Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Photo captions and MSM fact-checkers

John Hinderaker spots a familiar type of error in ABC's reporting:
Today, ABC News reports on the story. They get off on the wrong foot with a picture of Miss USA, Rachel Smith, just after she slipped and fell down during the evening gown competition. The photo has an erroneous caption by the Associated Press:
Monday was a rough night for Miss USA Rachel Smith. After being booed by the crowd during the interview portion of the Miss Universe pageant, she fell during the evening gown competition.

Actually, as I described here, the evening gown competition preceded the interviews; only the final five contestants answered a question. So the AP got this simple fact sequence wrong, even though the event was observed by many millions of people.

This is similar to the Lebanon fauxtography scandals in which, among other things, photos were given false captions.  It seems that MSM caption writers often know no more about the subject than what they see in the photo.

American Spirit

Flight 327 was the one where 13 Syrians, 12 of them on expired visas, acted suspiciously, including such activities as rushing toward th cockpit only to veer off at the last moment, raising the attention of passengers, flight attendents, and air marshals. Their strange activities, which appeared to be a dry run for a terror attack, were repeated on other flights. Under a FOIA request from the Washington Times, the redacted OIG report (pdf) on this flight has been released. The report contains little new information on the suspicious activity but does expose the confusion and miscommunications among our law enforcement agencies. In contrast with our government's keystone cops routine, the report makes the private US citizen on the flight seem admirable. Consider the activities of just one anonymous man who noticed what was going on and made himself ready if needed:
One of the non-suspicious passengers stood in

this area, arms crossed, staring down the aisle

for most of the flight. At the time, Passenger 4

said that she thought this was an air marshal,

but later learned that this individual was a

passenger who took it upon himself to stand

The spirit of Todd Beamer and Flight 93 remains alive.

American Ostriches points out that there is no proof that the Syrians were engaged in a dry-run for a terror attack. It is true that we have no proof that would stand up in a court of law that they went back to Syria to report on what they learned about US air security procedures. Our inability to monitor private conversations in Syria does not mean that we should not be suspicious, however. Further, some of the claims made in's article are contradicted by the OIG report. For example, snopes includes a quote claiming that there was only one concerned passenger and that she overreacted: "the passenger was worried, not the flight crew or the federal air marshals."  We now know that there were several concerned passengers and the flight crew apparently did not think that they were overreacting, as in this quote from the OIG report:

The flight attendants first notified the air marshals of suspicious actions at 12:53 PM, 20 minutes after the flight departed DTW. [redacted] eight Middle Eastern males were changing seats. About 14:00 (1 1/2 hours into the flight), a flight attendant notified another air marshal regarding the suspicious behavior. [redacted] and directed them to inform the captain.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cindy Sheehan discovers the Democrat's real agenda

CBS/AP report:
When she had first taken on Bush, Sheehan was a darling of the liberal left. “However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the 'left' started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used,” she wrote.
Yes, many Democrats who are now "anti-war" were happy and enthusiastic about bombing Iraq when Bill Clinton was president. When Cindy Sheehan was attacking Republicans, liberals in the MSM were eager to assign to her "absolute moral authority." However, when she attacked Democrats, they decided that she was no longer newsworthy. (To be fair, her "newsworthiness" did seem to drop after she declared that she wanted US troops out of "occupied New Orleans.")

Even though Geo. Bush gave many speeches outlining his strategy for the middle-east, Democrats will still claim that they haven't heard his rationale or that his rationale is changing Democratic presidential candidates shift positions as the political winds shift. All of this indicates that "anti-war" Democrats have a strong interest in power but frightening little interest in offering rational contributions to the debate about what policies would be good for America.

Venezuela moves to close another TV station

Pres. Hugo Chavez is now aiming to close a second opposition TV station, Globovision. RCTV was closed just hours ago. His claim is that the background music played during a report on a 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II proves that the station was intended to incite violence against Chavez:
Seizing on the momentum of RCTV's closure, Communications Minister Willian Lara presented a case to the state prosecutor's office saying experts hired by the ministry had found that opposition broadcaster Globovision was inciting assassination attempts on Chavez.

As evidence, he cited Globovision showing footage of an assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in 1981 accompanied by the song "This Does Not Stop Here," sung by Ruben Blades, now Panama's minister of tourism.

