Saturday, May 28, 2005

Northwest Arkansas

Here's a 1986 article in Mother Earth News about the area where I grew up.

The Coleman Report

UPDATE 2012: I got an electronic copy of the Coleman Report, and uploaded it to Scribd here, and to Google Docs here.  
Original post: The most famous study in the history of education is the so-called Coleman Report -- James Coleman, Equality of Educational Opportunity. As one article describes it:
An obscure provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act called for a study of inequality of opportunity in education "by reason of race, color, religion, or national origin." The general assumption of educators, indeed Coleman's assumption, was that the funding differences between black and white schools would be large, and that these differences would provide the central explanation for unequal achievements of blacks and whites. In 1966, after conducting what was then the second largest social science research project in history -- involving 600,000 children in 4,000 schools nationally -- Coleman and his colleagues issued Equality of Educational Opportunity. It became, according to journalist Nicholas Lemann, "probably the single best-known piece of quantitative social science in American history," and it contained a number of surprising findings. First, the disparities in funding between schools attended by blacks and whites were far smaller than anticipated. Second, funding was not closely related to achievement; fam ily economic status was far more predictive. Third, a different kind of resource-peers-mattered a great deal. Going to school with middle-class peers was an advantage, while going to school with lower-class peers was a disadvantage, above and beyond an individual's family circumstances.
I'm therefore somewhat surprised that I can't seem to find any way to purchase a copy of that study. I've looked on Amazon and Abebooks, but haven't had any luck thus far. I understand that the study was some 700 pages long, and I find it hard to imagine that no one has ever published it in book form. Yet nothing of that sort seems to be available. I do have a copy of a book collecting several further studies and comments on Coleman's work: On Equality of Educational Opportunity, edited by Pat Moynihan and Frederick Mosteller in 1972. But as yet, I can't find a way to buy the original study itself. Anyone know of any clues here?

UPDATE: See this March 2006 post for more on the Coleman Report.

Interesting Paper

Inequality, Social Discounting, and Estate Taxation

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ; Universidad Torcuato Di Tella - Departamento de Economia

April 27, 2005

MIT Department of Economics Working Paper No. 05-13

To what degree should societies allow inequality to be inherited? What role should estate taxation play in shaping the intergenerational transmission of welfare? We explore these questions by modeling altruistically-linked individuals who experience privately observed taste or productivity shocks. Our positive economy is identical to models with infinite-lived individuals where efficiency requires immiseration: inequality grows without bound and everyone's consumption converges to zero. However, under an intergenerational interpretation, previous work only characterizes a particular set of Pareto-efficient allocations: those that value only the initial generation's welfare. We study other efficient allocations where the social welfare criterion values future generations directly, placing a positive weight on their welfare so that the effective social discount rate is lower than the private one. For any such difference in social and private discounting we find that consumption exhibits mean-reversion and that a steady-state, cross-sectional distribution for consumption and welfare exists, where no one is trapped at misery. The optimal allocation can then be implemented by a combination of income and estate taxation. We find that the optimal estate tax is progressive: fortunate parents face higher average marginal tax rates on their bequests.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Kurdish Women's Union

Seems like a worthy place to donate.

Math Teaching

One curious phenomenon is the way that some liberals oppose good math teaching for fear of being associated with conservatives. Take this article by Barry Garelick, identified as a mathematics analyst for a government agency:
I work for the federal government, which has a program that gives employees a chance to work on Capitol Hill to gain experience and knowledge of legislative and congressional procedures, which is valuable information when working in government. I applied for and received a six-month detail to work in a Democratic senator’s office. Senator X (so called, in keeping with mathematical convention to describe a class of variables, because, as I was also to learn, both the good intentions and the shortcomings of Congress are institutional) was interested in establishing a science project to nurture a “homegrown” breed of scientists and engineers who would then support that state’s burgeoning technology industry. Since I thought a likely place to start would be math education, the staffers working the education issue asked me to see what I could come up with.

I compiled a list of questions that I sent by e-mail to various mathematicians involved with the math education issue. The questions focused on the quality of textbooks and teaching, with emphasis on algebra and geometry. I also wanted to know whether K–6 texts taught arithmetic well enough to prepare students to learn algebra.

