Archive for January, 2005

Today we have yet another example of spoiled, petulant university faculty abusing the virtues of progress and invention:

DENVER — The University of Colorado’s regents have scheduled a special meeting to consider a professor’s essay that said victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks deserved to die because they were a willing part of “the mighty engine of profit.”

The essay by Ward Churchill, chairman of the ethnic studies department and a longtime Indian activist, was written in the aftermath of the attacks. Its contents became known when he was invited to speak at Hamilton College in Syracuse, N.Y.

Following the attacks, Churchill wrote an essay, “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” that hailed the “gallant sacrifices” of the “combat teams” that struck America.

He said although the victims were civilians they were not innocent. He went on to describe the World Trade Center victims as “little Eichmanns,” a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who organized Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s plan to exterminate Europe’s Jews.

It fascinates me how little people like this comprehend that the “mighty engine of profit” is the whole reason that they live so comfortably in the world’s most prosperous nation. All they see is their own axe to grind writ large.

The ability to take basically unrelated events and principles and apply one’s own personal issues and hatred to them is, perhaps, a fundamentally human trait, and not an aberration. That does not, however, make it okay, and does not make it true.

When I read stuff like this (OMG dramah!), I have to step back for a moment and seriously consider whether it’s intended as satire. Unfortunately, that sort of subtlety seems more or less absent from our culture, maybe because radicals on both sides have no sense of humor to speak of. Blunt parody like The Onion is required to get through to these people, and even then it doesn’t always succeed. Also, as life comes to imitate art (or slapstick), it’s getting harder to tell truth from fiction even in the mainstream media.

I presume that Churchill’s comparison of World Trade Center victims to Adolf Eichmann was intended to be a clever political statement, the sort that makes Chomskyites nod sagely with a tiny smile on their lips. From a purely literary point of view, the Nazi comparison is extremely passé (not to mention extraordinarily inaccurate since most people don’t really understand Nazism or fascism in general), as people on the internet — where it is known as Godwin’s Law — have known since 1990. Yet people on the left keep using this analogy (even long before 9-11), devoid of any actual meaning, and frankly it’s pretty tedious.

If you want the reader to keep paying attention instead of throwing the book down for the dog to chew and going to microwave a Hot Pocket, you have to be more original than that.

Plus, I’m a little confused that a leftist would compare the people in the World Trade Center to Nazis. I thought they were all supposed to be Jews controlling the world with their mad tyte money skillz. Or did the Jews all stay home that day because they knew the planes were going to hit? I forget. The tinfoil hat theories are too complicated for me.

UPDATE (2/1/05): Professor Churchill has resigned from his position as Department Chairman, although will retain his teaching position. Hamilton College has also canceled a panel discussion that was to feature him, after receiving death threats against the Professor and other college staff. While I cannot condone death threats, it is appropriate that Churchill be censured for his remarks.

I had been wondering if that tire-slashing incident in Milwaukee on Election Day was ever going to be resolved. Why am I not surprised that Democrats did it? And why am I not surprised that two of the people involved were part of the intelligentsia infrastructure, and not just random angry donks?

Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann announced this morning that five of the seven men arrested in the election-day slashing of Republican vehicles’ tires – including the sons of two prominent Milwaukee Democratic politicians – have been charged with felonies and will appear in court this afternoon.

The five who were charged with felony criminal damage to property for slashing 40 tires on 25 vehicles are:

* Michael Pratt, 32, son of former acting mayor Marvin Pratt.

* Sowande A. Omokunde, 25, son of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

* Lewis G. Caldwell, 28

* Lavelle Mohammad, 35

* Justin Howell, 20

The vans had been rented by the state Republican Party to transport voters to the polls on election day Nov. 2.

If convicted, each of the five faces up to a $10,000 fine and up to 3 1/2 years in prison. The crime met the $2,500 damage threshold as a felony because the slashed tires and towing costs totaled more than $5,300, according to the criminal complaint filed today. It says the men were caught after a security guard in the Republican Party headquarters parking lot saw the vandalism and wrote down the license-plate numbers of a fleeing car.

He said the investigation had taken nearly 12 weeks because witnesses had dispersed after the election to states including Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and New York, and FBI investigators were sent to conduct the interviews.

Hm. They came in from different states, some of them rather far away, in order to disrupt GOP plans to help get voters to the polls on election day? That’s so…pathetic.

“You’ve got to understand how this looks elsewhere,” McCann said. “It’s a tire-slashing case. … I never got a call from (Attorney General John) Ashcroft about the case.”

No, pal, it’s not “just” a tire-slashing case. We’re talking about interfering with an election here, and that should give any decent person the heebie jeebies.

From StokeyBob on Fark:

I lived in apartment complex that was built so thin that whenever anyone finished having sex everyone in the whole building had to smoke a cigarette.

