Saturday, September 17, 2005

New Math

I made it as far as calculus in college. I had no idea what I was learning, it went over my head, but I memorised the formulae and passed the tests. But I remember trigonometry, the relationship between the angles and sides of a triangle, and all those sines, cosines and tangents.

Who says that science can't renew itself? A professor realised, with Einsteinian simplicity, that we have been looking at triangles all wrong for almost two thousand years! He recast the relationships and made it all very simple. It's called rational trigonometry:
Established by the ancient Greeks and Romans, trigonometry is used in surveying, navigation, engineering, construction and the sciences to calculate the relationships between the sides and vertices of triangles.

"Generations of students have struggled with classical trigonometry because the framework is wrong," says Wildberger, whose book is titled Divine Proportions: Rational Trigonometry to Universal Geometry (Wild Egg books).

Dr Wildberger has replaced traditional ideas of angles and distance with new concepts called "spread" and "quadrance".

These new concepts mean that trigonometric problems can be done with algebra," says Wildberger, an associate professor of mathematics at UNSW.

"Rational trigonometry replaces sines, cosines, tangents and a host of other trigonometric functions with elementary arithmetic."
You can take a look at a sample chapter here. It really is, even to these out of experience eyes, awfully simple. I see an echo of the old math lesson: In a right triangle, the sum of the squares of the two sides equals the square of the opposite side. Cool!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Your Thought For The Weekend

99% of people that have cancer have eaten pickles. That doesn't tell you squat about the relationship of pickles and cancer.
Why the New CA Still Ticks Me Off

Today's editorial in the Commercial Appeal talks about House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's upcoming support for new legislation that will make it easier for local communities and counties to create new taxes on property and development, in effect devolving some tough-to-beat State laws down to the County level and watering them down into malleability.

News to you? Me too. A quick search of the CA site shows they haven't reported on this! So we have a new instance of the recurring problem with the "new" CA of them pontificating on a topic they haven't reported on! Man, I hate that....

I know, the dry stuff from Nashville isn't the compelling narrative of "telling the story of Greater Memphis." But the effects of what Naifeh proposes -- and the CA finds good -- will profoundly alter things here in Shelby County. It would be nice to know, you know? It's certainly more important to the majority of Shelby Countians than [generic] uplifting stories of [generic] people who overcame some [generic] obstacle.

But no, the types of readers the CA wants don't pay for that kind of news. You can't sell those readers to advertisers for premium rates. Editor in Chief Chris Peck can don the robes and intone the invocation, "Fair, neutral, objective" all he wants but he's in business to sell a product.

Too bad for us.
Remember This Post

MLGW is announcing that natural gas prices are markedly higher this year, thanks in part to Katrina, and local utility prices might be 70% higher for MLGW customers. In other words, your $100 gas bill will now be $170. Your $300 bill will be $510.

Right now, no one's paying attention, so file this for later when it gets cold and the latest bills go out. When the outrage cranks up.

Fortunately for me, my apartment is all-electric. It makes for dry air in the winter, but my MLGW bills don't get exorbitant like some.
Political Depresssion Ophelia Still Blows

Twelve votes. Yeah, the Ford family can spin it any way they want. Ophelia can bluster that she'd kick Roland's ass in a general election, but the fact is the bloom is off the rose. The GOP is already, sensibly, contesting the election due to its closeness, but under the pretext of irregularities with an election machine cartridge from a North Memphis precinct. They already laid some groundwork with their press release alleging vote fraud in the early voting period, so that helps them.

You can read some local blog reactions from LeftWingCracker, who sees this as a harbinger of bad times ahead for Young Master Harold in his Senate run. Fishkite notes that even with turn out the vote efforts (including an Olympian push by Republicans), turnout was still a depressing six percent, meaning this was a battle of the bases, which is further bad news for Democrats. AlphaPatriot has a good roundup. Thaddeus Matthews blusters and flails; I had hoped for more from him and his network of contacts. And Jackson Baker has the first-person, on-the-spot reporting that covers events.

The big question this morning is "What does it all mean?" Well, as I noted above, it means the Fords have a lot of work ahead of themselves. It means renewed vigor in certain quarters of Democratic Shelby County now that the Fords are staggering. It means tough times for Harold.

It's good to see the Shelby Count and State Republicans at least press the issues of recount and fraud, though if they follow through remains to be seen. If turnout had been higher, I'd be impressed at how well Roland did. But with three percent of the voting population voting Republican, I don't think it means more than that the party turned out the base quite well. If someone did some polling to see what percentage of District 29 blacks voted Republican, then those numbers would tell the tale.

