June 24, 2004

GAMES?

I wrote a long time ago about how strange I thought it was to see my cousins playing Catch Osama in the summer of 2002. But that was nothing compared to seeing these Swedish kids play Behead Nick Berg.

I just can't think of anything else to say.


MORE TO GROK:

This video, Seeds of Hatred, found in the comments at LGF is worth watching too.

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June 23, 2004

FUMING

I went to LGF this morning and started reading over a bowl of cereal. At the fifth post down, I froze with the spoon halfway to my mouth and let out a nice loud godammit. They killed Kim Seon-Il. I'm not surprised, but now I'm mad as hell. Fuming mad. How many more heads do they have to hack off before the rest of the world gets mad too?

My "bring it on" yesterday was just the start. Every day, I get angrier and angrier, and it only steels my resolve.

MORE TO GROK:

I hope Amritas is wrong, but his words ring true in my ears:

I wish I could say I was surprised, but I know what barbarians can do. I also wish his death will not be in vain, but I know what the Left wants to do.


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June 20, 2004

PREJUDICE

I am prejudiced.

Actually, I don't really think that's the right word, since the definition of prejudiced includes the phrases "formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge" and "an irrational attitude", neither of which do I think qualify in this instance. But there's no other word for having a negative opinion of an entire group of people based on two years of research.

So we're gonna go with prejudiced.

I don't know that many Muslims one-on-one. I am friends with one Muslim family from Iran who begs my husband to invade their country every time they see him. I know of a few Muslims in the Army, including one who is wonderful and one who scares the crap out of me. On an individual level, I'm sure I could like many Muslims. But on a larger scale, I have no love for Islam.

I personally don't care what someone believes in private, and I think everyone has a right to believe or not believe whatever he chooses. There is however a major difference in the way each religion presents itself to the world. What are the major current news stories dealing with Christianity? Whether the 10 Commandments should be in a courthouse or whether Christianity should be mentioned in the EU Constitution. What are the major news stories on Islam? Beheadings, suicide bombings, and honor killings. Those two things, to quote Jules, "ain't the same ballpark, ain't the same league, ain't even the same f*ckin' sport."

Den Beste just found a hazily-attributed speech on the Muslim world. One section addresses the fundamental differences in "common ground":

The civilized world believes in democracy, the rule of law, including international law, human rights, free speech and free press, among other liberties. There are naïve old-fashioned habits such as respecting religious sites and symbols, not using ambulances and hospitals for acts of war, avoiding the mutilation of dead bodies and not using children as human shields or human bombs. Never in history, not even in the Nazi period, was there such total disregard of all of the above as we observe now. Every student of political science debates how you prevent an anti-democratic force from winning a democratic election and abolishing democracy. Other aspects of a civilized society must also have limitations. Can a policeman open fire on someone trying to kill him? Can a government listen to phone conversations of terrorists and drug dealers? Does free speech protects you when you shout “fire” in a crowded theater? Should there be death penalty, for deliberate multiple murders? These are the old-fashioned dilemmas. But now we have an entire new set.

Do you raid a mosque, which serves as a terrorist ammunition storage? Do you return fire, if you are attacked from a hospital? Do you storm a church taken over by terrorists who took the priests hostages? Do you search every ambulance after a few suicide murderers use ambulances to reach their targets? Do you strip every woman because one pretended to be pregnant and carried a suicide bomb on her belly? Do you shoot back at someone trying to kill you, standing deliberately behind a group of children? Do you raid terrorist headquarters, hidden in a mental hospital? Do you shoot an arch-murderer who deliberately moves from one location to another, always surrounded by children? All of these happen daily in Iraq and in the Palestinian areas. What do you do? Well, you do not want to face the dilemma. But it cannot be avoided.

These are real dilemmas that we face because of the nature of radical Islam. Charles Johnson gets a lot of crap for Little Green Footballs, but most of what he does is just link to articles about what's really going on in the Middle East. Sure, he has his own opinions on the matter, but he's not fabricating these stories of bus bombings, crazy imams, or auctions of Jewish body parts. Those things are really happening in the world, despite what anyone thinks of Charles' weblog. And I do think that those things are disgusting and antediluvian; I won't apologize for saying so.

No, not all Muslims are terrorists; I have nothing but respect for Zeyad, Ali, Omar, Muhammad, and other Iraqi bloggers. But Muslims as a group have some serious problems, and when these problems cause them to fly planes into buildings and kill my countrymen, then they're walkin' on the fightin' side of me. And I will not apologize for enjoying Allah's t-shirt, especially when others in this world feel no shame at wearing a Burn Israel Burn shirt.

