Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grading PolitiFact (Florida): Alan Grayson and illegal divorce

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) is doing a tremendous job of helping is opponent, Daniel Webster, rise in the polls.  And PolitiFact was there.

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Aaron Sharockman:  writer, researcher
John Bartosek:  editor


Watch it while you can. I'm not sure how long the Grayson campaign will stick with it.

In this item, we wanted to examine two other sweeping allegations in the ad -- that Webster wants to make divorce illegal and that he tried to deny battered women the right to divorce their abusers.
Though Bartosek wrote to me stating that PolitiFact tries to stick to a single issue, it seems fair to keep these two linked since they stem from the same proposed legislation, House Bill 1585, a state bill that would have made Florida the first state to provide for covenant marriage.

As for the underlying argument, which sometimes attracts PolitiFact's attention and sometimes does not, the Grayson ad makes that pretty clear:  "Daniel Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us."

PolitiFact found that Grayson's ad cited the wrong bill, and the story does an adequate job of explaining covenant marriage.

Then author Jacobson analyzed portions of the bill:
The covenant marriage agreement "may not be dissolved except by reason of adultery," according to the bill Webster filed.
The bill includes no mention of physical abuse.
It also discusses alimony, noting that "no alimony shall be granted to an adulterous wife," but makes no mention about the alimony rights of an adulterous man.
The bill makes no mention of alimony rights for any man, including an adulterous one.  It does, however, provide for alimony where the woman's "potential earning capacity would cause a reduction in her standard of living."  Jacobson's account feeds into Grayson's narrative to some extent by omitting the advantage a woman might enjoy under the bill while emphasizing the disadvantage with respect to effects of adultery.

After including some additional information about covenant marriage statistics in other states and related commentary from some expert sources, Jacobson provides a pair of summary paragraphs.

When Webster was a member of the Florida House, he introduced a bill that would have created something called covenant marriage. This special form of marriage was entirely voluntary, but if couples agreed to it, they would not be able to divorce under state law except in the case of adultery. The bill did not list physical or sexual abuse as grounds for divorce.
Is that "wanting to make divorce illegal"?  Only if the covenant marriage bill eliminated the other statutory provision for marriage and we ignore entirely the allowance for divorce because of adultery.  Grayson's failure to qualify the statement as applying only to covenant marriage leads the viewer to understand that divorce would not be an option at all under Webster's proposal.


Webster's bill wouldn't make all divorce illegal. It wouldn't even make divorce for all people who chose covenant marriage entirely illegal. There's a small window out for adultery. But Grayson is right that there was no protection in Webster's marriage bill for abused wives. So, in theory, someone who chose covenant marriage and was being abused might not be granted a divorce. Because all of that context is critical to understanding Grayson's claim, we rate it Half True.

If statistics on covenant marriage from other states serve as any sort of guide, Webster's bill would have removed most existing statutory justifications for divorce from a distinct minority of all marriages.

Grayson is not right that there is no protection in Webster's marriage bill for abused wives, not that Grayson made any such specific statement.  The protections occur at the front end via requirements for parental consent, premarital counseling with emphasis on the serious nature of the covenant marriage commitment and  written acknowledgment from the parties that they understand that seriousness.

Note that PolitiFact ends up giving Grayson a "Half True" because the context is "critical to understanding Grayson's claim."

Time for yet another review of PolitiFact's description of its grading system:
Half True – The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
"Webster wants to make divorce illegal":  Accurate but leaves out important details?

Webster "tried to deny battered women the right to divorce their abusers":  Accurate but leaves out important details?

Barely True – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
Isn't that more like it?  Like the "different impression" that the proposed changes would be be voluntary and apply only to the covenant marriage arrangement?  Like the "different impression" that the bill did not mention battered women at all?

And how about that underlying argument?  Is a voluntary covenant marriage provision an effective way to force one's radical fundamentalist views on people?

The grades:

Aaron Sharockman:  F
John Bartosek:  F

Sharockman and Bartosek appeared to ignore their own findings while assigning the Truth-O-Meter rating.  Ignoring the underlying argument also served to boost Grayson's rating.  The underlying argument was ridiculous given the supposed evidence in support.  "Half True" was very generous.


States (perhaps all of them) do have restrictions on divorce aside from those on covenant marriage, though with the caveat that "irreconcilable differences" may encompass virtually anything.  You can't divorce over smelly feet, for example, unless you classify it as an irreconcilable difference or the like.  And it may depend on the judge as to whether that would fly.  Point being, if allowing divorce only in cases of adultery counts as making divorce illegal then divorce is already technically illegal.  The difference is the number of exceptions, which is admittedly far more restrictive for a covenant marriage.