The nice thing about working on the Hill is that you almost always get responses to e-mails and phone calls. Fifteen minutes after I sent an e-mail to Harvard mathematics professor Wilfried Schmid, he called. I found out that his initiation into the world of K–12 math education was similar to mine—through his daughter. He explained how she was not being taught her multiplication tables. He was shocked at the math instruction she was receiving in the 3rd grade. Its substance was shallow, memorization was discouraged, students were kept dependent on mental crutches (her teacher made her work with blocks or count on her fingers), and the intellectual level was well below the capability of most of the kids in his daughter’s class.

Schmid’s reaction to the problems of math texts and teaching was similar to that of other mathematicians I talked to in the course of my Capitol Hill assignment, particularly those with children. Those dialogues led me to develop an ad hoc theory that I will postulate (this means I don’t have to prove it): Hell hath no fury like a mathematician whose child has been scorned by an education system that refuses to know better. In Schmid’s case, he talked to parents, school boards, and ultimately with the Massachusetts commissioner of education. Along with others, he succeeded in revamping Massachusetts’s math standards, much to the dislike of the education establishment and textbook publishers.

The controversy over K–12 math education has come to be known as the “math wars.” Like Schmid, mathematicians have been active in this debate, as has the “mathematics community” at large, including not only mathematicians at the university level, but teachers and others involved in the education establishment. They believe that students must master basic skills (the number facts, standard algorithms for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing) in tandem with larger concepts about mathematics.

On the other side of the debate are the followers of an education theory that promotes discovery learning, minimization of both teacher instruction and repetitive drills, and a disdain for standard procedures (algorithms). The math being protested—by the mathematics community—is called a variety of things: “reform math,” “standards-based math,” “new new math,” and, most commonly, “fuzzy math.”

* * *

Concept still trumps memorization. Textbooks often make sure students understand what multiplication means rather than offering exercises for learning multiplication facts. Some texts ask students to write down the addition that a problem like 4 x 3 represents. Most students do not have a difficult time understanding what multiplication means. But the necessity of memorizing the facts is still there. Rather than drill the facts, the texts have the students drill the concepts, and the student misses out on the basics of what she must ultimately know in order to do the problems. I’ve seen 4th and 5th graders, when stumped by a multiplication fact such as 8 x 7, actually sum up 8, 7 times. Constructivists would likely point to a student’s going back to first principles as an indication that the student truly understood the concept. Mathematicians tend to see that as a waste of time.

Another case in point was illustrated in an article that appeared last fall in the New York Times. It described a 4th-grade class in Ossining, New York, that used a constructivist approach to teaching math and spent one entire class period circling the even numbers on a sheet containing the numbers 1 to 100. When a boy who had transferred from a Catholic school told the teacher that he knew his multiplication tables, she quizzed him by asking him what 23 x 16 equaled. Using the old-fashioned method—one that is held in disdain because it uses rote memorization and is not discovered by the student—the boy delivered the correct answer. He knew how to multiply while the rest of the class was still discovering what multiples of 2 were.
So that depicts the situation. How do some liberals respond?
Though academic debate about mathematics curricula will no doubt continue, the field of argument is increasingly muddied by politics. It was in this context that I began my investigation into math education in 2002. I recall meeting with Senator X’s deputy chief of staff and two other staffers not long after completing my research on math curricula and the battles that had shaped—often, misshaped—them. “So what are your ideas on how math and science education can be enhanced?” they asked. My answer was something like, “You can enhance a car by painting it, but if the car has no engine, it’s not going to do much good.” This was not what they were expecting to hear. Nor were they expecting to hear that Lynne Cheney had also taken up the cause of anti-fuzzy math. At that point, the discussion took a decidedly troubling turn. These staffers—Democrats—now worried that they could not support policies that were also advocated by the wife of a powerful Republican.

I told them about the open letter from the two hundred mathematicians and urged them not to confuse the message with the messenger. “This is a real issue,” I said. “Kids aren’t learning the math they need to learn.”

I had discussions and sent e-mails in the hopes that I would at least get a chance to brief Senator X on the issue and, perhaps, persuade him to ask some tough questions of NSF when it came time to fund their programs. But I felt that at any moment everything was going to be whisked away.