I think, if the present results stand, Ophelia will be the gift that keeps on giving. As the heir-successor to disgraced, resigned John Ford she will be under enormous scrutiny. Even though she made efforts to stay below the media radar, her infrequent appearances demonstrated an unprepared, ill-informed, volatile, loose cannon. She clearly knows little about politics, other than learning by Ford osmosis, and knows less about media behavior. Ophelia doesn't seem to know anything about the issues she will face in the Senate. She will prove to be an endless source of fodder for Republicans in their Senate challenge to Harold Ford.

The folks in District 29 will suffer, too. I'd like to know how much of her brother's staff stays on to work with her. I'd love to hear how much of the heavy lifting they do for her. I'll be watching the Nashville papers and blogs for news of her missteps and gaffes. I'm guessing she walks into the Capitol Bunker with an overlarge sense of self-importance and entitlement (believing the measure of respect and fear that John Ford had will be hers by inheritance) that will quickly get her slapped down. Someone stick a microphone on Senator Steve Cohen; he should be entertaining.

Now, as for the issue of the "missing cartridge," I think -- uncharacteristically enough -- that it's being overblown! Really. I can't go into the details (right now), but I have some knowledge of Shelby County election process and some of the people involved. Yes, hanky-panky could be a factor. After all, there are Fords involved and it's high stakes here.

But it's also quite likely, to me, that mere forgetfullness and lack of due diligence on the part of the precinct captain for that voting precinct was the most likely culprit. Most precinct captains are elderly retirees who have been doing this for years. Back in the '04 elections, certain procedures were changed (related to provisional voting; a real bugaboo). Even on a low-turnout day (one hundred voters at that station, is the report I heard), I can honestly see error still creeping in.

I'm not sure how far that precinct is from the Shelby County Election Commission office downtown, but when the precinct captain turned in his/her election station materials there (which would have been around 7:45 or later) it would have taken a while to discover and investigate the missing cartridge. Then, a County trooper would have been dispatched back to the precinct building, probably with the captain and another official or two. If the building was locked by someone else, they have to find and roust that person and get them back to the precinct to open it for them. Then there's the ride back downtown. All that takes a while, even at police speeds.

I know. Most of you readers are stunned at me. It's OK. I'm surprised too. We shouldn't dismiss Ford/Democrat shenanigans (I don't) but we should first clear simple error, which I believe to be the likelier explanation in the cartridge situation. The GOP and the Roland campaign already claim to have found some seven instances (if I recall correctly) of early voter fraud. That makes the margin of victory only five votes. I'm pretty sure there are at least five more problematic votes to be found. Start and keep plugging away.

INSTANT UPDATE: Bumper Sticker Politix also has some thoughts.

News over the radio says that a stray provisional ballot was found to have a valid Ophelia vote, making her victory total 13. The State's Attorney General has declined the Tennessee Republican Party's call to "seize" the Shelby Co. voting machines. I guess they go to the County Election Commission now and press their case with Greg Duckett and the commissioners.
Emotional Sloganeering Trumps Sanity

Cindy Sheehan speaks:
George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans and Iraq, and excuse his self from power. The only way America will become more secure is if we have a new administration that cares about Americans even if they don’t fall into the top two percent of the wealthiest.
It wasn't until National Guard troops showed up that real security arrived in New Orleans, the NOPD having abandoned the place. But in the crazy world of Cindy Sheehan, military is military and presence is alway occupation.
It's Not Manipulated, Except Where It Is

Come to find out that Reuter's did manipulate the Bush Bathroom Note photo, although they semi-try to deny it:
The photo, which quickly became fodder for blogs and e-mails among friends, was taken by Rick Wilking, a contract photographer based in Denver who recently covered the flooding in New Orleans.

Hershorn, Reuters' news editor for pictures for the Americas, says he's responsible for zooming in on the note and deciding to transmit the photo to Reuters clients. He says Wilking didn't know what the note said when he shot the picture....

But a few hours later, he started to wonder about a note that Bush was seen writing in three of the pictures. Out of curiosity, he zoomed in to see if he could read it.

Once he saw what it said, Hershorn decided the note was interesting and worth publishing. The white parts of the picture were overexposed, so a Reuters processor used Photoshop to burn down the note. This is a standard practice for news photos, Hershorn says, and the picture was not manipulated in any other way.
What's clear is that Hershorn got curious abut what the note said and so tried to find out. I'm guessing he hoped it would say something like, "Bolton will shake this crowd up." or "Kofi's ass is grass, Condi." When he learned it was embarrassing, he ran it.
"She Would Have Sent Soldiers"

Germany's center-left SDP party has been embroiled in political and financial scandals for years that have eroded their base. Apparently they are getting desperate, as that poster is an official campaign poster! How very

AFTERNOON UPDATE: Ahahahahaha! The candidate has pulled this poster down from his website. This after he said, in the German press, that he stood by it! Coward. You can see the poster, and read updates to the story, here.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Firefox Switching

A former Microsoft Internet Explorer designer has switched to Firefox and gives his top five reasons for doing so. He also gives fives things he thinks Firefox could improve on! Interesting stuff. There's a followup post here.

