse loans and thus marketing loan (loan deficiency payment) eligibility would have significant implications for commercial operators who produce around 85 percent of U.S. agricultural production. Why? If the maverick Bush-USDA proposals were in effect for the 2004 crop season, around 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop would not have qualified for nonrecourse loans and would thus not have been able to qualify for marketing loans gains. Now that is a major change in farm policy and a major assault on a farm policy program (nonrecourse loans) that has been around since the 1930s."

Monday, April 11, 2005

Great Bureaucrats in History: John Kenneth Galbraith

I need to do an honor roll of great bureaucrats in history. That thought was prompted by Brookings sponsoring a discussion of The Legacy of John Kenneth Galbraith: "new biography by Harvard professor Richard Parker entitled, John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics. Parker shows how Galbraith, from his early championing of Keynesian economics to his acerbic analysis of America's 'private wealth and public squalor,' regularly challenged prevailing theories and policies."

Galbraith walked the very halls of USDA where I worked, and even worked in the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, predecessor of Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. He was originally trained as an ag economist. One piece of invaluable advice I took from one of his books, an early memoir I think. It was: always volunteer to do the first draft. That way you can get your own ideas in. I tried to follow that faithfully over the years. Unfortunately, the proliferation of word processing and networking software may be diminishing the effectiveness of the strategy. But still: write, write first, is the watchword for bureaucrats.

Eugene Volokh on a Roll

Eugene Volokh is on a roll today, with three items with which I agree, of which I'll cite two

in one he cites a Burt Neuborne article in the Nation, saying that legal victories without political movements to explain and justify the victory are houses built of straw, to be blow away by the next political wind. He agrees with Neuborne from the conservative/libertarian side.

the second is a discussion of Jonathan Rauch's accusation that conservatives in the Schiavo case abandoned their allegiance to predetermined rules that they had in 2000 (Gore v Bush)

in the third he criticizes some generalizations by Jonathan Klein, Pres. of CNN, on Charlie Rose. Klein thinks Fox News appeals to irrational right-wingers who like to have their opinions reinforced, as opposed to open minded liberals. Iread the attack not as denying Klein's claims, but criticizing the "holier than thou" aspect. I'd agree we have the unreasoning partisans on the left and with this quote:
"There's a natural human tendency to see the best in people who agree with you, and the worst in people who disagree."

Liberals may believe themselves to be open minded, but it's only true if your opponents agree. Maybe when conservatives call us "wishy-washy", that's what they're getting at?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Problems in Farm Statistics

I'm not an economist, but this paper on common errors in presenting farm statistics seems good. I know the data the Environmental Working Group got from USDA and his discussion is valid. (Maybe when I get my ambition back and spring is over I'll do my own discussion of that data.)

Separation of Academia and Private Sector

The "Peace Bridge" in Kashmir started me thinking about networks and separation. Here is the border between India and Pakistan, at least an interim one, which hasn't seen any interaction in 50 years. Interaction, or the lack thereof, is important. Biologists say that the definition of a species is reproduction across group lines. Getting back to my recent obsession with the causes of the presumed liberal dominance of academia, what sort of interaction do academics and the private sector have?

Because I've no data, and haven't been on campus for 40 years, the following is speculation:

  • Humanities: English professors probably have very little. I can't think of a reason for them to do business with the world of business. The visual arts may have more--contact with art galleries, appraisals, and such. History (if you count it as a humanity), very little. The occasional expert witness in a lawsuit (I maintain membership in two historical groups, and vaguely remember something), writing company histories, etc.
  • Area studies: things like black history, gender studies, American studies, etc. would be similar to humanities, although the opportunity for "talking heads" on TV is greater.
  • Social sciences: probably more than humanities, a minority of professors could be consultants, do work within private companies, organizations, consulting, etc. Economists might be most linked.
  • Physical sciences, including life sciences: the most interaction.
  • New fields: things like IT, management, etc. probably have the most--indeed, my impression is there's a regular revolving door in IT.
If there's any validity to the above, there might be a correlation between interaction and conservatism--the more interaction the more conservative the academic specialty. Given the lack of interaction, maybe it's no surprise academia and the private sector seem to separate worlds--they are. I suspect though they're still capable of reproducing across group lines.

Bridges and Barriers

From today's NYTimes

"On Thursday afternoon, Kashmiris took their first steps where a bridge was destroyed more than 50 years ago in a battle between their countries. As they did, they were garlanded with marigolds and offered plates of sweets. One man coming from the Pakistani side to the Indian side fell to his knees and kissed the ground.