And one day it was. The staffers in my office talked with other Democratic staffers on the Hill, who told them that it would be wise to stay away from the “fuzzy math/Lynne Cheney/Bush agenda” issue. Ultimately the staffers I was working with told me they couldn’t take a chance on having Senator X “come off like Lynne Cheney.”

This development was not surprising to any of the mathematicians with whom I had been working—most of them Democrats, like me. The senator was never briefed, and no investigation into NSF was launched. I was thanked for my hard work. I went back to my regular job and started tutoring middle school students in math at a school in D.C. while continuing to work with high school students in my neighborhood. That year a 9th-grade girl was having problems in geometry and came to me for help. “What seems to be the problem?” I asked. “I don’t know how to do proofs,” she said.

“I know,” I replied. “Don’t worry. It isn’t you.”

All politics is local, I decided.
Cheating kids out of an education in basic math is inestimably more harmful to their actual lives than anything that they might be taught about evolution.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Fifth Circuit case

I've been out of town the past few days: I had my first-ever oral argument. It was before the en banc Fifth Circuit in the case described here. I represent Mr. Johnson pro bono, and got the Fifth Circuit to grant en banc review a year-and-a-half ago. The case was held in abeyance for most of that time while the Fifth Circuit decided a related case that Tom Goldstein argued (see here). The court ordered oral argument about a month ago, and it took place on Monday. Very exciting.

I found that the oral argument experience is very similar (on a meta-level) to that of performing a musical instrument before an audience. Most importantly, both are performances in every sense of the word: In both situations, you are displaying your skill and knowledge in a live high-wire act before an audience that you deeply want to impress. Both invoke alternating feelings of eager anticipation and abject fear beforehand; and during the performance, both invoke some initial trepidation that dissolves to (relative) comfort as you realize that you can handle the situation. The main difference, as one of my colleagues pointed out, is that in an oral argument before a court, there may be judges who are eager to undermine your position, whereas in a classical music concert the audience (usually) hopes that you succeed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


The weekly Coalition for Darfur post:
Delays and Complications

The genocide in Darfur began more than two years ago. Since then, more than 400,000 people have died and the international community has yet to take any concrete action toward stopping the violence or helping the nearly 2 million displaced return to their destroyed villages and resume semi-normal lives.

And the longer the world delays, the more complicated the situation seems to become.

Just last week, the UNHCR was forced to pull its staff out of four refugee camps in Chad after five of its workers were wounded in protests over food distribution. The same day, two refugees and two Chadian police officers were killed during a clash in another camp.

Also last week, two drivers for the World Food Program were killed and rebels abducted but later released 17 members of the African Union ceasefire monitoring force.

The UN reported that militia attacks have intensified in the last month and there are now reports that rebels in the East have amassed along the border with Eritrea, potentially creating a Darfur-like conflict there as well.

All the while, the world makes symbolic gestures of concern and assistance. The AU has decided to expand its force in Darfur but lacks the troops, money and logistical resources necessary to fully do so. Help from NATO has been requested but has not yet materialized. For domestic political reasons of its own, Canada recently pledged to send 100 troops to Darfur but has since backed off because of objections from Sudan. Meanwhile, leaders from Egypt, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Sudan, Gabon and Eritrea jointly announced their rejection of "any foreign intervention in the Darfur problem."

The crisis in Darfur is by no means simple and solutions are going to require serious thought and real political will. Unfortunately, Darfur has not yet been able to garner either. But the longer the world refuses to deal with this, the more complicated the situation is going to become.
Also, watch the film Hotel Rwanda. Very powerful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

David Graham

I wonder what ever happened with this very odd story? Nothing relevant shows up on Google.

Monday, May 16, 2005

How do Parents Treat Good-Looking Children?

I thought that I had mistakenly deleted this post, but found it:

* * *

Probably a spurious correlation:
Parents would certainly deny it, but Canadian researchers have made a startling assertion: parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones.

Researchers at the University of Alberta carefully observed how parents treated their children during trips to the supermarket. They found that physical attractiveness made a big difference.

The researchers noted if the parents belted their youngsters into the grocery cart seat, how often the parents' attention lapsed and the number of times the children were allowed to engage in potentially dangerous activities like standing up in the shopping cart. They also rated each child's physical attractiveness on a 10-point scale.