If you want to learn more about the better browser, take a look at Firefox.
And Now for Something Completely Different

Jamey asks: If you were travelling across the country and could only take 5 cds with you, which ones would you choose? Live albums okay, no greatest hits.

Here was my list:

Tyranny & Mutation - Blue Oyster Cult (or maybe Secret Treaties)
Never Mind the Bollocks -- Sex Pistols
The Hoople - Mott the Hoople (or maybe the album that preceded it, Mott)
Happy Days - Catherine Wheel
Mothership Connection - Parliament/Funkadelic

If you ask me tomorrow, I might have a different five, as I like a lot of music. What's your list? (Don't forget to post at Jamey's, too.)

FRIDAY LUNCHTIME UPDATE: Sure enough, today my list would look like this:

Country Life -- Roxy Music
On Returning -- Wire (Technically not a "best of" but a compilation)
Rhino Records CD -- Mission of Burma (Also not a "best of" as it collects every song they recorded in their first incarnation: The first single, the EP, the second single and their only studio album with some other stuff.)
Secret Treaties -- Blue Oyster Cult
Brave Words -- The Chills
The Final Nail

At least one local Democrat thinks today's Senate District 29 race heralds "A Change is Going to Come".
Ophelia will, baring a miracle, go down today. Junior will more than likely lose next year. If I am right, and as Cracker can back up, and I usually am, Carol Chumney losing her Council election being a big blunder against me, then the Ford machine will have lost its power over the city.

We saw the beginnings of this in 99 when Senior decided to run his brother and not himself for mayor. We've seen it with the prayerful grooming of Junior for a run at a Senate seat, waiting out first Thompson and Frist. We've seen it with John self destructing like an out of control rock star. And now Ophelia is going to lose a seat she should not have been defending in the first place.
I'm refraining from predicting this race because the Fords are famous for last minute "miracle" saves. A lot of folks are watching out, hoping to prevent Ford shenanigans, but Memphis is a big (as in geography) city. This race is too important to the Fords, even if they offered up a third-stringer like Ophelia in defense of the seat.

I'll be watching later, but for now... it's too hard to call.

Speaking of which, has anyone received any robocalls from the Ford family? Anything you've seen you'd like to report? Let me know.
Intellectual, Avoidant, Neat Freak, Paranoid and Hypersensitive

But you knew all that already, right?

Advanced Global Personality Test Results
Extraversion |||||| 26%
Stability |||||| 26%
Orderliness |||||||||||||||| 70%
Accommodation || 10%
Interdependence |||| 16%
Intellectual |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Mystical || 10%
Artistic |||||| 30%
Religious |||||||||||| 43%
Hedonism |||||| 30%
Materialism |||||| 30%
Narcissism |||||| 23%
Adventurousness |||||| 23%
Work ethic |||||||||| 36%
Self absorbed |||||||||||| 43%
Conflict seeking |||||||||||||| 56%
Need to dominate |||||||||||||| 56%
Romantic |||||| 23%
Avoidant |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Anti-authority |||||||||||| 50%
Wealth || 10%
Dependency |||||||||| 36%
Change averse |||||||||||||||| 70%
Cautiousness |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Individuality |||||||||||||| 56%
Sexuality |||||| 23%
Peter pan complex |||||||||||||| 56%
Physical security |||||||||||||||| 70%
Physical Fitness || 10%
Histrionic |||||| 23%
Paranoia |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Vanity |||||||||||||| 56%
Hypersensitivity |||||||||||||||| 70%
Female cliche |||||| 23%
Take Free Advanced Global Personality Test
personality tests by

Stability results were low which suggests you are very worrying, insecure, emotional, and anxious.
Orderliness results were high which suggests you are overly organized, reliable, neat, and hard working at the expense too often of flexibility, efficiency, spontaneity, and fun.
Extraversion results were low which suggests you are very reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and secretive.

trait snapshot:
depressed, introverted, neat, needs things to be extremely clean, observer, perfectionist, not self revealing, does not make friends easily, suspicious, irritable, hates large parties, follows the rules, worrying, does not like to stand out, fragile, phobic, submissive, dislikes leadership, cautious, takes precautions, focuses on hidden motives, good at saving money, solitary, familiar with the dark side of life, hard working, emotionally sensitive, prudent, altruistic, heart over mind, unadventurous
OK Then Once Again

The same emailer who alerted me to Randy Neal's (aka South Knox Bubba) new photo blog (Rviews) also alerts me that Neal is now back to regular blogging. Did I not tell you? Yes, I did.

