Saturday, October 07, 2006

On a Beauty Shoppe, Saco, Maine

Body Piercing

While You Wait


or: Who is That Sitting Next To Sulzberger?

Posted by olvlzl

What would happen if you made a really bad mistake at work and someone got killed? A mistake you had been warned about? You know that you would lose your job, your friends. There wouldn't be any question of getting a good reference. Your personal life would fall apart, you would be a pariah. And that assumes that you escaped criminal prosecution. You might be lucky to escape several years in prison. That's the way life is when you screw up royally. That's the way your life is when you screw up. It's not that way for the rich and connected. The ones who are in a position to really screw up royally.

It's hard to think of a person in the federal government who has advised doing something that has turned out to be a total disaster costing hundreds and thousands of lives, who has paid a real price for it. A lot of the time they advise going ahead into disaster when there are people who strongly advise against it. A lot of times the people advising caution are experts in universities; great scholars of long standing with decades of study, who have taken the bother of learning the languages. In many cases they, unsurprisingly, turn out to have known what they were talking about. The DC policy wonks who gave the bad advice typically work out of that intoxicating mix of theory, wishful thinking and the nest feathering that has nothing to do with the subject of action. It has everything to do with their speaking and dinner invitations and job prospects.

And when they get it catastrophically wrong what happens to them? They get promoted. The invitations don't stop. They're still dining among the Sulzbergers and the Grahams. They often end up with seats at the very same universities where the real and unheeded experts work. They are still consulted by the media in preference to the real experts. Connections count for more than scholarship with our great and free press. Eventually, now resting on their laurels as a "scholar" of the subject, they go back into the government.

In retirement a few of them pen their memoirs. A few of those will, the tide of opinion making it prudent, express their belated regrets for their tragic mistakes. They were victims of fate, no one could have done any better under the circumstances. I don't know about you but I think honor would have been better served if they had sat silently and taken their lumps from history.

But here is the real question. What are we to these people? Those of us who get killed in their disasters, those of us whose relatives and friends get killed, those of us who pay? Does it even register with the media, the heads of departments, the corporate boards, that these people have climbed on the bodies of real, bleeding people to rise to the top? Does it begin to dawn on them that they have proven themselves to be bunglers and thugs with nothing to teach the world except as bad examples? And YES, I do mean the Kennedy school at Harvard and Georgetown.

These are rhetorical questions, sadly. The answer is clear in their actions. We are nothing to them. To them We the People are things to be used and suckers to be milked. We are those who are to be gulled into paying for it. And don't get me wrong. I'm not just talking about we the working class of America. "We" means those of us on both sides who end up dead and destitute because of this March of Folly.

They will keep killing us as long as we let them, for as long as we allow the media to cover up for them. If they were exposed and their presence at those elite dinner parties became just a bit unseemly, a key part of the daisy chain of corruption would be broken.

We have to make criminal negligence a crime and a shame for the plutocrats and their publicity hounds. And by we, I mean we the used.

Note: So it does look like Henry Kissinger really is advising the Bush II regime on Middle Eastern policy. Remember Cambodia? If the Republicans win the election in November will Kissinger get another round of Christmas bombings in an expanded Iraq war?

I wrote this piece after reading about a round table Kissinger, Haig, Sorensen and Valente had participated in at the Kennedy School of Harvard University to discuss lessons of Vietnam. The obvious question is, why ask the people who got it so wrong? Shouldn’t the judgement of the people who got it right, many of whom are alive and living in Cambridge, have more credibility than megalomaniacs and hacks who got it disastrously wrong? Then I imagined the reception or dinner that was likely a part of the festivities. Harvard would have certainly had some kind of social occasion what with four A-list celebs to rub elbows with potential donors. Would any of the revelers give a thought to that pile of two million skulls shoved off to the corner?

Since this was originally posted last June I’ve heard that Douglas Feith holds positions at Harvard, Georgetown and Stanford simultaneously. Wikipedia says that this is how he sees himself:
Feith confided to The New Yorker in 2005, "When history looks back, I want to be in the class of people who did the right thing, the sensible thing, and not necessarily the fashionable thing, the thing that met the aesthetic of the moment.”

Make Lieberman Guarantee You Aren’t Voting For Frist’s Winning Vote

Posted by olvlzl

It’s too late for the Senate election in Connecticut but the Democratic Party has to take measures to prevent another Joe Lieberman situation from happening.

A political party shouldn’t make demands on a person once they hold office, that’s the right of their constituents but the a party does have rights to impose some requirements on candidates who ask to run for the nomination of that party. The nomination of a party belongs to the enrolled voters of the party, not the candidate, not the leadership of the party.

The Democratic Party should require people who take out papers to run as a Democrat to sign a binding pledge that if they lose a nomination that they will not run as the candidate of another party or as an independent. What Lieberman has done is to insist on having it both ways, to insist that he is a Democrat but then to refuse to play by the rules of the Party and of democracy.

In the mean time, if I was a voter in Connecticut I’d do everything I could to pin Joe Lieberman down. I’d insist on his promise that if elected he wouldn’t jump parties and that he wouldn’t support Republicans for leadership positions in the Senate under any circumstances. I would make certain that his promise didn’t contain escape clauses or time limits. Nothing short of a clear and binding pledge for the length of the term would do. Democrats and independents who he is asking to vote for him have every right to demand that he make that pledge. They should know if they are voting for the stealth Republican candidate. I’m sure many of them wouldn’t want to be putting the fiftieth Republican in place and allowing Frist to remain in his leadership position.

Pin Joe Lieberman down. Make him promise to not betray the Democrats of Connecticut again. If he won’t promise, you’ll know what to expect if he wins next month.

The Murderers Hiding In The Audience Share

Posted by olvlzl

In the news coverage of the murders of the school girls in Pennsylvania there was talk about the similarities between the actions of the murderer and those of the man who took hostages and murdered a school girl in Colorado the week before. One report I heard went into quite a lot of detail about the similarities, a lot more detail than could have been useful to their audience. They’ve got to fill those 24 hours with something. I guess. But, considering what they were saying about copy-cat crime, you would think that it might have occurred to them that a particular segment of their audience might have found their descriptions very useful. I wonder why none of them seemed to think it was possible that some murderer of the near or distant future might have found their information quite instructive.

What is the use of crime reporting? It shouldn’t be useful for the trial, that’s certainly not the role of reporters but of police and prosecutors. Nancy Grace might be confused about that but real reporters shouldn’t be. Ideally jurors wouldn’t have heard any news reporting that could prejudice their decision about the evidence presented in trial. The right to a fair trial, both for the accused and the public, is clearly more important than whatever right the casual observer has to know most of the details as soon as possible.

There is some public interest served in reporting some facts of these crimes. The public needs to know that crimes are being committed and the nature of those crimes especially if the criminal is still at large. But there is a level of detail that goes past what is needed and risks becoming prurient or even dangerous.

Most people can listen to the sordid details and speculations generated by the cabloids with only their character damaged but pretending they are the only ones who could be listening is willful ignorance. The old justification for allowing pornography was true, most people who consume it don’t imitate it. But a study of the effects on the general population wouldn’t show much that was useful. It is the people who do commit horrible crimes who need to be studied. Where did they get the ideas for their crimes, especially those that don’t seem to be original ideas. What is the copy-cat effect of the crime shows on TV?

Is there a significant effect? Are there people susceptible to imitating the crimes spelled out in such loving detail on A&E and Discovery? On the cabloid news stations? And if there is an effect proven beyond a preponderance of the evidence what use should be made of that fact? I don’t know.

But since they are the ones who are always talking about copy-cat murderers don’t they have a responsibility to take that into account when they are structuring their dramatic recitations of these crimes? They certainly do write the shows for dramatic effect, to follow a saleable narrative. Can they make them profitable and responsible at the same time? Maybe they need to look for a good model of responsible reporting. They won’t find much of that on American TV outside of Bill Moyers.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Evil George Soros

George Soros is a billionaire who has funded some liberal/progressive causes. The wingnuts argue that he is single-handedly funding everything negative ever said about the Bush administration. Most recently, Dennis Hastert used the Soros meme:

On Wednesday night, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) spun tales of Democratic cabals and hidden agendas for the benefit of hungry reporters. Hastert told The Chicago Tribune that Clinton operatives knew about the allegations and were maybe behind the story's release. "I saw Bill Clinton's adviser, Richard Morris, was saying these guys knew about this all along," he said. "When the base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy.... The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros."

