Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obama administration goes coup coup?

Ed Morrissey's Obamateurism of the Day gave me a hearty laugh this morning.

Barack Obama has heads scratching over his insistence on holding President Manuel Zelaya as the legitimate authority in Honduras after Zelaya defied that country's supreme court in seeking a public referendum to install himself permanently in power.

Secretary of State Clinton has now joined the fray. Enjoy Morrissey's comments following the news report segment:

“We do think that this has evolved into a coup,” Clinton told reporters, adding the administration was withholding that determination for now.

Asked if the United States was currently considering cutting off aid, Clinton shook her head no.

Note to the administration: if certain terms trigger actions you want to avoid, don’t use them. And if you say, “We do think that this has evolved into a coup,” then you’re not withholding that determination — you’ve just announced it! If we have a rule that halts aid after a coup, it’s worse to say that we think it’s a coup but we won’t officially call it that to keep aid flowing than it is to just refrain from calling it a coup in the first place.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Grading PolitiFact: Michele Bachmann on ACORN being "in charge"

PolitiFact claims it isn't picking on Michele Bachmann. But why, if that's the case, do we never see PolitiFact grade her statements such as the one to the effect that ACORN is under investigation for voter fraud in a number of states? Instead we get, as of this past weekend, our fourth and fifth evaluations of Bachmann where PolitiFact rates her "False" or worse.

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Robert Farley: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor


As with other entries on Michele Bachmann, we receive an initial tip-off that objective journalism has been set aside:
Rep. Michele Bachmann sparked a new controversy recently when she declared she would provide the bare minimum to census takers because she was concerned about the Census Bureau's partnership with ACORN, a left-leaning group that has become a popular villain for Republicans.
The spin from Farley tends to suggest that ACORN is apparently a "villain" for Republicans merely because it leans to the left. A more complete picture emerges if one is aware of ACORN's history in helping to pressure banks into providing high risk loans. Or the aforementioned connection to voter fraud investigations. Or the sharing of donor lists with the Obama campaign.
So the dim view of ACORN is mere partisanship. Farley helps make that clear by echoing ACORN's defense of its voter fraud problems:
(You remember ACORN: Formally known as the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now, it was lambasted in 2008 by many Republicans because its voter registration efforts included some fraudulent names such as Mickey Mouse. ACORN leaders said they discovered the fake names, notified authorities and fired some workers who cut corners. But Republican leaders still say it was a willful effort to manipulate the election to help the group's liberal agenda.)
Poor ACORN! It is just a few bad apple employees who have caused those problems! Yet those wascally Wepublicans keep right on attacking them!

Farley does eventually get to the fact-checking phase. I'll skip past the portion of the Bachmann statement that PolitiFact addresses separately and narrow the focus to Farley's eventual subject. Farley quotes Bachmann, in part:
"Now ACORN has been named one of the national partners, which will be a recipient again of federal money," Bachmann said. "And they will be in charge of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public."
Farley takes the above as an unambiguous claim that ACORN will be paid to serve as a national partner. And while it is natural to take Bachmann's statement that way, the statement is slightly ambiguous. And it is probably true that committed ACORN workers will end up as census workers, so Bachmann would be correct in at least a loose sense that ACORN will benefit from federal dollars.

But let's hear Farley tell it:

She is wildly wrong with her chraracterization of the Census Bureau's partnership program. Yes, the bureau does partner with organizations to help recruit workers. To date, it has 30,000 such partners.

ACORN is one.

ACORN is one of about 300 national partners. By using the number of local partners instead of the number of national partners, Farley is able to make ACORN look like one drop in an immense ocean. ACORN may at the same time be the most partisan group on the list, as well as possibly the one best able, in terms of numbers, to steer committed members toward employment with the Census Bureau. If Farley is aware of any of that then he apparently does not want his readers to know about it.

Back to Farley:

According to Census Bureau information provided to Congress on June 1, 2009, "ACORN and other partner organizations simply promote the availability of temporary census jobs, but have no role in the terms or conditions of employment beyond promotion of the availability of temporary jobs. Applicants that are hired by the Census Bureau to work on the 2010 Census are required to go through a background check that includes an FBI name check and fingerprint check so that felons are not hired to work on the 2010 Census."

Partners are also encouraged to donate testing space for the millions of people who will apply for the temporary census jobs. No payments are made for that. And lastly, partners are asked to promote full participation in the census among their members, through newsletters, e-mails, local meetings etc. Again, there's no payment for that.

Rather than being in administrative control of portions of the Census, then, ACORN could only have substantial numbers of its committed workers collecting Census data. While not overwhelmingly reassuring, that information serves as an appropriate antidote to the most natural interpretation of Bachmann's statement.

So let's count the ways Bachmann is wrong:

ACORN will not be "in charge" of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public, as Bachmann said. The U.S. Census will be in charge of that. Some of the 1.4 million people who get Census-taking jobs may learn about the job through ACORN. Workers who apply to the Census through ACORN have no better shot at the job than those who apply through any of the 30,000 other partners. That's it.

To the extent Bachmann suggested that the partnership arrangement places ACORN in administrative control of data collection, yes she was apparently wrong. Again, that idea is the most natural interpretation of her words if not the most charitable. As for ACORN workers haing no better shot at employment than anyone else, it seems obvious that if ACORN is able to get more of its members to apply then ACORN may well have more influence on the Census than other national or regional partners.
And despite Bachmann's claim, ACORN gets no money for signing on as a partner.
Bachmann did not specifically say that ACORN received money for signing on as a partner, of course. Most natural interpretation of her words? Yes, I would say so. But if one thought of Bachmann as "artful," as PolitiFact sometimes describes President Obama, then perhaps one might tend toward a different interpretation.
Once again, she is making a scaremongering claim about ACORN with facts that are ridiculuusly (sic) wrong. So we have to set the meter on fire once again. She earns another Pants on Fire.
Ridiculously wrong? It is not clear how PolitiFact draws the line between "wrong" and "ridiculously wrong" in this case.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

(About PolitiFact)

Apparently the statement in this case is "ridiculously wrong" simply because it is not accurate. If a statement is "ridiculous" merely because somebody at PolitiFact chooses to subject it to ridicule, then the category appears to serve as a subjective judgment.

Maybe they just wanted to give Bachmann that particular grade again?

Interpreted charitably, Bachmann could have rated a "Barely True." And it is difficult to see how PolitiFact objectively justifies using the "Pants on Fire" rating instead of merely "False" even taking Bachmann less than charitably.

The grades:

Robert Farley: F
Bill Adair: F

Farley and Adair could have earned passing grades if the assessment of Bachmann had not stooped to spin on more than one occasion. A national partner obviously will have more influence on the Census than a local or regional partner.


This entry provides a timely opportunity to point out againt that PolitiFact's aggregate ratings for a given political figure are pretty much useless. Taking the case of Bachmann again, she has received attention from PolitiFact on five occasions. So one could look at those collected results and think, "Man, that Bachmann has a real problem telling the truth!"

But the individual ratings do not come from a scientific sample at all. They come from what PolitiFact staffers think is newsworthy, and that in turn likely gets influenced by liberal blogs or entities like JournoList.

Those who direct PolitiFact apparently haven't yet realized that by failing to admit how their collected ratings may be misapplied they end up hiding an important fact.
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

Final note:

It is worth pointing out that, during the radio segment that produced her two most recent PolitiFact entries, Bachmann did repeat her claim about ACORN's access to billions in federal stimulus money in a way that should count as misleading.