What seems clear in retrospect is that what Neal did was not so much a reaction to Conley's evil machinations, but a sloughing off of the whole edifice of responsibility he'd built up as South Knox Bubba. I mean the whole network of expectations of SKB to maintain the flag of Left Liberal Democratic Tennessee in the Face of Evil Corporate Republicanism. It was a terrible thing to carry and he obviously crumbled at last. (I don't say that accusingly. Regular readers here know I frequently crumble under the featherweight of H-B.)

Now, he's free to blog without all the other stuff. He's kinda like a sun that shrugs off the excess heavy gasses in a nova to leave a smaller, cooler sun behind. I'm sure he's a much happier, more relaxed person now.
The History Carnival

Yours truly is a lover of history, though by no means well-educated about it. So much of what consumes us today has consumed previous cultures. As they say, and it's true: Everything old is new again. The people of 300 or 3000 years ago may have lived in primitive homes and barely scraped out a living in brutal circumstances, but they were people exactly like us today.

Anyway, The History Carnival XVI is up and it looks at variety of historical events, influential things and the methodology of historians and archeologists. Tons and hours of fun reading.
The Founders' Religion

[This is the first of several posts to follow that draw from the History Carnival post just above.]

It's a tenet among conservative Christians that the Founding Fathers were a religious lot. In a general sense, that's true, but as this post on Madison’s and Washington’s Silence shows, they were heretical in their day. The people who wrote our Constitution were Enlightenment Deists, unitarians, and folks who didn't see the Bible as inerrant words from God. The constant refrain of "Nature's God" you find in the founding documents is a largely misunderstood phrase today, but had a very real meaning at the time. It meant not the God of the Bible, as revealed within it, but the God of nature as revealed to men of reason who studied and learned from nature. They valued reason and study above all.

Also, apropos of the discussion in posts below about the role of government, I want to quote from our fourth President, James Madison, speaking in 1799:
Pledged as we are, fellow-citizens, to these sacred engagements, we yet humbly, fervently implore the Almighty Disposer of events to avert from our land war and usurpation, the scourges of mankind; to permit our fields to be cultivated in peace; to instil into nations the love of friendly intercourse; to suffer our youth to be educated in virtue, and to preserve our morality from the pollution invariably incident to habits of war; to prevent the laborer and husbandman from being harassed by taxes and imposts; to remove from ambition the means of disturbing the commonwealth; to annihilate all pretexts for power afforded by war; to maintain the Constitution; and to bless our nation with tranquillity, under whose benign influence we may reach the summit of happiness and glory, to which we are destined by nature and nature’s God.
As the highlighted phrase, read within context, shows, the Founders meant for government never to be the means by which ambitious men could enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the public. It was intended to remain small in its reach (though fundamentally broad in effect, as a Federal government would be) and specific in its powers, to prevent its co-optation by the greedy and tyrannical. These people all had first hand experience with that kind of government and knew its evils well. Something for us, in our comfortable and safe lives, to think about today.

So there.
The More Things Change....

No point to this post except to quote this illustration of what I said above:
How did history sound? The question is not so banal as it might first appear. For example, when we think of "literature" now we think for the most part of silent readers occupied, to use Benedict Anderson's memorable phrase, "in the lair of the skull." However, many genres were and are meant to be spoken or sung: the epic, the ballad, the sermon, the play. And many readers read aloud, even long after words began to be written down with spaces between them in order to facilitate silent reading. As many scholars writing in the wake of Jurgen Habermas have acknowledged, London's seventeenth- and eighteenth-century coffeehouses were sites for public reading of (and argument about) the contents of the latest newpapers in a cacophanous collision of caffeine, conversation, and print. (Didja catch that alliteration? That's a trick of the ear, not the eye, yet chances are you're not reading this aloud. Sound--or the idea of sound--can invade the lair of the skull, then, though probably not for everyone.)
Hmmm.... It sounds a lot like the coffee houses and blogs of today, doesn't it? Plus ca change, c'est la meme chose, eh?
Good Flood, Bad Flood

One of the things I noticed in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath coverage was the constant refrain that the damage from Mobile to New Orleans and up north to Hattiesburg was the "worst in American history." I was immediately reminded, as others were, of the terrible Great Flood of 1927, which was arguably the worst in American history. John Barry's authoritative book, Rising Tide documents it quite well.

There's an excellent post, Roblog: The Good Flood at Rob MacDougall's blog, that takes a look at it.
Was 1927 the Good Flood? I don’t have Barry’s book in front of me any more (another library user recalled it the day after Katrina, and they weren't the only one looking for the book—Rising Tide jumped this week to #11 on Amazon's best seller list, and the NYT reports it's just gone back into print), but the picture of 1927 that he drew there was considerably less heartwarming. The majority of people displaced by the flood were black sharecroppers. The whites who owned flooded lands desperately feared that black labor would simply abandon the region after the waters receded. White planters had refused outside assistance after earlier floods for fear it would undermine their control of the region. In 1927, the planters succeeded in taking over relief efforts to see that they did not. National guardsmen were used to keep sharecroppers imprisoned in the refugee camps until they could return to working the land, and local officials charged homeless blacks—on credit, ever deepening their debts—for food and medical supplies the Red Cross had intended to be free.

