Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Can we have a light blue line around the world?

Another from Instapundit, I'll just quote the whole thing:

JAMES Q. WILSON EMAILS: "On August 26, 2007, the Los Angeles Times published an article explaining why the city council of Santa Barbara has been prevented from painting a blue line across the city to mark how high the water will be if you believe Al Gore’s prediction that global warming will make the oceans rise by 23 feet. The idea was not defeated because people realize that Gore’s prediction is silly and wrong, but because a realtor threatened a law suit based on the argument that property values below the line would fall."

The article is here.
I think the various organizations promoting concern about global warming should make this a top priority, not only for Santa Barbara, but for the whole world. They are making predictions that would be much more powerful if they were given some concrete form. Remember how impressive the animated aerial views were in An Inconvenient Truth. There are plenty of people who don't know exactly where those lines of elevation are. Many of them have children. It's for the children!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A war story

Instapundit says, "And don't miss this interview with a female U.S. soldier." What he said.

Update: and now it turns out my headline was extra-perceptive in the ironic way: this is one of those war stories that are like some of those fish stories, not exactly true. Which makes this into another journalism post, this one on the subject of (for journalists) checking your sources and publishing a quick retraction if your story was inaccurate, or if you find that your source was deliberately deceiving you; (for readers) not believing everything you read in the papers or on the internet.

Simply irresistable

Nice office, Al! Thanks to XWL of Immodest Proposals for the lol macro. It looks better over there, and there's a link to the Tim Blair post that inspired it, so do click on through.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

One journalism post deserves another: ellipses

David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy has something to say about the dishonest use of ellipses. This is the practice also known as Dowdification, named after Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, after her misrepresentation by way of ellipsis of a statement by President Bush, summed up thus by Brendan Nyhan back in 2003:

An outrageous new falsehood is circulating about President Bush. Last week, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd misrepresented a Bush statement to imply that he said the Al Qaeda terrorist network is "not a problem anymore," and the distorted quotation has since been repeated by MSNBC "Buchanan and Press" co-host Bill Press, CNN's Miles O'Brien and others, including numerous foreign press outlets. At a time when the New York Times is under fire for its conduct in the Jayson Blair scandal, Dowd's creation of an exploding media myth is cause for serious concern.

In her May 14 column (which was reprinted in newspapers around the country), Dowd wrote the following:

Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated... They're not a problem anymore."

But as Andrew Sullivan pointed out on his website (and later in his Washington Times column), these quotes was taken wildly out of context from a May 5 speech in Arkansas in which Bush said this:

Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top Al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore.

Bush was obviously saying that the Al Qaeda operatives who "are either jailed or dead" are "not a problem anymore," not that Al Qaeda itself is "not a problem."

(The links to the original Dowd column and to the Andrew Sullivan piece have evaporated, over the passage of time, but I have left them in the quote just to show that they once existed. If you want to pay $4.95 for the Dowd column, you can get it here. The whole Nyhan piece is worth reading anyway, for the sake of the etymology.)

In the comments on the Volokh post, Lev provides a handy definition:

dowdify v: to edit a quote so as to convey a different meaning from what was intended, primarily to damage the subject being quoted.
So what would you call the NPR approach to massaging the sound bites to make them smoother? It seems like a form of reverse dowdification, editing a quote so as to convey a more palatable impression than what was actually said, primarily to make the subject being quoted look good, which is still dishonesty or deception.

It's a pity: that word ought to mean something like "disguising oneself by wearing one's grandmother's clothes." Can you use it in a sentence? "I think I'll dowdify myself for the school board meeting tonight," said Madonna.

Friday, August 24, 2007

NPR news, "fake but accurate"

My old friend (similar age cohort, anyway—whaddaya mean, old?) and occasional musical collaborator Bob Stepno—did I mention that Bob is a journalism professor?—has a post up on his journalism blog about how great it is to be able to embed video and audio on personal websites like this one, without having to figure out how to capture the media, and then, how to host it, without blowing your bandwidth through the roof. Yes, Bob, that's just peachy. But what I really appreciate about Bob's post is the example he chose to demonstrate audio embedding. Here it is:

This requires the Flash Player. Mp3 download here.

I have noticed that it's difficult for me to listen to NPR, especially the news; now I think I know why. It's the Velveeta of the airwaves, a sort of extruded processed news product. And in this clip, they admit it! And sound like they are proud of their accomplishments! Too many of our career politicians are senile or otherwise impaired; cleaning up their sound bites leaves something else on the floor beside the uh's and the stumbles, and that's the integrity of the "news" provider.

Once you start editing the clips to remove the little infelicities, you have crossed the threshold that George Bernard Shaw was talking about, when he famously, and apocryphally, asked the duchess if she would sleep with him for £10,000. Her response was favorable; he followed up by asking if she would sleep with him for £5. Her response to this was not so favorable: "What kind of woman do you think I am?!" His response to this: "Madam, that is already established. Now we are just haggling over the price."

