Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Harry Belafonte's Credibility Problem

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Belafonte, who has criticized President Bush, has said that he was invited [to speak at Coretta Scott King's funeral] but the invitation was rescinded at the insistence of the White House. Martin Luther King III, whose father was friends with Belafonte, denied that the White House was involved and said he considers the situation a mistake, the Chicago Defender reported.

''There was a big mix-up,'' King said. ''It certainly didn't have anything to do with President Bush being there.''

If he has any shred of evidence that the King family rescinded his invitation at the insistence of the White House, let's see it. If he thinks he can make baseless claims and smear the King family, he lacks integrity and is treating everyone listening like morons. (Maybe that's why so few are listening.)

Maybe he expects a free pass for being a celebrity. Nope. Sorry.

By the way, that doesn't make his music any less wonderful.

NY Times: Mexican border "a hotbed of contagion"

In bashing Bush, the New York Times makes a compelling case for closing the border. NY Times, April 11, 2000: Bush and Texas Have Not Set High Priority on Health Care, by Adam Clymer (emphasis mine)...

Texas has had one of the nation's worst public health records for decades. More than a quarter of its residents have no health insurance. Its Mexican border is a hotbed of contagion. The state ranks near the top in the nation in rates of AIDS, diabetes, tuberculosis and teenage pregnancy, and near the bottom in immunizations, mammograms and access to physicians.

That's something I haven't heard from even the most strident border-control advocates.

More, from page 3, same article, emphasis again mine:

As primitive as some conditions are on the United States side of the border, they are worse on the south. Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.6 million people across from El Paso, is just building its first two sewage treatment plants. Until now, a 17-mile open trench has been used for sewage disposal, and it pollutes the groundwater on both sides of the border.

Dr. Archer said Governor Bush had persuaded Mexican authorities to put money into tuberculosis control, a move they had resisted because the border states in Mexico are not nearly its poorest.

El Paso alone sees about 65 million legal border crossings a year. ''With this kind of a rate of crossings,'' Dr. Nickey said, ''you don't keep measles on one side of the border and chicken pox on the other.''

''We share the same air. We share the same water. We share the same pollution. We share the same hazardous waste.'' And because the border counties are a gateway to the rest of Texas and the rest of the country, he said, ''It's not just a border issue. it involves the whole United States.''

HT: John Leo, Townhall


Update: Fixed my botched quotes in the title. Sorry!

Blunder #2: Oops! I mis-read "...65 million legal border crossings a year..." That's not quite the same statement about disease and the border I originally thought they were making.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Is Jon Stewart Tucker Carlson's Monkey?

The Washington Post's Richard Morin: Jon Stewart, Enemy of Democracy?:

This is not funny: Jon Stewart and his hit Comedy Central cable show may be poisoning democracy.

Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart's faux news program, "The Daily Show," develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.

That's particularly dismaying news because the show is hugely popular among college students, many of whom already don't bother to cast ballots.

That recalls Jon Stewart's words to Tucker Carlson on Crossfire:

And I wanted to -- I felt that that wasn't fair and I should come here and tell you that I don't -- it's not so much that it's bad, as it's hurting America. But I wanted to come here today and say... Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.

I get a kick out of the Daily Show, and I really don't mind Stewart's fans dropping out. (Ok, I don't really want anyone just dropping out, but looking closer and thinking harder.)

But the Daily Show is comedy, entertainment. So this kind of becomes the age-old culture-war thing. What responsibility do performers (like musicians) have for their negative effect on society? After all, it's just entertainment. Lighten up! (Seems that argument is on its way home to roost.)

But with Stewart calling out Carlson like he did, Stewart kind of forfeits this defense anyway. After all, then he seemed to care about the country.

Makes me feel a little vindicated for my Daily Show scrutiny.

HT: Cap'n Ed


Update, 6/27: Matt Stoler at MyDD says Morin cherry picked the research. But he quotes this from the study:

Stewart's style of humor paints the complexities of politics as a function of the absurdity and incompetence of political elites, thus leading viewers to blame any lack of understanding not on themselves but on those who run the system.