I should also mention that it is plausible that Webster might have welcomed changes to his proposed bill, including allowances for men to receive alimony and for battered women to have recourse to a divorce.

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Rays poised to capture postseason playoff spot

    What a season.  The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees have kept each other close in the hunt for the AL East pennant and the best record in baseball.  The season series between the two teams sometimes approached postseason intensity, and on Thursday the Rays' victory over the Yanks gave Tampa Bay the final advantage in the season series and the tie-breaker if the teams should end the regular season sporting the same record.

    As of now, the Yankees lead the division by a half game over the Rays.  And the really odd thing about the Rays record comes for the fact that the team is largely underperforming.  Outfielder Carl Crawford is arguably the only offensive player having an above-average year.  The team batting average of .250 is no. 10 in the AL.  Not typically the stuff of an offensive powerhouse.

    Though the Rays score runs at a respectable rate, the team owes most of its success to pitching and defense.

    But the starting pitching has shown some inconsistencies also.  David Price, who posted his 18th win by beating the Yankees in Thursday's game, was the only starter on the staff to pitch fairly consistently all year.  Righty Jeff Nieman was the most consistent prior to the All-Star break.  Matt Garza and James Shields have allowed gopher balls at an alarming clip even while collecting 14 and 13 wins, respectively.  The bullpen has shown itself as one of the best in baseball led by closer Rafael Soriano's 1.82 ERA and 43 saves.

    So what's my point in all this?  The playoffs figure to look differently than in 2008 when the Rays first appeared in the postseason.  The 2008 Rays shocked Boston with their bats.  B. J. Upton and Evan Longoria were on fire.  This year Upton has struggled at the plate and Longoria's numbers have perhaps suffered from teams pitching around him.

    The key for the Rays will be picking the right starters.  Price is a lock, but after that it's a guessing game as to whom General Manager Joe Maddon will use.  Rookie Wade Davis was more consistent over the last month of the season than any member of the staff aside from Price.  I wouldn't be surprised if he started in the playoffs even if the Rays stick with a three man rotation.  Most who follow the Rays thought the team would end up relying on Nieman when the postseason rolled around, but Nieman's role probably depends on his performance during his next two starts.  Can the team consider keeping both Garza and Shields out of the starting rotation come playoff time?

    It boils down to this:  The Rays have the pitching to win the World Series.  But will the team get the pitching it needs to win in the playoffs?  Minnesota and Texas represent formidable obstacles aside from the Yankees.  The stage is set for a terrific postseason.


    In keeping with my analysis, I'd pick Carl Crawford as the Rays' MVP for 2010, just edging out Rafael Soriano and David Price.  It will be sad seeing Crawford move to another team next year, as he assuredly will do.  And if he doesn't get a Gold Glove award for his outfield play this year then there is no justice.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    The Bad Argument in the Great Debate about Free Will (Updated)

    YouTube is great. Some weeks ago I found an excellent video (produced by an atheist) that nicely brought low the argument that foreknowledge is incompatible with free will.

    That video spawned the usual sprawling debate thread, though YouTube's character limits on commentary kept that debate at minimal depth. A recent set of comments from "dbes02" confidently makes claims like the following:
    But that's the whole point - if someone's behaviour is PREDICTABLE then they don't have free will.
    If dbes02 was just talking about predictability in principle--a concept entailed by determinism--then that would be fine.  But this character's arguments look like they'll boil down to a consistent assumption of determinism.

    Hoping to obtain a view of his argument unconstrained by character limits, I went hunting for uploaded videos and found the following:

    Somebody posts an entire YouTube video to refute free will and this is the entire argument? Unbelievable.
    • If I had free will it would be just as easy to choose to strangle my 8 year old daughter as to choose to hug her.
    • But it isn't, so I don't have free will.
    I posted a response showing how an indeterministic model (thought experiment) provides a fatal counterexample to his argument. He soon replied, hilariously asserting that I was begging the question by assuming that indeterminate outcomes are possible. Apparently dbes02 does not realize that if his criticism of me was legitimate then it is just as fatal to his own argument:  "If I had free will ..."  If he can't have free will then the argument is superfluous.  If he can (at least for the sake of argument) then we can have indeterminate outcomes unless we beg the question.