After reading so much about this mythically rich financier of all us rabid moonbats, I e-mailed him to ask for my cut. Never got an answer.

The interesting aspect of the Soros meme is that it might have come from the very mouth of Karl Rove. Rove's strategy has always been to attack the opponent where the opponent is actually strongest. Just remember how we suddenly had a fierce debate about the military conduct of John Kerry in Vietnam, while George Bush never even got to Vietnam at all. Mindboggling.

The focus on George Soros is very similar, because the real financiers of political movements are almost all on the wingnut side. Take the case of Richard Schaife. As early as 1999 this was written about his philanthropy:

By compiling a computerized record of nearly all his contributions over the last four decades, The Washington Post found that Scaife and his family's charitable entities have given at least $340 million to conservative causes and institutions – about $620 million in current dollars, adjusted for inflation. The total of Scaife's giving – to conservatives as well as many other beneficiaries – exceeds $600 million, or $1.4 billion in current dollars, much more than any previous estimate.

In the world of big-time philanthropy, there are many bigger givers. The Ford Foundation gave away $491 million in 1998 alone. But by concentrating his giving on a specific ideological objective for nearly 40 years, and making most of his grants with no strings attached, Scaife's philanthropy has had a disproportionate impact on the rise of the right, perhaps the biggest story in American politics in the last quarter of the 20th century.

His money has established or sustained activist think tanks that have created and marketed conservative ideas from welfare reform to enhanced missile defense; public interest law firms that have won important court cases on affirmative action, property rights and how to conduct the national census; organizations and publications that have nurtured conservatism on American campuses; academic institutions that have employed and promoted the work of conservative intellectuals; watchdog groups that have critiqued and harassed media organizations, and many more.

You can find more about the institutions that Scaife is funding at Sourcewatch, and you can compare Scaife's efforts to those of Soros. But this comparison gives an impression of false balance. There are many more billionaires like Scaife on the wingnut side, but not that many on our moonbatty side.

Friday Pet Blogging

These are not my animals. The cat is Magoo and the dog is Brandy. Brandy is PL's pet. I'm not sure about Magoo, but I think Magoo belongs to Barry. If not, let me know and I will correct.

In related news, I have become an insectivore. I did see the gnat in the cold coffee by my keyboard but I forgot about it. Then later I drank the coffee. I'm sorry. So sorry.

The Head, It Hurts

By which opening you can tell that I've been reading David Brooks again. He is an addiction...

Brooks opines on the relative morality of conservatives and liberals by juxtaposing Mark Foley's predatorgate to..... a play! Yup. In Brooks's world imaginary depictions of sex with minors are every bit as bad as actual events, and writing about such depictions means that one condones them:

This is a tale of two predators. The first is a congressman who befriended teenage pages. He sent them cajoling instant messages asking them to describe their sexual habits, so he could get his jollies.

The second is a secretary, who invited a 13-year-old girl from her neighborhood into her car and kissed her. Then she invited the girl up to her apartment, gave her some vodka, took off her underwear and gave her a satin teddy to wear.

Then she had sex with the girl, which was interrupted when the girl's mother called. Then she made the girl masturbate in front of her and taught her some new techniques.

The first predator, of course, is Mark Foley, the Florida congressman. The second predator is a character in Eve Ensler's play, "The Vagina Monologues."

Foley is now universally reviled. But the Ensler play, which depicts the secretary's affair with the 13-year-old as a glorious awakening, is revered. In the original version of the play, the under-age girl declares, "I say, if it was a rape, it was a good rape, then, a rape that turned my [vagina] into a kind of heaven." When I saw Ensler perform the play several years ago in New York, everyone roared in approval. Ensler has since changed the girl's age to 16 — the age of Foley's pages — and audiences still embrace the play and that scene at colleges and in theaters around the world.

But why is one sexual predator despised and the other celebrated?

I guess the basket of smears is pretty empty if all one has left to toss at the horrible enemies are tales about fictional characters.

Brooks then goes on to explain that liberals and progressives embrace selfishness and that conservatives are worried about the social fabric being torn apart:

Ensler's audiences are reacting to the exuberant voice of the young girl, who narrates the scene. They're embracing — at least in the fantasy world of the theater — a moral code that's been called expressive individualism. Under this code, the core mission of life is to throw off the shackles of social convention and to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Behavior is not wrong if it feels good and doesn't hurt anybody else. Sex is not wrong so long as it is done by mutual consent.


But there's another and older code, and people seem to be returning to this older code to judge Mark Foley. Under this older code, we are defined not by our individual choices but by our social roles.

Under this code, when an adult seduces a child, it tears the social fabric that joins all adults and all children. When a congressman flirts with a page, it tears the social trust that undergirds the entire page program. When an adult seduces a teenager, it ruptures the teenagers' bond with his family, and harms the bonds joining all families.

But what if all these things could be done in secret, so that the social fabric isn't affected at all? And what about abolishing slavery? It tore up the social fabric pretty bad. No, the real reason for being upset about the sexual harassment of children is not that it tears up the social fabric, because this tearing-up might be done for both good and bad reasons. The real reason is that it's wrong and that children don't have the power to defend themselves.

I'm pretty sure that Brooks has changed his basic philosophy about life quite recently. Only a few weeks ago he wrote this:

Consider all the theories put forward to explain personality. Freud argued that early family experiences relating to defecation and genital stimulation created unconscious states that influenced behavior through life. In the 1950's, the common view was that humans begin as nearly blank slates and that behavior is learned through stimulus and response. Over the ages, thinkers have argued that humans are divided between passion and reason, or between the angelic and the demonic.

But now the prevailing view is that brain patterns were established during the millenniums when humans were hunters and gatherers, and we live with the consequences.

Now, it is generally believed, our behavior is powerfully influenced by genes and hormones. Our temperaments are shaped by whether we happened to be born with the right mix of chemicals.

Consciousness has come to be seen as this relatively weak driver, riding atop an organ, the brain, it scarcely understands. When we read that male voles with longer vasopressin genes are more likely to remain monogamous, it seems plausible that so fundamental a quality could be tied to some discrete bit of biology.

This shift in how we see human behavior is bound to have huge effects. Freudianism encouraged people to think about destroying inhibitions. This new understanding both validates ancient stereotypes about the sexes, and fuzzes up moral judgments about human responsibility (biology inclines individuals toward certain virtues and vices).

Once radicals dreamed of new ways of living, but now happiness seems to consist of living in harmony with the patterns that nature and evolution laid down long, long ago.

But now he thinks differently:

This older code emphasizes not so much individual exploration as social ecology. It's based on the idea that people are primarily shaped by the moral order around them, which is engraved upon their minds via a million events and habits. Individuals are not defined by their lifestyle preferences but by their social functions as parents, job-holders and citizens, and the way they contribute to the shared moral order.

In this view, the social fabric is a precious thing, always in danger. And what Foley, and the character in the Ensler play, did was wrong, consent or no consent, because of the effects on the wider ecology.

As I said: The head, it hurts.

Recent Political Polls

The Time Magazine poll had bad news for the Bush administration and the Republican party:

The poll suggests the Foley affair may have dented Republican hopes of retaining control of Congress in November. Among the registered voters who were polled, 54% said they would be more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate for Congress, compared with 39% who favored the Republican — a margin that has jumped by 11 points from a similar poll conducted in June. That increase may be fueled by the rolling scandal over sexually explicit e-mails sent to teenage pages by Republican Representative Mark Foley. Almost 80% of respondents were aware of the scandal, and only 16% approve of the Republicans' handling of it. Those polled were divided, however, on whether House Speaker Dennis Hastert should resign over his handling of the Foley affair, with 39% saying he should resign and 38% saying he should not.