Anne and I just got back from the grocery store, and I’m wondering why in a world saturated with computers we’re still expected to keep track of coupons by clipping little slips of paper. When we buy stuff, the store prints a selection of coupons derived from what we bought, in effect offering minor discounts for brand and store loyalty. But for the most part these coupons go unused because keeping track of them is such a pain. This is a waste, and it seems to me like there’s a better way.

Most major supermarkets these days have free “club memberships” that allow stores to track peoples’ buying habits and offer discounts to club members. Why not add an array of ‘coupon discounts’ to the membership record? Instead of printing out a paper coupon, set a corresponding electronic bit. Then on future shopping trips, if the customer buys an item whose discount bit is set, give a certain percentage chance the discount will ‘trigger’ and reduce the price paid by the customer. Sort of like a free ongoing mini-discount lottery that correlates with brand loyalty over time. To give it a more Vegas atmosphere, make the register ding each time a discount trigger gets tripped.

Intermittent reinforcement is a powerful training technique. This setup would make use of that, while making customers’ lives easier by removing the need to keep track of paper coupons. Seems to me like everybody wins.

So why don’t stores do this?

That Day In September.

There’s a story circulating in the press about Michael Moore’s bodyguard being arrested in an NYC airport for carrying a firearm. Apparently this isn’t actually true, according to the firm that employs the bodyguard in question:

Patrick Burk is not Michael Moore’s bodyguard, nor was he protecting Michael Moore or in any way involved with Michael Moore on Wednesday night, when he (Burk) was checking in at JFK for a flight to Los Angeles.

When checking in for the flight, Patrick Burk voluntarily advised United Airlines that he was transporting an unloaded, locked firearm in his checked luggage, precisely as regulations require, and not “carrying” a weapon, as your story inaccurately reports. Advising the counter ticket agent is a routine procedure for police officers and security professionals. In this case, a Port Authority officer decided to arrest Patrick Burk on the charge that he is not licensed to carry a firearm in New York City.

The Fox web site headline contains an error not present in the story. The headline indicates that Patrick Burk was arrested on an “airport gun charge.” He was not. The charge involves having a firearm without a New York City License to carry it. On that note, Patrick Burk was not carrying a weapon on his person (only locked in his baggage), and the police do not allege that he was carrying a weapon on his person, as your story implies.

The Fox News story also says Patrick Burk was carrying “an unlicensed firearm.” Please correct that error. Patrick Burk’s firearm is legally registered to Patrick Burk – it is not “unlicensed.” Patrick Burk is licensed to carry a firearm in several States, and a court will determine if any charge is appropriate for Patrick Burk in this matter, which involves New York City.

An important note for you is that Patrick Burk is not a public figure and even the smallest inaccurate detail that is widely disseminated could predictably interfere with his ability to pursue his profession. Patrick Burk is a former Marine who served with distinction in an elite and specialized Marine unit, and he protected, among others, then-President Clinton.

(letter is signed “Gavin de Becker”)

Gavin de Becker is a well-known authority on threat assessment and personal security, and he runs Gavin de Becker & Associates. He has written a book called “The Gift of Fear”, which I have read, and I find him to be an insightful, intelligent, and competent man.

This correction, interestingly, comes via MooreWatch. I congratulate them on their intellectual honesty.

Kyle adds: The blogosphere, especially the right half of the blogosphere, likes to beat up on the MSM for spreading bogus stories that fit a political agenda and then either failing to correct themselves or hiding the corrections in a far less prominent location than the original story. Let’s run a quick experiment. I saw this original allegation on many of the blogs on my blogroll. I’m going to do a quick run through them now and see how many of them have picked up on the fact that this story about Moore’s bodyguard apparently isn’t true, or at least seems more complicated that it was originally presented as being. Back in a few…

Ok. In my blogroll, the following blogs linked to the original Moore story: Captain’s Quarters, Clayton Cramer, Instapundit, Kim Du Toit, Little Green Footballs, PoliBlog and Viking Pundit. Of those, the following have posted a correction in some form: Captain’s Quarters, Clayton Cramer, Instapundit and Little Green Footballs. Kim Du Toit, PoliBlog and Viking Pundit have not updated their posts, although the correction is mentioned in the comments to Kim’s post.

VikingPundit has a list to a bunch of other blog posts on the topic, but doesn’t mention the correction himself. Of the blogs not in my blogroll that he links to, PejmanPundit, Tim Blair, Right Wing News and Ryne McClaren feature the correction; NRO, Slant Point, Cut on the Bias, Balloon Juice, The Smarter Cop, Ace of Spades, QandO, and Damian Penny do not. (He also links to Captain’s Quarters, Instapundit and Little Green Footballs.)