Not a good day on the radio for Bachmann, however poor the job done by PolitiFact at fact-checking.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grading PolitiFact: Michele Bachmann, the Constitution and the census

Where we see yet more evidence of axe-grinding at PolitiFact.

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Robert Farley: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor


PolitiFact entries often push the boundaries of the objective reporting style. Entries on Michele Bachmann typify the excess of that tendency. Note how Robert Farley opens this one:
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is no stranger to the Truth-O-Meter. So far, her comments have decidedly bent the needle to the left and, on one occasion, set the meter on fire.
President Obama is no stranger to the Truth-O-Meter either, having had far more of his statements evaluated than Bachmann's. But we probably will never see PolitiFact open an evaluation of an Obama statement with "President Obama is no stranger to the Truth-O-Meter." Obviously, the statement is not about how many times Bachmann has had her statements rated. It is simply the set up for the rest of the paragraph. Her comments supposedly have "decidedly" bent the needle to the left.

So how big is the sample used to establish this tendency? The sample has reached five statements as of today, with two freshly added to the previous three.

I'll go out on a limb and surmise that Bachmann has made more than five political statements. And, sure, some percentage of the thousands of statements she has made probably err in some way or other. But it certainly isn't fair to pick and choose a handful and then judge a person according to that skewed sample. Yet PolitiFact does exactly that, which doesn't even address the fact that the past PolitiFact ratings were extremely questionable.

PolitiFact has it out for Bachmann, and they can't even be honest about it:
We swear we're not trying to pick on her, but we just couldn't let this latest one go.
And I could forgive picking out a mere five statements that end up with ratings skewed to the left if the analysis was conducted professionally. Let's just say that Farley is off on the wrong foot when he spends a bit more than the first paragraph attacking Bachmann instead of getting straight to fact checking.
Recently, Bachmann went on record to declare that because of ACORN's involvement in the census and other privacy concerns, she would only tell 2010 census takers how many people are in her household -- and nothing more.

Here's how she explained it in a Washington Times interview (which you can listen to here):

"Now ACORN has been named one of the national partners, which will be a recipient again of federal money," Bachmann said. "And they will be in charge of going door-to-door and collecting data from the American public. This is very concerning because the motherload (sic) of all data information will be from the census. And, of course, we think of the census as just counting how many people live in your home. Unfortunately, the census data has become very intricate, very personal (with) a lot of the questions that are asked.

"And I know for my family the only question that we will be answering is how many people are in our home. We won't be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn't require any information beyond that."

PolitiFact apparently can't blame "motherload" on Bachmann or the Washington Times. It's "mother lode." But the main issue, at least for PolitiFact, comes in the final paragraph, where Bachmann claims that the Constitution merely requires a counting of the number of people rather than their race, income and other data.
In this item, we'll address Bachmann's claim that she's only constitutionally obligated to provide the number of people in her household.

Here's what the Constitution actually says:

"Representation and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers...the actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct."

So Bachmann pegged it. Or did she? Farley apparently doesn't think so:
So the Constitution itself does not contain any requirement, as Bachmann claims.
If "the actual enumeration shall be made" is not a requirement, then what is it?

Farley tries to explain:
We draw your attention to the last clause, "in such a manner as they shall by law direct." The "they" in that sentence refers to members of Congress. They write laws about the content of the census and require that people answer the questions.
If "the actual enumeration shall be made" shall be made "in such a manner as they shall by law direct" then it isn't a requirement? So the Congress could comply with the Constitution by counting the number of people in the respective states by counting the orange trees in the respective states?

Have we encountered the mother lode of journalistic doubletalk or what?

Farley goes on:

Subsequent Census Acts expanded the number of questions exponentially.

According to Census spokeswoman Stacy Gimbel, these laws came under the authority of the "Necessary and Proper" clause of the Constitution:

"The Congress shall have the power . . . To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof."

A minor point to Farley and Gimbel, here. If the nation has something like the Three-Fifths Compromise, it is necessary and proper to ask whether a person is slave or free in order to fulfil the requirements of the law. One cannot simply use the Elastic Clause to justify any and all questions on the census, however. And since the Three Fifths Compromise is no longer in effect, there is no apparent question beyond "how many people live in your home" that is "necessary and proper" to legal fulfilment of the census.

So, lacking further explanation from Farley, the Constitution apparently includes the requirement that Bachmann supposedly claims it has.

Farley makes no clear attempt to accomplish that explanation, but instead moves on to the generalized government justification for asking plenty of personal questions on Census questionnaires:
Congress' use of the Census to ask questions well beyond just the number of people has been upheld several times by the Supreme Court, Gimbel said, citing several cases.
As previously noted by Gimbel, the justification for the additional questions comes from the Elastic Clause rather than from the census provision in the Constitution. I examined a recent Census case decided in Texas, and in my humble opinion the judge in that case (Melinda Harmon) used dubious reasoning at times*. Nobody, I think, questions the right of the government to collect information to assist in the job of governing. The questions arise because of the threat of penalty for failing to provide that information. Harmon did make use of the straw man objection to the mere collection of the information. The means of collection serve as the context of the complaint.

In all, it is certainly arguable that Judge Harmon showed undue deference to the government's position.

So back to Farley:
What's more, a law passed by Congress requires people to answer "any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census" from the U.S. Census.
Every federal law ever ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court was passed by Congress, so it hardly serves as an infallible defense against the charge of illegitimacy. But perhaps Farley is making a different point. Let us continue to follow along:
Bachmann's claims that the Constitution only requires people to say how many people live in their household is "completely baseless," Gimbel said.
I wish we had the entire quotation from Gimbel, because Farley's account makes her claim seem utterly baseless. The Elastic Clause that provides the justification for virtually all of the questions apart from the number of persons living in the home makes no specific requirements of anyone. Thus, with respect to the Census, the only specific Constitutional requirement is to report how many people are there.

Bachmann is still correct.

After a mild digression into past misuses of information collected by Census workers, Farley drops the conclusion:
Bachmann is not only wrong here, she is engaging in fearmongering that encourages people to break the law. And in doing so, she's falsely telling people that the Constitution would support them. In fact, the Washington Times reporter followed her answer by saying, "Well, I'm going to take your hint then and that'll save me some time." And so we feel it's necessary to rate this one Pants on Fire.
1) Farley, journalistic bluster aside, never makes the case that Bachmann is wrong about the Census provision in the Constitution only supporting the collection of generic population numbers.

2) Bachmann is arguably correct that the Constitution would support a person who objects to answering certain of the Census questions. Whether that justification would ultimately work in court is a separate issue, and I doubt that even Farley holds the courts to be infallible authorities.

Bachmann, I might point out, was a lawyer prior to entering politics. She is likely to know the law better than either Farley or Gimbel. And it should go without saying that her statement about the Census, taken charitably, reflects her own legal opinion of the Census rather than her legal opinion about the wisest way to answer the Census.

Again, Bachmann spoke accurately and PolitiFact only produced evidence of its own bias with its attempt at fact-checking.

The grades:

Robert Farley: F
Bill Adair: F


Stacy Gimbel

Do we have a match?

I think we probably do have a match. See also here. This expert source didn't graduate long ago.

Grading PolitiFact: Obama and the "biggest drivers of the federal deficit"

In which PolitiFact overlooks a forest on account of a tree.

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The issue:

Sometimes PolitiFact deals with the surface meaning of a statement. Sometimes PolitiFact deals with the underlying argument. Prepare to plunge beneath the surface of this statement like a ... hovercraft.