"The conclusion of the specialists ... is that (in this segment) they are inciting the assassination of the president of Venezuela," Lara told reporters at the prosecutor's office

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Forces of history vs. Forces of man

You probably had a history teacher who explained that history is governed by large powerful forces. For example, he would explain, if Adolph Hitler had not been born, it would not have mattered: another dictator would simply have taken his place. Liberals, like that history teacher, believe their world is governed by these large impersonal forces, not individuals. I think that this is an important reason why Democrats have had such a hard time accepting that JFK was assassinated by a lone nut-case rather than some large powerful conspiracy. If JFK had been killed by a vast mafia-Cuban-CIA-Corporatist conspiracy, that would fit their ideas over the battle of historical forces. To have him killed by a 24-year old Lee Harvey Oswald would be an insult to their view of the world order.

Consequently, many are likely to be unhappy that Vincent Bugliosi has written a massive (1,600 pages plus notes on CD) book on the JFK assassination which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The New York Times, in its review of the book, writes:

Bugliosi is refreshing because he doesn’t just pick apart the conspiracy theorists. He ridicules them, and by name, writing that “most of them are as kooky as a $3 bill.” Bugliosi calls the dean of conspiracy buffs, Mark Lane, “unprincipled” and “a fraud.” He quotes Harold Weisberg, the author of eight conspiracy-themed books, admitting that after 35 years of research, “much as it looks like Oswald was some kind of agent for somebody, I have not found a shred of evidence to support it.”
On the other hand, some will likely maintain that Bugliosi and the NY Times are in on the conspiracy....

Time: where even the good news is bad

In Time magazine, Joe Klein writes on possible progress in Iraq. Of course, he has to spin it like progress would be bad for Geo. Bush:
It's not impossible that the Iraqis will eventually remove the al-Qaeda cancer from the Sunni insurgency—which would put a serious crimp in President George W. Bush's current rationale for the war, that we're there to fight al-Qaeda.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Global Warming update

Sen. Inhofe has collected a long list (also available in pdf) of scientists who were early backers of global warming but who now express caution.

Separately, Prof. August H. Auer, a prominent and colorful atmospheric scientist, has attacked misguided belief in global warming.

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Profiles in Followership

From James Tarato's BotW:

Yesterday Russ Feingold once again urged the Senate to vote for surrender in Iraq, and the Senate once again balked. The vote on "cloture"--i.e., to allow a vote on the measure itself--was 29-67, with 60 "aye" votes required for approval. Every Democratic senator with presidential aspirations voted for cloture, including New York's Hillary Clinton, as the Washington Post reports:

[Mrs. Clinton] has long opposed setting a withdrawal date. But she voted for the Feingold measure as a message to Bush. Later, she sought to distance herself from the amendment by stressing its procedural nature, though when pressed by reporters, she acknowledged that she supports the Feingold proposal. Still, she said, "I'm not going to speculate on what I'm going to be voting on in the future."

To sum up: She opposes it, she voted for it to send a message, she distanced herself from it, she supports it, and she's not going to speculate about what she's going to do in the future.

Leaders lead. Followers follow.

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Can you solve this "paradox"?

In the Financial Times, Richard Tomkins investigates a "paradox":
So, we come back to imprisonment. But now we have a paradox. Crime is falling, yet we are locking more people up. Why?
The answer, of course, is that for every year a criminal spends in prison is a year in which he is not committing crimes against innocent people. Since criminals reportedly commit an average of 140 crimes per year, increased imprisonment has a major effect on crime rates. The only question is why is it that liberals consider this obvious point to be a "paradox"?

PREVIOUSLY on the subject of crime and its causes:

Criminal Logic and

Group Guilt.

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Safe or correct?

The conflict between common sense and the culture of political correctness was overcome by the Circuit City employee who viewed the Fort Dix Jihadists' video tapes and asked his co-worker:
"Dude, I just saw some really weird s-," he frantically told his co-worker. "I don't know what to do. Should I call someone or is that being racist?"

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Sentence first, trial later

Joe Malchow notes that it is conservatives at Duke who opposed the 88 Duke faculty members who made race-based attacks on the Duke lacrosse players. He wonders why liberals are not similarly outraged:
There is nothing distinctly liberal about accusing an entire class of students of being racist would-be rapists. In fact, to do that is entirely reactionary, and indicative of the use of unthinking heuristic ideology that academics purport to detest. But because students with well meaning liberal sympathies so often allow progressivism to be radically redefined by their professors, it tends to fall to campus conservatives to parry outrages like that perpetrated by the Group of 88.
Incidentally, the architecture of East Germany's Stasi secret police buildings is now on display.

