Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"A Trip Down Memory Lane" with Evan Coyne Maloney

Hat tip to Power Line.

Maloney provides a series of archival video clips he collected from various anti-Bush protests.  The video helps provide some needed perspective as the Left decries the violent tendencies of the Tea Party movement and such.  Be forewarned of protest signs featuring f-bombs, swastikas and such.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Russia hit by Islamic suicide bombers?

I'd have used the headline "Russia hit by radical Islamic suicide bombers?" except it seemed redundant.
No group immediately took responsibility for the blasts but suspicion is likely to fall on groups from Russia's North Caucasus, where the Kremlin is fighting a growing Islamist insurgency.
If I remember my American progressive talking points correctly, the Russians should cut the Caucasus loose and forget about it.  You can't fight an insurgency.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Was PolitiFact's Pulitzer deserved? Pt. 7

The fact-check site PolitiFact was awarded its 2008 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting based on 13 submissions to the Pulitzer committee.  In this post I evaluate the sixth of the submissions based on hinted-at guidelines for judgment of journalism's highest standards such as accuracy and fairness.

The seventh story concerns Barack Obama's birth certificate, and there is much to like in the story written by Amy Hollyfield.  Hollyfield includes information that serves to correct bad information on quite a few points and for the most part communicates the information concisely.  I'm inclined to grade the entry favorably but with a few caveats.

The version of the story posted at the Pulitzer site does not rate the truth of any particular claim.  If Hollyfield was testing the claim that Obama was born in Hawaii, then the case is reasonably settled in the affirmative.  If, however, the entry was intended to put an end to all reasonable questions associated with Obama's birth certificate, then the story fails in that task.  The version of the story posted at carries no Truth-O-Meter rating for a particular claim, either, for what that's worth.

My first caveat concerns a minor issue of fairness:
It started as a whisper, a trickle of nagging doubt.

"As a concerned citizen, I'm wondering if there isn't something fishy going on with the Obama certificate."

"I have serious doubts about the purported 'birth certificate' you were sent."

"Something doesn't smell right."

Soon, e-mails and blog posts were flying. As the pace quickened, the tone sharpened.

"You should be apologizing ... for your misinformation regarding BO bogus birth certificate, that you claimed was genuine!"

At full throttle, the accusations are explosive and unrelenting, the writers emboldened by the anonymity and reach of the Internet.

And you can't help but ask: How do you prove something to people who come to the facts believing, out of fear or hatred or maybe just partisanship, that they're being tricked?
It isn't the responsibility of reporters to prove anything.  All they need to do is report.  It isn't even obligatory--to the contrary--for a reporter to muse in print regarding the motives of those who might doubt their stories.  The story could have done without that last paragraph, and in particular could have done without "out of fear or hatred or maybe just partisanship."  It wasn't needed, and to some extent feeds the notion that Republicans generally fear and hate Obama, some to the extent that they glom on to doubts about his citizenship.

My second caveat comes from the first and third quotations.  There is something fishy going on with Obama's birth certificate and it doesn't smell quite right.  But Hollyfield's story doesn't mention it at all.

Fishy:  Obama released a Hawaiian "Certification of Live Birth," but has never released a copy of his Hawaiian "Certificate of Live Birth."  The latter provides more information than the former.  That the campaign has not released it in the face of the types of questions mentioned in the PolitiFact story is somewhat hard to explain unless the more detailed document has information on it that Obama would prefer to keep private.  Or  unless the state of Hawaii will not give a copy of it to anybody at all including Mr. Obama.  Assuming Obama is hiding information, it might involve something mundane like listing the president's name as "Barak Hussein Muhammed Obama."

What specific information might the certificate include?  That is uncertain, as Hawaii apparently had a number of methods available to officially record the birth of a child.  Find an example of one "Certificate of Live Birth" from near newborn Obama's time here.  Compare it with the image of Obama's "Certification of Live Birth" linked on the Pulitzer site version of the PolitiFact story.

Caveats aside, I can grade Hollyfield's effort a 7 on a 0-10 scale where 10 represents the highest standards of journalism and therefore slightly Pulitzer-recommended if taken merely as a fact-check of whether Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

As a fact-check of the fishiness surrounding the overall record of Obama's birth, I'd give Hollyfield a 5.  But I'll grant benefit of the doubt and regard the story in the former light.

