Friday, July 14, 2017

When spark plugs attack

See if you can guess where the Editor In Chief Emeritus of the Washington Times is going with this one:

The Donald finally caught a break in Paris, basking in rare Franco-American bonhomie as he joined the new president of France on Bastille Day, this year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American arrival on the battlefields of World War I.

A contingent of American troops even led the parade down the Champs-Elysees. Not even a president can resist a parade, especially a military parade with marching bands and serried ranks of fighting men. On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron of France did not even try.

I think you've got the wrong "not even" -- is there some reason heads of state should be especially immune to the old blare of bugles and ruffle of drums? But we're about to get to the point:

Neither did Donald Trump, once a schoolboy at a military academy. Regimental flags floating on a peaceful breeze, despised as nationalist symbols to some, are but reminders to all that “greater love hath no man than this,” in the words of Christ as recorded by the Apostle John, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

So whatever his offspring have been up to with the Russians, the Bright Sun of the 21st Century is still reminding Europe who's the real defender of Western Civ. Which makes the Times's venture into period history all the more interesting:

... The 100th anniversary celebrations are particularly poignant reminders of Franco-American friendship when it was backs-to-the-wall time.  ... When the Germans, advancing through a grain field, got within a hundred yards, the Marines opened ferocious rifle fire, mowing down the ranks of the Bosch until the survivors fled into the woods.

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Sword and shield of the Party

Oh, my. Something seems to have gotten the party press into a tizzy on Saturday night.
There's precious little hitting in the evening's top story at the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

President Donald Trump’s eldest son, son-in-law, and then-campaign chairman met with a Russian lawyer shortly after Trump won the Republican nomination, in what appears to be the earliest known private meeting between key aides to the president and a Russian.

Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner’s attorney confirmed the June 2016 meeting of the men and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower. Then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended, according to the statement from Donald Trump Jr.
What on earth do you suppose made them confirm that?
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Friday, July 07, 2017

"That's trouble. That's tough"

Hey, does anybody remember how AWFUL it was when the Kenyan usurper dared to describe a terrorist attack with ... could it be the same noun that Churchill used for the set of decisions by which Auchinleck handed Benghazi (the port in Libya, not the campaign talking point) to Rommel on a silver plate? Yeah, "setback."

Anyway, if you did, you might be amused at how the incumbent talks to Poland about the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact:

Then 19 years later, in 1938, you were invaded yet again; this time by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. That's trouble.
That's tough.

Please, if you have the time, take the opportunity to ridicule the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network for everything it does.

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Saturday, July 01, 2017

Four legs good! Two legs are the best legs!

Nothing much should surprise you about the evening's top story at the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network:

President Donald Trump delivered an Independence Day address honoring American veterans — hundreds of whom came from the Washington, D.C. area to attend the “Celebrate Freedom Rally” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

.. but this one part did get my attention:

... Choirs performed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and other hymns and debuted a song with the lyrics “make America great again” — Trump’s campaign slogan.

I have to wonder what the "Make America Great Again" song sounded like. Did anyone in attendance think to ask for a copy of the lyrics? Because that's usually the sort of thing that Fox is good at:

Officials at a New Jersey school district have turned over to requested copies of a notice and program for an assembly at which second-graders performed a controversial song praising President Obama, but the district has yet to produce song lyrics that, officials say, also were sent to parents. filed an open records request Oct. 19 seeking copies of materials provided to parents of students at B. Bernice Young Elementary School prior to the song's performance at the assembly in February. The song sparked a national controversy when someone posted to YouTube a video of the students performing it again

Any further questions?

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Halfway round the world

In which the fake news gets halfway round the world -- OK, about 220 miles south, given the I-75 detour -- before the editors put on their trousers:

Columbus received a top ranked among 75 other cities in a comparison done by QuoteWizard, an online insurance comparison marketplace. Unfortunately, the ranking isn’t good news. It’s for the worst-driving cities in America.

And you can write the rest from there. A competent spellcheck* probably should have caught "received a top ranked," but it wouldn't tell you that the "comparison" is meaningless babble designed to snag a few bursts of free publicity for QuoteWizard. For that, it would help to have an editor, and guess what the Dispatch** did that doesn't bode well for editors?

Please don't mistake that for a cause-and-effect argument. We're no more hospitable to post hoc claims now than back before the War on Editing began. But it's worth pointing out that if you're, oh, the New York Times and you want to avoid running stupid post hoc editorial claims about the better-forgotten Sarah Palin, you probably shouldn't start by eliminating the job classification*** with the highest proportion of people who will call your writers on bogus reasoning.