Yes, I have a real problem with Muslims, especially since very few of them are standing up and renouncing the horrible things LGF reports on. When the moderates start taking back their religion from the loonies, I will have more respect for Muslims, but until that day I will remain prejudiced.


(I'm sure that's not what Can't Win wants to hear when he asks, "Do you have deep-rooted hostilities towards Arabs and the Islamic faith?", but it's the truth. And I'm pretty sure a few of my regular readers agree with me.)

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June 19, 2004

BEHEADING

I went out to dinner last night and Oda Mae outted me: now everyone knows I'm a blogger. I had my own version of this conversation, and we all had an interesting discussion about current events and the news.

I came home after 2300 and hit the button on the answering machine: "Hi. I know you're at dinner, but I was just upset. Those son of a bitches just beheaded that Paul Johnson who was in Saudi Arabia." Even though I was tired enough to fall asleep in the hallway, I got on the computer. I looked at the pictures. And I started thinking before I went to bed.

Besides studying the French Revolution, I had never really given beheading much thought. And now in the past month I've learned of three beheadings. Nick Berg. Sieng Padkaew. Paul Johnson. I never in my life thought I'd see someone's head being held up for the camera, or someone's head sitting in the small of his back. That's footage for Kill Bill, not reality.

But that's really happening in the world. I think we do need to face the music. We need to be honest with ourselves about how our enemy plans to win this war, and we need to start telling it like it is.

Seppo wrote Thursday about war propaganda (Thanks, Bunker) and its role. By ignoring the growing threat that these Islamists pose, by turning a blind eye to the videos and photos they themselves take of their murders, I too fear we might ultimately lose the War on Terror. Or not have the fortitude to see it through. As Seppo said: "What is it that the networks believe we've lost in 60 years? What values and strengths held by my grandfather do I not have? And who in the hell gave them the right to make that judgement for me?"

I read Nick Schultz' article on Saddam's torture tapes this morning. I have a stomach of steel for these things, but I gasped out in fright as I read the descriptions of torture. I covered my eyes and cringed, and that was just reading the description. Then came the ending that made me take notice:

I must confess that in recent weeks I had begun to harbor some doubts about a war I had supported. And I was not the only war supporter to begin second-guessing recently. We doubting Thomases had been perhaps most perplexed at President Bush, steadfast in the wake of mounting Coalition deaths, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and other bad news. Did this man not see what we were seeing?

There is no doubt that he had. But President Bush — along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has also remained resolute despite withering and unfair criticism at home — had also seen things that we had not. Seeing this footage helps one better understand the mindset of President Bush and of his stalwart British ally and explains their resolve in the face of tremendous difficulties and setbacks. Seeing these films and ones like them out there, will, I believe, make any fence sitter shed his doubts about the appropriateness of destroying Saddam's regime. If anything, they make one wonder, almost shamefully, how and why it took the civilized world — or at least part of that world — as long as it did to rise up against it.

The enemy makes videos of beheadings to rally terrorists and feed their bloodlust. I think we need to see these images -- face this reality -- so that we don't lose sight of how our enemies plan to win.

And then we need to make damn sure they don't succeed.

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June 15, 2004

AVOID

Amritas writes briefly about what's been going on in my comments section. He writes about how trolling is wrong, no matter if it's from the Left or Right. His last line hit me like a ton of bricks:

If we can't get along, let's just avoid each other.

I've worried in the past about the growing divide between Left and Right. I'm sure it's always been that way, but before the internet, the only people you could talk to about politics were people you actually knew. The internet has allowed us to meet scores of people who think like we do...but has also brought us in contact with scores of people on the opposite side. Before the internet, calling someone who disagreed with you a clueless fucktard was probably a bad idea, because you'd most likely have to keep working with that person or attending social events together. But on the internet, whoo boy. Fake email address, fake name, and the insults just flow. Why not, it's not like you ever have to see this person.

I keep coming back to February. And I can't get that graph of book purchases out of my head. We obviously can't get along anymore (as the wave of insults in my comments show), so we will only get better at avoiding each other.

We're a country with two political parties, but we may as well be from different planets.

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June 14, 2004

STATISTICS

I wrote several blog posts yesterday that aren't going to get posted. I wrote one about people with bad manners and a lack of common decency. I wrote another about my growing frustration with the divide between Right and Left and how I was starting to feel sympathetic towards the Left until they started calling me names. I also wrote one about how I do indeed understand basic statistics but that I hadn't planned on 2000 people descending on me like vultures so I perhaps didn't word my post in a way that everyone could understand. And I wrote about how chilling I think it is that every one of the commenters wrongly assumed that I bring my politics into the classroom and force it on my students.