March 27, 2010: Reworded the first sentence of the third paragraph for clarity, and added a sentence to the third-to-last paragraph. 
Feb. 3, 2011:  Revised language that refers to the subject matter as the sixth story from PolitiFact's Pulitzer list.  Mishandling of file folder resulted in the loss of the original evaluation of the sixth story and the subsequent misidentification of the seventh story as the sixth.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Objective journalism

While knocking around the discussion board at the Center For Inquiry (a site for humanists and skeptics where folks like me who disagree on lots of stuff are mostly welcome), I ran across a thread bemoaning changes to educational standards wrought by a Texas board.

There was talk that wascally Texas conservatives had edited Thomas Jefferson out of the history books.  That report seemed like an exaggeration, so I had to investigate.  Sure enough, it was an exaggeration.  The board has no direct power to edit textbooks.  The change in question occurred to a world history standard where Thomas Jefferson was removed from a list of political writers who contributed to the revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The New York Times had an informative, if biased, account of the proceedings.  I found part of it remarkable:
Even the course on world history did not escape the board’s scalpel.

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)
That bit about Jefferson was apparently extrapolated by some into a general ban on the mention of Jefferson.  But the part that particularly caught my eye was the part in parentheses.  Conservatives on the board supposedly do not care so much for Jefferson because he coined the term "separation between church and state."

I know a thing or two about the workings of journalism.  Journalists, as a rule, tend to defer to experts for the communication of key truths in their news reporting.  A journalist will tend to either quote an acceptable expert source directly or offer a paraphrase of information acquired from that type of source.  The paraphrase is typically accompanied by mention of the source so that the reader is not left to simply trust the reporter for the veracity of the information.

That enmity between the board's conservatives and Thomas Jefferson has no apparent source apart from the reporter.  Curious, I e-mailed the author, James C. McKinley Jr., to inquire about his source:
Mr. McKinley,

I was intrigued by a parenthetical claim from your recent story on the Texas school textbook controversy:

(Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

What the basis for this claim?  Is it common knowledge?  The product of the set of interviews with conservatives on the board?  Or perhaps even the opinion of an expert source you interviewed?

I'm trying to figure out how to view the sentence as an objective statement of fact as discovered by the methods of a journalist.  Thanks in advance for any assistance you can render.
No response from McKinley thus far.  He must be busy.  Or maybe I seemed excessively rude.  Maybe I'll send a message to the NYT public editor, Clark Hoyt.

Pelosi: Pass the bill to find out what's in it?

Over the past week or so, quite a few conservative pundits have taken a whack at Nancy Pelosi over the following statement:  "(W)e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."
Recently a Salem Radio Network news segment stated that Pelosi's statement had been taken out of context, and that finding out what is in the bill was, in effect, receiving the benefits of the bill.  Salem carries primarily conservative and evangelical radio programming, so a claim of this type carries weight automatically since it runs counter to the network's interests (at least in some respects) to feature this type of item in the news.

Who is right?  Let's get Speaker Pelosi's version:
“President Obama said, one year ago, when he called the first bipartisan, on March 5th of last year, the first bipartisan House and Senate meeting together with many outside stakeholders together at the White House, to find a way for us to come together. And at that time, he said: ‘Health care reform is entitlement reform.’  We cannot sustain the upward spiral of the increases in health care and what that means in Medicare and what it means in Medicaid. So from the standpoint of our national budget, and for your budgets, the current system, as I said, is unsustainable. 

“Again, it’s unaffordable for families, individuals and families, for businesses of any size, and it is a cost to our economy.  Imagine an economy where people could follow their aspirations, where they could be entrepreneurial, where they could take risks professionally because personally their families health care needs are being met.  Where they could be self-employed or start a business, not be job-locked in a job because they have health care there, and if they went out on their own it would be unaffordable to them, but especially true, if someone has a child with a pre-existing condition. So when we pass our bill, never again will people be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. 

“We have to do this in partnership, and I wanted to bring up to date on where we see it from here. The final health care legislation that will soon be passed by Congress will deliver successful reform at the local level.  It will offer paid for investments that will improve health care services and coverage for millions more Americans. It will make significant investments in innovation, prevention, wellness and offer robust support for public health infrastructure.  It will dramatically expand investments into community health centers.  That means a dramatic expansion in the number of patients community health centers can see and ultimately healthier communities.  Our bill will significantly reduce uncompensated care for hospitals. 