Barry describes how 1927 became a turning point in attitudes towards federal activism and relief—not because the U.S. government stepped in to help the victims of the flood, but because it didn’t, and the American public was outraged. Things changed after 1927. The Flood Control Act of 1928 was the most expensive single bill Congress had ever passed, and Barry sees it as a crucial first step towards the ambitious relief activities of the New Deal. But in the wake of the flood and right through the New Deal years, the prime beneficiaries of the new federal paternalism remained the region’s white planters....

...[t]he man most associated with relief efforts at the time was Coolidge’s secretary of commerce, Herbert Hoover. (Maybe he’s the little fat man?) Hoover had of course made his name engineering famine relief in Europe after the First World War. And with no real precedents for federal disaster relief, the flood fell under the Commerce Department’s purview by virtue of its authority over interstate commerce on the Mississippi. Hoover’s efforts after the flood earned him immense positive publicity and helped put him in the White House in 1928. But his apparent abandonment of the Louisiana refugees in the months to come, it’s been argued, played a big part in splitting black voters from the party of Lincoln for good.
So it is that Katrina will have powerful, longterm effects we can't see yet. Just as the 1927 flood raised Hoover to the White House -- where, you would think, his skills would have made him perfect to handle the Great Depression but instead he was hounded from public life in disgrace for his perceived incompetence -- so Katrina will set us up for consequences unknown.

Something to think about.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

No Heavy Lifting For Me Tonight

It's late and I'm tired. Mark, over at The Conservative Zone had a couple of good posts this morning you should read, so I'll let him stand in for me.

One looks at the real causes of the levee failure in NOLA, and it wasn't Bush. The other is "Sperminator vs. Terminator." You figure it out.

One other post, on a related topic, here:
On Sept. 2 — five days after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast — Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., who represents New Orleans and is a senior member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, was allowed through the military blockades set up around the city to reach the Superdome, where thousands of evacuees had been taken....

Military sources tells ABC News that Jefferson, an eight-term Democratic congressman, asked the National Guard that night to take him on a tour of the flooded portions of his congressional district. A five-ton military truck and a half dozen military police were dispatched.
I hope the folks who have been so unsparing in the vituperation towards Bush will unload full bore into this Congressman.

Don't think it will happen, but I can hope.
I Got Yer Poll Right Here

Hmmm.... So last week it was the poll showing Bush's approval rating at 39%. Shock horror, he's cratering in the public's eyes.

Now comes a poll from Gallup showing that President Bush's approval has risen during the Hurricane Katrina MSM scrum, from 40% in late August (his career low) to 46% in the second week of September, the height of media bashing.

Hmmm.... I'm guessing we won't be hearing from the Demcrats on this one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Things We Think We Know

Reading today's Bleat from James Lileks took me to this research from Snopes. It tells the apocryphal story of Uncle Don, who supposedly uttered the career-killing phrase "There, that oughta hold the little bastards." on-air at the end of his well-loved children's radio show. As the Snopes article exhaustively shows, it never happened. In fact, the story is traced back into the early 1920's, long before Uncle Don ever went on the air.

And yet, people still believe it's true, even today. Maybe especially today, since we are so far removed from it. No one who was alive then is alive now to back it up. There is no recorded or documented evidence.

And so the story persists. I've become somewhat sensitive to this lately, as I've had some incidents in my personal life where I was sure I remembered something, only to find out I'm wrong. Sometimes very wrong. It's affected my blogging, as I'm now not always sure I remember something the way I think I do.

But that's neither here nor there at the moment. People today assume that with our all-pervasive, all-seeing media that there is no room for this kind of apocrypha. And yet there is. My favorite is the Bush Thanksgiving plastic turkey. Remember President Bush's surprise visit on Thanksgiving Day 2003 to visit the troops in Iraq? It was a bold move and won him lots of press and kudos.

But there were some who just couldn't stand that Bush would do such a thing and they went looking for some way to undermine the story. What did they find? A fake turkey. The slimmest of reeds was pegged to tie down a "the turkey was fake, just like the President" metaphor.

Only that wasn't the end of it. As Tim Blair has exhaustively documented (use his blog's search tool to find all the examples), the "fake" turkey morphed into a "plastic" turkey, an inedible one rather than a showpiece one. And it's spread ever since. Watch for it to reappear this coming Thanksgiving season.

Talk with Lefties and they'll remember the "plastic" turkey prop that Bush waved for the cameras. It's just wrong.