In the end, none of these topics matter. Those who came over from Atrios will have forgotten about me by now, save the occasional one who will pat himself on the back for calling me "intellectually bankrupt" and "a gathering threat to democracy". All that really matters are my regular readers, the faithful who understand what I was trying to say even if I didn't phrase it as well as I could have.

I got lots of instruction on statistics in the comment section. No, I am not a statistician or a math teacher. I could learn more on the topic, and I would like to. However, I do have a decent understanding of p-values and sampling and the way that polls can be manipulated. Many people focused on my mention of the 615 people and completely ignored the other things I had to say. Yes, 615 is 50% of the poll size and a "statistically sound" sample size to make the claims that the LA Times makes. I am not arguing that the statistics are bad; I'm arguing that opinion polling is imprecise and not worth betting the farm on.

Gemini was one of the only commenters that I appreciated hearing from. I would like to address what he/she had to say.

I was trained as a statistician (bachelor's and master's degrees). You are making common mistakes that many people make about polls.

Polls are neither Godlike in their accuracy nor total b.s., like the person in your followup article tries to assert. They tend to be as good as the objectivity of the person or organization conducting them.

That's an interesting point, because I no longer trust the organizations who do the polling. None of them. If I have learned anything in the past two years, it's that all sources are biased, even the ones with the best intentions. I don't put much faith at all in the objectivity of any person or organization. In contrast, it seems that lots of people do blindly assume that these polls are conducted by robots who have no political agenda. That's why in my class we discuss how every single media source has bias of some sort, from Fox to the BBC. Every single one. We discuss how it's impossible to avoid but as long as we're aware of it we're ahead of the game. (I don't tell my students which sources I think are more biased than others; that's what bad teachers do.)

One should always read polls with a careful eye. Here are some things to look for:

Read the questions carefully. Are they worded objectively? People with agendas can word the questions in such a way as to get the results they want.

I stated already that I don't think that all the questions were worded objectively. Some of them were decent straight-forward questions, but some were not. I mentioned Q48, but I also think that we might have seen different results for several questions if the words George Bush had been substituted with United States (as in Q16: Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation in Iraq?). The mere mention of our President's name can send some people into a frenzy, regardless of what the question is asking. These questions with President Bush's name in them were split pretty hard down the party lines; I imagine that the answers might have been slightly different if his name had been left out. It's subtle things like that which will affect the outcome of the already-too-close-to-call results.

Was the sample a random sample? Deliberately not taking a random sample is one way to skew results. It's also why all self-selecting polls (like internet polls) are unreliable - the respondents have not been selected randomly.

What universe was the sample taken from? Likely voters? Registered voters? All citizens? Results are likely to vary for different universes and are generalizable only to the universe they came from. For example, you can't take a sample of "likely" voters and then say that all Americans have the opinions found in the sample - only "likely" voters do.

The sample was not purely random, since the LA Times states that "the entire sample of adults was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education." I'm no expert, and I've wasted enough time on this topic already, but I'd guess that voting patterns do not correlate perfectly with census data. My guess is that things like age and education are indicators of who votes, so making the poll fit census data instead of voter demographics is less realistic. But whatever, I can let that one slide.

What I cannot let slide is that, while the LA Times felt it necessary to weight the sample based on demographics, they did not feel it was important to weight it based on party affiliation. According to Mickey Kaus, "the party breakdown in the LAT poll was 38% Democratic, 25% Republican, 24% Independent." (Thanks, Tanker.) Don't you think that might have an effect on the poll results as well? The LA Times spent time and energy tweaking for race and sex; why couldn't they poll an equal number of people based on party affiliation? That seems to me to be a much bigger indicator of political opinion than race or sex, so the LA Times should have tried to minimize that effect.

[snip] Sampling is not a perfect science, but the results from reputable organizations are usually accurate, as long as one understands just what they represent.

That's just my point; for all the hatred I incited, few people actually discussed the poll itself. I'm not sure any of them understood what it represents. No one at all commented about the missing 55% in the original AP report. That's the type of bias I was pointing out in the first place. Why comment on what <20 + 25% of people think we should do, without mentioning the rest, unless you've got a point to make? Why not report that 73% said that there should be no specific date for withdrawal, unless that's not considered newsworthy? I don't think any of these results actually mean anything (the only thing that matters is the actual vote in November), but if they must report on it, they could do a better job.