Iraq, meanwhile, is continuing to be a problem for the Republicans. Only 38% of respondents in the TIME poll now support President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, down from 42% three months ago. A similar number believe that the new Iraqi government will succeed in forming a stable democracy, while 59% believe this is unlikely. Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war, while 54% believe he "deliberately misled" Americans in making his case for war — a figure that has increased by 6 points over the past year. President Bush's overall approval rating, according to TIME's poll, now stands at just 36%, down from 38% in August.

Likewise, the latest Ipsos poll:

With midterm elections less than five weeks away, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that about half of likely voters say disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress will be very or extremely important when they enter the voting booth.

About two out of three of those voters said they would cast their ballots for Democrats in House races, further complicating the political landscape for Republicans already struggling against negative public perceptions.


Overall, Democrats maintained a 10-percentage point lead over Republicans in House races. Fifty-one percent of likely voters said they would vote for the Democrat in their congressional district; 41 percent said they would vote for the Republican. That's essentially unchanged from last month.

The number of adults who say the country is on the wrong track remained virtually unchanged from last month at 64 percent. That's still lower than in August, when it was 71 percent or May when it reached 73 percent.

The leading issue among likely voters remained
Iraq, followed closely by the economy.

But the poll also found that
President Bush's efforts to depict the war in Iraq as part of a larger campaign against terrorism and to portray Democrats as weak on national security was not altering the political landscape.

Approval of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq was at 37 percent among likely voters, down slightly from 41 percent last month. Bush's rating on handling foreign policy and terrorism also fell slightly, from 47 percent last month to 43 percent this month.

It will be interesting to see how conservative pundits turn this into good news for Republicans. They always do that, somehow.

But that question about the country being on the wrong track is a funny one, because people might agree that the country is on the wrong track for totally opposite reasons. I wish they asked a follow-up question to clarify that part.

The Dildo Diaries

This has been going around the blogosphere. I got it from Twisty. It's a video about the weird legal situation in Texas, plus you can see Molly Ivins speak.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

freeSpeech: A Feminist Comment

This post refers to the section on CBS news where people are given some time to state their opinions on various matters. I wrote earlier that the political opinions have been heavily tilted towards conservatives. But what I didn't really analyze was the feminist stuff in itself, and it turns out to be a useful exercize.

First, the last four opinion-utterers are all men: Mitch Albom, Bob Schieffer,
Richie Frohlichstein and Brian Rohrbough. So is the majority of the earlier ones:

freeSpeech: Lori Leibovich Video Watch
Mother Speaks About Pressures To Breastfeed

freeSpeech: Lee Hamilton Video Watch
9/11 Commission Vice-Chair Warns About Political Posturing On National Security

freeSpeech: Bob Schieffer Video Watch
CBS News' Chief Washington Correspondent Speaks Out About Enlistment And Broken Promises

freeSpeech: Natan Sharansky Video Watch
Former Soviet Dissident Speaks About American Freedom

freeSpeech: Douglas Brinkley Video Watch
New Orleans Historian Reflects On the Opening Of The Superdome

freeSpeech: Nancy Donley Video Watch
Mother Of E. Coli Victim Speaks About Government's Role In Food Safety

freeSpeech: 'Carlos'
Undocumented Young Man Describes Difficulties In Obtaining

freeSpeech: Bob Schieffer Video Watch
CBS News' Chief Washington Correspondent Compares The War In Iraq And Vietnam War

freeSpeech: Eugene Robinson Video Watch
Washington Post Columnist Speaks About Condoleezza Rice

freeSpeech: Irshad Manji Video Watch
Best-Selling Muslim Author Says Pope Was Calling For A Dialogue With The Muslim World

freeSpeech: Joanne Lessner Video Watch
Mom Proposes Alternative Cell Phone Bans In Schools

freeSpeech: Michael Gerson Video Watch
Former Bush Speechwriter Speaks About Genocide In Darfur

freeSpeech: Bob Schieffer Video Watch
CBS News' Chief Washington Correspondent Speaks Out About National Security

freeSpeech: Ahmed Younis Video Watch
Muslim Public Affairs Council Directors Speaks About Being Muslim In America

freeSpeech: Rudolph Giuliani Video Watch
Former NYC Mayor Reflects On The Sept. 11 Attacks

freeSpeech: Jim Twohie Video Watch
Comedy Writer Asks If We're Becoming A Society Afraid To Relax

freeSpeech: Rush Limbaugh Video Watch
Radio Host On Patriotism And The War On Terror

freeSpeech: Sonia Nazario Video Watch
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Reporter On Immigration & Family Values

freeSpeech: Morgan Spurlock Video Watch
Producer of "Super Size Me" Speaks Out About Freedom Of Speech

Bolds are mine. I count a total of five women in this list, and three of them are included as mothers. Of the fifteen men only one (Brian Rohrbough) was introduced as a father (of one of the victims in the Columbine massacre). So we have a three-to-one ratio of male opinions* to female opinions and the majority of women speak as mothers.

What does this mean, if anything? Assuming that I got all the people who have appeared in the freeSpeech segment it would look like men are more opinionated or are given more access to the program or push harder to get there. But it also looks like women might be given more credence if they speak as mothers. Or perhaps women feel bolder when speaking on behalf of their children. Or perhaps fathers are not listened to? Nah.
*Not quite true, because Bob Schieffer has opined several times. I counted him only once in this post. If each of his opinions are counted separately then the ratio of male to female opinions would be eighteen to five.

Capitol Crimes

You can now watch Bill Moyers's program with that name if you missed it when it was broadcast earlier.

Statistics Primer. Part 2: Probability

Statistics is not the same as probability theory, but the latter is used in statistics and a small detour into the wonderful world of probabilities is necessary here. Let's start by grabbing the concept of probability by its horns: What is this thing?

It's a way of quantifying the likelihood of some event. Call the event that Echidne will tomorrow wake up all cheerful the event A (just to call it something short and sweet). Denote the probability of this event A with the shorthand p(A) (this is said "p of A"). How could we quantify this wonderful likelihood?

We can do it by defining an impossible event and a sure thing. Let's fix these two extreme values as follows:
p(A)=0 if A is an impossibility
p(A)=1 if A is certain to happen.

Given these two fixed values all other probability values would fall in the range from zero to one

This is fun. If I tell you that p(A) =0.14 for the event of me waking up chirpy as a bird you can now tell that I don't think it's very likely to happen. But there is an even funner aspect of this, for we can always define a second event, notA, being the event in which Echidne will not wake up cheerful. If p(A)=0.14, then the probability of notA, or the complement of A, will be...what?

It makes sense that it would be 1-p(A) = 0.86. Because something is going to happen and if it's not a cheerful Echidne, then it must be a grumpy or neutral Echidne that rises from that divine bed tomorrow morning, assuming that she does rise. As long as we are not counting some of my mental states in both events A and notA, this will work.

So what was funner about this? The fact that uncertainty actually increases as we move from probabilities close to zero towards the middle values and that it also increases as we move from probabilities close to one towards the middle values. So we have most uncertainty when the probability hovers around 0.50. When we are closer to the endpoints of zero or one, either the event or its complement is almost sure to happen, so we have less uncertainty. Plus the fact that probability theory can be used to make all sorts of formulas which will let us find the probabilities of combined events happening and so on. I'm not going that way but you may wish to do if you find this entertaining.

You might say that all this is well and good, but what is the anchor that settles this whole probability thing? Where do we get those values you made up here? There are three possible answers to this question. The first is the classical definition of probability and is best explained by thinking about games of chance in which the rules of events happening are simple to follow and where we can find very small events which clearly are equally likely to occur. For instance, think of the following game: You toss two fair dice at the same time. What is the probability that the dots on the top sides of the two dice add up to seven?