This crossing had been closed since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, and the India-Pakistan war that accompanied it. Until Thursday, it had been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Kashmiri families living on either side to get visas and to make the trip. Relatives have missed weddings and funerals and been unable to visit even though they are separated by a drive of only a couple hours."

This is heartwarming. But it raises a fascinating question: when is the cause of peace and justice aided by building bridges, as here, and when is it aided by building barriers, as on the West Bank or between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The easy liberal answer is that bridges are always better, that we must always "take down this wall". Not necessarily. 40+ years ago this was an issue discussed by sociologists re: race relations. One study I remember said that tolerance could be built if you integrated a team and focused them on a common goal, but just bringing people together ran the risk of exacerbating tensions. Walls can mean safety--there was safety in the ghetto walls, until the pogroms came, or until the lynch mob formed. I seem to remember California lost a court case over their policy of segregating new inmates in prisons by race for the first 60 days until they figured out whether the person was a white racist, black racist, or whatever.

Takes one back to Robert Frost and "Mending Wall".

Thursday, April 07, 2005

125 Years Ago on the Privacy Front

I pontificate: Current discussions often lack historical and/or comparative perspective.

The one thing I'm sure of is that most of the world is whippernappers and it gets worse everyday. Back when I was young, we had a cheap Ansco box camera. I've taken a few pictures in my time and spent an ill-fated 18 months in Rochester so I was interested in a recent biography of "George Eastman" (by Elizabeth Brayer), founder of Kodak. Just in terms of technical innovation the picture was familiar--sounds like biographies of Carnegie, Rockefeller, Gates, et. al. and fits the generalizations of Professor Clayton Christensen ("Innovators's Dilemma). (The biography itself is fact-laden and thorough, but not a quick read) Also some parallels on charity.

But what I'm interested in here were two incidental references--one on page 71 citing a beach that prohibited cameras and one on page 91 saying the Secretary of War had revoked the ban on taking cameras up in the Washington Monument. There was also a brief discussion of the idea that smallish cameras could be used/were used? by detectives. Maybe some historian has already done a piece in this area, but I didn't see a reference.

I take it all as a reminder that new innovations have always caused concern. End of pontification.

A Fine Day in April for Clarke

Dana Milbank in the Washington Post describes a lively hearing before the House Armed Services Committee with Richard Perle and Gen. Clarke as witnesses, a repeat of a 2002 hearing,
Same Committee, Same Combatants, Different Tune (

See his website for his statement.

Yesterday was a glorious day in April for Washington, the weather turned warm (no sign of global warming this spring), the cherry blossoms are out, even the Nationals won their first game ever. And, reading between the lines of Milbank's piece, it must have been perfect for Clarke. What's sweeter than saying "I told you so" on such a perfect day?

[Full disclosure: I had reservations on the war but generally followed Bill Keller.]

Liberals and Academia--What's the Right Question

Awoke during the night and thought--I'm not asking the right question (am I dedicated to blogging or what). Thought of fraternities. And of the gender gap.

Iraq and WMD showed it's important to ask the right questions. With respect to liberals and academia there may be several right questions, but one is not: "why is academia liberal?" Compare the issue to the "gender gap". The question there was something like: "why are men voting more Republican than women, or vice versa?" In other words, the issue was the comparattive relationship of two groups, not the absolute character of one group.

So a right question could be: "why are people in the private for-profit sector voting more Republican than academics?"

Thinking of fraternities, say the Dekes, did they choose the party animals or did they create them? How about Americans, did the most entrepreneurial people choose to emigrate or America create them? I think the answer in both cases is: both. But separating the processes of recruitment versus culture may help the discussion.

So another right question could be: "is academia more attractive to young liberals or Democrats than the private sector or does it create liberals or Democrats from those it attracts?"

Of course neither of the right questions address Krugman's original issue of the liberalism of natural scientists. Deciding the right question there I'll save for my next sleepless night. And the job of reworking what I've gathered from blogs and my earlier attempts here and here will have to wait.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

On "Stuff", Summers, Krugman, and Proper Interpretation

In commenting on Paul Krugman's column I used the term "stuff". There's lots of it around. I think the recent controversies over Summers by the left and Krugman by the right point to some lessons about proper interpretation of writings.