Google searches on Rathergate, fauxtography, "fake but accurate," and Dowdification will yield much to the inquisitive.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Note for journalists on comforting and afflicting

Some journalists seem to think it is part of the job description to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Althouse commenter reader_iam points out here that when Finley Peter Dunne had Mr. Dooley say

"Th' newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward."
he was pointing out overreaching by newspapers and the writers thereof, not suggesting things that they should be doing. Further explication by Dr. Ink at Poynter.

For more context, I have put the whole chapter in the first comment below. The full text of Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902) is online at the Gutenberg Project. (To read these comments with tolerable formatting, click the timestamp, not the comments link.)

Update: and see Trooper York's joke about comfort food.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Historical origin of LOLcats

Ape Lad reveals the hitherto little-known beginnings of the burgeoning LOLcats phenomenon.

Not many people know this, but my great grandfather Aloysius "Gorilla" Koford, was also a cartoonist (see the video evidence here). From 1912-1913 he produced a comic strip which was featured in 17 newspapers, including the Philadephia Star-Democrat, the Tampa Telegraph, and the Santa Fe Good-Newser. The strip was entitled "the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats" and featured the exploits of one Meowlin Q. Kitteh (a sort of cat hobo-raconteur) and his young hapless kitten friend, Pip. The strip did not last long due to a run-in my great-grandfather had with none other than William Randolph Hearst.
See, the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats was syndicated by one of Hearst's competitors, so “Big Willy” (as Hearst was known in his day) used the bully pulpit of his media empire to hound and mock the efforts of my great-grandfather. Hearst scribes insinuated Aloysius was an actual trained gorilla and purported to have evidence in the form of banana shipping statements.…
The archive includes proof of the epochal antiquity of the Cthulhu cult,

showing that Lovecraft was, indeed, more of a chronicler than a fabulist.

Thanks to BoingBoing.

Nothing But Clear Air

Nothing to do with global warming, either. Just for laughs, I tried a Technorati search on "Rain in the Doorway," and much to my surprise, came up with this: this is the story of the girl who could drink only tears.

Where's the percentage in wishful thinking?
Rain in the doorway and a night
of drinking

with the falling patter on a dirty cup left
outside, nothing astonishing blazed across its side,
just an old advert
for an old chocolate bar
in faded type.
That's the beginning of a poem by the blogger at Nothing But Clear Air. Go read the rest, for it is good. That's Alex Foley, if that's his real name. He likes Larkin, Auden and Blake, so that's good. He does not post often, and many of those are quotes, but I will visit this site again to look for more new pieces.

Now I need to add a new label, "poetry." Well, all right then. Perhaps we'll have more poetry here, along with the warming and the squids.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Newsweek: "The Cooling World"

Back in 1975, global cooling was going to lead to massive starvation due to crop failures, and so on, and so on. Do click through to Extreme Mortman for this scan of the article from Newsweek. Note particularly the conclusion: "The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality." Sounds oddly familiar. Planners need tax money, though, and plenty of power. (Not electrical power, so much, but political power.) They did not get those things in '75, and now we have warming. Oh, darn! If only we had melted the polar icecaps back then, as the scientists were calling for!

Update. Jan 24, 2009: I see that Mortman is shuttering his blog. So I'll put the scan here, in case something happens to his archives:
Newsweek: The Cooling World image
You'll probably need to click that to make it legible.

Update: Thanks to Jerry Pournelle, I see that Dennis Dutton has typed out the text and posted it.

Another update: More evidence of a consensus for cooling. From Maurizio Morabito: World Exclusive: CIA 1974 Document Reveals Emptiness of AGW Scares, Closes Debate On Global Cooling Consensus (And More…)

There was a global cooling consensus among scientists, at least up to 1974. And it went on to appear in Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New York Times and many more media outlets around the world, at least up to 1976.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Leningrad Cowboys

Often backed up by the Red Army Choir and Band. Sweet Home Alabama. Smoke On the Water. Happy Together. You're My Heart You're My Soul. Those Were the Days.

Freeman Dyson on scientific attitudes toward "global warming"

We keep hearing the warmingists talk about consensus, and how everybody they know agrees with their position, and that this proves that it must be so. That's not science. Jerry Pournelle would like to draw your attention to this essay in which the noted physicist and astronomer Freeman Dyson discusses consensus and heresy in science, using the current controversy over AGW as an armature to hold the argument.

1. The Need for Heretics

In the modern world, science and society often interact in a perverse way. We live in a technological society, and technology causes political problems. The politicians and the public expect science to provide answers to the problems. Scientific experts are paid and encouraged to provide answers. The public does not have much use for a scientist who says, “Sorry, but we don’t know”. The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it happens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed.

As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions. Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science. When I make predictions, I am not speaking as a scientist. I am speaking as a story-teller, and my predictions are science-fiction rather than science. The predictions of science-fiction writers are notoriously inaccurate. Their purpose is to imagine what might happen rather than to describe what will happen. I will be telling stories that challenge the prevailing dogmas of today. The prevailing dogmas may be right, but they still need to be challenged. I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies. Since I am heretic, I am accustomed to being in the minority. If I could persuade everyone to agree with me, I would not be a heretic.
Read the whole thing. Photos by George Dyson and others from the recent SciFoo convention following the essay.