In my blogroll, corrections are running at about 57%. In the sample from Viking Pundit’s post, corrections are running at a lower 46%. What to make of this? First, the blogs in my blogroll seem to do a better job of corrections than the ones Viking Pundit apparently reads. Go me! B-) Second, there’s a lot of room here for improvement. It’s possible the numbers will improve over time; the cycle here is less than a day.

More generally, I think this shows that one of the factors that feeds into the perception of MSM bias is really a more general cognitive problem with the way humans think. People construct narratives in their heads — models they use to structure and interpret the world. Facts that fit cleanly into the model are accepted and promulgated with less critical attention than facts that do not fit the model. (Thomas Sowell calls statistics that fit into a previously-existing narrative like this “Aha! statistics”, but it happens with all sorts of facts.) Add in the fact that people are more motivated to seek facts and arguments that confirm their models than they are to seek facts and arguments that conflict with their models (confirmation bias) and you have a recipe for disaster.

The MSM is perceived as having a liberal bias in part because the models they share skew heavily to the liberal — because the vast majority of the reporters and editors in the MSM are liberal. These models filter what sorts of facts they seek out, what kinds of experts they consider authoritative, what kinds of criticisms are believable, etc. Conservatives, with a different set of models, use different filters. This is why it’s good to have a mix of people with different models — when the filters conflict, people are faced with having to deal with facts and arguments that they would not otherwise have sought out. It’s called the marketplace of ideas, and it’s damn useful.

I’m not immune to this phenomenon. I know it exists, but when I saw the original Moore story my immediate reaction was “Ah, of course.” It fit into one of my pre-existing narrative models — the hypocritical left-winger who thinks laws are for other people. Because of that I was willing to accept the story at face value — and turned out to be wrong, or at least premature. (And there’s that bias again: the story seems to have a problem with it, but I’m waiting to see how well the revised facts fit the narrative. Captain’s Quarters updated post is an excellent example of this. In essence, it retrenches to say “Well, the guy might not have been working for Moore at the time, but Moore still hired an armed bodyguard so he’s still a hypocrite!” The facts are negotiable, but the narrative lives forever.)

Credit where credit is due: This is a nice piece of international reporting by the New York Times. (For those who dislike their amazingly annoying “free registration”, may I recommend going here for an antidote?)

The essentially bloodless nature of the Orange Revolution stands in stark contrast with many earlier examples of peaceful pro-democratic mass protests that were forcibly repressed. (Examples include Iranian student protests and, infamously, the Chinese crackdown on the protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.) As I recall, one of the Chinese protesters was asked “Why don’t you overthrow the government” before the crackdown; his answer was “they have all the guns.” In Ukraine, the revolution succeeded bloodlessly precisely because the government did not have all the guns; key officials in the military and security apparatus decided to take a stand for the rule of law.

I was particularly moved by General Smeshko’s reported observation that “”Today we can save our faces or our epaulettes, or we can try to save our country.” This is what true patriotism looks like in action, and it’s a good thing.

Those men would not have done what they did if their hearts and minds had not previously been won over to the values of democracy and the rule of law. But, at the same time, the yearning for freedom is not enough; it must be backed by the capacity to defend freedom from those who would destroy or deny it. And that means freedom has to be backed by men with guns.

Today’s quote is attributed only to “Gary”, a commenter on PoliPundit:

In the msm [mainstream media], fake documents are taken as real, real documents are taken as inconsequential, what happened 30+ years ago is of intense importance and relevance to the President, what happened 30+ years ago is of no importance to a presidential candidate, the possibility that a sitting VP is on the take with a huge corporation is proof that he MUST be in bed with them, documents that show a clear bribery and skimming scheme between Iraq and the UN requires futher investigation. BUT, there is no clear evidence of a bias in the media.

Now this is a reason to celebrate.

NEW YORK — Four CBS News employees, including three executives, have been let go for the parts they played in preparing the controversial “60 Minutes Wednesday” election-season story about President Bush’s National Guard service, CBS announced Monday.

Asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; “60 Minutes Wednesday” Executive Producer Josh Howard and Howard’s deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy, according to CBS. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated, the network said.

The panel stopped short of saying the CBS story arose out of any political bias on the part of the network or its news coverage.

Instead, the report concluded that the problematic National Guard segment aired because of a “myopic zeal” on the part of CBS to break the story first.

Naturally, CBS won’t acknowledge that political bias was the driving force behind this “myopic zeal”, but then I don’t really expect them to. Mary Mapes in particular, however, should have been thrown out of the news business years ago. This is not the first time she has perpetrated a fraud upon the public in her quest to advance her own social and political beliefs. RatherBiased and Mudville Gazette have more info on this woman’s rabid antics (which include the media circus surrounding the Abu Graib prison abuses, a story she helped break and flogged into an issue wholly out of proportion with reality).