“You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other.  But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket.  Prevention, prevention, prevention—it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting. 

“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.  Furthermore, we believe that health care reform, again I said at the beginning of my remarks, that we sent the three pillars that the President’s economic stabilization and job creation initiatives were education and innovation—innovation begins in the classroom—clean energy and climate, addressing the climate issues in an innovative way to keep us number one and competitive in the world with the new technology, and the third, first among equals I may say, is health care, health insurance reform.  Health insurance reform is about jobs.  This legislation alone will create 4 million jobs, about 400,000 jobs very soon.
(Yellow highlights added)
Pardon the perhaps excessive amount of context.

It seems beyond question that Pelosi was not making any explicit reference to the principle that the bill must be passed before the details may be known.

That said, the way the bill has been handled by Democrats in Congress gives Pelosi's statement a double meaning that is too tempting to pass up.

Fairness suggests that Pelosi's statement be presented in terms of its original context even when one is exploiting the unintended meaning.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alex Sink: Nearly half of you are extremists (Updated)

Alex Sink, Democratic candidate for Florida governor, seems to think that a strong plurality of Americans are extremists.  At least if we take seriously a recent Rasmussen poll that had 49 percent supporting a lawsuit to stop the implementation of ObamaCare.

Here is part of the missive sent out by the Sink campaign:
Unfortunately, in spite of the clear need to focus on helping Florida's families who are struggling in today's economy, Bill McCollum, ever the politician, is busy touting his latest political stunt to sue the federal government in Washington.


Bill McCollum's partisan games won't help Floridians struggling with our economic crisis. But what his political circus will do is convince those groups shouting extremist rhetoric that he is one of them -- and that they should open their wallets and help fund his campaign.
Forty-nine percent want the federal government sued over ObamaCare.  Bill McCollum agrees with that.  He's one of them.  One typical of "the groups shouting extremist rhetoric" (like what rhetoric, Alex?).

So, roughly 49 percent of you apparently qualify as extremists in Sink's mind.

It seems to me that a person running for governor ought to know about unfunded mandates and how they can impact a state budget.  This statement from the Sink campaign makes it look like she is content to pretend that the issue doesn't exist.

As for McCollum, if he really is "busy touting" his lawsuit then he should be careful how he does it.  The lawsuit is not likely to work.  Losing a lawsuit is no sure way to glory.  But at least the lawsuit will draw attention to the plight of the states.  They are effectively forced by the federal government to spend money, yet the state governments have no representation in the federal government since the 17th Amendment went into effect.  Shades of "taxation without representation."  In other words, tyranny.

The people of Florida will have a tough time keeping their own state government solvent if somebody doesn't fight Washington's unfunded mandates.  Are you up for that fight, Alex Sink?


I should have looked closer at the Rasmussen data.  The percentage in Florida, 54 percent, is higher than the national average.  Most Floridians are extremists, presumably right wing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Banned from CFI forums

No, not me.  Not yet.  But I found this instance of banning interesting considering past exchanges I've had with moderators of the Center for Inquiry forum, an online humanist/secularist discussion forum that supposedly welcomes outside opinions.  Moderators use blue text when moderating, by the way.

Britincanada - 10 March 2010 03:06 PM
Don’t lecture me my friend
All montheisms
Yap, yap, yap…......all mouth and no trousers
Your an atheist, probably an agnostic or religious sympathiser,....a liberal, wish-washy, limp-wristed atheist
I’m an anti-theist
Are you Jewsih? Would explain your preoccupation with Hitler and final solutions.
Britincanada, you’re new here so I want to make quite clear that use of the kind of inflated rhetoric you display in this post and some previous ones is not within the rules of this forum. In particular, use of homophobic epithets and your suggestion that one would need to be Jewish in order to find Hitler’s final solution problematic are in violation of several clauses of Rule 3. Please do try to discuss these issues in a more dispassionate and judicious manner. Repeated rule violations can lead to banning.
Homophobic epithets?  Limp-wristed???
Main Entry: limp–wrist·ed
Pronunciation: \ˈlimp-ˌris-təd\
Function: adjective
Date: circa 1960
1 : effeminate
2 : weak
That's from the plainly homophobic Merriam-Webster online dictionary and thesaurus (he obviously meant "weak").

