Posts tagged ‘National Guard’

Fake but Accurate -- Now Coming to the Hard Sciences

Most of us remember the famous "fake but accurate" defense of Dan Rather's story on GWB using forged National Guard documents.  If the post-modernism movement were to have an insignia, their tag line  (their "E. Pluribus Unum') could well be "fake but accurate." 

I have written for a while that post-modernism seems to be coming to the hard sciences (I differentiate the hard sciences, because the soft sciences like sociology or women's studies are already dominated by post-modernist thinking).  For example, I quoted this:

those of you who cling to scientific method, this is pretty bizarre
stuff. But she, and many others, are dead serious about it. If a
research finding could harm a class of persons, the theory is that
scientists should change the way they talk about that finding. Since scientific method is a way of building a body of knowledge based on skeptical testing, replication, and publication, this is a problem.The tight framework of scientific method mandates figuring out what would disprove the theory being tested and then looking for the disproof.
The thought process that spawned the scientific revolution was
inherently skeptical, which is why disciples of scientific method say
that no theory can be definitively and absolutely proved, but only
disproved (falsified). Hypotheses are elevated to the status of
theories largely as a result of continued failures to disprove the
theory and continued conformity of experimentation and observation with
the theory, and such efforts should be conducted by diverse parties.Needless to say postmodernist schools of thought and scientific method are almost polar opposites.

So here is today's example of fake but accurate in the sciences, not surprisingly also from climate science:

While the critic's advice - to use trained statisticians in studies
reliant on statistics - may seem too obvious to need stating, the
"science is settled" camp resists it. Mann's hockey-stick graph may be
wrong, many experts now acknowledge, but they assert that he
nevertheless came to the right conclusion.

To which the critics,
and doubtless others who want more rigourous science, shake their heads
in disbelief. They are baffled by the claim that the incorrect method
doesn't matter because the answer is correct anyway. With bad science, only true believers can assert that they nevertheless obtained the right answer.

A huge number of physicists and geologists who actually take the time to look into the details of climate science come away being shocked at the scholarship.  Take a world class physicist, drop him into a discussion of the details of the Mann hockey stick analysis, and in an hour you will have a skeptic.

Crazy?  Remember the words of from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) climate researcher and global warming action promoter, Steven Schneider:

have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements,
and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide
what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.

Proposal: No New Federal Funds to Louisiana

We have a federal system in this country, so Louisianans are welcome, I guess, to run their state any way they please.  However, in light of recent events, I propose that the US Government stop sending any of our federal tax money to the state.  Maybe we could send the money instead to a country with a better government that is more likely not to use it corruptly, like maybe Haiti.

All of this is in light of recent events.  I guess most will consider the 1991 gubernatorial election between a convicted felon and a Klansman old history (the felon won).  More recently I think anyone who isn't just looking to blame every problem in the world on GWB would come to the conclusion that local Louisiana government had more to do with the worst aspects of Katrina (both before, in the corrupt levee districts and after, in the pathetic disaster response) than any other public entity.  The final straw comes today as the Congressman who was found with $90,000 in bribe money in Tupperware in his freezer (and god knows whatever he carried off with the aid of the National Guard during Katrina) was apparently reelected. 

Maybe we can find a better investment than sending our money to Louisiana.  Anyone have any Enron stock for sale?

Bankrupcy of Advocacy Journalism

I have never been one to wade much into the whole "media bias" issue.  Whenever I have discussed it, my main point of view is that journalists of whatever political stripe tend to suspend necessary skepticism when writing about an issue they are really passionate about.  That is why advocacy journalism can yield such crap.  I have never once dug into a strong advocacy journalism piece and not found any number of "facts" to be without attribution and often to not even make any sense.

