The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Does the San Jose Mercury News have a policy of fact-checking letters to the editor? From my own experience, the answer is yes. California has an immigrant Vietnamese community which despises the current government of Vietnam in much the same way that immigrant Cubans despise Fidel Castro. Two or three years ago there was some sort of flare-up, I think because an artist was exhibiting portraits of Ho Chi Minh. Someone wrote into the Merc to say that the anti-Hanoi folks were just sore losers, and should get over themselves. I submitted a letter via email pointing out that the Hanoi regime had killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and some people don't get over that treatment in a day or week or even a couple of decades.

I figured that some harassed editor would print my letter, or toss it. I was not prepared to get a phone call from a Merc employee asking me for documentation of my claim! I was momentarily nonplussed; isn't the letters to the editor feature a haven for nuts who claim that God will abandon America, or the world will run out of energy? I said that I would email some evidence.

I Googled around, found some webbed data from Rummel's "Death by Government", and emailed it to the Merc editor. They printed my letter.

But ... I saw this letter in Thursday's Merc:

Race initiative is not what is seems

Now that the Connerly initiative is upon us, it's time we start calling it like it is. For starters, there's no ``Racial Privacy Initiative.'' That ballot designation was rejected because this has nothing to do with privacy. Instead, what voters will see on the ballot is `Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color or National Origin.''

Proponents want voters to believe this will get rid of those ``annoying check boxes'' on government forms and achieve a colorblind society. Yet, this initiative will make all of us blind to information that protects our health, safety and civil rights.

If this initiative passes, it will eliminate data showing that white women have the highest incidence of breast cancer while black women are more likely to die from it -- information essential to effectively targeting precious prevention and treatment resources. That's why health organizations oppose it.

The state could no longer require data collection that documented anti-Arab hate crimes after Sept. 11, which prompted immediate law enforcement and community response. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer has also opposed the ballot measure.

Maya Harris
Director, Racial Justice Project
ACLU of Northern California
San Francisco

Now my recollection was that agencies which do need to describe people -- such as police forces and hospitals -- are free to collect racial data. It took me two minutes to verify this:

Effective January 1, 2005, prohibits state, local governments from using race, ethnicity, color or national origin to classify current or prospective students, contractors, or employees in public education, contracting or employment operations. Does not prohibit classification by sex


(f) Otherwise lawful classification of medical research subjects and patients shall be exempt from this section.

(g) Nothing in this section shall prevent law enforcement officers, while carrying out their law enforcement duties, from describing particular persons in otherwise lawful ways.

It's difficult to die of breast cancer without coming to the attention of a hospital, or, in the worst case, a morgue. Harris' statement is a lie, for any nontrivial definition of "lie".

Does the Mercury News letters features have a fact-checking policy, or not? I would agree with their decision whether "yes" or "no" -- as long as it was consistently yes or no.

A California salon is being forced by the city of Mountain View to remove its racy artwork:

City miffed by mermaid
By Truong Phuoc Khánh
Mercury News

A bodacious bathing beauty is being ordered down from her perch on the wall of a downtown Mountain View tanning salon.

Until Monday, though, motorists driving on West El Camino Real can catch a last glimpse of the vixen at Max Muscle, which also sells fitness wear. She can be seen in silhouette, bathing under a lavender sun. Her back is slightly arched, her curvy tail stretched luxuriously, her long lashes . . .

Wait . . . curvy tail?

Yes, the lady is a mermaid in a mural, and the city deems her to be in non-compliance with its codes. The city considers the mermaid -- all 12 feet of her -- a sign that exceeds the building's signage allowance. Her creators think what has the city out of shape is the mermaid's shape.

``This is a graphic, and graphics are covered under our signage ordinance,'' said Mountain View's zoning administrator Whitney McNair.


Don't we have a First Amendment to prevent this sort of nonsense? Oh, I forgot; this is "commercial speech", so the city of Mountain View can perform all the censorship it wants to.

Check out Matt Welch's evisceration of California's budget-busting governor, "Singapore" Gray Davis. Welch notes that anti-recall forces are complaining about the special election's buck-per-citizen cost:

It's funny to watch Davis get so agitated about spending $30 million, when he showed absolutely no compunction whatsoever three years ago in deliberately wasting $45 million to send a car-tax rebate by check, rather than in the form of deductions.