The fact checkers:

Angie Drobnic Holan: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor


Cutting to the chase, let's just assume that PolitiFact did a superb job of evaluating the surface claim. Yes, over the long term Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid serve as the biggest drivers of the deficit, but record deficit for the current year was driven by a number of other factors, notably TARP and the stimulus package.

What about the underlying argument? Writer Angie Drobnic Holan knew that there was an underlying argument:

During a town hall on health care, an audience member asked President Barack Obama about the cost of health care reform, and whether the government could afford to do it.

Obama's answer was a variation on the sales pitch, Can you afford not to?

Drobnic opened her piece with the above. She identified Obama's underlying argument. But the evaluation ("Mostly True") of Obama's statement completely ignores the underlying argument, even though PolitiFact sort of skewers it in an offhand sort of way:

So if Obama is right that Medicare and Medicaid are driving the deficit, then health care reform can fix the long-term deficit, right?


That was not exactly Obama's argument. But this is an excellent time to review what Obama actually said:

Q With the cost of health care, I'm pretty satisfied with my own plan -- it's not everything that it should be or could be -- but I am concerned that -- of the government taking over health care and, you know, Social Security isn't doing real well, at least that's what we're being told, and how can we know that the government is going to be able to handle the cost of health care? Isn't that going to tax me? Isn't it going to be taxing my benefits? Those kind of things.

THE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, look, I think it's a very legitimate question. I guess the first point I'd make is, if we don't do anything, costs are going to go out of control. Nobody disputes this. Medicare and Medicaid are the single biggest drivers of the federal deficit and the federal debt -- by a huge margin. And at the pace at which they're going up, if we don't do some of the things that we've talked about tonight -- changing how we pay for quality instead of quantity; making sure that we are investing in prevention -- all those game-changers that I discussed earlier -- if we don't do those things, Medicare and Medicaid are going to be broke and it will consume all of the federal budget. Every program that currently exists under the federal budget, except defense and entitlements, all that would be swept aside by the cost of health care if we do nothing.

So that's point number one. Point number two is that a lot of what we're talking about is reallocating existing health care dollars that are not being spent wisely. And almost everybody agrees that there is a lot of room for us to improve how we're spending existing health care dollars.

And point number three -- there is going to be a need, initially, for some additional revenue, and I talked about our suggestion, my administration's suggestion, the best way to do that -- capping itemized deductions for people making over $250,000 a year.

But I also believe that if we are doing this right and we're bending the curve on health care, then you, who keeps a private plan, will see reductions in your out-of-pocket costs over time, so that instead of your health care premiums going up three times your wages over the next decade, it may only go up by the amount that inflation goes up generally. And that's real money in your pocket. That's real savings that would offset any potential increases.

By the way, I suspect that Charlie and I -- again, 3 percent of the population -- we're the ones who would see our taxes go up a little bit to pay for that initial outlay.


David Hattenfield asked the president whether he could expect higher costs, particularly via taxation, as a result of the proposed health care reform.

Obama's response is curious, to say the least. His acknowledgment of the role of Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid in the federal deficit merely establishes the legitimacy of Hattenfield's question. It literally does nothing to address it. Sure, we can suppose along with Drobnic that the president was saying that those programs are so expensive that we cannot afford to delay health care reform, but isn't that salesman's argument obviously specious? The proposed legislation would expand Medicaid and set up a public health care plan along the general lines of Medicare. Reducing medical costs in the private sector is a separate issue.

We could analyze additional portions of the president's statement, such as the claim that preventive care would produce substantial savings. The purpose here, however, is simply to evaluate PolitiFact's attempt at fact-checking.

Here again, we have a substantially true statement used to mislead. Obama took the very programs that produced Hattenfield's concern over the government's ability to effectively address the health care issue and, according to Drobnic, used those programs as the very justification for reform.

Obama's reward for snake-oil salesman tactics? "Mostly True."

The grades:

Angie Drobnic Holan: F
Bill Adair: F

It was maddening to see Drobnic flirt with addressing the underlying argument, then ignore it for purposes of the "Truth-O-Meter" rating.

God and Science according to Laurence M. Krauss

Genuine scientist Laurence M. Krauss had a little op-ed in the Wall Street Journal the other day. Krauss offered up his expert opinion that God and science ultimately do not mix.

I have nothing against expert opinions. Unless they don't make sense. And Krauss' take on the relationship between science and religion is off base.

Allow me to grant at the outset that Krauss is doubtless more lettered than little ol' me. But I will make the better case.

He and I agree on at least one thing. Belief in evolution, at least defined as "variation in frequency of alleles over time" or even in terms of "common descent" is compatible with belief in God, though our reasoning differs as to why.

Let's have a look at Krauss' reasoning:
J.B.S. Haldane, an evolutionary biologist and a founder of population genetics, understood that science is by necessity an atheistic discipline. As Haldane so aptly described it, one cannot proceed with the process of scientific discovery if one assumes a "god, angel, or devil" will interfere with one's experiments. God is, of necessity, irrelevant in science.
Interpreted charitably, Krauss is almost right in one sense. If a "supernatural" entity reliably interfered with experiments, then science as we ordinarily understand it would be pretty much impossible. But theists--not even Young Earth Creationists, so far as I'm aware--would see it as any sort of obligation for those entities to alter the outcomes of scientific experiments.

But Krauss is broadly wrong in the entire way he tries to frame the issue.

1) Science is by no means a necessarily atheistic endeavor. For example, one can follow the scientific method in evaluating theological claims. Suppose Krauss encounters LDS founder Joseph Smith at the foot of his bed one morning. Smith loans Krauss some golden plates inscribed in Egyptian script and a runic union suit for protection. Krauss could, in principle, examine the various evidences presented to him via traditional scientific means and develop testable and falsifiable theories regarding that evidence. On the basis of science, he could in principle reasonably conclude that Mormonism is the true religion. Mormonism is not an atheistic system, therefore Krauss is wrong to claim that science is necessarily atheistic.

2) As noted above, the notion of God "interfering" with experiments resembles a straw man. Scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton did science based on an expectation of an orderly divinely created universe. Does Newton get his scientific credentials revoked on Krauss' say-so? Newton's world view led him to expect a coherent order established by God. And he expected that humans were equipped to appreciate and evaluate that order.

It is at the second point that Krauss goes particularly awry. He almost treats science as though it is a world view. Science is not a world view. It is a way of looking at the world, right enough, but the difference is significant.

Philosopher Norman Swartz has made the argument that the natural laws described by science are descriptive laws. If that appears self-evident to the point of being a tautology, then let me explain.

Natural law could manifest itself either one of two ways. Laws could be prescriptive, where natural objects behave as they do because it is the law. Or, laws could be descriptive. Objects simply do what they do, and the observed patterns make up the descriptive law.

This is an important difference.

If a molecule fails to obey a prescriptive law, such as "molecule X will always bond to molecule Y under conditions F," then a miracle or a scientific impossibility has occurred.

If, on the other hand, the molecule fails to obey a descriptive law, then the descriptive law simply gets a rewrite to bring it into accord with observations.

Scientific laws have been getting continuously rewritten for decades on end.

So what's the point?

If scientists assume that prescriptive laws exist, then they are trading the method of science for a world view. And a world view is, at its root, a type of religion. We call this type of religion "metaphysics."

Short of metaphysical commitment, the methods of science may be used by a person of any religion. The classic subject for science is the way things normally work. Throw a rock at a window and the window breaks. Break 99 out of 100 windows that way and you have a useful "law" despite the uncommon exceptions. You're doing science, even if also produce a theory that the archangel Michael protected the window occasionally.