With nearly 90,000 official workers and 170,000 unofficial collaborators investigating a mere 16 million people, the Stasi shows what happens when the liberal 'political correctness' instinct is combined with the institutional power of a socialist government.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Pro crime

A task force of 6 government agencies broke up a sex slave ring in Minneapolis with arrest warrants for 25 of the ring's leaders. The ring was associated with at least one murder. The left, however, is upset:

The arrests at the Bloomington Avenue apartment sparked a protest there Saturday.

One immigrant advocate said as many as 200 people stopped to watch the bust when the word got out that immigration agents were in the heavily Latino area.

No one was sure what was happening - and officials weren't saying, said Alondra Espejel of the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network.

Arresting people on criminal charges is one thing, Espejel said. But provoking fear and chaos is another.

"What I'm worried about is terrorizing an immigrant community on a Saturday afternoon, when it's family time, when it's down time," she said.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chavez will brook no opposition

From Reuters:
CARACAS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday denounced President Hugo Chavez's plans to close an opposition television channel, accusing their leader of maiming Venezuelan democracy as he forges a socialist state.
It seems that socialists find criticism unacceptable. In the US, there are activists who want to silence, for example, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News but they have never obtained Chavez's level of power.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Missile Defense

Jointly with the US, Israel is currently working on three missile defense systems: Arrow missiles, David's Sling, and THAAD. David's Sling intercepts medium range missiles while THAAD is the Theater High-Altitude Area Defense system. For Israel, enemy missile threats are a clearly real. Missile defense seems to have the support of people, such as the Israelis, who feel threatened by missile attack. It is opposed by those who do the threatening and by Democrats.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fact Checking at MSNBC

MSNBC gets confused: a reporter quotes from a "press release" on a hate-Bush parody site as if it was an official White House press release. To his credit, show host Chris Mathews does not fall for it.

RELATED: PBS Frontline appears to have failed to check its facts.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Do words have meaning?

Sen. Obama was interviewed on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos":
STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also said that with Social Security, everything should be on the table.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising the retirement age?

OBAMA: Everything should be on the table.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Raising payroll taxes?

OBAMA: Everything should be on the table. I think we should approach it the same way Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan did back in

1983. They came together. I don't want to lay out my preferences beforehand, but what I know is that Social Security is solvable. It is not as difficult a problem as we're going to have with Medicaid and Medicare.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Partial Privatization?

OBAMA: Privatization is not something that I would consider

So, "everything" is on the table but not "everything" is on the table?

The contradiction exists only for those who follow the rules of logic. Without such arbitrary limits, one can interpret the first statement that "everything is on the table" to be an emotional statement which meaning 'we Democrats like to think of ourselves as open-minded problem solvers.' The statement that "privatization" is off the table is interpreted through a complex history: Although previously advocated by Pres. Clinton, privatization is now associated with Pres. Bush and therefore emotionally unacceptable. The contradiction vanishes.

Via BotW.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Experiments show morality is is biological, not rational

We humans normally like to think of ourselves as reasoned, rational beings. Scientists are finding that our keenly felt sense of right and wrong is controlled by the wiring of our pre-frontal cortex. The Wall Street Journal reports (subscribers only) on experiments at Harvard, Cal Tech, and USC:
Knock out certain brain cells with an aneurysm or a tumor, they discovered, and while everything else may appear normal, the ability to think straight about some issues of right and wrong has been permanently skewed. "It tells us there is some neurobiological basis for morality," said Harvard philosophy student Liane Young, who helped to conceive the experiment.

In particular, these people had injured an area that links emotion to cognition, located in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex several inches behind the brow. The experiment underscores the pivotal part played by unconscious empathy and emotion in guiding decisions. "When that influence is missing," said USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, "pure reason is set free." ....

At the University of Iowa Hospital, the researchers singled out six middle-age men and women who had injured the same neural network in the prefrontal cortex. On neuropsychological tests, they seemed normal. They were healthy, intelligent, talkative, yet also unkempt, not so easily embarrassed or so likely to feel guilty, explained lead study scientist Michael Koenigs at the National Institutes of Health. They had lived with the brain damage for years but seemed unaware that anything about them had changed.

