Saturday, July 16, 2005

the war on women in Iraq

The Telegraph reports that prostitutes are being murdered in Basra and the British occupying forces don't think it's any of their business (link from The Belmont Club). Aside from the horror of women who are probably forced into prostitution by their male relatives being murdered by male strangers, one wonders what the British are thinking by letting violent non-governmental troops run around intimidating and killing people. Don't they know that repetition breeds legitimacy and that success breeds respect?

These brutal quasi-military forces are turning into a shadow government, unelected, not accountable to the people. What good is a democracy where the real rulers are criminal gangs? The longer you let these gangs rule, the more powerful they become. They use terror to get their people into office and into the police forces. They establish sources of money. They engender factions of loyal citizens.

The British have rescued the people of Basra from a dictator who was brutal just because he wanted to maintain power and delivered them to something worse, gangsters who are brutal because they want to control every little aspect of everyone's life.

now that's a hostile takeover

The Yemeni government has a novel strategy for shutting down an opposition political party. You send a guy with a gun to take over the building, recognize him as the new party chairman, and then presto, it's no longer an opposition party (link from Dean's World).

OK, maybe the idea isn't all that novel. But what's novel is that in this case, a stooge of the Yemeni government bothers to read the blog post about the takeover and leave a comment (number 3), calling the blogger "handicapped" (I assume that's a poor translation of a crude Yemeni insult, probably better translated as "retard").

not in my name

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Ken Melman, head of the RNC apologized for Nixon's "Southern Strategy". Bush agrees:
"Ken said it was wrong to try and benefit from racial polarization. We agree fully. That is why the president has always reached out to people from all walks of life," McClellan said.
They don't apologize for me. I was too young to vote at the time, but I agreed with Nixon's southern strategy and still do. It was ethical and it was smart and the only reason that Democrats are still so upset forty years later that Republicans were trying to "benefit politically from racial polarization" is because Democrats think they are the only ones who should be allowed to do that.

The Southern Strategy was Nixon's effort to make inroads for Republicans into the South, a region that for decades had been more conservative than the national Democratic party, but that had stayed in that party in part for racist reasons. For a century the Democrats had been the party of slavery, segregation, and racism. The Republicans had been the party of emancipation, freedom, and voting rights. In the fifties and sixties, racism had lost enough popularity that it was no longer advantageous nationally for the Democrats to champion it, so they did an about-face and abandoned their racist members in the south.

So, yes, the Republicans took advantage of the situation, working on the voters that the Democrats had just abandoned. But they did not do it by catering to racism, they did it by emphasizing honorable positions that the racists could agree with. It's called coalition-building, and within reason there is nothing wrong with it either morally or politically. Nixon never went after the KKK vote, only the Democrats ever did that. When have the Democrats ever turned up their noses at a significant voting block just for ethical reasons? The Democratic party has never told communists, islamists, environmental terrorists, black anarchists, Mexican separatists or people who put animal rights over people's rights that they don't want their votes. Instead, they go out of their way to appeal to these groups just like the Republicans tried to appeal to southern racists.

Of course you can go too far in an appeal to such a distasteful group. You could, for example, defend brutal communist dictators or excuse islamist terrorists or pass overbearing environmental legislation or send money to brutal black dictators or defend illegal immigration or send people to prison for not feeding their dog. Democrats have done all of those things. (Republicans have done some of those things too, you can condemn the party for that.)

So, yes, there were some southern racists that voted for Republicans. There were a lot more southern racists that voted for Democrats, and the Democrats did what they could to keep these people in their party. One of the things they did was to have the courts do all of the dirty work. That way the politicians could wash their hands of it and deny responsibility.

So what were the horrible things that the Republicans did to get the "racist" vote? They opposed unconstitutional acts and usurpations of power by the federal government. That's pretty awful isn't it? The Republicans never sided with the whites who prevented blacks from voting or segregated public institutions or used the power of the law to keep private businesses segregated. The only national political party that ever did those things was the Democrats. The Republican party has always been officially opposed to those things, even back when it was a political liability to be opposed to those things. When have the Democrats ever apologized for being the party of slavery, segregation and racism for the hundred years prior to 1960?

But in the enthusiasm to correct the racist policies of the past, the federal government went too far. Federal courts ordered school districts to racially integrate the schools by busing kids to other neighborhoods. This was wrong. Not only was this an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal courts, the effects were dreadful. It polarized people who would otherwise have soon adopted the new non-racist ethic, creating angry dedicated racists where once there were just mild racists-by-default. It took good people and let the media label them as racists just because they opposed a power-hungry federal government removing their children from safe neighborhood schools and sending them to dangerous schools in other neighborhoods.