So we see that Krauss is wrong to take science as an exclusively atheistic enterprise. His op-ed manifests another big problem:

Faced with the remarkable success of science to explain the workings of the physical world, many, indeed probably most, scientists understandably react as Haldane did. Namely, they extrapolate the atheism of science to a more general atheism.

While such a leap may not be unimpeachable it is certainly rational, as Mr. McGinn pointed out at the World Science Festival.
Krauss is saying that science provides evidential support for an atheistic world view or world views. I would agree that science may provide evidential support for a world view, but Krauss has blithely skipped right past some tough philosophical problems as though he remains unaware of their existence.

Note how Krauss calls the conclusion of atheism based on the evidence of science "rational."

If Krauss' atheism is materialistic, then what does he mean by "rational"?

Suppose we have two children, one a genius and one an idiot. Under materialistic assumptions, the combination of heredity and enviroment will, in principle, explain all phenomena with respect to either child. If the genius memorizes pi to 50 digits, he simply followed the laws of physics. His action is "rational" in that sense. But that same sense applies to the idiot who adds two and two to equal five. What else could he have done in that situation but total "five"? It was "rational" for him to follow nature's laws and give the answer he gave.

That, of course, is not ordinarily what we mean by "rational." We tend to have an idea about the correspondence between thought and reality, expectation and actuality or inference and logic. Thinkers from C. S. Lewis to Victor Reppert have pointed to the problems for the atheistic conception of thought.

People like Krauss end up undercutting the foundation of their own epistemology. Krauss seems unconscious of the possibility that he stands on anything but the firmest ground.


Krauss mentioned via anecdote that he attended an event at which two Roman Catholic scientists failed to try to defend the virgin birth in terms of science.
When I confronted my two Catholic colleagues on the panel with the apparent miracle of the virgin birth and asked how they could reconcile this with basic biology, I was ultimately told that perhaps this biblical claim merely meant to emphasize what an important event the birth was. Neither came to the explicit defense of what is undeniably one of the central tenets of Catholic theology.
Krauss' challenge is literally nonsense.

The narrative of the virgin birth was likely intended to show the uniqueness of Christ as well as to address a theological problem. Why should it be reconciled with basic biology? Was Jesus supposed to follow the prescriptive natural law for fetuses? If Krauss wants to have it assumed that prescriptive natural law makes the virgin birth an impossibility, he can certainly do that. But he is engaged in promoting his religion (metaphysics) rather than his science if he does so. If, on the other hand, we are dealing with descriptive law, then what exactly is it we are supposed to reconcile?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The British "Husky," from Navistar

I continue to search for evidence to confirm the idea that the Navistar MXT-based M-ATV uses a v-shaped hull to help protect the crew from IEDs.

As yet I've found nothing to settle the issue one way or another, but on the plus side some pics of the Navistar MXT that the Brits will call the "Husky" have come to light.

If the vehicle does not have a v-shaped hull, at least the wheel wells are relatively far away from the crew.

A little more on the Husky, though obviously it won't settle anything definitively:
Lt Col Nick Wills, Tactical Support Vehicle Programme Manager in Defence Equipment and Support's Protected Mobility Team, said that the design of the vehicle was based on "lessons from current operations." He did not specify the protection but it can be presumed that the capabilities are similar to the Mastiff and Ridgback armoured vehicles which are heavily armoured on all sides and have a v-shaped hull.
(bold emphasis added)
Can a vehicle have something "similar" to a v-shaped hull without having a v-shaped hull?

Time will tell whether the presumption is justified.

Grading PolitiFact: Markey on the costs of cap & trade

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Catharine Richert: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor


I will emphasize from the outset that the impact of cap and trade is a complicated issue. Fortunately, determining whether representations of the impact of cap and trade are misleading is rather less complicated.

Catharine Richert's piece deals with a statement from the Committee on Energy and Commerce which included specific statements from Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Edward J. Markey. The statement opens like so:
Chairmen Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey, co-authors of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) said that a new analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows the that the net annual cost of the legislation would be approximately $175 per household in 2020. This analysis comes on the heels of a new study that found 1.7 million jobs would be created by the clean energy legislation.
Before proceeding, we should take careful note of the spin coming from the committee. The analysis from the CBO places considerable emphasis on the net cost of bill. If we were to handle the accounting for the federal government this way, the net cost of government would equal the amount of the annual budget deficit for a given year. And, if the government balanced its budget, one could claim that the government incurred no net cost.

Taking this concept down to the level of a bill, suppose we create the Bryan White Benefits Bill of 2009. This bill charges every person living in the United States $1, and the entire proceeds are given to Bryan White via direct deposit. The net cost of this excellent law? Zero. The benefits paid out by the government to Mr. White precisely equal the costs incurred by the bill (not counting administrative costs, of course).

Probably the CBO was asked to produce a report emphasizing the net costs, and if so that request by itself constitutes a certain degree of spin on the issue.

Now to the specific statement from Rep. Markey:
"Americans know that building a clean energy economy has real value, and this CBO analysis proves it," said Rep. Markey. "Low-income American families will see a $40 benefit from using more wind and solar energy and less foreign oil. And for the cost of about a postage stamp a day, all American families will see a return on their investment as our nation breaks our dependence on foreign oil, cuts dangerous carbon pollution and creates millions of new clean energy jobs that can't be shipped overseas."
Truly, Markey has uttered a mouthful. His brief statement is chock full of questionable claims. PolitiFact, however, is interested only in whether Markey is accurate in saying that the program will cost about a postage stamp per day according to the CBO.

Indeed, the report cited by Markey and Waxman predicts the bill would have a net annual economywide cost of $22 billion — or about $175 per household — in 2020. Divide that number by 365 days, and you get about 48 cents. A first-class stamp costs 44 cents, so Waxman is close.
There's that word "net" again.

Recall that, by analogy, the net cost of taking one dollar from every American and giving it all to one American is zero.

If the bill were to go into effect, the revenues from it would subsidize the lowest quintile families. Families in the other four quintiles would supposedly have their costs mitigated by factors such as the sale of carbon credits distributed at no cost by the government.

The committee statement obscures the fact that the CBO anticipates increased costs to the government (and the taxpayers) through indexed cost of living increases to Social Security recipients and the like. Additionally, the report forecasts that taxable income will decrease as a result of the cap and trade bill. So the bill will have a net increase on government expenditure and apparently a net decrease on government revenue.

How do we make up the growing difference? The CBO report doesn't say, and Waxman and Markey follow their lead. This constitutes a hidden cost of the bill.

So what about the accuracy of Markey's statement? I admire Richert's surgical skill in picking out the postage stamp cost while trying to leave undisturbed his claims about the bill's supposed benefits.

Even with the stubborn tunnel-vision focus on the average (net) cost, Richert can't properly rehabilitate either Markey or Waxman:
Waxman and Markey are clear about these variables and omissions in their press statement. They note that the poorest people will gain from the bill, and point out that the study does not include every element that could contribute to cap-and-trade's cost.
This statement from Richert is simply false.

The committee statement does not at all acknowledge variables, omissions or additional costs.