That sure doesn't sound like a compliment to Daily Show fans. It makes them sound lazy, blame-shifting and self-satisfied.

Stoler quotes the study again:

The results indicate that the effect on internal efficacy is positive for The Daily Show and suggests that even though The Daily Show generates cynicism toward the media and the electoral process, it simultaneously makes young viewers more confident about their own ability to understand politics.

He reads that as a compliment, but I think it's just the opposite. Positive internal efficacy sounds like a polite way of saying more smug.

The study's abstract (cited by Stoler) spells out Morin's point pretty explicitly:

Although research indicates that soft news contributes to democratic citizenship in America by reaching out to the inattentive public, our findings indicate that The Daily Show may have more detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation.

Unless the study's authors themselves cherry-picked for their abstract, I'd say Morin got it right.

Further, Stoler says "I assumed there were some logical problems with his analysis..." Not that he found logical problems: he doesn't cite any. Instead, he assumed there were some. Sounds like his internal efficacy is way positive.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Scrutinizing Greg Palast

Greg Palast, African-American Soldiers Scrubbed by Secret GOP Hit List, 6/16/2006:

Palast: "Over one million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 race were never counted; over half a million absentee ballots were also rejected."

Pew Research's Briefing Solution or Problem? Provisional Ballots in 2004 (.pdf), pg 5: "Despite the controversy, provisional ballots could be considered a success. Over 1.6 million provisional ballots were cast and nearly 1.1 million, or 68 percent, were counted." By their raw data, 528,227 provisional ballots were rejected nation-wide.

Palast: "The extraordinary rise in the number of rejected ballots was the result of the widespread multi-state voter challenge campaign by the Republican Party."

USA Today, 10/10/2004: "After the 2000 election, the Census Bureau found that nearly 3 million people didn't vote because of registration issues."

So Palast's "extraordinary rise" is really over a five-fold drop from nearly 3 million to half a million.

Palast's "multi-state challenge campaign by the Republican Party"? Again, from USA Today (ibid):

Already, legal challenges to provisional voting procedures have been launched in five of the most hotly contested states in the presidential race: Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Colorado. Democrats or groups allied with them are seeking to block those states from throwing out votes not cast at a voter's home polling place. [Emphasis mine.]

The campaign was, in fact, a Democrat one.

Palast: "While the party insisted the lists were not created for the purpose to challenge Black voters, the GOP ultimately offered no other explanation for the mailings."

Mindy Tucker Fletcher, October 26, 2004, in response to Palast's original BBC story of 26 October, 2004: "the list was a listing of returned mail that came from a mailing that the Republican National Committee sent to new registrants in Duval County in Florida, encouraging newly registered Republicans, Democrats and Independents to vote Republican."

Palast has known of Fletcher's claim for 19 months. The claim is verifiable: if the list wasn't new registrants in Duval County, her lie on the record would be explosive. Instead he falsely claims "the GOP ultimately offered no other explanation," and relies on the reader's ignorance.

If I had more time, I'd compare the unverifiable parts of Palast's story to common features of conspiracy theories. I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

More Palast background: praised by Michael Moore: "Courageous reporting."

Hat-tip: Sewer Den

Update, 6/23: I'm suspicious of USA Today's 3 million number. It was the first such estimate I found reported at the time by the MSM. Even so, Palast has a long way to go to show his "extraordinary rise."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chicago Sight

A banner in the food court at Water Tower Place:

   Know right from wrong.

Good advice.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

TruthOut.org's Jason Leopold

Background: Leftie web-site TruthOut.org's reporter Jason Leopold falsely reports that Rove will be indicted.

Joe Lauria, in the Washington Post gives us a rare first-hand glimpse into Leopold's life and thinking: My Unwitting Role in the Rove 'Scoop'

... the supposed Truthout scoop by reporter Jason Leopold was wildly off the mark. It was but the latest installment in the tale of a troubled young reporter with a history of drug addiction whose aggressive disregard for the rules ended up embroiling me in a bizarre escapade -- and raised serious questions about journalistic ethics.