Or take something closer to home. During the tax protests of 2002, the press of this state was unified in their presentation of the tax protesters in Nashville as being a "horn honking, rock throwing mob." It was the only phrase used to describe them and it was repeated in every media outlet in this state. Yes, they were horn honkers, to get the Legislature's attention; yes, there was a rock thrown, allegedly, one day, into the Governor's office.

But have you seen any photos of the Governor's office with the rock in it? Or the broken window? Or any State Trooper holding the alleged rock? There are photos of a window at the State Capitol that was broken when a protester leaned too hard against it. (Sorry, can't find that link this morning.) If you can find any of these photos, please send a link along. I'd like to see them.

Because of the ubiquity of the repetition, lazy writers with a political bias just passing along a witty phrase, it's stuck. And what was an unprecedented display of public anger at their government was reduced to a circus sideshow poster.

That shows the power of the Big Lie, of the ability of the media to keep false stories alive. The Commercial Appeal's Chris Peck loves to talk about the press' rigorous fact-checking process, and how it weeds out the false, but then he fails to mention that most papers don't fact-check the papers and stories they carry from the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post. They take their stories as received truth and just pass them along. So, false information gets picked up and spread.

And we believe something that never happened.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Incompetent Bush

We all know that the Bush administration is all about the "ooooooiiiiiiilllll, man." Gas prices going up in the summer time, then going up more in the wake of Katrina. It's all just a huge plan to keep oil prices up, up, up.

Except that oil prices are falling! They are down around $61 or $63 a gallon barrel today. (More here.)

I guess for the Left it's just more proof of the incompetency of the BushRove robots to perform their duties. They can't even properly enrich themselves.
Wait A Minute!

A New York Times article about the "hit" President Bush's image with blacks is taking contains this passage:
A poll released last week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center bore out that reaction as well as a deep racial divide: Two-thirds of African-Americans said the government's response to the crisis would have been faster if most of the victims had been white, while 77 percent of whites disagreed.
Wait a minute! In this country 90% of blacks vote Democrat and it is Democrats who are vociferously leading the charge against the Bush administration for how the response to Hurrican Katrina has gone. It's all over the news, day in and day out. So, one-third of black Americans still don't think Bush is racist!

Wow. But that's not the story for the Times is it? The Democrats still think they've got an issue with this. Keep on pushin', guys, keep on pushin'....
It Makes Me Go Hmmmmm

I know it's an inconsequential thing, but this is the kind of connection that makes me go "hmmmm" and wonder about the newspapers and reporters that tell us about our world.

It began with this Commercial Appeal story from last Thursday about Terry Roland, the Republican candidate for the State Senate 29th District seat vacated by Democrat John Ford and being sought by sister Ophelia. The article included this passage:
He has campaigned frequently in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Memphis, from Raines Road to Kerrville, he said.

"That's the difference between me and a lot of other people," Roland said. "I listen."

Warren Lewis, 72, owner of the 40-year-old Warren's Original Hair Style shop on Thomas near Chelsea, planted a Roland campaign sign out front after the candidate's visits.


"One of the main things, sir, nobody comes to talk to me," Lewis said. "That's what makes the difference."
Any white candidate running in District 29 starts with a disadvantage, in that he's the minority. Effective campaigning in the black community is a must.

But then comes Monday and I receive a press release (I didn't ask to get on this list, it just happened. More on that in a bit.) from the Roland campaign about a "whirlwind tour" of the 29th District by Roland. One of his stops? Warren's Original Hair Style salon.

So I ask myself, which came first? Did the reporter dig up Warren's on his own? Did he drive around the district, see the sign and just go in to talk with Mr Warren? Did he find the guy on his own?

Did the Roland campaign then read about the guy, go talk with him, find him willing to campaign and then set up the visit for today?


Did the reporter ask the Roland campaign if he could talk with some Roland supporters? Was he given Warren's name? Did he then go talk with Mr Warren, but fail to mention in the article how he learned of the guy?

Did the Roland campaign, now armed with name recognition in the paper for a Roland campaigner and supporter, then work with Mr Warren to capitalise on this little bit of good pre-planned fortune?

Color me suspicious, but I suspect it was the latter and not the former. I may have to call this reporter (Kevin McKenzie) to find out.

As to why I'm receiving Roland PR, you've got me. I don't recall ever signing up, though I am on the Shelby County Republican Party mailing list. (I signed up for the Democrat's list, but have never received a single thing from them.) But the email I get from the SCRP goes to the Half-Bakered mailbox and the Roland material goes to my personal email box. All political stuff I sign up for goes to the Half-Bakered box, for obvious reasons.