See for yourself:

Chairmen Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey, co-authors of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) said that a new analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows the that the net annual cost of the legislation would be approximately $175 per household in 2020. This analysis comes on the heels of a new study that found 1.7 million jobs would be created by the clean energy legislation.
"This analysis underscores that this legislation is effective and affordable," said Rep. Waxman. "It sets America on a course of energy independence while taking significant steps to reduce dangerous global warming pollution."
"Americans know that building a clean energy economy has real value, and this CBO analysis proves it," said Rep. Markey. "Low-income American families will see a $40 benefit from using more wind and solar energy and less foreign oil. And for the cost of about a postage stamp a day, all American families will see a return on their investment as our nation breaks our dependence on foreign oil, cuts dangerous carbon pollution and creates millions of new clean energy jobs that can't be shipped overseas."
CBO estimated the costs of H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, to ascertain the average cost per household that would result from implementing the provisions that cap carbon emissions, as well as how the costs would affect different levels of household income.
CBO states "the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the net annual countrywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion - or about $175 per household."
CBO specifically notes that this figure "does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and the associated slowing of climate change." In particular, CBO did not analyze the energy efficiency improvements and resulting savings in energy costs that will result from the ACES Act's investment of over $60 billion in the next ten years in energy efficiency and required improvements in energy efficiency. One outside group, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), has estimated that the benefits of the energy efficiency provisions in ACES, which generally were not included in the CBO estimate, will save consumers $22 billion in 2020 alone, with cumulative savings of $3,900 per household by 2030.
In addition, CBO found that households in the lowest quintile would see an average net benefit of $40 in 2020. And overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of household after tax income.

The first five paragraphs emphasize only how the CBO study supposedly shows what a great bill it is. The closest we get to a hint of other factors comes from the mere use of "net" in the opening paragraph.

Richert apparently assumed that the sixth paragraph takes other factors and costs into account. But on the contrary, the sixth paragraph only makes it appear that the CBO study failed to take into account additional benefits to consumers. I exaggerate not. Go back and read it again.

This is a mind-boggling oversight/mistake. Richert goes beyond offering benefit of the doubt to Waxman and Markey to the point of covering up an obvious failure to provide full disclosure.

After overlooking the obvious, Richert grades Markey "True."

The grades:

Catharine Richert: F
Bill Adair: F

As fact-checking, this entry was a sham. It qualifies for the special tag of "journalists reporting badly."

Grading PolitiFact: President Obama and TARP profits

The dilemma over grading the literal statement and the underlying argument breaks President Obama's way. Again.

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Robert Farley: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor


The key to this piece of PolitiFact perfidy forms a paradox: If you look closely enough at an issue you can miss something. Writer Robert Farley takes casual notice of some of the evidence that something's amiss, but assures the public that the picture is legit once the focus is drawn sufficiently tight.

By analogy, picture a convenience store. The store is stocked with beer and cigarettes, primarily the former. The cigarettes sold out, but the beer isn't moving. The store owner announces a "profit" on the cigarettes, even though the store is still in the red to the tune of the cost of its beer inventory minus the cigarette profits.

This is yet another statement that is technically true as uttered but easily misleading. The Times' paraphrase adroitly illustrates this: "Obama says government has so far turned a profit on money used to stabilize banks."

There's nothing like having the mainstream media take the misleading aspect of one's technically true statement, then put it on the deck of a fact check piece and finally place a graphic next to it pronouncing it "True."

Thanks, PolitiFact!

The grades:

Robert Farley: F
Bill Adair: F

The statement was technically true but slightly misleading. PolitiFact amplified the misleading nature of the statement, making the situation worse.

BAE's new Panther

Photographs don't lie. Or so I've heard.

Based on the photographic evidence associated with this story, the BAE Panther for the U.S. Army is not the same animal as the BAE Panther that will serve the British armed forces. The latter vehicle was developed by Iveco, and Italian company.

Having two different armored vehicles known as the Panther, particularly where both get a BAE nameplate, permits this situation to create even more confusion than the duplication of the "Ridgeback" name.

Though it is worth noting that the name the Brits gave to the Cougar 4x4 version of the Mastiff (Cougar 6x6) drops the "e" unlike the Protected Vehicles version.

Oh. Newsflash. "Protected Vehicles Inc." is no more. The company has apparently emerged from bankruptcy reorganization with the name Mobile Armored Vehicles, LLC.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another BAE "Panther"?

BAE Systems and PM Assured Mobility Systems will roll out the Panther family of vehicles at Building 52 near Letterkenny Army Depot north of Chambersburg.

BAE is producing the Panther for the U.S. Army. The six-wheel-drive vehicle has a V-shaped hull designed to protect occupants from unconventional explosives. The vehicle will be used by forward engineers, explosive ordnance disposal units and military intelligence units.


The Brits have an Italian armored vehicle that appears in the guise of a BAE product on the company Web site.

It seems doubtful that the U.S. Army is getting the same thing as the Brits.

A new name for the BAE M-ATV, that nearly doubles as the BAE/Navistar Valanx, perhaps?

Let's see some pics!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Does the Navistar M-ATV feature a v-shaped hull? (Updated)

A couple of years ago, I was able to spread my own unfounded rumor about Navistar's MaxxPro MRAP vehicle. I took an ambiguous statement from a company spokesperson to mean that the MaxxPro achieved its mine protection without using a v-shaped hull.

Something similar may be happening with Navistar's MXT-based M-ATV offering, but this time the information comes from bigger players in the armored vehicle commentary realm.

Specifically, Richard North of Defence of the Realm--the direct descendent of the blog that largely inspired me to post regularly about MRAPs if I felt like it--has apparently glommed on to rumors that Navistar's M-ATV failed initial blast testing. North also reports that the Navistar MXTs purchased by Great Britain, dubbed the "Husky," do not have v-shaped hulls:
With 200 ordered by the MoD in April this year, at a cost of £120 million, the Husky has been converted for military use with "bolt-on" armour. The same version was offered to the US Army for a procurement competition for an off-road mine protected vehicle to serve in Afghanistan. But, in the same week of the MoD order, it was learned that the US Army had failed the vehicle during its compulsory mine protection test and had been ruled ou(t) of the competition.

Again, North is unsurprised. Without what is known as a "v-shaped hull" as a basic part of the design, it is difficult to protect vehicles properly. Yet, with the right design, even light vehicles can withstand blasts that cripple tanks ten times their weight.
It does seem that the Navistar M-ATV is close kin to the Husky. And Navistar has not yet, from what I can tell, described it has having a "v-shaped hull." On the other hand, the company did include the following in its press release:
Navistar’s MXT-based design provides the same production and delivery advantages offered by its original MRAP product, the International® MaxxPro®, but in a lighter and more mobile configuration. The company’s M-ATV unit also incorporates the survivability protection expected from all of Navistar’s MRAP vehicles.
It is difficult to imagine that "the survivability protection expected from all of Navistar's MRAP vehicles" does not include a v-shaped hull, though it is easy enough to criticize the company for failing to come right out and say it if the M-ATV does have a v-shaped hull.

I simply haven't found any hard evidence to back up North's claims, such as the one where "it was learned that the US Army had failed the vehicle during its compulsory mine protection test." The claim about the M-ATV failing blast testing I can find in the form of conjecture, and later on as an apparent inference when Navistar's protest of the M-ATV competition was apparently resolved by refining the definition of "hull breach."

This does not necessarily add up to the MXT M-ATV or the Husky lacking a v-shaped hull, and neither does it necessarily mean that the modified MXT fails to protect the crew from IED blast significantly less than its competitors.

Though if Navistar continues its uncharacteristic silence about one of its key products then suspicion that something is amiss with both versions of the MXT will understandably swell.