Most people have now heard the origins of the now-famous "million homeless families" non-statistic, which was reprinted over and over but has been admitted to have been just made up by a leading homeless advocate.  And lets not forget Mary Mapes, who proudly describes herself as an advocacy journalist, and her now famous use of forgeries in her Bush-National Guard reports, leading to the classic "Fake but Accurate" meme.  People who believe in a cause, whether it be homelessness or GWB's fundamental corruption, suspend skepticism for "facts" and "statistics" that fit their point of view on the subject.  Usually they will shrug off challenges to the fact, saying "well, it may not be exactly X but we know the problem is a really big number."  In other words, fake but accurate.

Angela Valdez has a nice analysis of one such advocacy journalism effort, in this case the Oregonian's over-one-hundred part series on the "meth epidemic".  For example, she writes:

On Feb. 20 of this year, columnist S. Renee Mitchell wrote, without
offering data to back up her claim: "The number of meth addicts"”and the
crimes they commit to support their habits"”is exploding."....

In fact, meth use during the past four years has either declined or
stayed flat, according to two major national drug-use studies. The
National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that meth use did not
increase at all from 2002 (two years before The Oregonian
started its carpet-bombing coverage) through 2004, the last year for
which there is data. The University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future
Study, which examines drug use among youth, actually shows a decline in meth use among high-school students from 1999 to 2005....

Despite The Oregonian's reliance on this figure, there is no good evidence that meth causes 85 percent of the property crimes in Oregon.

Portland State University criminology professor Kris Henning
says the number just doesn't make sense. Department chair Annette Jolin
says the unsupportable statistic has become "something of a joke"among
statistical researchers in the department.

For one thing, Oregon property crimes are much lower than they
were 10 or even 20 years ago, the time period of the supposed meth

"If meth causes property offenses, and meth use has gone up,"
Henning says, "then property offenses should have gone up. And they
haven't. It's either that, or all the people who commit property crimes
have disappeared and been replaced by a small number of meth users."

I looked at the silliness of meth hysteria statistics here.  But my point is that this is not a meth issue - this is an advocacy journalism issue.  You could write the same article challenging any number of articles in the paper every day.

PS-  But on the subject of meth, I will make one prediction:  I predict that the meth hysteria will do more to create legislation and police practices that will undermine civil liberties than did 9/11.  In fact, much of the Patriot Act is already used more to fight the drug war than to fight terrorism.

Birth of a Meme

Its not very often that you can tell, right at birth, that a new meme or catchphrase has been created, but General Honore's "Your Stuck on Stupid" seems to be such a case.  Radio Blogger has the context and transcript.  I will quote the key part, but its good to read the whole thing. 

The General had been trying to explain the evacuation approach so the press could get the message out to citizens who needed to know where to go.  Actually, the mayor had been trying to do that first, but was getting eaten alive by a press who were less interested in getting information out on the new storm than with scoring points** about the last storm. Both the mayor and the general kept getting peppered with questions like "why didn't we do that last time" and "That didn't work before".  At this point, General Honore was clearly frustrated with reporters who wanted to have a political finger pointing discussion when he was trying to communicate evacuation information.  So then there was this:

Honore: ...Right now, to handle the number of people that want to leave, we've got the
capacity. You will come to the convention center. There are soldiers there from
the 82nd Airborne, and from the Louisiana National Guard. People will be told to
get on the bus, and we will take care of them. And where they go will be
dependent on the capacity in this state. We've got our communications up. And
we'll tell them where to go. And when they get there, they'll be able to get a
chance, an opportunity to get registered, and so they can let their families
know where they are. But don't start panic here. Okay? We've got a location. It
is in the front of the convention center, and that's where we will use to
migrate people from it, into the system.

Male reporter: General Honore, we were told
that Berman Stadium on the west bank would be another staging area...

Honore: Not to my knowledge. Again, the current
place, I just told you one time, is the convention center. Once we complete the
plan with the mayor, and is approved by the governor, then we'll start that in
the next 12-24 hours. And we understand that there's a problem in getting
communications out. That's where we need your help. But let's not confuse the
questions with the answers. Buses at the convention center will move our
citizens, for whom we have sworn that we will support and defend...and we'll
move them on. Let's not get stuck on the last storm. You're asking last storm
questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don't get stuck
on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward. And don't confuse the people
please. You are part of the public message. So help us get the message straight.
And if you don't understand, maybe you'll confuse it to the people. That's why
we like follow-up questions. But right now, it's the convention center, and move

Male reporter: General, a little bit more about
why that's happening this time, though, and did not have that last time...