* Word didn't, from which you may draw conclusions next time Word questions you about the passive voice.

** Your Editor and frequent commenter RayB are somewhere amid the throng in this crowd shot.
***  Which is still holding the bridge with class, if you've missed it.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Today in lying

The afternoon's top story at the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network certainly rips the mask off one of the chief miscreants of the 0blamer administration, dunnit? I mean, daring to play the race and gender card when Unmaskinggate is closing in:

Susan Rice, the Obama national security adviser under fire over her alleged involvement in the “unmasking” of Trump associates during the 2016 presidential election, suggested in a fresh interview that race and gender might be playing a role in the scrutiny she’s faced.

Sounds serious! I wonder if it's true.

In an interview with journalist Michael Tomasky for New York Magazine, Rice reportedly questioned the criticism she’s faced dating back to the Benghazi controversy.

Funny, lots of adults do that. What's the problem here?

“Why me? Why not Jay Carney, for example, who was then our press secretary, who stood up more?” she asked.

Tomasky noted in the piece that Carney “isn’t an African-American woman, of course” and apparently asked Rice whether that is the key factor. Rice, in response, left the door open:

“I don’t know… I do not leap to the simple explanation that it’s only about race and gender. I’m trying to keep my theories to myself until I’m ready to come out with them. It’s not because I don’t have any.”

In other words, Susan Rice "links" race and gender to "the 'unmasking' backlash" by ... declining the opportunity to link them to BENGHAZI!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You can see why -- other than the marginally literate prose its staff produces -- Fox doesn't want you to read past the headline. It doesn't just lie about the evidence; it lies about what it's lying about.
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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tell them to buy an ad

Q: What's the best way to get some free publicity for your business?*
A: Dangle a "study" in front of a local journalist!

DETROIT - Detroit is the best driving city in America, according to a new study.

QuoteWizard published a new study ranking the best and worst driving cities in America, ranking 75 cities.

The final rankings are sum of weighted means calculated from these parameters

  • Accidents
  • Speeding tickets
  • DUIs
  • Citations (running a red light, using a cellphone while driving, etc.) 
If you're wondering what that all means, you might be tempted to click through to the study itself:

After QuoteWizard compared the best and worst drivers by state, we wanted to know more about how drivers in America's 75 most populous city metro areas stack up against each other. Here's how we did it:

How do you statistically determine bad driving? We sampled incident stats from users of our website with over two million data points from 2016. To quantify over driver standards for comparison, we weighted incident counts for each city with its occurrence percentage. The final rankings are sum of weighted means** calculated from these parameters:

You don't know a lot more than you did before, but you do know one important thing: "Two million" is just a number with some zeroes until you know what it's two million of and how the two million were chosen. In this case, it's "data points" drawn in some undescribed fashion from "users of our website," though there's no indication of how those are related in turn to the "incident stats" that were apparently "sampled" in some undescribed way.

Should you draw any conclusions about whether Detroit is a good or bad "driving city" from the study? Given that the link from the anchor text complaining about Detroit's "oft-uninsured drivers" goes to a story about a fatal crash involving two unlicensed drivers at an intersection*** 50-plus miles from our snug little office in midtown, you make the call.

That's sort of the point. You don't need a course in statistics to ask what a crash in the wilds of Livingston County has to do with driver habits in Detroit. You just need to ask. And you don't need a course in statistics to ask what a writer means by "incident count," "city" and "occurrence percentage," not to mention why and how the means are weighted, or even why users of an insurance comparison website would be a good representation of a city where a huge proportion of drivers are uninsured. That's why we tell people in quant classes to write for their smart friends in the English department: Being able to explain your data is a good indication that you understand your data. Using numberish-sounding words that you don't explain is often strongly correlated with, well, bullshitting.

This isn't "fake news" in the 2016 sense; it's the old-school kind that has always gotten past enough gatekeepers to do its work. The traditional response is "tell them to buy an ad."

* Whose purpose seems to be summed up in this note: By clicking "Find Discounts & Check Rates" I provide my signature, expressly authorizing telemarketing calls from this website, our marketing and re-marketing partners, and up to eight insurance companies or their agents or partner companies at the phone number, including wireless numbers, and address provided, in order to deliver insurance quotes or to obtain additional information for such purpose, via live, pre-recorded or auto-dialed calls, text messages, or email for up to 180 days.** Yes, this would suggest that the TV station didn't read before copy-pasting.
*** One of the drivers was from Oakland County, which at least is in the three-county metro area, though it's not the county that contains Detroit.