To analyze their moral abilities, Dr. Koenigs and his colleagues used a diagnostic probe as old as Socrates -- leading questions: To save yourself and others, would you throw someone out of a lifeboat? Would you push someone off a bridge, smother a crying baby, or kill a hostage?

All told, they considered 50 hypothetical moral dilemmas. Their responses were essentially identical to those of neurology patients who had different brain injuries and to healthy volunteers, except when a situation demanded they take one life to save others. For most, the thought of killing an innocent prompts a visceral revulsion, no matter how many other lives weigh in the balance. But if your prefrontal cortex has been impaired in the same small way by stroke or surgery, you would feel no such compunction in sacrificing one life for the good of all.

That morality is biological, not rational, helps explain politics. While you may believe that the other side is unreasonable and completely wrong, it might just be that their brains are wired a little differently.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Fear of Change

Global warming is normally advocated by people who see it as a looming apocalypse. Spiegel outlines the non-hysterical view in which global warming, if it continues, might make the Earth a better place.

As an historical note, the scientist who invented the planetary greenhouse concept, Nobel prize winner Svante Arrhenius, saw global warming as beneficial to mankind.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

In Europe, left and right mean something different

Margaret Thatcher was likely closer to a US-style conservative than any other recent European leader. Look at British political parties have bobbed and weaved on these issues since:
The tendency of postwar British governments has been to unravel the policies of their predecessors. Tony Blair broke with that tradition. He endorsed most of the economic reforms implemented by the Conservatives from 1979 to 1997, even proclaiming himself an heir to the Thatcher legacy. It is a measure of Mr. Blair's success that the current Tory leader, David Cameron, feels compelled to distance himself from Lady Thatcher to differentiate himself from New Labour.
To the extent that "left" and "right" in Europe have any meaning, they certainly mean something different than in the US.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Culture of Corruption Update

Stephen Spruiell points out that Nancy Pelosi sponsored a bill to improve the neighborhood around her husband's real estate investments and did this apparently without following House disclosure requirements. Separately, the Wall Street Journal outlines the UN's defense of corruption. Sen. Feinstein appears to have steered $600 million in defense contracts to her husband's company.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The scandal at the World Bank

Bret Stephens explains how the World Bank protects itself against those who might publicize its wrong doings.

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A breeding ground for terrorists

The AP reports today on 6 men charged with plotting to attack Fort Dix with RPGs:
FORT DIX, N.J. (AP) - Six Islamic militants from Yugoslavia and the Middle East were arrested on charges of plotting to attack the Fort Dix Army base and "kill as many soldiers as possible," authorities said Tuesday. ....

One suspect reportedly spoke of using rocket-propelled grenades to kill at least 100 soldiers at a time, according to court documents.

"If you want to do anything here, there is Fort Dix and I don't want to exaggerate, and I assure you that you can hit an American base very easily," suspect Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer said in a conversation last August that was secretly recorded by a government informant, according to the criminal complaint against him. ....

Christie said one of the suspects worked at Super Mario's Pizza in nearby Cookstown and delivered pizzas to the base, using that opportunity to scout out a possible attack. ....

Officials said four of the men were born in the former Yugoslavia, one in Jordan and one in Turkey. All had lived in the United States for years. Three were in the United States illegally; two had green cards allowing them to stay in this country permanently; the other is a U.S. citizen.

[emphasis added]
So there you have it: Bill Clinton's invasion of Yugoslavia has turned that country, quite peaceful under Tito, into a breeding ground for terrorists. A decade later our troops are still there: it is a quagmire. Will Sen. Reid and Rep. Murtha call for an immediate withdrawal before the situation worsens?

UPDATE: The Clinton connections gets stronger: one of the six, Agron Abdullahu -- a trained sniper, was brought to America in 1999 under a program for Albanian refugees of the Yugoslavian conflict.

Monday, May 07, 2007

When terrorists attack, there is only one thing to do

730 cars were torched last night in Paris and 78 policemen were injured in the clashes.

There is no word yet on whether Sen. Reid will call for French forces to withdraw from Paris. Also, will Rep. Murtha, noted military strategist, call for French forces to be redeployed to Okinawa?