I think it's true that people discussing Summers speech and Krugman's column both make the same mistakes. Daniel Drezner says "Krugman mistakenly attributes the attitudes of some Republicans about evolution to all Republicans". Now the truth is that we don't know what Krugman believes, but we do know he never wrote all. Drezner inserts the word when he reads, and makes it explicit in his comment. Similarly, feminists who reacted to Summers inserted mental "alls" into his statements.

Unfortunately English, spoken and written, lacks simple means for qualifying statement, so we need to rely on our common sense.

I would offer Harshaw's rule of interpretation: any noun used in a serious discussion should be considered as qualified by the terms "majority of", "modal", "median" as appropriate (at least when the noun has a normal distribution curve. In other words, "conservatives don't believe in evolution" would convert to the phrase "[most] conservatives don't believe in evolution". This is the principle, but appropriate modifications would have to be made in other discussions; sometimes it's the verb that should be modified.

46 years ago in Psychology 101 I learned about the "fight or flight" reaction to the new. I take it as meaning today we all immediately [mis]interpret what we read to make it either more threatening or safer--we're uncomfortable with the middle ground of difference. (Although my misinterpretation could be a sign of age.) If we don't apply Harshaw's rule, we indulge in polemics without sense and without possibility of resolution.

More on Liberals in Academia

I'm trying to shift the flood of posts on the issue of liberal predominance in academia to see what causes they offer:

Daniel Starr
says liberals are open to new ideas and want to believe they're contributing to the public good, conservatives aren't open and value money earned through enterprise.

agrees with the money angle, and emphasizes self-selection--a hostile climate of opinion in academia. (Krugman raised self-selection in the sense liberals see business as hostile, but focused on anti-scientism. )

Drezner contrasts David Brooks and Krugman, offers an example of bias against a conservative blogger professorial candidate, but is defensive on the rest (his commenters pick him up). But plaudits and kudos to commenter Mark Buehner, who first guaranteed that a large majority of Republicans believed in evolution, then had the grace and guts (qualities scarce in bloggerland) to come back with this:

"I should really do my research before making guarantees. If these polls are right, I may start to despair entirely:

51% of dems and independents and 66% of republicans believe humans were created by god in their present form? Can this be right?"

Steve at SecureLiberty. org
offers no explanation for liberal hard scientists, but attacks marxism, feminism, and PC while denying religion influences his beliefs.

Todd Zywicki
at in my opinion misreads Krugman as saying "that the reason that there aren't more conservative scientists is because they are skeptical of evolution". He makes a reference to the Summers dispute, and asserts " most of those who are consistent evolutionary analysts tend to be libertarians and conservatives (often Hayek-influenced)." Reference is to his paper discussing group selection in evolution and tying it to Hayek's thought.

It's true that evolutionists have often been conservative. Think William Graham Sumner and other social Darwinists. The late, great Stephen Jay Gould and his opponents in NYReview of Books were on the other end. Whatever the beliefs of individual scientists, the issue seems to be the climate of opinion.

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek
attacks Krugman's argument (including the implication that the 1960's/70's saw a lot of Republicans/conservatives in academia, which relates to my earlier post). He cites Hayek's explanation for the predominance of liberals--intelligent people overvalue intelligence and rational design, therefore reforms, therefore socialism. Interesting point, but I have to ask whether intelligent conservatives, such as libertarians, don't also overvalue intelligence? Sorry--that was snide.

BK (Before Krugman) Stephen Benjamin wrote a piece on Network effects, saying that in law the mentor/disciple relationship (mentors push their disciples for places) is a key. Later, here
he offered criticism of Jonathan Chait's LATimes piece, which triggered comments which he discusses.

I want to go back over my earlier post and incorporate some of the points from above. Unfortunately spring in Reston has arrived, so garden duty calls.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Why Are Political Donations Like Payment Limitations?

Because both require definitions of "person" and both are evaded. Each "person" can give X dollars per candidate. As this NY Times article describes, Homemakers Are the Fat Cats. Who Knew? Their Husbands "it turns out that many of them - some of whom live outside the city and may not be terribly invested in the outcome of races here - made their $4,950 contributions, the legal maximum, at the behest of deep-pocketed spouses with business interests in the city."

I've seen prior articles describing donations by minor children, even babies. It shows the problems of lawmaking and implementation; lawmakers have a picture in their mind but reality is more complex.

Why Liberals Predominate in the Hard Sciences

Paul Krugman in the Times writes An Academic Question on this subject, Juan Non-Volokh and Orin Kerr at interpret it, and Mark Kleiman attacks their interpretations. My take is biased, because I just posted yesterday on a related question: why liberals predominate in academia.

