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Archive for January, 2005

Iraqi elections roundup

January 31, 2005 6 comments

It looks like the Iraqi elections yesterday went ok. The triumphalism of the Iraqi hawks is pretty odd, though, considering that thi election is essentially due to Sistani, over the objections of the Bush administration. The day was fairly violent: 44 deaths and 260 attacks. Considering the massive security measures in place, that may not be a good sign. We still don’t know about turnout, which is a big deal. Early estimates had turnout at 72% overall, though now it appears to be down to 60%, with Sunni turnout at 20%. I wanted to point out some of the interesting commentary on the elections:

Eric Alterman compares the situation to San Salvador in 1984. He has a turnout figure of 53%, which I can’t find a source for. Also, scroll down to Charles Pierce’s contribution.

Juan Cole has a couple interesting posts. Definitely required reading.

This Bull Moose post is your third required reading piece.

UPDATE: There’s a bit more on the turnout figures here, but the numbers still haven’t been announced. (via Altercation).

Categories: Iraq

Baucus not for privatization

January 28, 2005 2 comments

Baucus speaks out against Bush Social Security plan

WASHINGTON — One reason for a presidential trip to Montana next week could be to turn the heat up under the state’s Democratic senator, Max Baucus, to support a plan to restructure Social Security, political pundits say.

However, during a visit to Helena on Thursday, Baucus said he is ple-ased that the president will stop in Montana but it will make no difference in his attitude about the plan.

“Not at all,” Baucus told The Associated Press when asked if the visit will do Bush any good.

“I’ve been around for a good number of years. Pressure doesn’t mean anything. The question is what’s right. I look at the facts; I call it as I see it — what makes sense for Montana seniors. That’s my job.”

Also, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid picked Baucus to be the Democrats’ lead negotiator on Social Security.

Baucus has been voicing his displeasure with the plan. He is concerned about the estimated $2 trillion cost of partially privatizing Social Security and fears the president’s plan will reduce benefits to future retirees.

Contrary to what the president has said, Social Security is not in crisis but rather faces long-range challenges that need to be addressed, Baucus said.

He’s especially displeased by an idea the White House floated — although it has not yet put in writing — to calculate benefits using a formula based on the rate of inflation instead of the rate of wage increases, which is now used. Since wages historically have exceeded inflation by 1 percent a year, benefits for retirees 50 years from now could, theoretically, be 50 percent lower than they would be under the current formula, according to the AARP retirees group.

“That’s a huge reduction in benefits, recognizing that two-thirds of all Americans depend on their Social Security benefits as their primary source of retirement income and one-fifth depend on it as their only source,” Baucus told Gannett News Service. “That 40 to 50 percent cut would be devastating.”

It’s not very likely that Baucus will back down from his opposition to partially privatizing Social Security, especially now that Reid made him the Democrats’ point man on the issue, said Tom Mann, a scholar at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank.

Good. We know Rehberg isn’t particular enthusiastic about the plan, so we just have to see what Burns thinks.

Categories: Domestic Policy, Montana

Weird news story of the day

January 27, 2005 1 comment

Senator Wants Boxing Gloves on Chickens

OKLAHOMA CITY – A state senator has a plan for saving Oklahoma’s gamefowl industry now that cockfighters are legally prohibited from pitting birds fitted with razor-like spurs.

State Sen. Frank Shurden, a longtime defender of cockfighting, is suggesting that roosters be given little boxing gloves so they can fight without bloodshed. The proposal is in a bill the Democrat has introduced for the legislative session that begins Feb. 7.

“Who’s going to object to chickens fighting like humans do? Everybody wins,” Sen. Frank Shurden said.

Oklahoma voters banned cockfighting in 2002. The practice is still legal in Louisiana and New Mexico.

Removing the blood from the sport takes away the main argument animal rights groups have against cockfighting, Shurden said.

“Let the roosters do what they love to do without getting injured,” Shurden said.

I thought the appeal of cockfighting was two roosters tearing each other to pieces? Watching two roosters box seems to be one step above Rockem Sockem Robots.

Categories: Silliness

Not the sharpest…

January 26, 2005 2 comments

Media Matters links to a comment in the the WSJ’s Best of the Web Today about one of their items. They don’t take issue with any of it, but Taranto said something blindingly stupid:

MediaMatters.org–tirelessly exposing conservative bias by conservative commentators for over 1/129th of a century–apparently finds fault with one of yesterday’s items:

Responding to a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network initiative for middle school students called “No Name-Calling Week” in his January 25 online “Best of the Web” column, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto claimed that Senator John Kerry and former Senator John Edwards “call[ed] Dick Cheney’s daughter names, and many in the gay-rights crowd thought it was just peachy.” During the 2004 presidential campaign, Senators Kerry and Edwards referred to Cheney’s daughter, Mary Cheney, who is a lesbian, as “a lesbian” and “gay.”