The solution consists of counting the number of events (here an event is the way the two dice fall) in which the dots add up to seven and then counting the total number of events, whatever the number of dots might add up to. The probability of the event we are interested in (the dot sum is 7) is the ratio between the two counts. The way to find these count values is by....counting!

First, I can count the total number of events by noting that the first die can take any value from one to six and so can the second die. This mean that for any value of the first die the second one could take any one of six possible values. Given that the first die can also take six values, the total number of events is 6 times 6 or 36. Second, I can look at all these 36 events and add the dots on the two dice for each of them. When I do that, I find that in exactly six cases (1,6), (2,5), (3,4), (4,3), (5,2) and (6,1) the sum comes to 7. (Note that in the pairs I've given here the first die value always comes first and the second die value second and that (1,6) and (6,1) are two separate events). Third, we make up the probability ratio. Here it is 6/36 or 1/6 or 0.167.

The second way of anchoring the probability concept is more important in actual statistical studies, and that is to link probabilities of future events to what happened in the past. This makes sense as long as whatever affects these events hasn't changed in the meantime. This definition is called the objective definition of probability (to distinguish it from the third definition still to come) and also the long-run relative frequency definition of probability. The latter name hints at the way the probabilities are derived: By using long enough strings of information about actual events and by assuming that the events will replicate at the same frequencies in the future. The word "relative" is added because we standardize the probability measure to the scale from zero to one.

An example of this approach would be taking a coin that is known to be unfair (so that heads and tails are not going to be equally likely in tossing it) and finding out what the probability of head is by tossing the coin again and again and by writing down whether heads or tails turned up on each toss. Suppose you toss this coin a million times and find out that heads came out 400,000 times. Then the probability of heads using this coin would be 400,000/1,000,000 = 0.4.

Sadly, the easiest teaching examples on probability tend to be stuff like that. But the same principle applies to studies about voting activity or opinions in general.

The third definition of probability is the subjective one, also called the Bayesian definition. This differs from the other definitions in that a Bayesian statistician could ask a question such as this: What is the likelihood that Echidne is grinding her teeth right now? A strict objectivist would not ask such a question, because either I am grinding my teeth now or I am not; it's just that others can't observe which it might be. The subjective definition of probability has to do with our beliefs about events and is not strictly limited to predicting future probabilities. It can handle the way learning more facts changes our beliefs and other interesting questions like that.

The probability concepts most used in statistical studies are the long-run relative frequency view (which is used in the studies themselves) and the subjective view (which is used in the way we interpret the margins of error and similar concepts). My next post will talk a little more on the concept of probability distributions, needed for understanding sampling distributions.

What I hope you got from this post was the rough feeling that is conveyed by something like "candidate X has the probability of 0.7 of winning next month's elections", and that you'd also want to ask what the basis for this prediction is. It might be totally subjective or perhaps there was a poll in which 70% of those surveyed stated that they were going to vote for X. This relative frequency (70% is 0.7 in relative frequency terms) is then used as the probability of X getting elected, which naturally assumes that people will act according to their stated intentions in the survey and that the survey was representative of actual voters.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

When Moms Work, Kids Get Fat

This is the headline of a Slate post by Tim Harford. The next line says "An incendiary new explanation for childhood obesity." I'm sure that Harford planned it that way, to get a lot of hits. The relevant piece in a long article about quite different explanations for childhood obesity is this:

That is all very interesting, but it does beg the question of why things are getting worse. Another trio of economists—Patricia Anderson, Kristin Butcher, and Phillip Levine—has suggested that two-income families may be producing the problem. They find that children are fatter if their mothers work longer hours. This is true even within families: The sibling who spent more time as a latchkey child will tend to be the fatter one, perhaps because the mother is less able to supervise outdoor play or has less time to cook and therefore buys more fast food. Unfortunately for working mothers who are already struck by guilt, the effects are pretty substantial. A mere 10 hours at work raises the chance of childhood obesity by 1.3 percentage points, which is about 10 percent.

Let's not go quite that fast. I looked at the original research summary, and what it states is that weeks worked by the mother had no correlation with childhood obesity. So when moms work, kids don't get fat. Get it? What the study did demonstrate was that childhood obesity was positively associated with mothers who work long hours per week, and only then for the educated white mothers, and that is the percentage Harford chooses to cite in his article. There was no relationship between childhood obesity and working hours for the black or Hispanic mothers. It might be worthwhile to dig out the sample numbers here. How many white and educated mothers did the study include?

Of course what this study and the Harford article really demonstrate is the accepted sex role division within families. Note that the researchers didn't even bother to study what impact fathers working might have on the children's obesity. Because women are supposed to be solely in charge of the family members' health and well-being. So we don't know if the highly educated women who worked intensive hours also had highly educated male partners who also worked intensive hours or if they had male partners who were at home and were supposed to check the children's diet. And we don't actually know if the children were "latchkey" children or if someone else was supervising them.

I really must make one explicit correction here, too, about this Harford sentence:

A mere 10 hours at work raises the chance of childhood obesity by 1.3 percentage points, which is about 10 percent.

This is just not true. Here is the actual quote from the study:

Their results suggest that a 10-hour increase in average hours worked per week will increase the overall probability a child is overweight by 0.5 to 1 percentage point. In the probit models, the point estimate on hours per week is always positive and increases with income quartile. For mothers in the highest socioeconomic status, the results indicate that a 10-hour increase in average hours worked per week since a child' birth increases the likelihood that the child will be overweight by 1.3 percentage points.

This is a very different thing from the Harford quote. The bolds are mine.
Initial link via

Some Feminist Announcements

Olvlzl, my weekend guest blogger, has started a blog on the hate crimes against women. Check it out. His idea is to have one place which records crimes where the hatred of women was a major factor in the crime, and the idea is to bring this into general consciousness.

Remember the Ms. magazine campaign about abortions? There is now a poll on its desirability on the net. Remember what I just wrote about the bias in such internet polls? Nevertheless, you might want to express your support in a suitable manner, because although these polls are not representative ones they sure are a political game.

Statistics Primer. Part 1: Samples

Don't run away. This is going to be gentle and soft and not as hard as you expect. Honest. I'm going to teach you some statistics and you don't have to pay the sorts of fees I would usually get for this. Something for nothing! Well, not quite. You still have to be willing to work just a little. But by the end of this post you will be so smart and bullet-proofed against a lot of lying with statistics.

So let us begin, you and I, even though we are not T.S. Eliot or in a poem. Rather, imagine that we are in a kitchen, a kitchen with a gigantic pot of really wonderful-smelling soup in it, and imagine that we are responsible for deciding if the soup needs its seasonings corrected.

How would you go about doing that? Yep, you would take a spoon or a ladle and taste the soup. That is pretty much what statisticians do when they take a sample. A sample is a ladleful of information from the population which is the whole soup. The reason for studying a sample is also fairly close to the same reason we only taste a ladleful of the soup to check the seasoning. If we ate all the soup there would be none left and we'd have to make more which would be time-consuming and expensive. Likewise, studying the whole population would be time-consuming and expensive, and in some cases also destructive (imagine testing how long light bulbs work, say).

The soup-and-ladle analogy works pretty well for explaining how sampling works. Think about a soup that has not been well stirred, which has lumps of carrots in one area and all the onions in another area. If you dip a ladle into that soup and then taste the contents of the ladle you may get a very different idea of the overall taste depending on where the ladle happened to enter the soup.

The solution to correct that problem is to stir the soup first. That way we make it random. But we can't really stir populations, and so the solution in sampling is a little different. For example, we might skim the ladle across the surface of the soup or dip it a little into several different places in the soup to get an idea of the totality of the soup. These solutions and others similar to those are ways of trying to guarantee that we get what statisticians call a random sample. In the simplest case a random sample gives each unit in the population the same chances of being selected for the sample. More generally, random sampling tries to avoid bias. A biased sampling process is one where different elements in the population have different likelihoods of being entered into the sample. A biased sample might overrepresent the carrots, say, and have too few onions, because the carrots are volunteering for the sample and the onions are refusing to participate.

