Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Levy gets results-- sort of.

Ever since Campus Watch went online, I've been complaining about it, and in particular about its pages on the University of Chicago (the pages I am, after all, best-equipped to assess). The relevant pages are here and here; my past comments can be accessed from the "Campus watch" tags in the menu bar to the left. I've said that they were sloppy, unreliable, based on anonymous rumor, and involved issues with no relationship to Campus Watch's own account of its mission. In particular, despite Daniel Pipes' statement on television that the site is about Middle East studies and not about anti-Semitism, these pages are mostly about anti-Semitism.

These two pages-- and, as far as I've been able to tell, only these two pages on the entire site-- now have a new disclaimer:

"Note: Student and faculty submissions to Campus Watch are screened for substance and tone, and are selected based upon their overall relevance to the study of Middle East studies in America. The opinions and assertions of the authors are theirs alone."

Much of Campus Watch consists of something innocuous and even useful: links to articles throughout the campus and non-campus press about issues like divestment from Israel, the suppression of pro-Israeli speech, and so on. The now-defunct "dossiers" on individual faculty members mostly consisted of links to those professors' own publications. But these "Reports from Campus" are different; they're not published anywhere else, and seem to have been assembled for the purpose of publication on the Campus Watch site. Campus Watch also encourages the submission of more such reports, with the author's name optional. For the website to continue to publish these "reports from campus" and then to distance itself from them seems odd to me. The disclaimer seems entirely inadequate. (The relevance to Middle East Studies, for instance, is nonexistent for many of the incidents reported.) But I'm pleased that Pipes and his people finally got around to being embarrassed enough by these reports to partially disavow them. They ought to be embarrassed enough to take them down.

Meanwhile, my speculation a few weeks ago that Martin Kramer was less than thrilled with Campus Watch (which falls under the same umbrella organization as his own work) has been, I think, partially disproven and partially confirmed. I'll chalk it up as a win. On his blog Sandstorm (links don't seem to be working right now) he says that he agrees with Campus Watch's view of Middle East Studies and of the general situation on campus but that their choice of means and rhetoric was pretty unfortunate. That, in the end, isn't very different from my view. Kramer ends with more of a rousing rah-rah for the site than I'd've given; but I think it's fair to say that he expresses a significant amount of discomfort with the way they've gone about things.

After this post I'm off again-- to Montreal, this time. Even if I were going to be in Chicago I wouldn't spend the weekend online; I'd go see Neil Gaiman...
A few quick bits and pieces.

Amidst all the puzzlement as to why Saddam Hussein would release nearly all prisoners from Iraqi jails, something struck me that I haven't seen even mentioned anywhere. As invasion becomes more and more likely, I could imagine SH trying to deter an American takeover by making Iraw as unappealing, ungovernable a place as possible. And if it doesn't deter, it will at least give him the satisfaction of spiting the postwar American administration and making their life more difficult. I have no idea how many of the released prisoners are actual nogoodniks, as opposed to innocent folks imprisoned by the regime for dissenting. But releasing the nogoodniks seems to me like a nasty, clever little bit of self-interest.

Robert Novak reports on an astonishing polling night for Bill Simon last Thursday-- Simon up by a point, and down by less than three over the three-night average. Something to remember: the margin of error on a poll isn't the only part of the poll's overall level of uncertainty. The margin of error usually represents the 95% confidence interval. That is, a poll result of 37% plus-or-minus 4% means that there is a 95% chance that the level of support lies somewhere between 33% and 41%. What goes unmentioned is the 5% chance that it does not-- and the result that, on average, once out of twenty times the true level of support will lie outside that confidence interval. A nightly tracking poll will get a clunker of a result one out of twenty nights; and that will skew three-day rolling average for, well, three days. (Rolling averages are a better guide than the snapshot numbers, since the chance that all three nights will be clunkers is very low-- 1/8000. But they mitigate the seriousness of the clunker night by stretching its effect out.)

Gray Davis deserves to lose, and I wouldn't at all mind seeing California voters turn him out. But I wouldn't change my bets just yet.

In New Hampshire, on the other hand: I'm going to predict Sununu beats Shaheen. Not because of the upcoming Bush visit to the state; the truth is that New Hampshire has never loved Bushes (remember Reagan '80, Buchanan '92, McCain '00), and that W carried the state by a breath and a whisker in the general election. But a) New Hampshire almost always picks a Republican if he (usually he) is even remotely plausible and credible, and sometimes (*coughBobSmithcough*) when he's not; and b) I have a good barometer to check. If Shaheen were particularly likely to win, we'd by now be seeing daily front-page screeching-howler-money-hysterical editorials from The Manchester Union Leader. The Union-Leader can't get its own preferred candidate elected in multicandidate primaries; but it specializes in driving up the negatives, and driving down the approval, of some especially-hated target. "Especially-hated" usually means "especially likely to beat the preferred candidate." If this bit of uncharacteristically goo-goo campaign refereeing, buried back on the editorial page, is the extent of the Union Leader's current attack on Shaheen, then they're not very worried. (If non-New Hampshirites read this editorial and think it does sound pretty harsh, all I can do is assure you: this is nothing by the Union-Leader's standards, and the decision whether to place editorials on the editorial or the front page really is a good measurement.)