Taranto did not provide examples of the “names” he claimed Kerry and Edwards called Mary Cheney, but presumably he was referring to two instances.

Wow, nothing gets past these guys. MediaMatters implies–and some of our readers echo the point (as do a whole bunch of MediaMatters-incited spammers, some of whom call us names)–that we were wrong to characterize this as “name-calling.”

Maybe they’re right, but we suspect that if a schoolkid called a classmate “gay” or “a lesbian,” the folks at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network would not approve.

I can’t really think of anything to say to that.

Categories: Silliness

When all else fails

January 25, 2005 1 comment

When you can’t think of anything worth saying, it’s time for random MP3s:

Dark Tranquillity – The Enemy
Anathema – Emotional Winter
Radiohead – Dollars & Cents
Malevolent Creation – Divide and Conquer
Soilwork – Neon Rebels
In Flames – Pallar Anders Visa
No-man – Things I Want To Tell You
Symbiontic – The Night Is My Stage
Soilwork – In a Close Encounter
A Perfect Circle – Over
Joe Satriani – Sleep Walk

A pretty heavy list. I think I’ve listened to that Symbiontic song once.

Categories: Music

Question

January 24, 2005 5 comments

For those of you who live around Bozeman, that billboard on the interstate on the west side of town (I don’t remember how far out exactly) that says:

Life…
What a beautiful choice

Anti-abortion sign? I’ve always been somewhat curious.

Categories: Culture

Waxman redux

January 24, 2005 1 comment

For some reason, Town Hall has a column by Charles Colson on the Waxman report on abstinence education. Of course, it’s an attack on the report.

A recent report commissioned by California congressman Henry Waxman (D) casts doubt on the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs. At least, that’s the story promoted by Waxman’s office and by many in the media. Waxman’s researchers found errors in several abstinence-only curricula—for instance, a statement that AIDS can be spread through sweat or tears, and that each parent contributes twenty-four chromosomes to a child rather than twenty-three.

Now, of course, errors like these need to be corrected. But Waxman and the media used the opportunity of these small errors to pounce on the whole concept of abstinence-only education. Their take could be summed up by a headline in the Austin Chronicle that read, “Abstinence Makes the Head Grow Softer.”

“Small” errors? That HIV can be spread through tears is a pretty damn big error.

The lesser-publicized story is that Waxman’s report itself is full of holes. For example, to call many of its sources biased would be an understatement. Take this footnote: “The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) and NARAL Pro-Choice America have conducted reviews of some abstinence-only programs.” The implication is that these reviews are useful to somebody studying abstinence-only programs—please. What they don’t even mention is that SIECUS and NARAL are both major opponents of abstinence-only education. SIECUS’s website, for example, claims that such curricula are “designed to control young people’s sexual behavior by instilling fear, shame, and guilt.” Ever hear of conflict of interest, Mr. Waxman?

I assume he bothered to read the report. He apparently even looked at the footnotes, where that quote is from.

At the request of Rep. Henry Waxman, this report is a comprehensive evaluation of the content of the curricula used in federally funded abstinence-only education programs.18

Footnote 18 is Colson’s quote. He really picked a bad example. No reports from those groups are used in the actual report, so “source” is not particularly accurate.

And then there’s the section of the report that condemns a 1993 study on condom effectiveness as “erroneous.” You would think, then, that the authors would also come down on Planned Parenthood. Their website treats that same erroneous study as authoritative. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Mr. Waxman to commission a report on the errors committed by so-called “comprehensive” sex educators.

At the end, Colson gives his source for this claim. Here’s where Planned Parenthood cites the study:

Condom-use opponents, however, have manipulated the findings of flawed laboratory tests to create public doubt about the condom’s effectiveness against HIV. For example, one study erroneously concluded that latex condoms leak HIV virus even though it used particles that were 100 million times smaller than the HIV particles found in semen (Stone, et al., 1999). In fact, the risk of HIV transmission with a condom is reduced — as much as 10,000-fold (Carey, et al., 1992; Cavalieri d’Oro, et al., 1994; Weller, 1993).