The findings, not yet published, were presented at the Warren E. Kalbach Population Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

When it came to buckling up, pretty and ugly children were treated in starkly different ways, with seat belt use increasing in direct proportion to attractiveness. When a woman was in charge, 4 percent of the homeliest children were strapped in compared with 13.3 percent of the most attractive children. The difference was even more acute when fathers led the shopping expedition - in those cases, none of the least attractive children were secured with seat belts, while 12.5 percent of the prettiest children were.

* * *

Dr. Robert Sternberg, professor of psychology and education at Yale, said he saw problems in Dr. Harrell's method and conclusions, for example, not considering socioeconomic status.

"Wealthier parents can feed, clothe and take care of their children better due to greater resources," Dr. Sternberg said, possibly making them more attractive. "The link to evolutionary theory is speculative."
Yes, not controlling for socioeconomic status strikes me as a huge flaw. Researchers elsewhere have found that (a) beautiful people tend to earn more, and conversely, (b) richer people (esp. men) tend to attract more beautiful partners. Consider this study from the American Economic Review (also available here):
Holding constant demographic and labor-market characteristics, plain people earn less than people of average looks, who earn less than the good-looking. The penalty for plainness is 5 to 10 percent, slightly larger than the premium for beauty. The effects are slightly larger for men than women; but unattractive women are less likely than others to participate in the labor force and are more likely to be married to men with unexpectedly low human capital.
The same researchers found a similar effect for good-looking lawyers. (!) Other scholars have seen similar results, including findings that obese people earn lower wages.

So there might be reason to suspect a correlation between good-looking children and wealth. At the same time, other research has shown that low-income people are "less likely to engage in activities that help foster healthy child development." Moreover, low-income people are twice as likely to be depressed, and depressed people do worse at taking care of children:
Parental depression can lead to harsh or negative interactions with the child, lack of interest or follow-through on important prevention activities such as use of car seats and child-proofing, and limited school readiness for children.
All of which goes to say that it would be wise to control for socio-economic status before proclaiming that "parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones."

Narnia Movie

Just FYI: You can view the trailer for the new Narnia movie here.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


Here's the deal: I have a wife, four young children, and a very busy job. In my spare time, which isn't much, I like to read a good book, play the classical guitar, and run or lift weights. And if I have any spare time beyond that for writing, I really should focus on more permanent forms of writing (essays, law review articles, and a book). Which all goes to say that whatever blogging I do will be occasional, not regular.

Besides, I've been growing more and more ambivalent with the whole world of instant news and commentary. Admittedly, my natural inclination is to voraciously devour the material found on blogs, in newspapers, etc. But on a meta-level, I do agree with the sentiments expressed by C.S. Lewis (see here) or C. John Sommerville in his book How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Age. It's no answer to say that I should just focus on the few blogs or columnists who are genuinely insightful and thoughtful. Yes, they exist, but I find it impossible to read just them. (Remember the old motto of Lay's Potato Chips.) Instead, I end up browsing from one link to the next, and before I know it, I've wasted a couple of hours reading a bunch of random articles and blog posts, almost all of which have no lasting value. And all that cuts severely into the time that I have for everything else in my life.

So I'm trying, as a personal experiment, to stay away from all blogs and newspapers for the next 6 months. Maybe longer. I've already done so for over a week with no noticeable diminishment in my personal happiness; indeed, it feels as if my brain is clearer and more focused, and life feels less hurried and obsessed.

In any event, this means that to the extent I post on this blog at all, it will probably be non-news-related. Perhaps something about a book I read, or the like.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


The weekly Coalition for Darfur post:
The Coalition for Darfur has two goals: to get bloggers writing about Darfur and to raise money for worthy organizations providing life-saving assistance to the people of Darfur.

So far, we are not doing particularly well on either count.

Outside of Instapundit, very few of the "big blogs" seem to be paying much attention to Darfur, which is why it was nice to see Kevin Drum finally address the issue a few days ago.

In his post on the topic, Drum made an important point about the genocide
But hope is not a plan, and right now it strikes me that the only realistic option for stopping the genocide is to be prepared for a full-scale invasion and long-term occupation of Sudan. I could probably be talked into that if someone presented a serious military plan showing where the troops would come from and how they'd get there, but I haven't seen it yet.
It is probably an oversimplification to say that full-scale invasion and occupation of Sudan is the "only realistic option" for dealing with the genocide, but the key point to be understood here is that nobody knows what it will take to stop this because almost nobody is even thinking about it.

Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, the head of the failed UN mission to Rwanda, estimates that it would take 44,000 troops to stop the violence and Brian Steidle, a former Marine who spent six months serving with the AU mission in Darfur, estimates that it will take anywhere from 25,000 - 50,000. There is also talk of imposing a no-fly zone and an arms embargo and expanding the AU mandate to allow it to protect civilians. But after more than 2 years of violence, these things still remain little more than talk.

As far as can be determined, nobody (not the US, the EU, NATO, or the UN) has even seriously contemplated what sort of military action might be necessary in order to stop the genocide. Foreign policy journals and think tanks have likewise been silent on the issue. The only people who appear to be seriously thinking about what needs to be done in Darfur are journalists like Bradford Plumer and activists like Eric Reeves.

For two years, rhetorically pressuring Sudan to disarm and reign in the Janjaweed and stop the genocide has not worked. Many hoped that the Security Council's referral of the crimes in Darfur to the International Criminal Court might force Khartoum to back down, but unfortunately that has not happened. If anything, the ICC referral may have made the situation on the ground worse - and open discussion of possible military intervention might make things worse still. It is impossible to say.

Nobody wants a large-scale invasion of Sudan, but more importantly, nobody wants to even think that such an invasion might be necessary and how it will need to be carried out. It is a sign of just how little serious concern the genocide in Darfur is generating that those who might theoretically be called upon in the future to intervene do not appear to even have begun examining the feasibility of such an intervention. Darfur might not require military intervention, but it certainly requires more than the few small steps currently being contemplated. And until those in power begin to give the genocide the attention and serious thought it deserves, there is little reason to believe that there will soon be an end to the violence.

This genocide will end in one of two ways: either the international community will begin to take its responsibility to protect the people of Darfur seriously and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their survival or it will end when the Africans in Darfur have been completely eliminated.

The choice is ours.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Laura Bush

There was some feigned controversy recently over Laura Bush's joke that her husband had tried to milk a male horse. In fact, the joke was on the people who thought that she was describing some form of bestiality: the point of this old farm joke is that someone tried to do something exceedingly stupid that would get him kicked across the farmyard in half a second.

My grandfather was a farmer in Arkansas for many years, and one of his favorite jokes was this:

Q: How do you know when it's time to wean a child?

A: When he comes in and says, "Pa, gimme a chaw of tobacco. Ma's been in the bitterweed again."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Religious Intolerance?

Two items of interest:

1. The new Pope Benedict XVI issued a document years ago called "Dominus Iesus," in which he said that Catholicism was superior to other forms of Christianity. This is now seen as controversial in many circles.

2. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said "I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. And indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office." This too is seen as controversial.

Other examples can easily be found. It is seen as controversial if someone asserts that his own religion is true and that other religions are false in any respect.

This leads me to believe that many people are deeply confused and unable to think clearly. Everyone believes that some religious beliefs are false; it is simply impossible to believe otherwise.

For one thing, the world offers many religious beliefs that are contradictory. It is not possible to affirm the truth of all of them simultaneously. If the Pope really does represent Christ's authority on earth, then the Baptists are wrong for failing to recognize his authority. If the Pope does not represent Christ's authority as the Catholic Church claims, then he is a staggering impostor who deserves to be exposed and criticized at every opportunity.

The same holds true for any number of religious beliefs. If reincarnation doesn't happen, Hinduism is false on that point. If it does happen, Hinduism is true and other religions are missing something extraordinary. If Mohammed was really sent from God, Islam is true; if not, Islam is based on a false premise.

And so on: Religions make a wide variety of factual claims, and they can't all be true. It should be absolutely unsurprising that a Catholic thinks that the Baptists are missing something, and vice versa.

2. Some might respond, "Ah, but I have a great deal of epistemic humility. I think that my own religious beliefs might be true, but I could be entirely wrong. Thus, I recognize that all religions offer some truth and that it is not my place to issue claims of superiority."

But that claim itself amounts to saying that most religious people in the world have a false belief, namely, that their own religious beliefs are truer than the alternatives. Thus, the epistemic skeptic cannot avoid the conclusion that other people's religious beliefs are often in error. Even those who purport to be humble skeptics necessarily think that most religions are wrong in claiming to have a true picture of God.