    I tried to lure "dbes02" into engaging in a formal debate where he would defend his assertion that "Epistemic determinism is incompatible with free will."

    Having every confidence in my ability to quash whatever argument he might present, I suggested a formal debate, perhaps hosted by  Dbes02 responded with some hilarious evasions, and the debate challenge remains hanging.  I made the initial challenge via (YouTube) private messaging, but before this posting reiterated it in the public commentary.  And dbes02 has already sniffed around the bait (those interested can find the details here).

    As it turns out, the Internet Infidels no longer host a discussion board.  But the discussion from there migrated to the Freethought & Rationalism Discussion Board.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Halvorson campaign warns against "Naz-Tea Party"

    Big Government has the story, complete with trailing protesters to a nearby Halvorson campaign office. Protesters carried signs depicting a number of Republicans wearing Hitler 'staches.

    The connection of a Halvorson campaign staffer (Julie Merz) to her former role as Nancy Pelosi's deputy director of member services adds a bit of spice to the story.

    Pelosi conspicuously maintained that the Tea Party movement was "Astroturf."

    Grading PolitiFact (Florida): Rick Scott and private sector Stimulus jobs

    Rick Scott is the Republican candidate for Florida governor headed into the 2010 election.

    The issue:

    The fact checkers:

    Becky Bowers:  writer, researcher
    Shirl Kennedy:  researcher
    John Bartosek:  editor


    What did Rick Scott say, exactly?

    Find the full transcript in the Afters section.
    Higher taxes kill jobs.  Regulations kill jobs.  ObamaCare is an unbelievable job killer.  It's going to be devastating for our state.  Um, I mean, that, by itself, uh, is going to make it very difficult, uh, for people in the business (?) in our state.  One--and the taxes--increase in taxes for that, uh, is going to be devastating for our state.  On top of that, what my background is I put my money up, I took the risk, I stood up for what I believed in, starting businesses.  And that's a whole different background than other people.  But, and, she clearly believes in higher taxes, she clearly believes in ObamaCare, she care--clearly believes in stimulus, and we know that the Stimulus has not created one private sector job.
    Though this looks like a straightforward claim that the Stimulus bill produced no private sector jobs, campaign spokesman Joe Kildea approached it as though Scott's remark referred to something like net job creation in the private sector, in Florida particularly:
    "It's a ridiculous assertion that the stimulus has created jobs," Kildea said. "That's exactly the reason Floridians are so upset with the direction of the economy. No matter what sort of intellectual gymnastics used by Obama liberals, the fact is that when the stimulus was first signed, Florida's unemployment rate was 9.2% and today it is 11.6% and the state lost a net of almost 200,000 jobs."
    Of course, if Florida lost 250,000 public sector jobs during that time frame (admittedly doubtful), then it would still follow that private sector jobs had been created to the tune of about 50,000.  So Kildea's approach ends up looking like spin.  PolitiFact's immediate response to Kildea was appropriately skeptical:
    So, because more jobs were lost overall than gained, that's the same as saying not one job has been created?
    If Scott is charitably taken to say that Florida has not gained any new net private sector jobs as a result of the Stimulus, then his mode of expression was needlessly misleading.

    Much of the PolitiFact story by Becky Bowers investigates whether private sector jobs exist and/or are paid through Stimulus funds.  The story treats Scott's claim as literal and responds to attempts by Scott's campaign to explain the statement.  But something goes almost entirely missing from Bowers' story, only arising thanks to Bowers' inclusion of a quotation of Sean Snaith:
    Sean Snaith, a University Of Central Florida economist who has been critical of the effect of the stimulus, agrees that saying "the stimulus has not created one private sector job" is inaccurate.

    "I think that's an exaggeration of the reality, which is that it didn't do very much for private sector hiring," he said. "But surprise, surprise, in politics there's hyperbole sometimes."

    It's more than hyperbole to Billy Weston. Here’s his reaction to Scott’s statement:

    "I disagree. I have to. Even though, you know, I'm a devout Republican, that's absolutely wrong," he said. "I'm living proof that this helped out, tremendously. I couldn't agree with that statement whatsoever. I know, due to this program, I have a job at Sancilio & Co. That's the reality of it."
    Snaith identified an argument underlying Scott's literal statement, and that suggested argument fits very well the context of Scott's remarks.  Though Bower retains partial credit for including the quotation of Snaith, the rest of the story pays no attention to the underlying argument.