The secondary complaint is no less absurd, with the absurdity magnified by the moderator's background in philosophy.  The banned individual did not write that one would need to be Jewish in order to find the final solution problematic, but instead offered that a focus on the final solution was understandable from a Jewish person.  That's a huge difference, and it makes the CFI moderator guilty of a straw man fallacy.

As for "Rule 3," it's a doozy composed of eight subsections.

It boils down to the fact that you're gone if they want you gone.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

PolitiFact is "an independent, nonpartisan journalism organization"

I had in mind to post on a particular line appearing at  A blog I admire, Hoystory, beat me to it chronologically, and surely bested my stillborn effort in terms of brevity and wit:, which is routinely an object of scorn here, has this interesting bit in its latest mailbag feature.
There are the e-mailers who criticize us generally for perceived liberal bias. (For the record, we are an independent, nonpartisan journalism organization.)
For the record, I’m often mistaken for Brad Pitt and have women throwing themselves at me dozens of times a day, begging to have my baby and showering me with expensive gifts.
Keep visiting Hoystory for more pithy ruminations on the state of journalism.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Grading PolitiFact: Bill McCollum and congressional pay raises (Updated)

New PolitiFact operations are springing up like weeds.  PolitiFact Florida, arising from a partnership with the Miami Herald, joins PolitiFact Texas among the ranks of political fact check organizations.  So, what happens when a bad product further dilutes itself?

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Louis Jacobson:  writer, researcher
Greg Joyce:  editor


Even when PolitiFact botches its "Truth-O-Meter" rating, its stories often provide valuable information to help inform readers.

Unfortunately, this item fails to seize a golden opportunity to do just that.  Writer/researcher Louis Jacobson gets lost on a superficial check of the wooden literal meaning of the claims about gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum coming from rival candidate Alex Sink ("Approved by Alex Sink, Democrat, for governor") and the Florida Democratic Party.

Jacobson has all the information he ought to need in order to pin down the argument underlying the ad.  That is, that McCollum's votes for pay raises supposedly make him of a kind with the Washington politicians who have fired the ire of so many voters.  The ad is saying McCollum is, in short, a big spending politician and takes care of himself first.  Jacobson resists putting a toe in those waters in favor of sticking with the aforementioned literal claim.  So let's follow him on his rather brief fact-checking journey:
Today we look at an anti-McCollum response ad aired by the Florida Democratic Party. The ad begins with footage of McCollum telling reporters, "I'm proud of my record of having been a congressman."

A voice-over continues, "Really? Well, Bill McCollum, you cost the rest of us billions. He voted four times to raise his own pay. $51,000. Our tax money pays his congressional pension. Over $75,000 dollars a year. The national debt skyrocketed. $4.7 trillion. McCollum voted for debt-limit increases five times. Bill McCollum. Just another Washington politician Florida can't afford."
(blue highlights added)
It's almost surprising that Jacobson quotes the last line, for all the attention he gives it.

Jacobson deals with the pay raise issue in four short paragraphs.  Here are the first two:

Monday, March 01, 2010

Canada is golden

Congratulations to the Canadian men's and women's ice hockey teams, both of which captured gold medals at the Vancouver games.

Ice hockey is about all I watched of the Olympics this year.  I saw part of the first U.S./Canada game and nearly all of the second one.

I thought the U.S. was fortunate to win against Canada the first time.  The Canadians looked faster and created confusion in the U.S. defense.  But the U.S. team did me proud by playing a very spirited final game before losing in overtime.

The overtime had me nervous since the four on four rule gives the advantage to teams with greater individual skills.  That would be Canada.  Sure enough, NHL star Sidney Crosby slipped the winning goal through the five hole on U.S. goalie Ryan Miller of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.

The Canadian crowd showed excellent class by lustily cheering Miller when he received his silver medal.  His performance throughout the Olympics was outstanding.

It was a great performance by the U.S. team, but the better team won it. 


Too bad for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Malone of the U.S. squad, but it was nice to see former Lightning defenseman  Dan Boyle capture a gold medal.