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Where the French revolution went wrong

When the French revolution started, Thomas Jefferson hoped that France would become a democracy on the American example while Alexander Hamilton feared that the revolution would lead to anarchy and chaos. Both were partly right: the revolution was a violent as Hamilton feared but, after a long while, a democracy of sorts emerged. The French democracy that did emerge, however, was more Hamiltonian, with centralized power, than Jeffersonian with local power, as summarized by Michel Gurfinkiel:
But what really undermines France as a democracy is the constitution behind the constitution: that is, the role played by the non-elected state bureaucracy. As Chauvel puts it:
What used to be said of Prussia—other states have armies, but Prussia is an army that owns a state—applies to France today, with a slight difference. Other countries may have a state bureaucracy, but France is a state bureaucracy that owns a country.
Statism in France is hardly a new issue. Tocqueville devoted a book, The Old Regime and the Revolution, to the subject. He contended that the 1789 revolution, for all its upheavals and radicalism, had ended by reinforcing rather than destroying the monarchical nature of the French state; everything still revolved around the central power and its hierarchically organized agencies. And bureaucratic statism was to play an even more pervasive role in the late 19th and especially in the 20th century.
The rest of the article describes the current state of France with its stagnant salaries, high unemployment, and social unrest. The title of Mr. Gurfinkiel's article is "Can France be Saved?" He is not optimistic.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Racism in the Ivy League

Prof. Justin Wolfers of Wharton studied basketball from 1991 through 2004 and claims that referees displayed a racial bias. James Taranto notes how Prof. Wolfers himself views race:

'Opposite Race'

Here's a little something that rankled us about that NBA study (link in PDF):

We find that--even conditioning on player and referee fixed effects (and specific game fixed effects)--that more personal fouls are awarded against players when they are officiated by an opposite-race officiating crew than when officiated by an own-race refereeing crew.

That's from the abstract. The phrase "opposite race" appears 31 times in the paper itself (including as a hyphenated antecedent adjective but excluding table headings). And it turns out these guys didn't invent the term. A Google search turns up nearly 50,000 pages, some of which are from other academic studies.

Are we alone in thinking it invidious to refer to blacks and whites as "opposite races"? True, the colors black and white are opposites (to be precise, each is either the absence or presence of all colors, depending on whether the reference is to pigmentation or light). But if you're "black" or "white" and you look in the mirror, what you see will be either a shade of brown or a sort of pinkish light beige.

It seems likely that the phrase "opposite race" is an analogy to "opposite sex." But men and women really are opposites, at least as far as sex goes. And whereas both sexes need each other to carry on the species, mankind has no need for either a white or a black race. China has 1.3 billion people, most of whom are neither "black" nor "white."

Here's what's really problematic about this analogy, though: Opposite sexes imply that certain social roles can be filled only by one sex or the other. Only a man can be a father, husband, brother or uncle; only a woman can be a mother, wife, sister or aunt.

Are there any roles that can be filled only by someone black or someone white? Not that we can think of, but there used to be. In America, it was once the case that only a black person could be a slave; and, by and large, only a white person could be a master. Sex roles are compatible with the equal dignity and humanity of both sexes; there is nothing inherently superior or inferior about a mother as opposed to a father, or an uncle as opposed to an aunt. Needless to say, the relationship between master and slave is in a different category altogether.

It's hard to see how the idea that blacks and whites are "opposite races" is anything other than a throwback to white supremacy. The use of this phrase in scholarly papers may tell us something unlovely about the racial attitudes that prevail in academia.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Blogs, links and liberal groupthink

There is a controversy on now in which liberals are claiming that any link by a blog is an implied endorsement unless the blogger explicitly states otherwise. Apparently liberals do not expect to follow a link without knowing in advance whether they should agree with the link or not. By contrast, many conservative blogs, prominently Instapundit link to items that are interesting and leave it to the reader to reach his own opinion.

On this blog, a link is only a link.

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T. S. Eliot explains liberal-think

A letter to the WSJ today quotes T. S. Eliot on those who 'struggle' to do good:

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) certainly anticipated the liberationists and libertarians of the 1970s and beyond to this day, when he opined: "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm -- but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves." And a pity it is how quickly and thoughtlessly so many slavishly succumb to the siren song of the self-anointed do-gooders.

Jack Lochrie

Farmington Hills, Mich.

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