    Snaith also called Scott's controversial claim "hyperbole."  PolitiFact countered that with the somewhat out-of-context quotation of Billy Weston.  Bower's frames Weston's statement with "It's more than hyperbole to Billy Weston."  The most charitable way to understand "more than hyperbole" is "not hyperbole."  Weston did not take Scott's statement as hyperbole at all.  And Weston's view is fair because while Scott's statement may incidentally function as exaggeration for emphasis it is doubtful that many listeners would take it that way.

    Scott most likely used a spurious fact to drive his underlying argument.  If he meant it literally then he was wrong.  If he meant it as hyperbole then the attempt was too awkward and misleading to qualify for most listeners.  Either way, the underlying argument is the same.  To express it using Snaith's words, the Stimulus bill "didn't do very much for private sector hiring."

    Though Bowers mentions the underlying argument through the quotation of Snaith, the underlying argument is simply dropped when reading the "Truth-O-Meter":
    "His position on stimulus hasn't changed," Colby said. "If the argument is that the stimulus is the only way to create jobs, it's false."

    But that isn’t Scott’s statement. In the face of Billy Weston and now 1,300 jobs at a company Scott partly owns, his campaign still hasn’t moved from its stance that "the stimulus has not created one private sector job."  He may disagree that the stimulus is the most effective use of funds, or argue as Snaith does that "it didn't do very much." But those aren’t the words he chose.

    With thousands of Floridians employed because of stimulus-funded programs — not to mention jobs for a company in which Scott owns stock — we rate his statement Pants on Fire.
    With the underlying argument gone AWOL, PolitiFact ends up grading only the literal truth of Scott's claim.  Scott earns considerable criticism for what is at best described as a poor attempt at hyperbole, but it is not fair to exclude all consideration of the underlying argument while grading the truth of his statement.

    The grades:

    Becky Bowers:  F
    Shirl Kennedy:  B
    John Bartosek:  F

    Clearly Scott had an argument underlying his use of the "not created one private sector job" claim.  Bowers and Bartosek's grades reflect their aiming of the focus of the story to the near total exclusion of Scott's underlying argument.  Kennedy apparently provided research appropriate for that focus and presumably was not involved in framing the story.


    My full transcript of the video.
    I wanted to ask you about, um, your proposed--you and Alex Sink pretty much agree that you got to create jobs.  Um, or that one of the priorities is to, is to have Florida get more jobs.  What do you see the differences between how you approach that and she approaches that?

    Oh, I think it's clear.  I mean, um, she supports President Obama's agenda, uh, she, she supports the Stimulus, she supports ObamaCare, she supports eliminating--or not extending the Bush tax cuts, so it's clear.  I mean, there's a big difference.

    OK, that's an economic philosophy I guess.  How about when it comes to--can you, I guess, expand on that--

    Hold on for a second (inaudible).

    As it relates to creating jobs.  I mean, give me more specifics so I can explain that to people.

    Oh, I think it's very simple.


    Higher taxes kill jobs.  Regulations kill jobs.  ObamaCare is an unbelievable job killer.  It's going to be devastating for our state.  Um, I mean, that, by itself, uh, is going to make it very difficult, uh, for people in the business (?) in our state.  One--and the taxes--increase in taxes for that, uh, is going to be devastating for our state.  On top of that, what my background is I put my money up, I took the risk, I stood up for what I believed in, starting businesses.  And that's a whole different background than other people.  But, and, she clearly believes in higher taxes, she clearly believes in ObamaCare, she care--clearly believes in stimulus, and we know that the Stimulus has not created one private sector job.

    I've observed the convention of capitalizing "Stimulus" where it seems to refer to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Answering the progressive narrative about conservatives

    As a vigorous participant in public debate, I often encounter liberals and progressives who take it as an article of faith that conservative ideas are bankrupt and/or racist.

    Today, Power Line pointed me toward the work of Gerard Alexander, who clearly expresses the case against the progressive narrative about the Republican Party.

    Why are liberals so condescending?

    Conservatism does not equal racism. So why do many liberals assume it does?

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    French MRAP: Nexter Aravis

    OK, nothing in particular against the French--the vehicle looks nice enough in a Force Protection Ocelot kind of way--but about midway through the video when it says "Remarkable Mission Efficiency" and the next image shows five passenger seats with two facing the other three?  That's great if the mission is looking at one another, I guess.  But maybe that's come to be the standard for MRAPs.  Allowing the passengers to directly aim fire at attackers could automatically cut down on their protections, I suppose.

    Go France.  Yay, science.