More generally, samples where people choose to participate, such as those you often see on the internet, are biased samples. They omit the opinions of all those people who don't go on the net or who don't feel strongly enough or have enough time to click the vote-button. The results, then, tell us little about what people in general might think about the question the poll posed. Another example of a biased sample would be to carry out a general health assessment study by using only hospital records to pick subjects. People who have not been in a hospital in the recent past will not have any chance of being included in the sample, and the results are probably going to be biased towards greater apparent ill-health. In short, we don't want to let people decide themselves if they want to be in the sample and we don't want to exclude some people altogether by picking a sampling frame (here hospital records and more generally the source we use to find the sample) that doesn't include them.

A good sample is not based on convenience sampling, either. An example of the latter would be when a reporter goes out to the local mall to ask people about their opinions on some hot-button issue. This is convenient for the reporter, but unless we are interested in the population of people in malls it is not a way of getting a representative range of opinion. It excludes all those who don't visit malls (the bedridden, for one group) and, depending on the time of the day, it might also exclude all people at work. And these excluded groups might have quite different average opinions.

So polls usually employ random sampling to get the group that then is questioned. What sampling frame should they use in this? The most common one today consists of telephone numbers for landlines. But you can see how this might become a poor sampling frame as just owning cell phones becomes more common, especially among the younger individuals.

Most polls don't use simple random sampling of the kind I described, the kind that would be close to putting all names in a large hat and then stirring the names and randomly picking some. The reasons for not using this are three: First, simple random sampling could be incredibly expensive. Imagine that you are doing a study and that you need to interview 2,000 people in person. If you pick the names for these people randomly all across the United States, you might end up having to travel to two thousand different localities. To avoid this, many studies first draw randomly a smaller numer of geographical localities and then randomly pick a certain number of respondents within each of these localities. In my example this could be picking twenty random places and then picking hundred respondents randomly in each place.

Second, a simple random sample of all Americans would need to be enormous to include a meaningful number of people who belong to the less common minority groups, American Indians, for example. This is because it is likely that the sample would consist of all groups in their proportions in the target population, and so even a large simple random sample might include just one American Indian. If pollsters wish to understand the opinions of these smaller groups they would base all the evidence on one person's opinions. Not very sensible. The solution is to oversample the rarer groups, so that the study is including enough variety within the subgroup, and then to shrink back the share of this group in the overall results by weighing it down to the relative population share of the group.

Third (though in some ways this isn't completely separate from the second reason explained above), sometimes the question that is studied suggests obvious subgroups which are very similar inside the subgroup but very different from other subgroups. It might make more sense in a setting like this to randomly sample some respondents within each subgroup, especially if what we are interested in are the very differences between the subgroups. An example would be to poll a certain number of individuals with each possible religious affiliation on the question of how these individuals view government sanctioned torture, or to poll anti-choice and pro-choice voters on their views on other political topics than reproductive choice

This might be a good time to leave the kitchen and to remind all of us about the basic problem we have: There is this population (the soup) and we don't know its characteristics (what it tastes like). It's too expensive and time-consuming to study the whole population (drink all the soup) to find out, so we take a sample (a ladleful) and we try to make sure that our sample is representative of the population, like a microcosm of the population macrocosm. So we use a method of random sampling. This lets us exclude bias.

Our sample might still not reflect the population, just because we might have bad luck in the sampling (such as happening to get all the bay leaf in your ladle when tasting a soup), but statisticians have a way of figuring out what the risk of this happening might be. (This will be the topic of my next post on statistics.)

Note also that if we sampled a very large soup with a very tiny spoon we'd be unlikely to get a very good idea of the taste of the soup. I recently read about a study used to justify single-sex schooling where the population studied consisted of fewer than twenty teenagers and where the whole result touted in the media was based on two teenage boys' responses. Now this is a very tiny spoon, especially to use in an attempt to overturn the whole education system.

More generally, samples in statistics must be of a certain size to be meaningful representations of populations. How large, depends partly on the population we are looking at. If it's very diverse we need a larger sample to capture that diversity. The size of the sample also depends on the precision we are seeking and on the kinds of questions we are asking.

But it's clear that asking one person in a telephone poll isn't enough to get an idea about the general views in the United States. What isn't quite as clear is the question of how many people we should pick for the sample to get a representative sample. Remember that the bigger the sample the more it will cost to interview or to study. This means that statisticians must weigh the needs for a larger sample against the costs of acquiring one, always remembering that one of the costs of a too-small sample is that it will have a greater chance of being unrepresentative. More about that later on, too.

From the Memory Hole

Or things that are being covered up by the predatorgate, things which we should talk about now, too. One of those things:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The State Department's disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don't remember the warning.

Remember the rumor that Ashcroft wouldn't fly on commercial airlines during the summer of 2001? I have no idea if that rumor is true, but if it is I will have nasty thoughts about Mr. Ashcroft and his views on how best to protect America.

But naturally the real message of this news item is somehow that we are safer now...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mark Foley (D-FL)?

Brad blog has the oddest piece of news, if true. It seems that Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News gave the ex-Congressman's party affiliation as Democrat. Foley was a Republican, of course, even though I'm sure that the party would love to disown him now.


A couple of announcements. First, I'm planning to update the blogroll in the near future. Now that I've written it down I must do it, too. What I'd like to know is the value of a separate category in the blogroll, one for political and feminist action sites rather than blogs. Do you think it would be useful?

Second, for some odd and probably sick reason I want to write a series of posts on how to understand basic statistics in the way they are used in polling, for example. Would any of you read this? The impetus came from reading one too many bad interpretations of the margin of error in polls. I've already written some of the posts during bouts of divine insomnia, but they don't have to be posted here.

Third, my series of posts about travels in wingnuttia is not finished. I have at least one more to go, on the topic of the corrupt culture and the views on that held by groups who have different value systems. But I'm still reading stuff on that. When I post the third instalment (how many ls?) I will also give the links to the first two, so that they can be enjoyed as one long meal.

Free Speech on CBS Evening News

This is the new item in the news where a person can state his or her opinion on something. As I wrote earlier, it took CBS quite a while to give time for any liberal views and the feature is still very wingnut-tilted. Take a current example where the father of one of the boys killed in the Columbine massacres opined this:

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Nothing about the easy availability of guns which turn one angry teenager into the equivalent of a small nuclear bomb. I think guns are why the United States has so many more deaths from violence than the European countries. It's just easier to kill lots of people with a gun than with your bare hands or a knife. But discussing this is politically futile.

Still, I could notice that school massacres unrelated to terrorism are a largely North American phenomenon, and so the cause for them might have something to do with whatever differs between this continent and, say, Europe. This difference is not in the availability of abortion or the teaching of evolution in schools. The difference is in the relative ease of getting armed to the teeth.

Completing the Circle

Don't you think that extremist political stances are in some ways much closer together than they initially seem? The old idea of looking at political sentiment along a straight line segment, with one end labeled extreme conservatives and the other end labeled communists isn't completely correct. The mindsets of those who perch at each end of this line segment are more alike than different. Authoritarian thinking, for instance, is something I sense in all extremist writing. We really should bend the line segment into an almost closed circle. That way the extremists are perching close to each other, and this also explains why when some people shift politically they jump from one end of the spectrum to the other. In reality they just move a little along the circle.

In a similar way, the ideology of the radical Christianist right in this country isn't that terribly different from their worst enemies, the Islamist radicals. Which is one reason I found this statement by the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist hilarious:
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan war against Taliban guerrillas can never be won militarily and urged support for efforts to bring "people who call themselves Taliban" and their allies into the government.

The Tennessee Republican said he learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated on the battlefield.

"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," Frist said during a brief visit to a U.S. and Romanian military base in the southern Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished, we'll be successful."

Frist later said that his statement was taken out of context, and that he was talking about something different:

I'm currently overseas visiting our troops in Afghanistan, but I wanted to take a moment to address an Associated Press story titled, "Frist: Taliban Should Be in Afghan Gov't." The story badly distorts my remarks and takes them out of context.