In the initial PR thing, the sender didn't use the Blank Carbon Copy feature (or a generic list name) and I got the entire list of recipients. It covered the CA, some smaller papers, lots of television news reporters... and two bloggers. Me and Alpha Patriot. Maybe he was the source? Doesn't matter.

Anyway, I bring this up because that first piece of campaign PR was so... odd that I initially suspected it had been sent out by Ford operatives as a dirty tactic. I cursorily tried to contact the Roland campaign, but got an answering machine and let it go.

Read this:

*It's Possible Unregistered People and Convicted Felons Have Voted.*

*(Memphis, TN) *– Candidate Terry Roland strongly urges the Tennessee and Shelby County Election Commissions to closely monitor voter ballots for the District 29 State Senate special election. Voting irregularities may *already* be a serious problem according to voting records obtained by the Terry Roland for State Senate campaign.

Early voting for the special election began August 26th at the Election Commission office. In the first 200 votes cast in Shelby County, five people voted with no record of ever having registered to vote. Additionally, some voted that public records list as convicted felons.

"While this may not be conclusive proof of illegal voting, it certainly warrants investigation. If this is any indication of a trend in the overall voting, it is very serious indeed," said Darrin Kirkus, campaign coordinator for Terry Roland.

In a letter to the commission, the Terry Roland campaign has asked the Shelby County Election Commission to closely monitor the ballots in what is expected to be a close race.
It may all be true and it is a crime that deserves investigation, but does the Roland campaign want to trumpet this when the black community is especially sensitive to issues of disenfranchisement, real or perceived. It's certainly an attack the Ford campaign would pounce on, privately by word of mouth, as proof of which "master" Roland serves. As I said, it may be true and bad, but it's plain old bad PR in a majority black district. That's why I suspected dirty tricks.

Roland presented himself initially as an straight-shooting, think for himself Republican. The kind of guy who doesn't do what the party wants but what's right. Only thing is, as I noted then on Thaddeus Matthews' blog, how is such an independent the Number Four guy in the SCRP? You don't rise that high if you can't play ball and serve the needs of the party. The two are mutually incompatible.

Which is why I stayed out of this race. Yes, it's better that a Republican serve than another Ford, especially someone who is a businessman than a family-hanger on. Roland is, seen in isolation, just the kind of citizen-politician I should like. But I've disliked the opportunistic way the Republicans have pushed Roland since the day John Ford resigned. (Remember how they shot out that PR announcement requesting that someone be appointed to finish out Fords's term and how Roland was the best candidate for appointment? Oooooh....) The real man and the image aren't consonant, which bugs me enough to be leery. The SCRP aren't the slickest dildoes in the dungeon, if you know what I mean, and so it's easy to assume a degree of manipulation going on.

I don't like manipulation. I like straight-forwardness and honesty. Give me that and you'll get my vote.
Harold Ford Jr. Ends His Senate Run

Congressman Harold Ford Jr.'s office has just sent out a press release that may end his Senate run for Bill Frist's seat in 2006.

It begins innocently enough:
I am writing to urge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security immediately begin the process of conducting simulation and drills of federal, state and local officials to prepare for a potential catastrophic earthquake along the New Madrid seismic zone.
Fair enough and a good idea.

The timing of the announcement/request is suspect, coming as it does in the wake (literally!) of Katrina and amid the furious Democratic attacks on anything Bush-related in FEMA's actions. It smacks of opportunism of the most cynical sort. And the tying of a potential earthquake with the hurricane disaster is just Harold's way of playing the local angle to make himself look like he's "doing something about emergency preparedness." Typical political posturing.

The real problem for Ford, the shocker of a statement, is here:
Such an event is likely to cripple the response of local and state government and their first responders and emergency personnel. Therefore, a plan must be in place that would enable the federal government to respond immediately - without the immediate consent of state and local officials.

As you know, the current National Response Plan requires the Governor, in consultation with the local governments, to determine that a disaster is beyond the resources and capability of the state and local government to respond. This strategy - if used in the event of a major earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic area - has the potential to cost lives and should be seriously reconsidered.
Uhhh, Harold? Ever heard of a little thing called federalism? It's what keeps the Federal government from just pre-emptively moving into a State and taking over. It's a core principle of how the Constitution works. You remember that? You swore an oath on it.

Ford is proposing to throw out a central tenet of how we govern ourselves!

Federalism is what protects States. The States are left alone to govern themselves. Only in extra-ordinary circumstances -- like flood, fire, earthquake, civil unrest -- can the Federal government step in and only then either by request of the State or by the rarer Executive Order of the President (who will then answer to Congress). It's only when the State cannot handle the problem that they request the Federal government step in to help out. Even then, the Federal government can only do what the State requests it to do.