    Grading PolitiFact: Ann Coulter and terrorist attacks

    The issue:

    The fact checkers:

    Louis Jacobson:  writer, researcher
    Martha Hamilton:  editor


    Comparing this fact check of Coulter with a recent fact check of President Obama helps illustrate PolitiFact's layered problem with selection bias.

    In the case of Coulter, PolitiFact identifies a specific point to fact check and an underlying argument.  The underlying argument:
    Is there a website somewhere listing everything that encourages terrorist recruiting?" She went on to knock Andrew Sullivan, an iconoclastic conservative pundit, for suggesting that if Obama was elected, his racial background and life story could help counter jihadist recruiting efforts.

    "It didn't work out that way," Coulter wrote.
    The fact check:
    "There have been more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by these allegedly calmed Muslims in Obama's first 18 months in office than in the six years under Bush after he invaded Iraq. Also, as I recall, there was no Guantanamo, no Afghanistan war and no Iraq war on Sept. 10, 2001. And yet, somehow, Osama bin Ladin (sic) had no trouble recruiting back then. Can we retire the 'it will help them recruit' argument yet?"
    How I know what the fact check will supposedly be:
    But the only part of her comment that's checkable is her claim that "there have been more terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by these allegedly calmed Muslims in Obama's first 18 months in office than in the six years under Bush after he invaded Iraq." So we looked into it.
    Humor me while I sketch a comparison with the story about Obama.  The underlying argument:

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Blumner on vacation

    Robyn "Blumñata" Blumner is on vacation, but still posting columns. I presume that her mode of travel caused more carbon to enter the atmosphere and place the planet in greater peril.

    She's still posting columns, but instead of blaming recent violent demonstrations by Muslims on the detention facility at Gitmo, she's writing about how people in Russia and Eastern Europe know English.

    Go figure.
    Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan —
    Shouts of "Death to America!" rang out in Afghanistan on Saturday as more than 10,000 demonstrators denounced now-suspended plans by an American pastor to burn the Koran.

    The protest in the city of Pul-e-Alam, about 35 miles south of Kabul, the Afghan capital, was initially peaceful but boiled over into violence as some demonstrators set shops ablaze and tried to storm the provincial governor's compound.
    (Los Angeles Times)
    Gitmo is also used as a major recruitment tool and motivation for violent jihadists ("explosive anger"):
    “One jihadist posted a picture on the Shumukh al-Islam forum of a beheaded Pastor Jones, with words on the picture reading: ‘Punishment for whoever dares to transgress against the Book of Allah,’” SITE reported (pdf).

    One of the jihadists sites called for terrorist attacks, referred to Jones’s plan, which he has since canceled, as “another example of the West insulting Islam and receiving only words of condemnation rather than physical retaliation,” SITE reported.
    (Washington Post Blog)
    I'm sure when Blumner returns from vacation she will soon renew the call for President Obama to close Gitmo.

    USA Today: Armored trucks cut IED deaths among allied troops

    USA Today and a number of other news source put out a story this week about the general success of the MRAP and M-ATV armored vehicle programs, citing the decreased number of deaths from IEDs despite an increase in attacks using IEDs.

    Not bad for a "Tool of war trumped."
    WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's new armored trucks in Afghanistan are significantly reducing troop deaths in roadside attacks at a time when insurgent bombings are at record levels, according to statistics provided to USA TODAY.
    Good work again by reporter Tom Vanden Brook.

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010

    Lesson learned: Castro repudiates state-run economy? (Updated)

    Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly magazine, wrote in a blog that he asked Castro, 84, if Cuba's model -- Soviet-style communism -- was still worth exporting to other countries and he replied, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."
    It's getting harder and harder to find a decent communist.  Not counting university professors in the United States.


    Not surprisingly, Castro says he didn't say that.  He was "misinterpreted."

    Saturday, September 04, 2010

    Grading PolitiFact: Boxer vs. Rice

    The issue:

    The fact checkers:

    Robert Farley:  writer, researcher
    Bill Adair:  editor


    Right out of the chute, I'll acknowledge a little surprise that PolitiFact rated this statement from Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.).

    Boxer, in the midst of a campaigning for re-election, made an appearance before the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle and was asked about comments she addressed to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

    Specifically, board member included as the premise of a question to Boxer that Boxer had criticized Rice for sending troops to war without paying "a personal price."