Update: A discussion is developing at Dr. Pournelle's place, here, here, and here. He uses the word "scam." [The August 14th page includes a link to an article on paper batteries.]

Google's code of conduct runs afoul of DRM

A Wired article from 2003:

Most major companies refer to a detailed code of corporate conduct when considering such policy decisions. General Electric devotes 15 pages on its Web site to an integrity policy. Nortel's site has 34 pages of guidelines. Google's code of conduct can be boiled down to a mere three words: Don't be evil.
More recently, in BoingBoing:
Google Video robs customers of the videos they "own"

Samuel sez, "Hey guys. Several months ago, I bought an episode of Star Trek on Google Video, just out of curiosity to see how it worked. Today I got an email letting me know my videos would stop working in five days."
If you "own" any of these videos, take a look, and follow the link at the bottom to Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than customers?

They tell us that downloaded video is the wave of the future. DRM is the dead hand of the past. (I see a hand, waving me on; but it's a dead hand on a stick, held by a predator, luring me into ambush! Yikes, I better stop now. "When mixed metaphors go bad.") Seriously though, the whole computer/software business has been troubled by ridiculous, barely-legal EULAs and things like the the DMCA for all its short life. Downloadable video that expires? Bad, but par for the course.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Global warming: more trashed math

An important post at Warren Meyer's Coyote Blog: Breaking News: Recent US Temperature Numbers Revised Downwards Today. Just go read the whole thing. It seems a little Y2K bug got into NASA's (already suspect) numbers. Reminds me of this.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mr. Woo, the Chinese robot farmer

He's not a robot, no! He raises them, or builds them, you might say. His wife is a little resentful because he burned the house down building a robot, once. But it's better now. Paul Merton interviews Mr. Woo:
Thanks to BoingBoing, where you'll find a link to more of this Channel 5 series of Paul Merton's travels in China.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Mark Steyn on "Alms for Jihad"

Or, how to suppress a book thoroughly, but quietly. The removal from libraries makes it even more thorough, and horrifying. Even books that have been thoroughly discredited, such as Michael Bellesiles's Arming America, are allowed to remain in libraries. My local system has a copy of Clifford Irving's hoax Autobiography of Howard Hughes!

How will we lose the war against "radical Islam"?

Well, it won't be in a tank battle. Or in the Sunni Triangle or the caves of Bora Bora. It won't be because terrorists fly three jets into the Oval Office, Buckingham Palace and the Basilica of St Peter's on the same Tuesday morning.

The war will be lost incrementally because we are unable to reverse the ongoing radicalization of Muslim populations in South Asia, Indonesia, the Balkans, Western Europe and, yes, North America. And who's behind that radicalization? Who funds the mosques and Islamic centers that in the past 30 years have set up shop on just about every Main Street around the planet?

For the answer, let us turn to a fascinating book called "Alms for Jihad: Charity And Terrorism in the Islamic World," by J. Millard Burr, a former USAID relief coordinator, and the scholar Robert O Collins. Can't find it in your local Barnes & Noble? Never mind, let's go to Amazon. Everything's available there. And sure enough, you'll come through to the "Alms for Jihad" page and find a smattering of approving reviews from respectably torpid publications: "The most comprehensive look at the web of Islamic charities that have financed conflicts all around the world," according to Canada's Globe And Mail, which is like the New York Times but without the jokes.

Unfortunately, if you then try to buy "Alms for Jihad," you discover that the book is "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock." Hang on, it was only published last year. At Amazon, items are either shipped within 24 hours or, if a little more specialized, within four to six weeks, but not many books from 2006 are entirely unavailable with no restock in sight.

Well, let us cross the ocean, thousands of miles from the Amazon warehouse, to the High Court in London. Last week, the Cambridge University Press agreed to recall all unsold copies of "Alms for Jihad" and pulp them. In addition, it has asked hundreds of libraries around the world to remove the volume from their shelves.
Read the whole thing. Stanley Kurtz has more at The Corner. More updates at Hot Air and Michelle Malkin.

Andrea Harris, inspired by that Mark Steyn piece, has a plan that sounds a lot like FDR's tactics for the home front: more serious than what we have now.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Asian Brown Cloud receiving a little attention in the press

And high time, too. Discussions of Kyoto, warming, environmental anything without taking the Asian Brown Cloud into account are just hot air. Though Achim Steiner of the UN manages to emit some gas in the first sentence of the last paragraph. Spotted in Jerry Pournelle's mail.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bridge collapses in Minnesota: blame Bush!

It's true. Harry Reid agrees. Everything is George Bush's fault! It's self-evident. No-one in Minnesota had anything to do with this. No construction contractors were careless with their jackhammers, no inspectors signed off too readily on the condition of the overpass.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ethanol scam at Rolling Stone

Even the Rolling Stone can see through fuel ethanol as currently practiced in the US: Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles. That title sums it up. Specifics in the article.