While Krugman throws in a lot of stuff*, I think his argument comes down to the following assertions excerpted from the piece:

  • "But studies that find registered Republicans in the minority at elite universities show that Republicans are almost as rare in hard sciences like physics and in engineering departments as in softer fields. Why?
  • "Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of leading Republicans."
  • "today's Republican Party - increasingly dominated by people who believe truth should be determined by revelation, not research - doesn't respect science, or scholarship in general. It shouldn't be surprising that scholars have returned the favor by losing respect for the Republican Party."
* The "stuff" is conflating liberals and Democrats, conservatives and Republicans, theological conservatives and all conservatives (the professors on seems to tend libertarian conservative) plus a good helping of "the sky is falling" invective designed to get one's (liberal, pink) blood flowing in the morning. (This relates to another theme of mine, emotion is needed to stir action. Without the "stuff", no one would be blogging on this, not even me.)

Without getting into the question of who most correctly interprets Krugman, what do I think of the argument, as stated above. Andrew Dickson White wrote a famous book on the war between science and religion in the late 1800's. Although the thesis may be questionable, I think it's what people believe, and what people believe is important. A Christian [hard] scientist has to explain why her science is not antagonistic to her faith; an atheist does not. To the extent religious fundamentalists dominate the discussion, it probably pushes scientists and would-be scientists to the left.

Can't leave this subject without mention of Alan Sokal--the physicist who hoaxed the po-mo set. There is an anti-science mindset among some on the left, but they've neither the numbers nor the lungs of the religious right.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Why Would Liberals Predominate in Higher Ed?

There are many interesting posts on the issue of whether liberals dominate higher education. For the sake of argument, let me assume they do. The interesting question is why: Many of the conservatives discussing imply that discrimination against conservatives is the answer. As a liberal I'm uncomfortable with that, I suspect many liberals are, hence a reluctance to get into the issue. But some other answers are possible [caution, I last was on a college campus in 1965, when I busted out of grad school, so I've no current information]:

One thesis I particularly like takes off from George Marsden, "The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief". The idea is that ever since Harvard was founded, academia has been more liberal than the society at large. Most private colleges (like Dartmouth and Carleton College) were founded in connection with a Protestant denomination, but Marsden shows the tendency has been for them to evolve into secular (liberal) institutions. If I remember him correctly, the reason is one beloved of conservatives: competition.

To get students, and financial support, colleges had to reach further than their founding denomination and initial area. By competing over a wider space, both geographically and intellectually, they spread their fixed costs and increased their stability.
Broader appeals meant minimizing theological correctness and ideology and emphasizing science, rationality, achievement, equality, democracy (the good liberal universalist virtues), as well as football teams and academic stars. The universities Marsden studies became secularized in the process, which undermined a foundation stone of conservatism. (He ends with the Bill Buckley's "God and Man at Yale" controversy in the 1950's.) It looks to me as if there was an educational establishment by 1950. Carnegie had seen to it that professors had a national retirement plan , the professional organizations were dug in, the AAUP was fighting back against McCarthyism, Harvard and Yale were the leaders and pacesetters, and ETS started pushing SAT.

I don't know if this qualifies as "horizontal competition" in economics, but see Achenblog for a neat piece on it. The point is that competition forces the competitors to become more like each other, whether in location or in facilities and character. As of 1950 the Big Three carmakers each sported a full line of models, and the Kaiser-Frasers, Studebakers, and Nashes of the world faded away. The Big Three networks all had news departments and were very similar in content. I suspect all the elite colleges cover the same fields of study with few differences.)

Certainly when I went to college in 1959 many people on the right thought there was a liberal/pinko/egghead dominance of college faculties. Academia (faculty) was dominated by WASP males and some Jews. As for the student body, the colleges I applied to talked about diversity, but they mostly meant geographical. I think I remember 3 blacks in a class of 800. Males were a majority. Today my alma mater is 50/50 in sex, 27 percent minority, probably most Asian. In my field of history a popular theory was "consensus history"--the idea that America was always a liberal middle class society, lacking the hereditary upper class and the proletariat found in Europe.

I've not been back to college since I busted out of grad school in 1965. I have tried to keep up, through the Alumni mag and my history journals.

So, if academia was liberal in 1965, what would have kept it so?