What I was trying to originally point out is that many people are headline readers; they see the headline Poll: Voters Say Iraq Didn't Merit War, and they don't actually read the article or think about how the questions were worded or how the poll was conducted. They place great faith in the polling process because it's "up to statistical standards", without thinking much about the fact that opinions and feelings are not easy to scientifically measure. A sample size of 1230 for coin flips or jellybean colors or dice rolls is absolutely acceptable, but public opinion is a much trickier thing to measure.

All I tried to say is that polls don't really matter, especially close ones. If a poll of 1230 people showed that 80% of people thought Iraq didn't merit war, then perhaps there would be something substantial to worry about. But polls about presidential popularity and opinions on war where the percentages hover around 50% are worth a grain of salt, in my opinion. A slight change in wording could tip opinion the other way. I'm amazed that Atrios' readers spent their time calling me names rather than entertaining the possibility that I could have an honest point here.

Incidentally, one of the things I teach my students when doing research is an attention to detail. If you're writing a paper on marriage and you use Britney Spears as an example, then you'd better spell her name right. I repeatedly tell them that when they ignore the easily-checked details, it really weakens their argument; how can we trust that your argument is sound when we can't even trust you to check spelling and details? I found the same thing going on in the comments; why should I take advice on paying attention to details from people who didn't bother to notice that 1) I am a female 2) I don't teach at a DoD's school or 3) that I'm not a Christian evangelical?

Come to think of it, why should I take advice from people who call me "clueless fucktard dumb" or say that I write "incredible dumbfuckery", that I "have no business teaching anyone anything", that I am "a gathering threat to democracy", that I should "shut the fuck up", and that I probably "don't even have a high school diploma, let alone a college degree"?

UPDATE:

Darkwater wrote me a huge email and included a lengthy comment here. I have read both, and I'd like to point out something that I think is apples and oranges.

I *strongly* take exception to your point that "polls don't matter, especially close ones." In my years of dealing with statistics, some of the most illuminating results have been the ones where the p-value is on the hairy edge of the rejection regime. Some of the most interesting tests I've been involved in are the ones where there is no clear answer to the question of whether "system A" is better than "system B". Such tests force the decision-makers to readdress what information they wanted to get out of the test, and reassess their appetite for risk before going ahead with a test.

Darkwater does military testing for the Department of Defense. For him, I assume close calls are controlled experiments measuring, as he said, whether 'system A' is better than 'system B'." That's science. Opinion polling is not science. There are way too many variables that can't be controlled for. A large part of our population relies on caller ID and answering machines to screen their calls; those people will not be participating in the polls. Neither will people whose primary phone number is a cell phone, where they'd be paying for the call. But let's say the poller does get through to someone who agrees to do the poll, and three questions into the call that person realizes he's not informed enough to accurately answer the questions. He can either 1) stop the poller and excuse himself, 2) answer "no opinion" on everything, or 3) guess at what he thinks the "right" answer is. Based on what's been going on in the media, do you think someone will guess that President Bush is doing a good or bad job with Abu Ghraib? People who don't pay that close of attention might not know that the investigation into Abu Ghraib was nearly complete and court martials were already beginning before CBS ever got ahold of the story. But the way the story splashed across the front pages, someone who is not as informed might assume that it's being handled poorly and that "bad job" is the answer the poller is looking for (the poller works for the media, the media says it's a bad job...). That's just one example. There are many people out there who don't read blogs and don't stay up-to-date on politics, yet they might still give the poll a stab. And they might try to guess what the "educated" and "right" answer to each question would be. That's not scientific. Opinions are not hard facts. Using the scientific method to check System A against System B is science (the implementation of either system might then have to mingle with politics, as Darkwater implies, but the actual research is scientific.) Calling a bunch of people and asking them questions is deeply flawed. Though the statistical analysis of the data might be sound, any experiment where someone can try to guess the "right" answer is not hard science.

That's all; I'm done discussing this poll.

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June 10, 2004

TRUTH

OK, just to clear something up, even though it's 0100 and I really shouldn't be tackling this subject at such an hour: it seems I pissed some people off when I wrote about Objective Truth. Believe you me when I say that I do think that there is truth out there. I think there's a right and wrong, and I just recently wrote a post about thinking in black and white. I haven't changed my mind in one week. I think there's real true-ness, as in facts that can be proven, but I don't think there's "Objective Truth", as in something that everyone accepts as truth.

Was Reagan a national hero who deserves to be on the $10 bill or is it that "the world will be a better place without that fascist f*cker's presence to soil it"? How can those two things be so polar? Isn't there Objective Truth out there? I don't think most people are capable of it. If we were capable of Objective Truth, then we wouldn't have such a shocking juxtaposition of opinions on Reagan.

So, to try to better explain what I meant, I do think that there are facts out there, but I don't think that most people are able to look past their bias to see them. So we end up with two truths.