I finally stumbled across a news report that appears to confirm Richard North's assertion that the Husky does not feature a v-shaped hull as part of its blast protection package:
Like the Eagle IV, which maxes out at NATO STANAG 2a, the Husky appears to be a standard flat-bottomed chassis with extra armor protection. The Husky will come in 3 vehicle types: utility, ambulance and command vehicle, all of which will be powered by 300hp MaxxForce D 6.0L V8 engines, with 530 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm.
(Defense Industry Daily)
This answer is not exactly definitive, but it has the advantage of lacking an obvious inferential bias stemming from the M-ATV blast testing results.

Another passage in the story also seems relevant to North's criticisms:
Britain recently declined to participate in the American/Australian JLTV program, on the grounds that OUVS was primarily about logistics support rather than patrol vehicles, while patrolling was a heavy emphasis for JLTV. Given the frequent use of Land Rover Snatch as a patrol vehicle, and the accompanying controversies and casualties, this is a somewhat surprising rationale, but Britain’s 400 Iveco Panther CLV vehicles are expected to fill that JLTV-type role.
The Iveco Panther has received criticism for its price tag. The Brits do seem to have ended up paying more for less--another North criticism.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Frank Schaeffer around the bend (Updated)

I'm inclined to like Frank Schaeffer, formerly known as "Franky Schaeffer V," son of L'abri Fellowship founder Francis Schaeffer.

I'd count myself as influenced by the elder Schaeffer's writings, particularly in the way they described the role of mankind in terms of the Christian world view. I also read some of the younger Schaeffer's works, including "Sham Pearls for Real Swine," "A Time for Anger" and "A Modest Proposal." Frank Schaeffer struck me even then as emotionally tilted slightly over the bend, though I would still contend that there is some value in what I would call his polemical body of work.

Francis Schaeffer has passed on to the next realm, but Frank Schaeffer continues to dance on the borderline of reasonable discourse.

His column on the lessons America ought to take from Iran serves as Exhibit A:

What are the real lessons of Iran for the USA?

1) Don't mix religion and politics.

2) Thank God for the separation of church and state.

3) The Republicans are utter hypocrites.

Presumably one should not perform #2 while in service to the United States government for fear of failing in #1.

Schaeffer recounts his associations with evangelicals such as D. James Kennedy and Pat Robertson, suggesting that they were sufficiently of the Dominionist stripe that America might resemble Iran if they had things their way.

I'm not sure Schaeffer can be trusted in his assessment. He was the one viewed as the radical during that period, so it is at least as likely that he heard what he wanted to hear in those meetings, much as the electorate heard what it wanted to hear from presidential candidate Barack "Blank Slate" Obama.

But let's at least suppose that there is a substantial germ of truth in his reports and look at how he follows up:
And what Dobson, Falwell et al were pushing, and what the "tea parties" and Fox News are all about today, is one or another version of the Rushdoony/theocracy version of the Iranian mullahs American-style.
The protest rebellion against irresponsible government spending and high taxation is ultimately about Dominionism/theocracy? In terms of stretches, that's trying to get a ponytail holder around the galaxy.

And he doesn't stop there:
When there are tens of thousands of Americans sitting in evangelical churches every Sunday wherein President Obama is vilified as an "abortionist," a "Communist," a "secret Muslim," and even as "the Antichrist," when the former vice president accuses our President of what amounts to treason, all because President Obama won't allow the torture of prisoners in an American version of holy war, all because he has decided it is wise to build bridges of respect to Muslim countries, we've left recognizable political territory and entered the realm of violence-inciting hate and delusion of the kind Iran's "supreme leader" indulges in.
I frankly (pun intended) have trouble seeing how that follows. "Abortionist," "Communist" and "the AntiChrist" do not particularly follow from accusing Bush of treason, not allowing the torture of prisoners or supposedly building bridges of respect to Muslim countries. OK, maybe the "secret Muslim" one fits with the notion of building bridges of respect to Muslim countries, but that can't excuse the whole thing.

Schaeffer writes irresponsibly. Indeed, his tone fails to do anything to copy what he apparently admires about Obama. Obama wants to build bridges of respect to Muslim countries. Schaeffer wants to shrink respect for fellow Americans who are evangelical Christians and/or Republicans.

Should Obama adopt Schaeffer's tone in dealing the the mullahs, then?

Where should we find the hypocrisy again, Mr. Schaeffer?

Oh, that's right--the Republicans. Pathetic, up to and including the attempted tie-in with the recent shooting at the Holocaust museum.


Edited the paragraph starting with "I frankly" for clarity, and cleaned up a typo in the process

Monday, June 15, 2009

Are there no islands in the Fever Swamp?

I dropped "Comments From Left Field" from the Sith blogroll for serial incompetence.

Today, I stopped off at "The Daily Kos" for port side edification.

As luck would have it, the very first story I looked at proposed a "simple" version of the single-payer health insurance plan that consisted of eliminating the social security tax and replacing it with a 10 percent payroll tax apparently dedicated to funding medical care.

Some of us might wonder how we fund Social Security after making that move. That is where the silver lining comes in.

Yes, a blogger published this plan at The Daily Kos. But problems were quickly pointed out in the comments section, and the blogger almost as quickly understood the problems:
Stupid on my part. The numbers I've had in my head are from our total MediCare and Medicaid expenditures, which were $750 billion in 2007, and have little do do with the $850 billion collected from FICA etc.

Clearly I need to spend more thought on this, though I believe that this is the way to go for paying the bills, though to maintain a robust Senior Retirement plan the rate will obviously have to be higher, more like 13-14% shared.

Well, almost understood the problems. Social Security is on the fast track to insolvency with a weakened economy and burgeoning expenses brought on by boomer retirement. Ditto for Medicare, since the bulk of medical expenses occur during the twilight years. Seven percent for FICA probably won't cut it without an associated cut in benefits (how do we define "robust"?).

But let's assume that FICA can remain the same. The idea was to fund medical care through payroll taxes.

It turns out that the proposal was entirely based on dubious reasoning. The writer took total health care costs for 2007 and tried to devise a tax plan for today that would raise that amount of money.

The problem is obvious: Health care spending is increasing rapidly.

The source used by the Kos kid
to provide a $2.4 trillion baseline for 2007 went on to project an increase to $3.1 trillion by 2012.

I suppose that leaves the option of cranking the payroll tax up a percentage point or so every year.

Some liberals seem to have faith that there will always be enough "rich" people to tap for the added costs, but these numbers reflect huge percentages of the GDP. As a percentage of rich person income and/or assets the numbers are unsustainable.

Now take a guess why conservative critics predict that single-payer health care will result in lower quality rationed health care.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Walpin firing

Curious about how the St. Petersburg Times was treating the story about the firing of Gerald Walpin, I used the Times' search feature to hunt up its lone mention in an AP story published today.
WASHINGTON — An inspector general fired by President Barack Obama said Friday he acted "with the highest integrity" in investigating AmeriCorps and other government-funded national service programs.

The story does open with Walpin on the defensive, but the reader who takes in more than three paragraphs will eventually find the dots that others are connecting to question this move by President Obama.

It looks like protection of a political ally at first blush, as Walpin predicted in his e-mail reply to the person who asked for his resignation. Please read the story by Byron York at the Washington Examiner (linked above).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Contessa Brewer takes offense

Ed Morrissey posted a video of MSNBC's Contessa Brewer interviewing John Ziegler on the subject of Sarah Palin.

Morrissey puts his initial emphasis on the way Brewer cuts off Ziegler's microphone, but an update spotlights perhaps the most interesting aspect of the interview.

Brewer asserts that she would not take any particular umbrage at being called "slutty"--at least in contrast to what she sees as Palin's level of upset over the Letterman monologue. Yet when Ziegler says Palin has more class than most anybody at MSNBC, Brewer cuts Ziegler's mic and cuts the interview short. And then complains about Ziegler offering up insults in the process.