It took from southerners the opportunity to feel that they were ending racism on their own, and made it appear that it was being forced upon them by the morally arrogant northerners. The end of racism could (and I believe would) have been a unified national victory. Instead, you had southern parents rioting in the streets to protect their children from dictatorial northern judges, and the end of racism became another defeat for the south. It created bitterness and hostility that dogged us for decades, and it was all unnecessary.

There were other harms also. Parents no longer lived close to their children's schools and it became much harder for them to effect their children's education. Schools became more dangerous. Studies have shown that inter-group violence in demographically mixed environments increases as the proportions become more even. We will probably never know how many children were beaten and had to live in constant fear because of the arrogance of federal judges. Instead of small pockets of whites growing up in black schools and small pockets of blacks growing up in white schools --each group learning the other culture-- you had gangs and violent culture clashes.

So no, I don't apologize for the southern strategy. It was smart and it was good. It also probably decreased the level of tension in the south. That kind of resentment needs an outlet and voting for Nixon and Reagan was an outlet that may have prevented a resurgence of the KKK. It let the abused people feel that they were fighting back (and being successful) without having to use violence. It was a good thing, and the modern Republican leadership should be ashamed of themselves for pandering to black racists. What they are doing is far more unethical than what Nixon did.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

mobile phones and driving

According to this article, a study recently showed that talking on a mobile phone increases the risk of an accident by four times (link from Master of None). The researcher adds
Using a hands-free phone is not any safer.
That struck me as unlikely. And the article says that using a nonhands-free phone makes you 4.9 times as likely to have an accident while with a hands-free phone you are only 3.8 times as likely to have an accident. To most of us, 3.8 times as likely to have an accident is a lot safer than 4.9 times as likely to have an accident, so how does the researcher say there is no difference?

To find out, I went to the actual paper:
Mobile phone use within the period during and up to 10 minutes before the estimated time of the crash was associated with a fourfold increase in the likelihood of crashing (odds ratio 4.1, 95% confidence interval 2.2 to 7.7, P < 0.001) (table 3). Similar results were obtained when we analyzed only the interval up to 5 minutes before a crash (3.6, 1.8 to 7.0, P < 0.001). Analyses with paired matching to compare the hazard interval with an equivalent single control interval also showed significant associations between mobile phone use and the likelihood of a crash, similar in magnitude to the association with 1:M matching (table 3).

Sex, age group, or type of mobile phone did not affect the association between phone use and risk of crash (P > 0.05) (table 4). In particular, both hand held and hands-free phone use while driving was associated with increased risk (4.9, 1.6 to 15.5, P=0.003 v 3.8, 1.8 to 8.0, P < 0.001, respectively).
I think the reasoning is in the large ranges. The study shows that people were 1.6 to 15.5 times more likely to have an accident if they had been using a non hands-free phone and that they were 1.8 to 8 times more likely to have an accident if they were using a hands-free phone. The ranges have so much overlap that it would be a bit reckless to say that one number is really larger than the other.

But if that is the reasoning, then it is equally reckless to say that one is not really larger than the other. I think a more honest summary would be that the precision of the study was not high enough to say whether hands-free phones make a difference or not. In fact, drawing any conclusions at all from numbers with such a huge confidence interval is risky.

Also notice another honesty failure in the summary presented in the newspaper. To say that using a mobile phone makes you four times as likely to have an accident, they used the numbers from the sample where the phone had been in use ten minutes before the accident. When they use a sample where the phone had been in use five minutes before the accident, the number was only 3.6 percent. Logic would tell you that this second number is the more reliable one, but they chose the other one so they could say "four times more likely" instead of "three-and-a-half times more likely".

And keep in mind that these numbers are only given with 95% confidence. One out twenty numbers with a 95% confidence interval is wrong. The researchers may easily have come up with a hundred numbers like this in this study. Five of those numbers are expected to be wrong, but they picked out from those numbers the ones that most strongly supported their policy recommendation. And who knows how many studies they did before they got a set of numbers that they wanted to publish?

Just keep in mind that one statistical study does not a fact make. There have been enough studies now to pretty much confirm that talking on a cell phone makes driving more dangerous (assuming that the researchers haven't been cherry picking what results to publish), but I don't think the verdict is in yet on the relative risk of the talking vs. the act of holding something to your ear as you drive, restricting your vision and head motion and only leaving one hand for the wheel. Not to mention dialing and looking at caller-id numbers.