First of all, let me make something clear: The Taliban is a murderous band of terrorists who've oppressed the people of Afghanistan with their hateful ideology long enough. America's overthrow of the Taliban and support for responsible, democratic governance in Afghanistan is a great accomplishment that should not and will not be reversed.

Having discussed the situation with commanders on the ground, I believe that we cannot stabilize Afghanistan purely through military means. Our counter-insurgency strategy must win hearts and minds and persuade moderate Islamists potentially sympathetic to the Taliban to accept the legitimacy of the Afghan national government and democratic political processes.

Except that the moderate Taliban members are already in the Karzai government. But whatever. It looks like we are going to leave Afghanistan in exactly the same condition it was when the U.S. troops arrived, and there is no way to frame this into a victory. Unless you quite like the Taliban thinking on most issues, of course.

On Hating Girls and Women

This is not a post I enjoy writing and not a post that gives the reader much enjoyment, either, but it is a post that needs to be written. Yesterday's massacre of little girls was not because they were Amish. It was because they were girls. And only a few days earlier another murderer selected smaller teenaged girls for his violence in another school. Yet this is something the radio news last night didn't mention when discussing "school violence". Indeed, the Air America news avoided a single mention of the victims' gender. And you need to read far down into the newspaper stories before you come across a one-sentence-aside about the hatred for girls these horrible acts clearly demonstrate.

Why this silence, this looking-aside? Why make loud comments about possible motives but not look at the obvious one: that these men hated girls? Is it because on some level the society accepts such a hatred, because if we start focusing on it we have to ask some mighty unpleasant questions?

I know that the individual murderers in these cases were mentally unstable, not normal. But most of us, the consumers of these news, are supposed to be fairly stable and capable of reasoned discussion on the issues. We don't have to be protected from the astonishing finding that misogyny is rife in the society, and if by bringing the topic up we might make a few small changes here and there, who knows? A future victim or two could be saved.

By the small changes here and there I mean speaking out when a general discussion deteriorates into woman-bashing or girl-bashing, by not giving a sympathetic sounding board to a recently divorced and bitter man who blames all women for his misfortunes, but by pointing out to him that his anger is about one woman only, by making it very clear that generalized hatred of a whole gender is wrong and based on emotions rather than analysis. By standing up for girls when an internet chat discussion uses them as the example of everything cowardly, stupid and damp. By caring about hateful sexism as much as many of us care about hateful racism.

Then there are the hate sites where haters gather, where hate becomes acceptable and natural and normal. Will such sites one day be mentioned in horrible news reports as the enablers of another massacre of women or girls? I have no idea, but I fear the likelihood for this exists, and we will not be saved from this by averting our eyes and by letting the misogynists rant in peace in their own little worlds.

Do you know what they talk about, over there? Here are a few unlinked examples:

In the 50's, women kept their mouths shut a lot more than they do today — in fact they kept their mouths shut almost all the time. Imagine that! That could be why there was so much less homosexuality in the 50's, but I wouldn't know. That's not my area of expertise.

Without all that gabbing, women were able to concentrate their tiny brains on doing three or four jobs competently instead of doing all jobs worthlessly. Obviously, I'm talking about cooking, cleaning, drink-refreshening, and nursing.

Today's modern woman is different than her 50's counterpart. She's fatter, she won't shut the fuck up, she can't cook, she's a complete mess, drinks are out of the fucking question, and worst of all she makes a shitty nurse.


A woman voting on anything other than American Idol or her personal favorite type of chocolate is like watching a small child run full speed into a wall. Clearly the fundamentals are understood. The child runs, it's going somewhere and there's no doubt about that. The child can run. But very quickly one comes to the understanding that somewhere, somehow, the process has been perverted. Then comes the wall. Then comes the crying.

Women would vote for Hitler. Not because a woman could be talked into buying a catsup Popsicle while she was wearing white gloves, but because women are all fascists.


Women are everything [...] says they are…Lieing, cheating, whores!!!! You women who get your panties in a bunch over this website are living a life of fantasy. You women are happy so long as you can find a man who is willing to trade in his masculinity…usually for some half willed poorly conducted sexual favor…and thus be blind to the fact that you are a WHORE!

So it goes.

Do sites like these serve to release some of the steam caused by woman-hating? Are they helpful in the wider frame of things? Or do they make misogyny honorable and reinforced?

Thinking about Echidne’s post about the Amish girls

Thinking about Echidne’s post about the Amish girls murdered in their school, maybe we need an Internet equivalent of this.


Monday, October 02, 2006

In Memoriam

Of the little Amish girls:

A lone gunman walked into a one- room schoolhouse in the largely Amish community of Nickel Mines in southeastern Pennsylvania on Monday and shot as many as 10 girls, killing three immediately before shooting himself and dying at the scene, the state police said.

The man, identified as Charles Carl Roberts, 32, lived in the area, and was evidently nursing a long-held grievance expressed in notes left for his wife and children, said Jeffrey Miller, commissioner of the Pennsylvania state police.

He said the gunman lined the girls up against the blackboard, bound their feet and shot them execution-style in the head. Three of the girls died at the scene and seven others were rushed to nearby hospitals, some of them severely wounded.

An earlier Associated Press report quoted a local coroner as saying there were six people dead, but the coroner later said he was unsure, The AP said. At a news conference, Miller said that several victims had been taken to hospitals and that he did not know what their conditions were.

"There was some issue in the past" that had left the gunman with a desire to harm female students, Miller said. He said that the murders were premeditated and that the gunman had called his wife, without telling her he was holding hostages in a school, to say that he would not be coming home.

And in memoriam of Emily Keyes:

The gunman responsible for a deadly standoff at a Colorado High School methodically picked his hostages.

Investigators say 53 year old Duane Morrison set off Wednesday's deadly chain of events, when he walked into Platte Canyon high school outside Denver armed with a gun.

Witnesses say he selected six hostages in a classroom, all girls, and released the other students.

Five of the girls survived, but Morrison killed 16 year old Emily Keyes, then shot himself.

Investigators don't know what triggered the attack.

And in memoriam of the victims of the 1989 Quebec massacre:

The École Polytechnique massacre occurred on December 6, 1989, at the École Polytechnique de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec. Marc Lépine entered the campus and carried out a shooting rampage that killed 14 women as well as wounding 13 other people, before committing suicide shortly after. All of the victims targeted were women; other random individuals shot included women and men.

Shortly after 5 p.m., Lépine entered the École Polytechnique, an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal. He had applied for admission into the engineering school but was rejected. He blamed it on affirmative action, which he believed kept him out in place of a woman (although the majority of students at the engineering school, and almost all the faculty members, were male). However, Lepine had not completed the prerequisite coursework at the junior college level required for admission. He first went into a mechanical engineering class, forced the men out at gunpoint, began to scream about how he hated feminists, and then opened fire. Lépine continued his rampage in other parts of the building, opening fire on other women he encountered. He killed 14 women (12 engineering students, one nursing student and one employee of the university) and injured 13 others (including at least 4 men) before committing suicide.

Born Gamil Gharibi, Lépine had a very troubled childhood, including an abusive father. During his parents' divorce, his mother told the court at their divorce hearing that her husband, an Algerian immigrant, "had a total disdain for women and believed they were intended only to serve men." After the divorce, Gharibi legally changed his name to Marc Lépine. He developed a lasting hatred toward women and had left a note blaming feminism for all the failures in his life, including his aforementioned rejection from the engineering school.

Harry Potter Goes To Jesus Camp

On The Predatorgate

This is Atrios's name for the Foley scandal and it's as good as any I can think of. The topic is one that swamps everything else in American political debate, and no wonder, really. It has all those button-pressing qualities: sex, gayness, minors, power, hypocricy and cover-up. I spent some time today reading the comments threads on the ABC news website, to get an idea of the general trends in the conversation (my comments threads are a lot superior, by the way), and the trends are the expected ones: Some commenters blame the Republicans, some commenters argue that the Democrats are even worse, some commenters focus on the need to protect the minors from predators and some commenters focus on homophobia. And there are naturally many comments which express shock and outrage in general, but also shock that something like this can be politicized.