It is very strange that something everyone does should be deemed a faux pas.


The weekly Coalition for Darfur post:
The United States has played a leading role in attempts to deal with the crisis in Darfur by donating hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, providing logistical and financial support to the AU mission, and pushing for various resolutions and sanctions in the UN Security Council. In September, the Bush administration even took the unprecedented step of labeling the situation "genocide."

But now it appears as if the Bush administration is intentionally lessening its pressure on Sudan.

On a recent visit to Sudan, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick backed away from the earlier genocide designation and offered an oddly low estimate of the death toll in Darfur. Shortly thereafter, the State Department released a fact sheet claiming that an estimated "63-146,000 'excess' deaths can be attributed to violence, disease, and malnutrition because of the conflict;" a figure that is less than half the commonly accepted estimate. Noted Sudan expert Eric Reeves wrote of the State Department's estimate "This is not epidemiology: this is propaganda" and claimed that it called into question "not only the motives of those who have compiled it, but the moral and intellectual integrity of those ... who would cite it."

And last week, Mark Leon Goldberg reported that the administration was working to kill the Darfur Accountability Act.

On the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported that Sudan had become an key source of intelligence information for the CIA and that Sudan's intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh, a man widely thought to be responsible for directing military attacks against civilians in Darfur, had been brought to Washington for a meeting with intelligence officials aboard a CIA jet.

The LA Times report revealed that Sudan had provided valuable information regarding al Qaeda's operations, captured and handed over Islamic extremists operating in Sudan, and even detained militants moving through Sudan on their way to join forces with Iraqi insurgents.

There is no doubt that Sudan feels it deserves to be rewarded for this assistance and it remains to be seen what, if anything, the Bush administration intends to offer in return.

These new revelations raise complex questions about our priorities as a nation and serious questions about the future of Darfur. But what must not be ignored in this debate over realpolitik is that millions of people are still in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Thus, we ask you to join the Coalition for Darfur as we seek to raise money for organizations providing life saving assistance to the people of Darfur.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Irving Kristol and Nathan Glazer -- actual neo-conservatives -- write about the history of that intellectual movement in their respective articles here and here. Notably, as Kristol says in discussing the history of The Public Interest:
We made one easy editorial decision at the outset: no discussion of foreign policy or foreign affairs. Vietnam was arousing a storm of controversy at the time, and we knew that our group had a wide spectrum of opinion on the issue. We did not want any of the space in our modest-sized quarterly to be swallowed up by Vietnam. The simplest solution was to ban foreign affairs and foreign policy from our pages.
And as Glazer points out:
How the term "neoconservatism" morphed from a political tendency that dealt almost entirely with domestic social policy to one that deals almost entirely -- indeed, entirely --with foreign policy is an interesting question, which I will not explore further here. There is very little overlap between those who promoted the neoconservatism of the 1970s and those committed to its latter-day manifestation.
It is an interesting question how a term comes to mean something nearly the opposite of what it originally stood for.

Monday, May 02, 2005


To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a man who has expertise on the Middle East, every American political debate gets pigeonholed into a specious analogy with Islamic fundamentalists. That is, Juan Cole is back with another post in that vein (as we've seen before):
What has the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s got to do with the dictatorial way the US Senate Republicans have begun acting with regard to judicial appointments? The war pitted secular and religious forces against one another, killing over 100,000 persons in constant village massacres and urban assassinations over more than a decade. One of the extreme religious factions, the Armed Islamic Group (French acronym GIA), became angered at US and French support for the secular-leaning military government.
* * *
In essence, the "large" and diverse Republic of the United States with many unsubdueable factions is being reduced to being no different from the small and regimented demagogic "democracies" that Madison feared, dominated by a disciplined, majority faction.

In other words, the United States of America is on the verge of looking an awfully lot like Algeria did in fall of 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to exercise a tyranny of the majority in that country.
Having an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees = a civil war that killed over 100,000 people. Such a comparison refutes itself.

Next up: Why the No Child Left Behind legislation is exactly like the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.

UPDATE: Iraqwarwrong also noticed the Algerian analogy, and has even posted an email from Juan Cole about it.