    PolitiFact's Farley, picking up from there:
    In the editorial board meeting, Boxer, a California Democrat, sought to set the record straight about her comments, but then added a bit of revisionist history, saying she was criticizing Rice because she didn't know how many American troops had died in Iraq. In fact, Rice never said that.
    It's an editorial judgment to declare that Boxer "sought to set the record straight," and Farley achieves a bit of a mismatch between Boxer saying Rice didn't know the number of troops killed and Rice not saying that.  Boxer could be right that Rice didn't know the answer even if Rice didn't address the question at all.

    We find Farley dealing with a pair of loosely intertwined issues, Boxer's explanation of her "personal price" remarks and Boxer's associated claim that she was asking Rice how many troops had died in Iraq.  I will subsequently treat the latter as the primary claim and conduct separate analyses.

    Primary Analysis:

    PolitiFact quotes Boxer at length, but for the primary analysis only the first sentence is relevant:  "I asked her how many people had died and she did not know the answer to that question."

    Farley serves up an appropriate number of relevant quotations in support of the obvious conclusion:
    Boxer asked Rice for a projection on how many American troop casualties might be lost in the surge, and Rice essentially answered that that was unknowable.
    PolitiFact gave Boxer a "Pants On Fire" rating.  To me (and to most, I suspect) that suggests a deliberate attempt to mislead.  By PolitiFact's definition, at least, the rating seems correct in that it applies to "ridiculous" claims.  Boxer's recollection of the exchange with Rice was ridiculous regardless of whether she was out to trick people.

    Secondary Analysis:

    What are we to make of Boxer's comments to Rice?

    Friday, September 03, 2010

    Two cents for Mr. Hawking

    "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing," he writes. "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
    So goes the quotation of Stephen Hawking in the Guardian (U.K.) in a story about the impending release of "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow.

    The statement from Hawking as it stands is self-contradictory, though certainly Hawking might end up explaining it away in his book as only an apparent contradiction.

    Why is the already oft-quoted blurb self-contradictory?

    It's a bit obvious.  The statement "Because there is a law such as gravity" implies that gravity is something.  The subsequent statement, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing" implies (very directly and in so many words) that the universe can create itself from nothing.  But the second statement appears contingent on the first.  So, pending Hawking's explanation, we're being asked to either believe that gravity is the nothing (or at least the contingently necessary nothing, to wax philosophical) out of which the universe is created or else we are to believe in gravity was created along with the rest of the universe yet explains how the universe came from nothing.

    Gravity cannot be both something and ~(not)something at the same time and in the same sense.  That is contradictory.

    Hawking deserves every chance to explain himself.  But don't give him the benefit of the doubt just because he's a genius.  Even the brightest among us are prone to errors of thought.

    Thursday, September 02, 2010

    Scott picks a winner

    I don't follow Florida politics with nearly the attention I give to national politics, but Jennifer Carroll seems like an inspired choice if her resume is as advertised.

    Congratulations to Carroll and to Rick Scott's campaign.

    Of informal speech in objective (?) reporting (Updated)

    While skimming the latest PolitiFact entries for grading projects, the opening lines from a story on a Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) raised my eyebrows:
    Congressional Democrats found a lot of ways to pay for the country’s health insurance overhaul, some more popular than others. But one in particular has small lawn services, work-at-home parents and the nation’s smallest businesses mighty concerned.
    "Mighty concerned," eh?  Dern-tootin' they're concerned, 'cuz all them high-falutin' city folk up in Washington are a bunch of Commies.

    No, seriously, I got the impression from "mighty concerned" that PolitiFact was trying to give some kind of down home flavor to the opinion of those who operate lawn services and the like.

    From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, page 634:
    The use of mighty as an adverbial intensifier has been looked at askance since at least 1829, when the sentence "That is a mighty big dog" was given in Joseph Hervey Hull's Grammar as an "incorrect phrase" to be corrected.
    Not exactly an auspicious beginning.  The book confirmed my reading of the connotations attached to its use as an "adverbial intensifier":
    In current American English, it usually conveys a folksy, down-home feeling or a rural atmosphere ...
    The entry concludes by saying that the usage is grammatically correct, and a writer should not refrain from using it if it serves a purpose.

    I wonder what purpose it was to serve in the PolitiFact story?  Maybe dropping lawn service workers, work-at-home parents and small business owners a notch closer to yokel status?  It can't be the way writer Stephen Koff and editor Robert Higgs of PolitiFact Ohio normally write, can it?


    About the adverb, from Reuters' Handbook of Journalism:
    Like adjectives they should be used sparingly. Avoid adverbs that imply judgment, e.g. generously, harshly, and sternly.