Could Brewer have brought herself to cut Ziegler off if he had just told her she looked slutty?

MSNBC wanted to interview Ziegler. I'd say he made his point about MSNBC, with an assist from Brewer. If she was sincerely unable to appreciate Palin's justification for calling Letterman "pathetic" then how do we explain her willingness to treat Ziegler as she did?

In my judgment, Brewer went in with the idea of trying to further marginalize Palin by framing her comment about Letterman as an overreaction. Ziegler, by simply being Ziegler in his capacity as a critic of MSNBC, took Brewer off her game and made her a pawn in his.

Jan. 10, 2010:  Changed "mike" to "mic."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pelosi's creative destruction?

The term "creative destruction" has perhaps reached peak popularity as pundits high and low have debated economic policy during the current recession.

A bill making its way through Congress put an intriguing spin on the concept.

In short, the government would pay people to trade in old cars, with the stipulation that the dealer will ensure that the old vehicle is scrapped.

I heard about this bill on the radio last week, and it was reported that the engine and drive train would be destroyed.

"Creative destruction," of course, refers to the free market's tendency to improve its products and services. This effort by Congress (probably spearheaded by Democrats) serves as an example of state intervention in the economy ostensibly for that same purpose.

Will it work?

In terms of economics, very probably not. As Ed Morrissey points out at Hot Air, consumers would be crazy to trade in vehicles to take advantage of the vouchers where they get less then the car's real value. In those cases, our economy will turn a high value item into presumably less valuable scrap, and no junk dealer is going to turn a profit on drive train. I don't know whether scrapping the car will require that other parts would not be removed for resale.

Naturally, the aim of the bill dovetails with President Obama's energy policy. Obama has preached that cutting the use of fossil fuels serves as a key to the economy of the future. Even on the supposition that this program would result in a net decrease in the use of fossil fuels, however, it does not follow that the economy improves as a result.

Energy serves its key role in an economy with respect to the efficiency of the energy source. That covers all types of efficiency. How easy is it to transport the energy? How much does it cost in its various applications? How much does it cost environmentally? Etcetera.

Obama has the United States weaning itself from the most efficient energy sources in favor of less efficient energy sources. The program works if technological advances give us the more efficient source of energy before we pay the equivalent price in deliberate inefficiency. With the caveat that greenhouse gasses may figure in. Obama, of course, hopes that by raising the price of energy produced with fossil fuels will spur technology.

I have a suspicion that technology requires time and thought on at least equal measure with money.

Are we crossing a bridge or walking the plank? Time will tell, but I expect the latter.

As for the automobile industry, yes the law might help them sell more cars, but each sale under this program is subsidized. That means that, in effect, this bill will borrow yet more cash from future generations so that we can buy new cars from companies kept afloat with money from the next generation.

PayPlay.fm in stasis?

I could almost file this under "Breaking News" since I've looked for information on this literally for weeks.

I have had an account with PayPlay.fm since late 2008, and not long after I joined I noticed something odd. No new music was appearing. Browse by "Date Added" and the updates stopped in November. That appears to remain the case through today.

PayPlay.fm offers a fairly decent service at a reasonable price, if one happens to like music a tad out of the mainstream. I found a remastered version of 4 out of 5 Doctors' eponymous debut as well as appropriately titled followup, "Second Opinion" at an excellent price, for example.

But how can the business continue without adding new product? And why does it remain so difficult to obtain any official information about exactly why the company stopped adding new material?

I can't recommend PayPlay.fm without reservation, but if you find the same music there and at Amazon or Itunes you'll probably pay less at PayPlay.fm. Plus its association with StumbleAudio makes it fairly easy to find indy music worth downloading. Might they go out of business while customers have a balance on their accounts? Yes, that does seem to be the case.

Oshkosh M-ATV video, off-road testing

This video has some unusual footage for early in the game. We get to see the Oshkosh M-ATV from inside for much of the video, and instead of voice-over narration we get informal commentary from the crew.


Another Oshkosh M-ATV video from a public unveiling, featuring commentary by an Oshkosh representative.

RG-33 promo video

The video is fairly slick overall. But what's with the creepy music? Instead of the usual action crunch rock chords, we get something that could easily serve as background music for the television show "Supernatural."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hitchens on ex-Guantanamo terrorists

I often encounter the claim that the experience of a detainee at Gitmo accounts for the actions of ex-Gitmo inmates who engage in terrorist acts. Certain liberals claim that U.S. actions radicalized the men.

I've never known those who make this claim to provide evidence for it, other than a combination of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (after this therefore because of this) and the commonsense suggestion that falsely imprisoned people might well be expected to resent those who imprisoned them. I accept the latter, but I have some difficulty making the leap from resentment to terrorist acts. After all, we have people in the U.S. who experience false imprisonment and the like, and they don't seem to go terrorist in any great percentage.

Christopher Hitchens, that liberal journalist with an outlook on foreign policy that pleases conservatives more often than not, offered his opinion over at Slate:
(I)f we think it probable or possible that a man would only mutate into such a monster after undergoing the Guantanamo experience, then I can suggest one reason why that might be. Nothing prepared me for the way in which the authorities at the camp have allowed the most extreme religious cultists among the inmates to be the organizers of the prisoners' daily routine. Suppose that you were a secular or unfanatical person caught in the net by mistake; you would still find yourself being compelled to pray five times a day (the guards are not permitted to interrupt), to have a Quran in your cell, and to eat food prepared to halal (or Sharia) standards. I suppose you could ask to abstain, but, in such a case, I wouldn't much fancy your chances.
Hitchens makes a good point. The accomodation of the detainees' religious beliefs almost makes it a little Swat valley in a little corner of Cuba.

Though it often may simply be the case that the released detainees were radical to begin with.

Anyone with a line on good evidence showing that ill treatment of detainees results in radicalization is encouraged to point the way in the comments.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Power Line: Press acts as watchdog for Republicans in power, lapdog for Democrats

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line offers an indictment of media reporting on the economy:

On Friday, the government announced the unemployment figures for May. The numbers were grim -- unemployment soared from 8.9 percent to 9.4 percent, the highest level since 1983.

On Saturday, the Washington Post ran two front-page stories about unemployment. One concerned the consequences of long-term unemployment on people's "lifestyles" (to use the term in the story's headline). The other was about how a spa offered free injections of Botox to 50 of its jobless clients.

The story about the May unemployment data appeared on page 9. It was previewed on page 1 with the teaser that said: "A smaller decline -- the pace of job losses slows in May, raising hopes for recovery." In short, good news.

Mirengoff does appear to have provided an example that shows the press uncharacteristically presenting bad economic news as a good sign. Yes, it is true that a lesser decline in employment counts as a type of good news. But overall, the news is still bad.

Can it be that, under the Obama administration, the press has realized its important role in building consumer confidence in order to boost the economy? That would be Hope 'n Change!

Research project: Check major U.S. dailies systematically to see how they report on changes in unemployment numbers.

Offhand, I can think of one legitimate journalistic reason why it would make sense for the press to emphasize the positive in a field of negative. The media emphasize the unusual. When economic data are bad over an extended period of time, the news emphasis may flip-flop to the opposite pole. Put another way, once it becomes commonplace for man to bit dog more than the reverse, dog bites man acquires news value.