It doesn't seem at all likely to me that good hands-free systems are more dangerous to use than just talking to the passenger sitting next to you in the car (assuming no operations that take your eyes off the road). If we are going to outlaw using hands-free phones, shouldn't we also outlaw all other talking while driving? Even overhearing a conversation can be distracting. Maybe we should outlaw all talking inside a moving vehicle.

Or maybe people should chill out and stop looking for new ways to tell their fellow citizens how to act.

on experts

I've often tried to say things like this to people, but I don't think I've expressed it this well. From Dean:
... a paper in a peeer-reviewed journal is not Gospel, but it is written by a respected researcher and, before it's published, it undergoes a lengthy process where other qualified researchers in the field review it carefully, point out possible flaws or objections, challenge his references, and give the author a chance to meet their objections and/or clarify his reasoning before publication.

In other words, while a peer-reviewed paper may be wrong about something, it is extraordinarily arrogant to think you can just skim it and toss off a casual dismissal. You need to respect the material, and that means that before you spout about it you read it carefully and think about it, under the assumption that someone who's quite smart and quite well-informed wrote it, and that other people who are quite smart and well-informed reviewed it before it got published.
There are few things more annoying than someone who doesn't understand the difference between scholarly research and BS.

This blog, for example, is largely BS. If I'm not talking about computer science or mathematics, then I'm not an expert. But then I try to show some humility and avoid arguing matters of fact with experts unless I know that there are other experts who agree with me. Experts aren't always right, but they are always experts.

more on Rove

Roscoe has a good round up of coverage on the Rove/Plame affair.

freedom fighters against the "freedom fighters"

Wretchard argues that what we are missing in the war on terror is support of Islamic anti-Islamofascist guerillas to fight within the Islamic community.

It's an interesting thought, but the problem is that such groups would be too easily characterized as vigilantes. After all, they would be acting out the work of the government, attacking criminals. I don't mean that I wouldn't support them, just that it would be too easy for the pro-Islamofascist left to discredit them and too hard for any American president to support them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

expensive water

I've been meaning to link to this for weeks now. It's a story about bottled water and what a scam the whole thing is. Very well researched and written by John Stossel.

Actually, although I've always thought the bottled water thing is a scam (like designer clothing, Harley Davidson motorcycles, and expensive wines), at least this one is convenient. It used to be that if you left for a day outing and forgot to take water, you had to go back and get it (let's pretend I still live in Tucson for this point). Now, you just stop at 7/11 and pick up a bottle of water. Also, I am no longer held hostage to low-flow drinking fountains and those tiny cups they have at bottled-water coolers. I can just grab a 16 oz bottle. When it's empty, I refill it from the tap. When it starts getting scummy, I toss it and get another one.

There are actually people in my office who get grossed out when they see me drinking tap water. As if they weren't drinking tap water every day five years ago. It's funny how marketing can create value out of nothing but perception.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rove and Plame

In the midst of the high farce of all these America-hating, CIA-despising leftists getting on their moral high horses about the outing of a CIA agent --an act that they would have applauded if it were done by Ted Kennedy or another of their heroes-- I'm left with a nagging bit of unfinished business: a year ago, why did Joe Wilson refer to Karl Rove being frog-marched out of the Whitehouse in handcuffs?

I didn't think much of it at the time. A random stab. Wishful thinking. But now it looks like there was some substance behind the thought. Was Joe Wilson just lucky? Did he pick a name out of the hat and it turned out to be right? Or did he have some information about the leak that the rest of us didn't have? Did some reporters talk to Wilson in order to confirm the information about how he got the job? If someone did talk to him, did Joe Wilson inform them that his wife was a covert operative and urge them not to print the story, or did he just let it go?

Judith Miller is in jail rather than reveal her source. If it were Karl Rove, isn't it likely that she would be willing to say so, now that he has already been implicated? We still don't know who revealed Valerie Plame's name. Apparently it wasn't Karl Rove.

But I'll have to admit that this is a bit of my own wishful thinking. More likely that it was someone else in the administration since Novak referred to more than one source in the article that started this whole thing.