Notice how writing it down like that makes me look nonjudgemental? How all the different opinions appear to be given equal credibility? It's odd, isn't it, to see how reporting something can twist it. Because it's pretty clear that Foley was guilty of abusing the power that his mentor position lent him with respect to the Congressional pages, and he certainly was guilty of hypocricy in supporting legislation to outlaw the very activities that he engaged in. And it's also getting clearer that the Republican leadership was guilty of not protecting the pages sufficiently, despite having known about some of the complaints for quite a long time. It is hard to see how this could not be politicized, especially as the Republican party sells itself as the party with values, though I do get the point of how such politicization shouldn't lead to further exploitation of any of pages in the form of excessive media attention, say.

That Foley is gay and appeared to grooming young boys for sex should be no different from a situation where a heterosexual politician does the same to young teenagers of the opposite sex. It probably would be treated differently, partly because of homophobia, but also because of sexism, especially if it was a straight man preying on teenaged girls. Girls are sometimes expected to be harassed, you know. It's only biologically natural that a good-looking girl needs attention. (And yes, I'm quoting from something I read on the net last night.)

No, it is the misuse of unopposed power that is at the core of the predatorgate, and in this it shares with many of the other recent Republican scandals. Maybe a one-party government isn't such a good idea, after all.

That much seems clear to me. But weird fringe arguments sprout up all over the place, from the article on the front page of the New York Times which mostly praised the warmth and caring that Mark Foley demonstrated in his grooming activities to Matt Drudge's recent claims that compared the teenaged boys to beasts, thus rearranging the blame for the events. These are not going to help the Republican party if that was the intention. And neither is the alcoholism defense which Foley has decided to use, except in that it lets him go into hiding.

My Hindsight Bias

Listen to this:

Antiwar liberals last week got to savor the four most satisfying words in the English language: "I told you so."

This was after a declassified National Intelligence Estimate asserted that the war in Iraq was creating more terrorists than it was eliminating. For millions of people who opposed President Bush's mission in Iraq from the start, this was proof positive that they had been right all along. Yes, they told themselves, we saw this disaster coming.

Only . . . that isn't quite true.

One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along.

This is not to say that no one predicted the war in Iraq would go badly, or that the insurgency would last so long. Many did. But where people might once have called such scenarios possible, or even likely, many will now be certain that they had known for sure that this was the only possible outcome.

"Liberals' assertion that they 'knew all along' that the war in Iraq would go badly are guilty of the hindsight bias," agreed Hal Arkes, a psychologist at Ohio State University, who has studied the hindsight bias and how to overcome it. "This is not to say that they didn't always think that the war was a bad idea."

Right-o. I guess. Except that I have an advantage over most people in this hindsight bidness. The blog archives. So I dug through them to see when I first wrote a post on Iraq and what I said in it. And here it is, on April 1, 2004:

On Iraq

I have not written much about the war and occupation of Iraq, and I'm not going to begin now, but I'd like to explain (if only to myself) why it's a topic I don't address very much.

The main reason for my silence is that there's very little that's funny about wars, and I want to write about funny things. Only twisted and sick humor thrives in the conditions of war, and I find that I can't laught while reading about dead people, people who are now legless and armless, people who are now homeless. War is about death, death of people and animals, of ideas and of places.

Sometimes there's no alternative for wars, or the alternatives are worse than the wars. But I never believed this to be the case in Iraq, and I found the U.S. administration unable to make a good case for this particular war at this particular time. This war was perhaps planned for a long time by the people now ruling the U.S., but if so, the planning appears to have been extremely poor. Iraq is not being 'pacified' or 'made safe for democracy'. It is a chaotic place where the most violent and desperate will win unless the U.S. troop strength is considerably increased, and even then any solution we impose is just that, an imposed solution which will not live once left to its own resources. Maybe the U.S. intentions were not all about oil or world dominance. I don't know. But democracy can't be imposed from above, and trying to do so while killing lots of people isn't exactly endearing the locals to Western ideals.

My second reason for relative silence is in the extreme sadness I feel whenever I try to think about the future for Iraq. The only realistic scenarios I can imagine are Iraq as an American colony and Iraq as a radical fundamentalist country. Neither scenario is one that I'd like to live under, and I doubt that the colony model would win out in the long run. Thus, by intervening in Iraq we have pretty much guaranteed another place like Afghanistan under Taliban, some time in the future, and I don't like such a society at all; if for no other reason than that I believe men and women are of equal worth and should have the same rights. I can't envisage a secular democracy in a country as religious as Iraq, especially given the number of people who are armed and the total historic lack of any real practise in democracy. Even countries with much less challenging problems than the ones Iraqis face have great difficulty with democracy. Just think of Russia. Or even the U.S...

Finally, my fear is that the net effect of the war and occupation in Iraq is to increase the forces of international terrorists, not to somehow make the world safer. Maybe the terrorists are right now concentrating on Iraq, but new ones are being created by the news from there, and the terror will inevitably spread out over time.

There you have it: my excuses for not commenting much on these historic events. I sincerely and desperately wish that my predictions and views are all wrong. I'd like nothing better than to be proved completely mistaken here, and to find, soon, a democratic and peaceful Iraq, with thriving institutions and civil society. But then I'd like the tooth-fairy to exist, too.

Heh. I'm all smug right now. Except that my writing skills may have gone downhill in the last two years.

Being Heard

If you are a woman you may have had this happen to you: You are attending a meeting with mostly men and you make a comment or a suggestion or a criticism, and the silence following it is thunderous. Then some time later a man makes the same statement and a lively discussion ensues. You sit there feeling like an ass, fuming, and wondering what you did wrong. Were you too soft-spoken? Too unclear? Did you imagine that you said the same thing? And how can you own the comment now, if it was a good one? It's too late and you'd look like an idiot if you said anything at all.

It turns out not to be an uncommon experience for women in traditionally male occupations or in academia or on boards of corporations. Learning this felt odd. In a way I was greatly relieved that I hadn't imagined the whole thing and that it wasn't my fault, but then I also felt a little hopeless about my chances to be heard in the future.

Juxtapose this with the new hit book on girlbrains by Louise Brizendine. She argues that women speak a lot more than men and faster, too, and I've already seen the feedback loop from her ideas at work on the net. Too bad that Brizendine took the idea from someone who made it up out of pure air:

The most recent to join the chorus is Dr. Louann Brizendine, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. In her current best-seller, ``The Female Brain" (Morgan Road), Brizendine tells us that ``A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000."

``The Female Brain" has made quite a splash since its publication last month, and this word-count claim is one of the most striking facts supporting her argument that the female brain is ``a lean, mean communicating machine." The 20,000 vs. 7,000 numbers have been cited in reviews all over the world, from The New York Times to the Mumbai Mirror.


The book's endnotes appear to attribute the numbers to a 1997 self-help book by Allan Pease and Allan Garner, ``Talk Language: How to Use Conversation for Profit and Pleasure." But Pease himself has presented several different word count numbers in other sources. In 2000, he published ``Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps" (with Barbara Pease), which attributes to women ``6,000-8,000 words," while men get ``just 2,000-4,000 words." (They also offer daily counts for women's and men's ``vocal sounds" and ``facial expressions, head movements, and other body language signals"-but don't provide a source for any of the counts.) In a 2004 CNN interview, Allan Pease said that ``women can speak 20,000 to 24,000 words a day versus a man's top end of 7,000 to 10,000."

Allan Pease is a prolific writer, and a sampling of his other recent titles gives a sense of his men-are-from-Mars, women-are-from-Venus philosophy: ``Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes"; ``Why Men Lie and Women Cry"; ``Why Men Can Only Do One Thing at a Time and Women Never Stop Talking."

Yet philosophy aside, why do the word counts vary so widely among Pease's various works and interviews? Two hypotheses come to mind: Maybe as time goes on, new data emerges from better studies. Or maybe he's using the same statistical methodology that generated those Eskimo snow-word counts. In the works that I've found so far, Pease and his coauthors never cite any specific studies as the source of these various numbers, so for the moment, my money's on the second theory.