While the study is flawed, it supports the point that PP is making here – HIV transmission is reduced by using a condom. Here’s what PP says specifically about condom use and HIV transmission:

In a study of couples in which one partner was HIV positive, only one case of infection (two percent) occurred among those who remained sexually active and used condoms consistently and correctly. In contrast, the incidence of HIV infection was 14 percent with inconsistent use (Deschamps, et al., 1996). A similar study that followed couples for an average of 20 months found there were no new cases of infection among couples who used condoms consistently (de Vincenzi, 1994). Another study found that among a group of couples who used condoms consistently, two percent of the uninfected partners contracted HIV over the course of the two year study. This contrasts with 12 percent of partners who became infected in couples that reported inconsistent or no condom use (Saracco, et al., 1993). A meta-analysis of 25 studies on HIV transmission and condoms found that efficacy rates ranged from 87 percent to 96 percent against HIV infection (Davis & Weller, 1999).

There’s no citation of the 1993 Weller study when talking specifically about HIV transmission prevention by condoms.

If anything is clear from this report, it’s that Mr. Waxman has an axe to grind. Many of the so-called “errors” aren’t errors at all, simply differences of opinion. For example, the report takes one curriculum to task for stating that human life begins at conception.

Here’s the Waxman report:

Although religions and moral codes offer different answers to the question of when life begins, some abstinence-only curricula present specific religious views on this question as scientific fact. One curriculum teaches: “Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins.”68 Another states: “Fertilization (or conception) occurs when one of the father’s sperm unites with the mother’s ovum (egg). At this instant a new human life is formed.”69

He takes them to task for stating a particular opinion as a fact. Seems like an error to me.

The report also claims that there is no data to support the effectiveness of abstinence education. Yet as Mary Beth Bonacci writes in the Catholic Herald, “At least 10 studies exist to date demonstrating the effectiveness of abstinence education, and four of these were published in peer-reviewed journals.”

Here’s the only reference I can find in the report:

The report finds numerous examples of these errors. Serious and pervasive problems with the accuracy of abstine nce-only curricula may help explain why these programs have not been shown to protect adolescents from sexually transmitted diseases and why youth who pledge abstinence are significantly less likely to make informed choices about precautions when they do have sex.

First, this is not the subject of the report and doesn’t reflect at all on the rest of the content.

Second, if he’s going to cite a column, which is citing the Heritage foundation, I’m going to cite PP:

Abstinence-only sexuality education doesn’t work. There is little evidence that teens who participate in abstinence-only programs abstain from intercourse longer than others. When they do become sexually active, though, they often fail to use condoms or other contraceptives. Meanwhile, students in comprehensive sexuality education classes do not engage in sexual activity more often or earlier, but do use contraception and practice safer sex more consistently when they become sexually active (AGI, 2003, Jemmott, et al., 1998; Kirby, 1999; Kirby, 2000; NARAL, 1998).

And let’s not forget that, as Paul Chesser points out in the Weekly Standard, “Abstinence education texts are hardly the only student sources rife with mistakes. Was Waxman equally indignant about the science book that identified singer Linda Ronstadt as a silicon crystal? Or the one that said the equator passes through the southern United States?”

Hey look, a completely irrelevent paragraph.

Of course, abstinence educators do need to get their facts straight. The abstinence movement has a hard enough time being taken seriously under the best of circumstances. But evidently Rep. Waxman has allowed his bias to get in the way, for if he were really concerned about accuracy, he’d be a lot more careful about his own report.

To save me the trouble, just imagine “Rep. Waxman” replaced by “Colson” and “report” by “column.”

Categories: Domestic Policy

Remember kids,

January 22, 2005 Leave a comment

There is no crisis.

Social Security is in crisis. The system is going bankrupt. We must act now. Common rhetoric nowadays. Is it true?

Most people know the U.S. is currently building up a Social Security trust fund, used as the baby boomer generation retires. This is projected (by the Social Security Administration) to start in 2018. By that moderate projection, the trust fund will run out 2042. According to the projection, payroll revenues will be able to pay 70 percent of the scheduled benefits for seniors.

That’s the conventional wisdom. The Bush administration likes to claim that the system will be “bankrupt” in 2042. The trust fund will be bankrupt, but the system is far from it, paying out 70 percent of benefits on its own. Even going by that data, a small benefit cut and tax increase now would easily cover the deficit. Radical alterations are not needed.

The main problem is that the SSA’s moderate projection is overly pessimistic. According to one independent actuary, the SSA’s optimistic projections have been the most accurate, evaluating a recent 10-year period. What does the optimistic projection say? Social Security. will be solvent for the full 75-year period and more. What’s specifically wrong with their projections? They project immigration will decline (not just grow slower) sharply in 20 years, even though the birth rate is dropping and foreign workers will probably be needed for our economy. They also project a strong increase in life expectancy, something that they’ve been consistently wrong about for the last two decades, according to one of their actuaries. Moreover, the SSA’s projected insolvency date has consistently been pushed out over the last 10 years: from 2029 to 2034 to 2042.

