A Cornell sociologist says he has found scientific evidence that, whenever the government issues a terrorism alert, President Bush's approval ratings go up, even on domestic issues, such as his handling of the economy.

Robb Willer, assistant director of the Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory at Cornell -- someone else runs Large Groups? -- tracked about 26 occasions since 2001, including the major Code Orange alerts by the Department of Homeland Security, when some agency -- the FBI, the State Department or someone else -- announced a potential threat to Americans.

He tracked those with 131 Gallup polls taken during that time up until May. Willer, a doctoral candidate in sociology, found that, on average, each warning prompted a 2.75 point increase in the president's approval rating the following week.

Willer said yesterday that his research "controlled" for various things such as the Afghan war, the beginning of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein, though not for economic good news or other positive developments. His study says he conducted "several time-series analyses" and used "regression models" and stuff like that.

He said he was not able to determine how long the approval blip lasted. He also didn't look at whether there was a falloff in approval ratings when, for example, the alert level dropped from orange (high) back to yellow (elevated).

Several Loop Fans have e-mailed requests for a contest on when the next alert level will be. We suspect this is based on a hyper-cynical premise that such alerts are politically motivated. There will be no such contest.

A Different Red, White and Blue

Relations with former coalition partner Spain are continuing in a downward spiral. For the past three years, U.S. Marines have carried Old Glory in Spain's annual National Day parade in Madrid.

Yesterday, however, the United States was not invited. Instead, spectators got to see the flag of, yes, France fluttering in the breeze.

Former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar began having the American flag included after Sept. 11, 2001. Last year, with Spain in the coalition, it flew along with flags from coalition member Poland and Hispanic members of the coalition -- El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.

When Aznar lost, the incoming socialists bolted the coalition, and new Defense Minister Jose Bono -- no relation to Sonny or Cher -- recently announced the change, saying no offense intended. But Bono, the Paul O'Neill of the Spanish cabinet, felt obliged to note that Spain no longer has to "bend the knee" to the Americans.

Bono said the French would be there in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Paris in WWII, an event that included some Republican veterans of the Spanish Civil War. The Italian flag was also there, commemorating Spanish-Italian military cooperation.

Madrid is all abuzz over this, we're told, along with news yesterday that George L. Argyros, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, was not at the big government reception traditionally held as part of the festivities. Word from Madrid was that reporters are being told he was in the country but delayed because of unspecified "transportation" problems.

We can relate to that. Sometimes it's almost impossible to get a cab in that town.

Don't Hold Your Breath

Everyone has had to marshal resources for the war on terrorism. Sometimes this has meant cutting services. For example, the "Frequently Asked Questions" portion of the CIA's Web site offers this exchange:

Q. "My son has earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and I understand the CIA will send him a letter of congratulations upon request?"

A. "We regret we are unable to process and provide certificates of congratulations to the fine young Americans who have become Eagle Scouts. We have curtailed some activities in order for us to concentrate on the War on Terrorism.

"Please be assured we will resume the practice when we are able to do so."

Could be awhile.

Close Enough?

One of President Bush's best moments in his debates with Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) came in response to allegations that not enough troops were sent to Iraq.

"I remember sitting in the White House looking at those generals, saying: 'Do you have what you need in this war? Do you have what it takes?' " Bush said. "I remember going down to the basement of the White House the day we committed our troops, as a last resort, looking at [Gen.] Tommy Franks and the generals on the ground, asking them: Do we have the right plan with the right troop level? And they looked me in the eye and said, 'Yes, sir, Mr. President.' "

But our colleague Bob Woodward's best-selling book "Plan of Attack" recounts a meeting on Iraq in October 2002 that went somewhat differently.

Defense Secretary Donald H. "Rumsfeld wanted the chiefs to meet only with the president, without General Franks," Woodward writes. "The president asked the four service chiefs for their honest opinion. What did they think of the plan? Could each service do what was asked of it? . . . Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was the first to say that he was worried that the size of the attacking ground force might be too small. . . . He wondered if the supply system was agile and quick enough. . . . The army would be strung out over several hundred kilometers. Maintaining the supply lines could be difficult. Still, Shinseki said he supported the plan."

Well, that sounds kinda like longhand for "Yes, sir, Mr. President."