... Leopold says he gets the same rush from breaking a news story that he did from snorting cocaine. To get coke, he lied, cheated and stole. To get his scoops, he has done much the same. ... "Other journalists all whine about ethics, but that's a load of crap."

[After finding out that Leopold used his identity to get in touch with Rove's person:] I called Leopold. He gave me a profanity-filled earful, saying that he'd spoken to Corallo four times and that Corallo had called him to denounce the story after it appeared.

When he was done, I asked: "How would Corallo have gotten my phone number, one digit off?"

"Joe, I would never, ever have done something like that," Leopold said defiantly.

Except that he has done things like that. His memoir is full of examples. ...

Truthout's executive director, said last week that his site will "defer to the nation's leading publications" on the Rove story, but he declared his continuing faith in Leopold. ...

But even if he had gotten it right and scooped the world on a major story, his methods would still raise a huge question: What value does journalism have if it exposes unethical behavior unethically? Leopold seems to assume, as does much of the public, that all journalists practice deception to land a story. But that's not true.

After reading his memoir ... I think there's something else at play here. Leopold is in too many ways a man of his times. These days it is about the reporter, not the story; the actor, not the play; the athlete, not the game. Leopold is a product of a narcissistic culture that has not stopped at journalism's door, a culture facilitated and expanded by the Internet.

Not surprising that an "aggressive disregard for the rules" is one small step away from an equal disregard for the truth.

HT: Instapundit

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Chicago Sight (Kinda)

An electric fence. I don't see these too often.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

WaMu Ads: Leftist Caricature

Seen the Washington Mutual Bank (WaMu) ads? A pen full of stodgy bank executives, all white males (though later ads have one white woman and a black man among them). Amusing, but they ooze with leftist bigotry.

With the visuals, a caricature requires you to put words in others' mouths: E.g., "Exactly how does that help the rich get richer?" (from WaMu's own press release.)

The Sacrimento Bee: "Oh, I'm sure we'll hear from put-upon banking executives, claiming the ads reinforce stereotypes of bankers as mean, uncaring, rich snobs. Let's see 'em prove otherwise in court."

I'm sure they hold that same standard regarding African-Americans or Muslims. Riiiiight.

Also from the Sacrimento Bee:

The manipulative: Of course, Washington Mutual is a major banking institution with just as many corporate fat cats as any other financial firm (it was announced Wednesday that WaMu laid off 1,400 workers in Washington and Florida). ...

In other words, in reality they're indistinguishable from those they caricature. Good perspective.

Sure, others do stereotypes: Geek Squad stereotypes computer guys as major geeks. But they're not so loaded and the geeks are the heroes. That works, in my opinion. Others caricature their competition as negatively as they can: not the most enlightening advertising, but I suppose they have that right.

Here's my point: think about a caricature that does offend you. (How about the Amos and Andy Show?) Think hard about the essence of your problem with it. Reject double standards. Where does that leave you? For me, it means that you can't distort things as you see fit. Distortions hinder understanding.

What others say:

Full disclosure: I'm a white male, but I look and sound more like a Geek Squad guy than a stodgy old banker. (But let me double-check that with my wife.)

Monday, June 05, 2006

Is This Another China-Google Agreement?

The anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre's brought me back to Google's agreement to censor search results for China.

When the deal was announced in late January, bloggers LGF and The Colossus showed us the startling contrast between Google's censored and uncensored search results for "Tiananmen."

Now, five months later, Google's supposedly uncensored results seem very different. Pictures of the protests and violence, though present, are now interspersed with innocuous images that Chinese censors would approve. In fact, the top two images, and four of the top five, would appease Chinese censors.

Have these results been "google-bombed" (i.e., tampered with) since bloggers brought attention to it? Google Trends shows a big spike in Tiananmen searches, disproportionate to the news volume. Did blogs like LGF cause it? Curious that Hong Kong (now Chinese) ranks first among searchers.