Some have even suggested that the trust fund itself is somehow untrustworthy, that it has no assets. This is despite the fact that Social Security has run a deficit 11 years in its history, safely redeeming trust fund bonds every time. The drop in workers per beneficiary has also been accounted for; the original actuaries in 1934 were off by about 0.16 percent in their projection for the proportion of Americans over 65 by 1990.

This is without considering what Bush’s plan will do. Don’t fall for the crisis rhetoric. The evidence points to a different conclusion.

Categories: Domestic Policy

Baffling

January 21, 2005 2 comments

The Vern Smalley letter I highlighted the other day has garnered many letters to the Chronicle, all negative. Except for this one today. I think.

Tolerate diversity
(The title is an error, it’s different in the paper)

Vern G. Smalley tells it like it is, and the local toleration crowd wants him run out of town (letter, Jan. 16). At a minimum, they want the Chronicle to stifle him (letter, Jan. 17). That’s perfect. That’s the bipolar Bozeman liberal establishment I know and love. The whole town is having a nervous breakdown!

(Hey, Vern, what are you? Five years old? Every adult knows the emperor has no clothes. But you are not supposed to say that out loud, not in Bozeman, anyway.)

So now we have God, Charles Darwin, and Vern Smalley all saying the same thing. Imagine being one of Bozeman’s grand-high social engineers, who has spent years blissfully working on “The New Theory of the World,” and then somebody like Vern Smalley comes along and restates the obvious. What a bombshell!

Er, what?

Categories: Silliness

Hip-hop

January 20, 2005 5 comments

There was a lecture here last night that I was too lazy to go to, by a guy named Bakari Kitwana about hip-hop and white kids. The Chronicle has an article on it today.

It was Bakari Kitwana’s first day in Montana, a predominantly white state far different from his hometown of New York.

He stood on stage behind a podium and said, “There’s been a rise in white alienation from mainstream America.”

He was talking to what he calls “The Hip-Hop Generation,” more than 200 Montana State University students who filled the Strand Union Building.

In his view, a powerful voting bloc is quickly forming across the country in the inner-city as well as in the suburbs; a group of young adults with different backgrounds who feel they are being left behind. It’s a group of people attracted to hip-hop music.

At this point, I’m not impressed with the guy. Disaffected youths gravitating towards pop culture?

He said many of the nation’s leaders preach morality but aren’t moral themselves. He said the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. He said while the country spends money to go to war, public schools continue to flounder.

“The American dream today is not what it was for our parents.” Kitwana said.

Many in the working class can’t buy homes, can’t afford to go to college and don’t have health benefits, he said.

And young people entering the working world are becoming bitter; young people of all races.

“There is a diminished sense of white privilege in America,” Kitwana said.

Not much I have a problem with there.

Couple that with the fact that the younger generation is the first post-segregation population, Kitwana said white people’s attraction to hip-hop music was not unexpected.

Rock ‘n’ roll is no longer the music of rebels, and Kitwana said hip-hop is now the alternative, a common outlet for young people disgruntled by business as usual.

Yes, because we all know that mainstream hip-hop has such biting social commentary on subjects like violence and trying to get laid. The only example I can think of where hip-hop attempted any kind of social commentary is that Eminem song from a while back, which was extraordinarily embarrassing to watch.

Toward the end of his lecture, one woman asked hip-hop’s take on United States’ imperialism. The music genre was being treated like a political party.

Another student compared the hip-hop movement to the peace movement in the ’60s and ’70s

“I feel hip-hop has broken down race barriers,” Tyler Stahnke, 21, said. “The kids are sharing the same views now.”

I’ll give him the barriers thing, but for fuck’s sake, the peace movement? I guess I missed the condemnations of violence and materialism.

Said Kitwana: “Young people need to understand the power of hip-hop. A power corporate America does not control.”

Ok, then. Such non-corporate labels as Atlantic, Interscope, and Warner Bros. at the top of the charts, plus MTV and ClearChannel controlling the air waves. Yeah, corporate America doesn’t control hip-hop.

UPDATE: A clarification of Kitwani’s views, from another article about the talk. I don’t have the exact quote, but he did say the stuff on MTV is “not the real thing.” I still think it’s pure fantasy that underground hip-hop is attracting disaffected white kids in any significant way.

Categories: Music
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