Mmm. Turns out that the studies which actually exist suggest that either men speak more than women or that the sexes speak about the same amount and that men speak a little faster.

I began with the silence that followed my brilliant deductions because I think that these two items are linked: the myth that women speak "too much" and that they are thus not worth listening to. Unless they're selling books about how women speak a lot and so on.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday Night October Heavy Gothic Poetry Blogging


The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere-
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir-
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul-
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
There were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll-
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole-
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere-
Our memories were treacherous and sere-
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year-
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber-
(Though once we had journeyed down here),
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent,
And star-dials pointed to morn-
As the star-dials hinted of morn-
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn-
Astarte's bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said- "She is warmer than Dian:
She rolls through an ether of sighs-
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion,
To point us the path to the skies-
To the Lethean peace of the skies-
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes-
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes."

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said- "Sadly this star I mistrust-
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:-
Oh, hasten!- oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly!- let us fly!- for we must."
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust-
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust-
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied- "This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty to-night:-
See!- it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright-
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night."

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom-
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb-
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said- "What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?"
She replied- "Ulalume- Ulalume-
'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!"

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere-
As the leaves that were withering and sere-
And I cried- "It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed- I journeyed down here-
That I brought a dread burden down here-
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber-
This misty mid region of Weir- :
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."

by Edgar Allan Poe

Republicans Want To Make It Impossible For Citizens

to keep tax-free religious groups from using their status to campaign for Republicans.

Why are Republicans trying to take away your right to bring a lawsuit?

"If the pastor is doing the right job, the people will automatically vote for the right person," said Gale Wollenberg, who belongs to a conservative evangelical church in Topeka, Kan.

At a recent rally in Pennsylvania, Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson told a crowd of 3,000 that it would be "downright frightening" if Republicans lost control of Congress. If there's a good Christian on the ballot, he said, failing to vote "would be a sin."

Perhaps the biggest loophole is that churches can campaign on policy issues — even if that effort benefits a particular candidate. Scarborough, for instance, has spent a great deal of time far from his Texas parish, rallying Christian voters against an initiative promoting embryonic stem-cell research in Missouri. At his events, Scarborough makes a point not to mention Missouri's Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who is in a tight fight for reelection.

But in private, he says candidly that he expects — and hopes — his efforts will give Talent a boost. "If a pro-life candidate benefits from Christians being involved, to God be the glory," Scarborough said.

See why they have to lose control of the Congress?

Suspending Habeas Corpus Is Just The Beginning


Low-Income, African American, Elderly, and Rural Voters at Special Risk
By Robert Greenstein, Leighton Ku, and Stacy Dean

On September 20 the House passed a bill (H.R. 4844) that would, starting in 2010, effectively deny the vote to any U.S. citizen who cannot produce a passport or birth certificate (or proof of naturalization). Although the bill’s supporters present it as a measure intended to prevent non-citizens from voting, the bill’s main impact will be on U.S. citizens themselves. A national survey finds that approximately 11 million native-born citizens currently lack the required documents. A substantial number could have difficulty obtaining or affording them.

The national survey, conducted in January 2006 by Opinion Research Corporation and sponsored by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, also indicates that the bill would affect certain groups disproportionately (see Figures 1 and 2) — including people with low incomes, African Americans, the elderly, people without a high school diploma, rural residents, and residents of the South and Midwest. Substantial numbers of these and other citizens could potentially be disenfranchised by the bill."

We have to defeat as many Republicans as possible next month. Their destruction of the constitutional rights we have will continue and expand if they get two more years with a free hand. If they win this election they will be worse than ever.

Everything You Wanted To Know About "Vituperative"

Question from a comment thread at digby's Hullabaloo:

Why do people all of a sudden keep saying Vituperative? This is like the 5th time I've seen it used THIS WEEK and before that I had never heard of such a word

Why do people all of a sudden keep saying Vituperative?

It's the "enormity" and "misnomer" of this season.

Either that or some Republican has got a geezer sex drug coming out with the same name. Product placement. They're going to get Foley to do the Bob Dole routine for it.

Funny, Cokie Roberts never talks about the virtues of "divided goverment" now days, isn't it? Anyone heard that phrase this election season?

Consumer Report: Do You Think The Government Should Stop Beating It’s Wife?

Contains recycled material previously posted on olvlzl as well as virgin verbiage.

Here is last Wednesday’s CNN phony insta-poll question:

Should governments regulate whether restaurants cook with artificial trans fatty acids?
Created: Wednesday, September 27, 2006, at 06:28:07 EDT

Here is the CNN phony insta-poll question of nine days before:

Have you changed your eating habits because of the E. coli outbreak linked to fresh spinach?
Created: Monday, September 18, 2006, at 12:08:19 EDT

Notice that though both questions deal with food safety there are some important differences in the questions and one interesting similarity. The trans-fat question asks if the mean, overbearing government should regulate restaurants cooking with "artificial trans fatty acids". The question about spinach asks YOU if YOU have changed YOUR eating habits to protect your own health.

Suspecting that most people, when they think of "restaurants" aren't thinking of ones that might kill them but ones they like, I wonder if just using the word might prejudice the results. People don't tend to go places they don't like. But if I start down that road who knows where it will end. Ah, the problems you get into when you enter into "opinion".

Not that in either case does CNN suggest that, perhaps, an industry that may endanger your health or your life has some responsibility to insure your safety. They're only selling you stuff to put in your mouths, after all. And notice which question mentions a specific health risk associated with the product, it's spinach, not "artificial trans fatty acids" something that has absolutely no known health benefits as a part of an imbalanced diet. If they mentioned the health risks by name in the question, I'm 100% certain that the phony lard wouldn't be nearly as popular as it seems with the CNNits. I'm guessing that unlike the trans-fat chain restaurant industry, the fresh spinach industry doesn't do much advertising on CNN.

There are questions that might shed some light on the dismal situation. Do you think that CNN would have ever asked, "Should chain restaurants stop using trans-fats to protect the health of their customers?" Or, "Should the FDA require the food industry to apply safety standards that effectively prevent the outbreak of potentially fatal E. coli infections?" I'm betting that you'd see the second before you ever saw them ask the first.

Despite the absurd vagary of this kind of junk news, there are some things that are entirely certain about it. The clearest is that these phony polls are not "conducted" to find out anything about the general population. The methods are entirely fraudulent, they couldn't tell you much except how successfully CNN has propagandized their audience share. And that would only show you the segment of their audience dumb enough to participate in these phony surveys. The questions are phrased to yield the result they want, they play their suckers like a scratch ticket with a guaranteed payout.

This is all garbage, entirely worthless fluff that gives even the entirely ignorant the false notion that what they mistakenly call their opinion is important. It does nothing to inform anyone about anything but validates their ignorance. But, since they're going to keep doing this sewer level "journalism" we might as well have a little fun with it. Look at these other actual "Quick Vote" questions.

- Would you donate your body to medical science?

Why? So they could study the arterial effects of trans-fat consumption at your sponsors' regulation-free restaurants?

- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is disputing former President Bill Clinton's account of who did more to pursue Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Which administration do you hold accountable?

What if they pointed out that Bill Clinton was disputing the Bush II regime's account? Do you think that phrasing could skew the answer a different way. This way it looks like that infamous sex pervert going after the Princess Condi. Oh, my stars, will Obi Wan get there in time?

- Do you believe it is right for the Thai military to investigate the assets of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra?

Now this one takes the cake. What do you think the chances are that two days from the story going old that five percent of CNN's viewers would have any idea what the hell this was about? I wonder what would happen if CNN did a quick poll next week that asked if the goverment should regulate whether restaurants served Thaksin Shinawatra. I'm betting that an impressive percentage of their audience would agree with the statement, "No government bureaucrats' gonna keep me from getting my daily minimal requirement of Texan Shiny Water,". They'll have to pry the bottle outta my cold stiff hands first.”