That's part of the problem in how the Katrina mess got so bad. New Orleans and Louisiana had the responsibility of dealing with the hurrican's damage first. Then, they had a procedure to follow to request FEMA and National Guard help. Only then could the Federal government provide the massive aid and response it can. The Governor of Louisiana and to a lesser extent the Mayor of New Orleans failed to do what they were supposed to do. The result left the Federal response hanging in the meantime.

What Ford proposes is that, whenever it wants to, the Federal government can decide to step in and take over a State in any way it wants to. That's a federal power grab of unbelievable proportions. Oh sure, "it's only for emergency relief situations." Until someone calls a civil disturbance an "emergency" or some Federal official decides that an election crisis is an "emergency." Imagine if the civil unrest following the 2000 election was used as an excuse to trigger the Clinton administration sending in Federal troops. Don't think it could happen? Just watch.

Smarter minds than mine will be dissecting Ford's incredible stupidity in the days and weeks to come. He's really made a huge mistake here. It's understandable for him, as a black Democrat, to think this way and see it all as reasonable. But it's not. And he will shortly be shown why.

The mess he's just made will likely cripple his statewide efforts to create appeal for himself. He's just given all his Republican opponents a power weapon to use against him. He's toast.
Bad Science Reporting

I've railed here before on the piss-poor job most journalists do when it comes to reporting anything scientific or mathematical. Very few journalists have any science or math background; often proudly so. The net effect is that their readers are badly served by illiterate reporting.

Ben Goldacre, writing in the UK's Guardian, does a much better job than I of demonstrating and explaining in this column. Here's a taste:
And last, in our brief taxonomy, is the media obsession with "new breakthroughs": a more subtly destructive category of science story. It's quite understandable that newspapers should feel it's their job to write about new stuff. But in the aggregate, these stories sell the idea that science, and indeed the whole empirical world view, is only about tenuous, new, hotly-contested data. Articles about robustly-supported emerging themes and ideas would be more stimulating, of course, than most single experimental results, and these themes are, most people would agree, the real developments in science. But they emerge over months and several bits of evidence, not single rejiggable press releases. Often, a front page science story will emerge from a press release alone, and the formal academic paper may never appear, or appear much later, and then not even show what the press reports claimed it would (

Last month there was an interesting essay in the journal PLoS Medicine, about how most brand new research findings will turn out to be false ( It predictably generated a small flurry of ecstatic pieces from humanities graduates in the media, along the lines of science is made-up, self-aggrandising, hegemony-maintaining, transient fad nonsense; and this is the perfect example of the parody hypothesis that we'll see later. Scientists know how to read a paper. That's what they do for a living: read papers, pick them apart, pull out what's good and bad.

Scientists never said that tenuous small new findings were important headline news - journalists did.

But enough on what they choose to cover. What's wrong with the coverage itself? The problems here all stem from one central theme: there is no useful information in most science stories. A piece in the Independent on Sunday from January 11 2004 suggested that mail-order Viagra is a rip-off because it does not contain the "correct form" of the drug. I don't use the stuff, but there were 1,147 words in that piece. Just tell me: was it a different salt, a different preparation, a different isomer, a related molecule, a completely different drug? No idea. No room for that one bit of information.

Remember all those stories about the danger of mobile phones? I was on holiday at the time, and not looking things up obsessively on PubMed; but off in the sunshine I must have read 15 newspaper articles on the subject. Not one told me what the experiment flagging up the danger was. What was the exposure, the measured outcome, was it human or animal data? Figures? Anything? Nothing. I've never bothered to look it up for myself, and so I'm still as much in the dark as you.
Goldacre also looks at the press' use of "speaking from authority" instead of speaking from facts, which then sets up the "competing authority" story you so often see. Never mind that facts are clear, the "authorities" differ and that's the story.

It's not a long article and it's very good. Well worth your time.
While You're Here Go There Too

Mark at The Conservative Zone is on a roll today, taking whacks at class warriors, NOLA Mayor Ray Nagin and "gratificationists." Go, read.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Why the Poor are Poor

You often apologists from the Left present other reasons why the poor, despite quality public school educations and lots of government help, are still poor. There are, of course, the traditional explanations for why the poor stay poor: bad judgment, bad planning, bad choices, etc.

The Red Cross and FEMA only began handing out their ATM debit cards late this week and, already, the recipients are using them poorly:
"We've seen three of the cards," said a senior employee of the Louis Vuitton store at the Lenox Square Mall in affluent Buckhead, who asked not to be named. "Two I'm certain have purchased; one actually asked if she could use it in the store. This has been since Saturday."

The distinctive white cards were distributed by the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and carry a value of up to $2,000....

The source told me that the two women who had made purchases with the card each bought a signature monogrammed Louis Vuitton handbag in the $800 range.
Obviously, this is less than a handful in one mall in one city from thousands of recipients across the South. It's not a trend and they don't "all" do this. But as a salient data point, it illustrates the lesson.