"I fought aggressively to make sure it was a check," Davis told the Los Angeles Times back then. "Because people don't appreciate the fact that they're getting a rebate unless they see it in their hands."

Even if Davis weren't a hypocrite, the argument would still be ridiculous. The recall cost is three orders of magnitude less than California's budget deficit. If a CEO mismanaged a public company so badly that it lost $100 million per year, do you think the board of directors would care if it cost $100,000 to buy out his contract?

Friday, August 01, 2003

I don't think I like Philippe as a surly teenager.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Does the Democratic National Committee supply scripts for newscasters to read when reporting on the guerilla war in Iraq? On the way to work I was listening to CBS radio news. The announcer gave the latest casualty figures for American forces in Iraq, and said "this is the 52nd American casualty since May 1, when President Bush announced that major combat operations in Iraq had ended." I have heard that italicized phrase on CBS news damn near every day for the past month.

It's obvious that scriptwriter wants to bash silly President Bush for declaring combat operations fini before Americans stopped dying. But the phrasing is rather strange, since it suggests that "major combat operations" have not ceased. I have not heard of any bombings, or mass movement of armor or infantry, since April. If CBS News knows differently, they should speak up.

You have to be pretty damn ignorant of military history to imagine that a soldier killed every other day by a sniper or booby trap could constitute "major operations". How's this for a major operation: The Soviet conquest of Berlin in 1945 took a week and resulted in one million deaths. That's a death rate five orders of magnitude worse than what Americans are going through now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Wednesday Night Linky Love

Mad props to Evan Kirchhoff, the blogger known to CONTROL as -179. He is on Steven Den Beste's new blogroll. This is the coolest thing that Cap'n Clueless does: He has a small blogroll full of somewhat obscure bloggers that he thinks deserves more attention. More people should do this; does the world really need four hundred thousand links to Instapundit?

On Michelle Catalano's blog I got into a bit of a comment war with Val Prieto. I checked out his blog anyway. Man, that guy hates Fidel Castro! That's a huge plus in my book. (Ever notice how the Left is all concerned -- in a self-congratulatory manner, natch -- about the plight of the poor and oppressed, but when a group of people actually resists Commie tyranny, suddenly the Left castigates them as plutocratic, ignorant, out-of-touch conservatives.) Prieto is having a tough time of it today, as his dog was lost for two days and then run over. Head over to his blog and say something nice.

Through Den Beste I found this post on cultural relativism by Miguel Centellas. A nice quote:

While I don't necessarily agree w/ Howard Zinn (the author of various "people's histories" books) on all matters, I agree w/ his recent statement in an NPR interview. If we judge cultures only by their own prevailing standards, then we must necessarily side w/ the oppressors and not w/ the oppressed.

One more link, to ESPN: It looks like the A's have made their "F*-ing A" trade, with about 24 hours to spare.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Depressing California budget news from Daniel Weintraub: The state is $35 billion in the hole and legislators still can't cut spending!

...on paper, state general fund spending will shrink only from a high of $78.1 billion last year to $70.8 billion next year, a drop of $7.3 billion.

And even that is an accounting fiction. Actual spending won’t drop by nearly that much, if at all. More than half of the reported spending reduction is actually a tax increase -- the $4 billion tripling of the car tax. State bookkeepers count that as a cut because the car tax is a local revenue source, and when it was reduced several years ago, the state started reimbursing the cities and counties for their loss of revenue. Now that the tax is going back up, the locals will get their money directly from motorists, so the state reimbursement is no longer needed. The state books that as a budget cut, but the government will still be spending exactly the same amount of money. Other items booked as cuts include a $1 billion accounting shift in Medi-Cal that will have no effect on actual spending, and a $2 billion infusion of federal money that will relieve the state of some of its obligations in health and welfare programs. When you add all these and other measures together, it’s possible that actual government outlays in California will rise, not fall, in the year ahead.

Weintraub is a Sacramento Bee columnist. His blog, "California Insider", is well worth your time. (I found the link via Mickey Kaus.)

"This pickup line sucks. I'm going to start a heavy equipment company."