  1. Discipleship--seems to me that professors have "their" grad students, whom they try to place. That would tend to perpetuate any liberal bias.
  2. Culture--I think all organizations have a culture that gets perpetuated through the air.
  3. The appeal of the new--in the competition among grad students for places, topics that are new are favored over the old. (See labor history and agricultural history for two fields of declining importance in history, even though both would tend "liberal".)
  4. New demography--colleges started going after new groups, notably blacks, but also other minorities and women. This is true both in the student body and in the faculty. It so happens that the new demographic groups are also the most liberal in the general population. In the case of women, they seem to have gone most strongly into fields that are now most heavily liberal (i.e., English and the arts, then social sciences).
  5. Stronger competition--look at the attention paid to the US News ratings. Colleges are much more selective these days. One of the big criteria is selectivity. That's in line with the rule in literature: the more dead bodies the hero steps over, the greater the reward at the end of his quest. So every college in the competition wants to maximize the number of applicants. I might be cynical and say that the purpose of affirmative action is, in part, to attract more applicants to be rejected, which thereby increases the selectivity of the institution. But having a diverse professoriate, having people on the faculty with whom a possible applicant can identify, thus becomes very important. (See the LA Times article on celebrity instructors.)
  6. Conservatism is not important among the incoming students. For the majority of students, college is probably a rite of passage and a ticket to punch (just as it was in my day) so the college's prestige is important, as are extracurricular aspects. (Liberalism isn't important to most, but having female or black role models will matter to some.)
  7. Disdain for other occupations. It's true that people tend to demonize the others. So all things being equal, one should expect academics to denigrate those in business or government. They've been doing that since time immemorial, and seeing it done to them. (Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.)
  8. Liberal guilt--one of the downsides of the bleeding heart liberal is that we become guilty very easy. That meant, and may be still means, that liberals will favor those who have no power, who have been oppressed.
All this means, I think, that conservatives should be concentrated in niches, the colleges that retain a strong religious connection, perhaps colleges trying to differentiate themselves (perhaps George Mason as opposed to UVA), some new fields (like bioeconomics, IT, etc. ). But the reality seems to be that even the hard sciences are 50 percent liberal, indicating the limits of any conservative push.

Do Away with Social Security Numbers

The Washington Post had its reporter try to get Social Security numbers from outfits operating on-line. He succeeded, and wrote this piece. Net Aids Access to Sensitive ID Data (
"Although Social Security numbers are one of the most powerful pieces of personal information an identity thief can possess, they remain widely available and inexpensive despite public outcry and the threat of a congressional crackdown after breaches at large information brokers."
I've been working sporadically on a proposal to drop SSN's completely. I'm convinced it's feasible. Need to get back on it.

Don't Plant That Acorn, The Oak May Fall

The Post carries an article (Privacy Advocates Criticize Plan To Embed ID Chips in Passports ) that elicits the above response from me. The background--the State Department (and other federal agencies) are working to improve means of identification/authentication. The national Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued standards for ID cards that carry various data. The passport is one such card and State is proposing to include RFID chips in passports. (RFID chips send a radio signal to a receiver, like the don't steal tags on clothes or, in my library, the chips on books. Typically they send a very limited amount of information.) So privacy groups are attacking the plan. To quote:

"A government plan to embed U.S. passports with radio frequency chips starting this summer is being met by resistance from travel and privacy groups who say the technology is untested and could create a security risk for travelers."
What they say may be literally true, but so is the fact that the tree which grows from an acorn may fall and kill someone or damage some property. The reaction is somewhat like NIMBY (not in my backyard) reactions. There are always many reasons NOT to do something; it takes drive to get things done. The reasons often come flying when you're dealing with something new that people don't really understand.

My prescription in this case is for the State Department to open their testing process to the critics (on the assumption that any software development goes through multiple stages of testing). Give them the passports and be your beta testers. In my experience, it's usually better to try to co-opt your critics; they often have enough of a point that it's best to deal with it upfront, then ignore it and pay the cost later. But still, plant that acorn.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Thinking and Acting Are Uneasy Partners

Picking up on an old story, MSNBC reported a study showing brains don't mature until the 20's so that:

"many life choices -- college and career, marriage and military service -- often are made before the brain's decision-making center comes fully online. But for young adults, 'Dying on a highway is the biggest risk out there,' Giedd said. 'What if we could predict earlier in life what could happen later?'"
This is just one instance where taking action and thinking are at odds. That's one of the problems I have with organizations like GAO and the goo-goo emphasis on process. It's called "paralysis by analysis" or "the best is the enemy of the good". Another quote from the article:

"The pattern probably serves an evolutionary purpose, he said, perhaps preparing youths to leave their families and fend for themselves, without wasting energy worrying about it.
Maybe it's also why sons compete with fathers?