Still, here's a fun exercise: read the leftists blogs looking for an unequivocal statement that it is absolutely wrong to out a covert CIA agent. I couldn't find one. Lots of sneering about the Bush Whitehouse's "dishonesty" (there seems to be a general, if unsubstantiated, agreement that the Whitehouse deceived the public, not just that Rove deceived the Whitehouse), lots of caterwauling about how the Bush Whitehouse puts politics above the national interest, that kind of stuff. No one is committing himself to the proposal that there is no excuse for outing a CIA agent. So the next time they applaud one of their heroes who outs a bunch of CIA agents and gets people killed, it will be hard to come up with concise quotes to show their hypocrisy.

Oh well. No one really believes they care about the crime anyway. All they care about is getting Karl Rove.

I don't believe it is always wrong to out a CIA agent. If Valerie Plame really was working in the CIA and engaging in political sabotage against the express policies of the elected president, then she was abrogating her duties in a very serious way. This is how coups get started. I'm not saying that we were in danger of a violent overthrow of the government, but as the bureaucracy becomes less and less accountable to the Chief Executive, and more and more willing to oppose him, then a coup becomes more and more possible. It is a patriotic duty to put a stop to this sort of thing.

In fact, this strikes me even more seriously today than it did a few months ago, now that we know how Richard Nixon was forced to resign in large part due to the efforts of a highly-place FBI official that had a grudge against him. Watergate really was a sort of coup. It didn't involve bloodshed, but it did involve a coalition of powerful political interests undermining and thwarting the will of the people as expressed in a democratic election. Nixon's offenses seem ugly, but they were not at all out of line with what previous administrations had done. No, Nixon's real crimes were (1) pissing off the second-highest administrator in the FBI and (2) being a Republican and a strong anti-communist president in a country where the Congress and the press were all controlled by Democrats and communist-sympathizers.

It isn't at all impossible that something similar could happen to Bush. Certainly there are millions who hope for it. So if Plame really was involved in subverting the president's policy, outing was the least that should have happened to her.

another one bites the dust?

Well, first I just didn't have much to say for a while, then my hands started hurting so I had an excuse not to blog, now they're still hurting but not so bad that I can't blog if I really want to. I think I'm just getting burned out on blogging.

Maybe I should take a break or find another hobby. It's too bad too; in the last six months my average readership has more than doubled. But I just haven't been motivated to write my usual political screeds, nothing funny has happened lately, and nobody wants to read my mathematical philosophy. The fiction is coming along OK, but fiction requires several revisions so it's not something you can post on a daily basis (I guess, you could write in big junks and portion it out in small chunks, but that doesn't seem honest).

Anyway, for all of you that have kept coming back for the last three weeks to see nothing new on the blog, I apologize. I'll make a decision this weekend whether to keep blogging or not.

Monday, July 11, 2005

get your Storyblogging Carnival entry in

I will be hosting the Twenty-Third Storyblogging Carnival on July 18th. If you have a story on your blog that you'd like to submit to the Carnival, please e-mail me at doc-at-docrampage-dot-com (or post in my comments), including the following information
  • Name of your blog
  • URL of your blog
  • Title of the story
  • URL for the blog entry where the story is posted
  • (OPTIONAL) Author's name
  • (OPTIONAL) A suggested rating for adult content (G, PG, PG-13, R)
  • A word count
  • A short blurb describing the story

The post may be of any age, from a week old to years old. The submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Saturday, July 16th. More detailed information follows:
  1. The story or excerpt submitted must be posted on-line as a blog entry, and while fiction is preferred, non-fiction storytelling is acceptable.
  2. The story can be any length, but the Carnival will list them in order of length, from shortest to longest, and include a word count for each one.
  3. You may either send a complete story, a story in progress, or a lengthy excerpt. By lengthy excerpt, I mean that it should be a significant portion of the story, at least 10% of the whole thing. You should indicate the word count for both the excerpt and the complete story in the submission, and you should say how the reader can find more of the story in the post itself.
  4. If the story spans multiple posts, each post should contain a link to the beginning of the story, and a link to the next post. You may submit the whole story, the first post, or, if you've previously submitted earlier posts to the Carnival, the next post which you have not submitted. Please indicate the length of the entire story, as well as the portion which you are submitting.
  5. The host has sole discretion to decide whether the story will be included or not, or whether to indicate that the story has pornographic or graphically violent content. Aside from noting potentially offensive content, while I may say nice things about stories I like, I won't be panning anyone's work.
  6. The story may be the blogger's own or posted with permission, but if it is not his own work he should gain permission from the author before submitting to the Carnival.

If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list, please let me know. Also, please promote the carnival on your own blog if you have one.