On the way to work I saw a flatbed with a drillbit, bearing the logo of the American Drilling Company. Then I passed another flatbed, which contained the drill and was adorned with this useful slogan:

"Your hole is our goal"

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Evan Kirchhoff -- who has found his automobile and is able to participate in California's "car culture" -- has published perhaps his best post ever. Evan takes aim that those who would sue "Big Food" to trim us down to a size 8, and fires until he has run out of target:

And I've read that last line several times: apparently it really does say "Willpower is influenced by price". Yes, "corporate irresponsibility" is now literally equivalent to "selling products cheaply". So why are we stopping at food? I've noticed that cars have one or two harmful side-effects, and I believe that recent round of 0% interest rates was a deliberate attempt by Big Car to sell cars to people. Obviously we need a $10,000 per-car surcharge to help strengthen the "willpower" of our citizens in the face of this irresponsible corporate assault. (In the interim, I will accept checks at this address from anyone who feels that they need a willpower boost: just add 20% to the value of any consumer good or service that seems "too cheap" for your self-control and then mail me the difference. For an extra 10%, I will write an 800-word newspaper story explaining that you are not an idiot.)

Then he spits out the shells -- they appear in his blog as asterisks -- and goes after every god damed moron in America.

Here is what I believe to be a reasonable proposal. Just as corporate shares are divided into "preferred stock" and "common stock", let us establish two classes of American citizenship. The "common" citizens would take the position that, hey, life is complicated, and they'd prefer to outsource as much decision-making as possible. Their alcohol would be carefully rationed, their smoking banned, and they would obtain all healthcare from a state HMO that would carefully track their bodyfat and cholesterol count. They would receive a lavishly-illustrated weekly newsletter entitled "What To Eat". Also, these people would be barred from voting in elections above the local level, similar to the "training-wheels democracy" now functioning in Iraq. (Since the initial premise of this argument is that such people, if left to their own devices, are incapable of feeding themselves competently, they certainly can't manage the abstract thought required for matters of industrial policy or national defense.)

Meanwhile, the "preferred" class of citizens would have to make do on their own, aided by nothing but ten thousand or so different newspapers, magazines, books, journals, universities, and the internet. They would be allowed to eat anything in any quantity, and would receive somewhat lower tax rates in exchange for agreeing not to sue anyone for what they voluntarily did with their arms and mouths.

Conservatives and libertarians complain about liberal media bias. I think one reason we find the left-wing slant so irritating is that while many liberal journalists imagine themselves to be intellectually superior to their political opponents, their product is often lacking in intelligence or perspective. Occasionally this is malevolent (q.v. New York Times, The), but most biased writing is probably produced unaware.

For instance, take a look at this San Francisco Chronicle article on hit-and-run accidents in California. The authors (Michael Cabanatuan and Erin McCormick) wrote a good piece and put some effort into it; for instance, they attached a figure showing hit-and-run accidents as a percentage of all fatal accidents in the 50 states. But then they decided to use a hackneyed and unfortunate phrase:

An abundance of unlicensed drivers, the proliferation of wide, busy thoroughfares and intersections, California's car culture, fear of strict penalties for drunken driving and the large number of drivers driving without auto insurance all share the blame.

(Emphasis mine.) In my experience "car culture" is liberalese for "those damn polluters who won't ride rapid transit like good citizens." The only further explanation of what "car culture" might mean:


And then there's the state's reliance on cars, highways and driving.

"A lot of people think it's California, and they have the right to drive," Chew said. "And some people's livelihood depends on the ability to drive; it's that kind of state."

"Car-dependent California". As opposed to car-independent Wyoming, where everyone walks from Casper to Cheyenne. It's kind of scary to think that two grown individuals, who write newspaper articles that tens of thousands of people read, can be so insulated as to think that being dependent on a car is an abnormal state. Look, if someone told you that their middle-class and employed friend did not own a car, you could pinpoint that oerson's location to one of a few cities: Boston, New York, Washington D.C. -- and San Francisco.

It's not the car culture that contributes to hit-and-runs; it's the pedestrian culture. This counter-theorem nicely explains the distribution of hit-and-run crashes by state. States that have a high percentage (4% or more) of fatalities involving hit-and-runs are either heavily urbanized, or heavily immigrant. (The article did a good job explaining that illegal immigrants are uninsured and terrified of being caught after an accident and deported; also, immigrants tend to be poor, and poor people do have to walk.)

By the way, don't you think Montana might count as having a "car culture? For a few years the state had no speed limit. Yet Montana's percentage of fatalities involving hit-and-runs was in the lowest category, 1 to 2%.

Update: Evan Kirchhoff adds his own commentary, including the useful statistic that California ranks 48th in roads per capita.