Relationship of farm programs and foodstamps--Updated

Update: Senator Chambliss ensured that the Budget Resolution contained language permitting the Senate Ag Committee to cut across the board, food stamps and/or farm programs.--4/2/05

From 2/7/05: discusses the possibility that the proposed change in payment limitation will result in a lowering of food stamp money.

"Sunday, February 06, 2005

Farm Subsidies and Food Stamps

The Bush budget will apparently include a 'cap' on the maximum values of farm subsidies that any one producer can harvest, an idea that will (rightly) get some progressive support. But the proposal will run directly into already-announced opposition in Congress, especially from Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran of MS, who is mobilizing the powerful farm lobby to defeat it.
And that's where food stamps come in: Congress organizes its budget and appropriations work by federal department, and by a department-oriented system of budget 'functions' that track the jurisdiction of congressional appropriations subcommittees. If the White House and the GOP congressional leadership can succeed in setting lower targets for USDA spending, then farm subsidies will be placed into a direct competition with food stamps for funding."


The setup is the result of the need to get urban votes for farm programs, and vice versa. In a logical world, foodstamps wouldn't be in USDA any longer (they first started in the late 30's to get rid of surpluses, were killed during the war, then George McGovern (I'm pretty sure) pushed them in the late 50 and they got adopted more or less as a pilot project under Kennedy. They kept being expanded over the years as the farm bloc grew less powerful and needed urban votes more and more in order to pass farm programs. (The biggest deal was to make food stamps = money, instead of limiting them to surplus commodities.)

I think it's true that payment limitations, at least in their current form, were the result of Senator Schumer, then Congressman Schumer's work when he was on the House Ag committee. Again, the cotton and rice people in particular didn't like it, but it was his price for supporting the 1985 farm bill. (Whether or not he knew that cotton and rice interests had inserted a couple provisions that would water down the payment limitation provisions, like the entity rule, I don't know. )

Because I like to think well of people, I'd guess Bush and Bolten wouldn't mind a cut of food stamps but are simply operating within a historical structure.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Berger Files and UN Files, What's Interesting?

The New York Times has an article on Sandy Berger's guilty plea to destroying files from the National Archives. According to them:

On Sept. 2, 2003, in a daylong review of documents, Mr. Berger took a copy of a lengthy White House 'after-action' report that he had commissioned to assess the government's performance in responding to the so-called millennium terrorist threat before New Year's 2000, and he placed the document in his pocket, the associate said. A month later, in another Archives session, he removed four copies of other versions of the report, the associate said.

Mr. Berger's intent, the associate said, was to compare the different versions of the 2000 report side by side and trace changes.

'He was just too tired and wasn't able to focus enough, and he felt like he needed to look at the documents in his home or his office to line them up,' the associate said. 'He now admits that was a real mistake.'

Mr. Berger admits to compounding the mistake after removing the second set of documents on Oct. 2, 2003, the associate said. In comparing the versions at his office later that day, he realized that several were essentially the same, and he cut three copies into small pieces, the associate said. "

The Post has a similar article. Comparing this to the destruction of files at the UN (see here) two things stand out. In Berger's case, Archives was keeping multiple copies of the same document, presumably because each had annotations by a different official. "Trace changes" indicates to me that Richard Clarke was clearing his report in parallel, taking advantage of modern technology to provide each official his/her own copy, then making appropriate changes in the final report.

If that's true, there's a contrast with the UN case as I discussed the other day (note: of this I'm not sure, have not been able to successfully download the report) use technology to make multiple copies. But what's good for expediting bureaucratic action is bad for the Archives and for historians. Berger was apparently trying to act as a historian, reconstructing what happened when. In the UN case, using carbons, all versions of a document were in one place and one could easily track the changes. Thus if Berger's story, as told by associate, is true, he wouldn't have had to steal documents.

A final point. I would trust Richard Clarke to squawk if there had been anything explosive in the annotations--he's certainly not publicity shy, so his silence means to me that this is a mistake and a misdemeanor, but not a coverup.

My bottom line: Berger's offense is due to bigshotitis, the idea that rules don't apply to me. See Richard Nixon and Elliot Abrams, who lied to Congress and is now back in the NSC. Personally, I'd throw all bigshots in jail for 6 months, Martha Stewart can testify to it's being educational.