For real, it's way too late to be writing this.

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June 09, 2004

DEMARCATION

One of the hardest parts of being informed about current events and politics is constantly being aware that there is no such thing as Objective Truth out there. Things that I consider Conspiracy Theory are someone else's Obvious Facts. Things I think are Indisputable are labeled Lies by others. One man's Hero is another man's Hitler. I guess I shouldn't have been shocked then to find that I could read numerous blog posts on all my daily reads praising and honoring President Reagan, but that there were still many posts out there that demonize and disrespect our former president. And that the lines are cleanly drawn between Left and Right. It's no big surprise that the names on that list of bloggers who bash Reagan include Ted Rall and Daily Kos. The demarcation zone is always right where I expected it to be. It's tedious, really, to know that you're always stuck preaching to the choir, that I'm posting the same thing now that I said back in February. Will we ever reach a point where we understand each other?

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June 07, 2004

OIL

This is where I kinda want to do an I-told-you-so dance:

Although Iraq is a major petroleum producer, the country has little capacity to refine its own gasoline. So the U.S. government pays about $1.50 a gallon to buy fuel in neighboring countries and deliver it to Iraqi stations. A three-month supply costs American taxpayers more than $500 million, not including the cost of military escorts to fend off attacks by Iraqi insurgents.

It was never about oil for the USA. If I hear that again I'm gonna slug someone.

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June 01, 2004

BUTSTILL

Normally I write my posts completely off the cuff, but I have put a lot of thought into this one. I even made an outline. It is something that has preoccupied me for a few days now.

I have been accused a couple of times recently of being too close-minded and of seeing things only in black and white. No one likes his flaws pointed out, and I am the first one to admit that I am especially bad at taking criticism. Though I may write with fire and brimstone, I'm entirely too sensitive for disagreement and unpleasant situations (in fact, my students' repeated criticism of me was that I was "too nice" and got too personally involved in their success and failure.) If someone suggests I am close-minded, I will agonize over that characterization for days, as I did this weekend.

I recently read Nighthawk's soul-searching and felt the same questions rising inside of me. Should I be more open to listening to those in opposition? Should I periodically re-examine my values to make sure they're still sound? Do I have an obligation to listen patiently to all sides of the argument and withhold judgement?

My poor mother, who is sick as a dog, has listened to me on the phone for the past three days as I've worked through my faults and beliefs. She has been infinitely selfless as I have prattled on about my own issues, and she was there for the eureka moment today when I realized what has been bothering me.

Should we legalize drugs? Maybe. How do I feel about euthanasia? Well, I can see both sides. What about cloning issues? Hmm, that's a tough one. In most of the social issues I can see valid arguments for the pro- and con-; I even contradictably agree with points on both sides. I don't have a black-and-white approach, and I like to hear what others have to say. Even on issues where I do have a stronger opinion -- like the marriage amendment or stem-cell research -- I can easily see the reasons why someone would argue for the other side. I'm up for debate on any of those topics.

However, when it comes to the War on Terrorism, I believe there is a concrete right and wrong. I don't see this war as a "social issue" that can be debated like abortion or captial punishment. I think this war is necessary, just, and beneficial, and I can find overwhelming evidence to support that belief. What I cannot find is a rational reason why we should not fight this war. I just can't find it. The reasons I have heard from the other side all seem to ignore the evidence I see as plain as my nose and instead focus on butstills.

The butstill. My friend and I were discussing that last night. Someone told her the war was a mistake and gave the example of a (heartbreaking) story he had heard about the death of an Iraqi child. In response, she told him stories of new prosthetic hands and grateful Iraqi bloggers. She asked if he thought those things were a mistake. His response: "No. But still..."

There's always a butstill. Rarely is it followed by anything else. Most of the opposition I've heard to this war is first a denunciation of President Bush and then a butstill. I've seen the anti-war arguments torn to shreds twice recently, first by the lead singer of Iced Earth and secondly today by Marek Edelman. To me, this war makes perfect sense; I am having a hard time seeing this as anything but a black-and-white issue.

I've done a lot of thinking about whether I'm close-minded. The conclusion I came to was that there are some times when being open-minded means being wishy-washy. There are some times when standing firmly for something you believe to be irrefutable is entirely appropriate. I think Den Beste was right when he said, "there are some kinds of situations where the answer is simple, and in such cases if someone still tries to find a more complex nuanced answer it shows that he has no backbone."

So I'll remain close-minded about the War, but if anyone wants to debate me on euthanasia, I'm all for it.

MORE TO GROK:

Tammi also writes about thinking in black and white.

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