Mirengoff's example fits with the plausible hypothesis that the liberal-dominated press wants Obama to succeed and is willing to help, at least subconsciously. And his might even be the best explanation of the facts. The case is short of airtight, however.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Grading PolitiFact: O'Reilly and "Tiller the baby killer"

Political bias may take a number of different forms in journalism. In the most obvious cases, a journalist employs language inconsistent with the principles of journalistic objectivity. A more pernicious form occurs via the choice of content.

I freely admit that my analysis of PolitiFact tends toward the latter type of bias. Sure, I'll defend candidate-for-president Barack Obama if PolitiFact grades him "False" simply for employing hyperbole. But ordinarily I will take the most interest in PolitiFact when it fumbles the truth on the issues I hold dear.

There it is, right there on the table. I have a political bias.

Chances are you'll never see any type of admission like that from PolitiFact. The mainstream press has a vested interest in hiding its political bias in favor of presenting itself as the dispassionate voice of truth and impartiality. And that, indeed, is how PolitiFact markets itself.

Under the surface, however, it is likely that PolitiFact writers read lefty blogs along with sites like the unabashedly liberal Media Matters for America. The analysis on this O'Reilly piece serves as an evidence of this category of journalistic bias.

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Angie Drobnic Holan: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor


First things first: What makes this story newsworthy for a political fact-check site? Even one which has declared for itself an expanded purpose?

PolitiFact admits to using reader feedback to guide it to topics of interest. That serves as great news if you're a liberal who regularly follows the work of an organization like Media Matters for America. Or News Hounds. Both published on this O'Reilly issue before PolitiFact. Both of these partisan sources claim that O'Reilly denied that he called Tiller "Tiller the Baby Killer" except where he reported that pro-life groups had given Tiller the name.

It makes sense to start with O'Reilly's column on Tiller's murder--the one referred to in the PolitiFact headline:
It took just minutes after the report of Tiller's murder for the far-left loons to hit the websites. Postings on the Daily Kos and The Huffington Post immediately blamed me and Fox News for inciting Tiller's killer. Even though I reported on the doctor honestly, the loons asserted that my analysis of him was "hateful."

Chief of among the complaints was the doctor's nickname, "Tiller the baby killer." Some pro-lifers branded him with that, and I reported it. So did hundreds of other news sources. But the bigger picture here is the glorification of Tiller.
Take note, for we may revisit O'Reilly's words.

Drobnic's opening:
Liberals are criticizing conservative talk show host Bill O'Reilly for his harsh comments about Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death while attending church on May 31, 2009, in Wichita, Kan.

Their argument is that O'Reilly repeatedly named Tiller as a late-term abortion provider and called him a "baby killer." That publicity contributed to Tiller's death, they say. Anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, 51, has been charged with Tiller's murder.

Note that the first paragraph accepts the harshness of O'Reilly's words as a premise, or at least lends itself to that interpretation. I suspect Drobnic and Adair might accept this as a mistake, in retrospect. Probably Drobnic intended to present O'Reilly's supposedly harsh rhetoric as simply an allegation from liberals to whom she refers.

To her credit, Drobnic steers clear of whether O'Reilly contributed to Tiller's death. Unfortunately, without that angle this issue probably holds even less interest. What fact are we checking other than O'Reilly's supposed report about himself?

Drobnic picks up on her chosen issue:
O'Reilly responded to his critics in an opinion article posted on BillOReilly.com and in the conservative journal Human Events. He began by saying that Tiller "did not deserve his fate" and was "an American citizen entitled to protection."
And we skip ahead just a bit to reach the key passages:

O'Reilly said that liberal groups were targeting him unfairly.

"Even though I reported on the doctor honestly, the loons asserted that my analysis of him was 'hateful,'" O'Reilly wrote. "Chief of among the complaints was the doctor's nickname, 'Tiller the baby killer.' Some pro-lifers branded him with that, and I reported it. So did hundreds of other news sources."

O'Reilly went on to criticize media outlets for glorifying Tiller in order to silence those who oppose abortion, especially late term abortion.

Drobnic says that O'Reilly said that liberal groups were targeting him unfairly. But note that her evidence from O'Reilly's op-ed is talking about whether or not O'Reilly was "harsh" (supposedly "hateful," by O'Reilly's telling). The last two sentences constitute the key point at issue for PolitiFact, and it should be noted right away that the two statements appear absolutely true from the evidence Drobnic presents. Pro-lifers branded Tiller as a "baby killer" and O'Reilly did report it.

One might pause to wonder: How does PolitiFact take a literally true statement and rate it "False," as happens in this case? Typically literal truth will result in some in-between rating, such as "Barely True," "Half True" or "Mostly True." Or should, if PolitiFact was remotely consistent.

The key, of course, comes from the interpretation of O'Reilly's words. Media Matters took the statement as a denial from O'Reilly that he had attached "baby killer" to Tiller except when he reported that name as used by others.

Just one problem: It is not so easy to take O'Reilly's words that way. Not without at least considering the statement as the type of "artful" rhetoric that seems to get President Obama off the hook as often as not.

And then we have the context.

In addition to pointing out that media outlets all over the country reported that pro-life groups had called Tiller "baby killer," O'Reilly emphasized that his reporting was truthful.

Could that not have encompassed the fact that Tiller performed late-term abortions on fetuses that are fairly called by the term "baby"?

Back to Drobnic:
We wanted to see what O'Reilly had said about Tiller, to see if O'Reilly was indeed being criticized for his reporting on other groups' characterization of Tiller as he said.
Is that what O'Reilly said? Or is it simply a questionable inference made public by left-leaning bloggers? From the available evidence is it not manifestly the latter?

Drobnic goes on to document various statements from O'Reilly where he used the term "baby killer" in proximity to Tiller's name without attributing it to others. But it bears repeating that O'Reilly did not claim anything to the contrary. Rather, a charitable interpretation has O'Reilly downplaying his repeating of the supposedly harsh rhetoric by pointing out that it appeared abundantly in print, while also implicitly insisting that he would be accurate and truthful in calling Tiller a "baby killer."

Certainly it is possible to read O'Reilly less charitably. But evidence should be required for the acceptance of a less charitable reading, and Drobnic fails to deliver.

Given her dubious premise, the conclusion follows:
These instances and others we reviewed clearly show that O'Reilly was not reporting the views of others, but was expressing his own views on the doctor. O'Reilly said in his column that "Some pro-lifers branded" Tiller a baby killer, "and I reported it," as if he were reporting the views of others. But the transcripts show O'Reilly repeatedly referred to Tiller as a baby killer without attribution. So we find his statement that liberal groups are targeting him for his reporting of what others said to be False.
1) Drobnic errs in failing to offer O'Reilly the most favorable interpretation of his statement.

2) After the first failing, Drobic errs again in failing to note that O'Reilly's statement is literally true even if his supposed underlying argument fails to hold water.

It should have been impossible to grade O'Reilly worse than "Barely True," but somehow it happened anyway.

I did not bother looking for evidence that Drobnic indulged in literary borrowing from Media Matters or News Hounds. I trust she is too professional for that. However, I count it very likely that PolitiFact followed liberal blogs on this story. In the past Media Matters has even been listed as a source at PolitiFact. I think Media Matters probably remains a source, but no longer merits mention since that reflects ill on PolitiFact's objectivity. As if there was such a thing.

The grades:

Angie Drobnic Holan: F
Bill Adair: F


I did a little bit of Google research and, sure enough, PolitiFact often used Media Matters as a source in 2008. The practice appears to have stopped prior to the start of the new year.

Striking Media Matters from the list of sources would serve as a sign of improvement if Media Matters was no longer used as a source.

I have my doubts as to the latter.