Honore: You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going
to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public
information that people are depending on the government to put out. This is the
way we've got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let's talk about the
future. Rita is happening. And right now, we need to get good, clean information
out to the people that they can use. And we can have a conversation on the side
about the past, in a couple of months.

Awesome.  The press does a great job, and I couldn't do what I do as a blogger without them gathering the basic facts on which I comment***.  However, I think a lot of people are tired of their self-righteous shtick.

**  While I am convinced that reporters seem more interested in scoring points in these press conferences than obtaining facts (have you ever watched a White House press briefing?), it is interesting to ask "score points with whom?"  With each other?  With CSPAN viewers?  Are either of these really a sustainable constituency?

***  Vodkapundit has a great analysis that I think is dead-on about the NY Times putting their editorial copy behind a paid firewall.  The WSJ charges for news, but puts out opinions for free.  The NY Times does the opposite. 

Look. I usually suspect any New York Times story to be biased - but I can
expect it to be researched and fact-checked. And in this day and age, I can rely
on some smart blogger somewhere to tell me exactly what the NYT got wrong. But
what I can't expect blogs to do - at least not yet - is to do the dreary,
day-in-day-out work of getting the news in the first place. For all its faults,
the MSM is still far better than blogs at reporting.

Given all that, do recent decisions at the New York Times make any sense?
They're forcing people to pay for opinions they can get most anywhere else for
free, while cutting back on doing the one thing they can still do better than
anyone else.

Another Take on Disasters and Government

I gave my take on why this Katrina disaster does not somehow validate statist technocracy, as has been argued, here and here.  I am willing to admit that Colby Cosh says it better:

So let's just recap briefly, shall we? We've got a million or so human beings
living in a low-lying area created in the first place by government engineers.
The local government of New Orleans, apprised of an approaching storm, summarily
orders everybody out of the city about 36 hours too late without lifting a
finger to provide the means to do so. At the last minute it occurs to somebody
to herd those left behind into a large government-built structure, the
Superdome; no supplies are on hand for its inhabitants, and the structure itself
is rendered--according to the government's assessment--permanently useless. Even
though the storm misses the city, government-built levees fail in unforeseen and
catastrophic ways. Many of the New Orleans cops opportunistically quit their
jobs, many more simply fail to show up for work, others take the lead in looting
supplies from storm-stricken neighbourhoods, and just a few have the notable
good grace to shoot themselves in the head. The federal government announces
that assistance is on its way, sometime; local and state authorities--who have
the clear-cut burden of "first response" under federal guidelines nobody seems
to have read--beg for the feds to hurry up while (a) engaging in bureaucratic
pissing-matches behind the scenes and (b) making life difficult for the private
agencies who are beating the feds to the scene. Eventually the federal
government shows up with the National Guard, and to the uniform indignation and
surprise of those who have been screaming for it, the Guard turns out to have a
troubling tendency to point weapons in the general direction of civilians and
reporters. I'm not real clear on who starts doing what around mid-week, but the
various hydra-heads of government start developing amusing hobbies; confiscating
guns from civilians, demanding that photographers stop documenting the aftermath
of America's worst natural disaster in a century, enforcing this demand by
seizing cameras at gunpoint, shutting down low-power broadcasting stations in
shelters, and stealing supplies from relief agencies and private citizens. In
the wake of all this, there is probably no single provision of the U.S.
Constitution left untrampled, the Posse Comitatus Act appears destined for a
necktie party, and the 49% of Americans who have been complaining for five years
about George W. Bush being a dictator are now vexed to the point of utter
incoherence because for the last fortnight he has failed to do a sufficiently
convincing impression of a dictator.