But a closer look reveals that Google's SafeSearch feature makes the difference. See for yourself:

According to Google, SafeSearch "screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your search results." Clicking through Google's contact us link, I see Webmaster Guidelines, which in turn refer to Design/content/technical and quality guidelines. None of these suggest screening for political content, particularly linked to SafeSearch.

So what gives, Google? Don't be evil.


For ongoing reporting on Google's (and others') deals with China, see PajamasMedia's China Syndrome page. (Caution: it's long.)



Update, 6/5: It could be that someone is reporting top-ranked images as sexual content, but you'd think Google would review them to prevent a variety of abuses, including this kind.

Update 2, 6/5: Maybe this is some sort of low-tech google-bomb using Google's feedback. So Google wouldn't be aware of it yet. But my trust in Google is way down because of their China deal. How dilligently do I expect them to hold the line here against China, when I know they have at least one more agreement with China than they do with me?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Remembering Tiananmen

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which several hundred civilians were killed by the Chinese military. Perhaps as many as 2,000 people were killed. The BBC's summary:

Tanks rumbled through the capital's streets late on 3 June as the army moved into the square from several directions, randomly firing on unarmed protesters. ...

Demonstrators, mainly students, had occupied the square for seven weeks, refusing to move until their demands for democratic reform were met. ...

Early [the next] morning at least 30 more were killed in two volleys of gunfire, which came without warning. Terrified crowds fled, leaving bodies in the road.

Meanwhile reports have emerged of troops searching the main Peking university campus for ringleaders, beating and killing those they suspect of co-ordinating the protests. ...

Troops were used to clear the square despite repeated assurances from Chinese politicians that there would be no violence. ...

Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people were killed in the massacre, although it is unlikely a precise number will ever be known.

I recall many naively believing that the Chinese government (or military) wouldn't kill civilians. Here are a few New York Times headlines from that time.

Note WILLIAM SAFIRE, May 22, 1989: The Counter-Revolution: "The Chinese people, led by young idealists, have amazed themselves and thrilled the world by crying out for freedom in a great non-violent chorus; now Communist tyranny will try to demonstrate who is in charge."

Update, 6/5: A video memorial, "Not Settled," but not for the feint of heart. (HT: Instapundit.)

Friday, June 02, 2006

Chicago Sight: Midway's Dinosaur

The dinosaur at Chicago's Midway Airport.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Remember Hurricane Katrina

Remember the picture of mayhem and suffering the news media painted, and how wrong that picture really was.

Jonah Goldberg: "Katrina revealed ineptitude—of the press, that is."

... the Katrina [that Democrats] think they remember wasn’t the Katrina that actually took place. In fact, it is difficult to think of a bigger media scandal in my lifetime than the fraudulently inaccurate coverage of Hurricane Katrina. ...

Blacks did not die disproportionately, nor did the poor. The only group truly singled out in terms of mortality was the elderly.

Lou Dolinar, amid extensive detail, gives us this perspective:

Do you remember the dramatic TV footage of National Guard helicopters landing at the Superdome as soon as Katrina passed, dropping off tens of thousands saved from certain death? The corpsmen running with stretchers, in an echo of M*A*S*H, carrying the survivors to ambulances and the medical center? About how the operation, which also included the Coast Guard, regular military units, and local first responders, continued for more than a week?

Me neither. Except that it did happen, and got at best an occasional, parenthetical mention in the national media. The National Guard had its headquarters for Katrina, not just a few peacekeeping troops, in what the media portrayed as the pit of Hell. Hell was one of the safest places to be in New Orleans, smelly as it was. The situation was always under control, not surprisingly because the people in control were always there. ...

Let's try that again: The cavalry wasn't late. It didn't arrive on Thursday smoking a cigar and cussing. It was there all along. ...

Popular Mechanics summarizes the study just completing:

According to IPET’s Draft Final Report, New Orleans’ protections systems were nowhere near ready for the record waves and storm surge caused by Katrina. ...

Government or contractor negligence was not discovered. ...

Hat-tip: Instapundit


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