Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

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Dan is a student at Georgetown University. He is currently trying to think of a new biography for this space.

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This blog translated:


Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

"There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." - Variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Marshall, Mark Twain and many other dead people.

Currently reading:

Songbook by Nick Hornby

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

You should read:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

Bobos In Paradise by David Brooks

Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright

Damned Lies and Statistics by Joel Best

Books written or edited by my professors (well, only the good ones)

Nick Barr

The Economics of the Welfare State

The Welfare State As Piggy Bank

Chris Dougherty

Introduction to Econometrics

David Gewanter

The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (ed. with Frank Bidart)

In the Belly

The Sleep of Reason

Meredith McKittrick

To Dwell Secure

John McNeill

The Human Web (with William H. McNeill)

Something New Under the Sun

Max-Stephan Schulze

Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945

Greater Blogtopia

Abu Aardvark
Across the Atlantic
Asparagus Pee
Bohemian Mama
Brazos de Dios Cantina Carl with a K
Chip Taylor
Conceptual Guerilla
D-Squared Digest
Dilettante's Guide to Life
Egotistical Whining
Enemy of the People
Equilibrismi ridanciani Fester's Place
Fleeting Impulse
Funny Farm
Grammar Police
Head Heeb
I Know What I Know Interesting by Association
Impolite Company
Internet Activism
Jacqueline Passey
John Hoke
John Lemon
John Scalzi
Kick the Leftist
Kids Korner
Kieran Healy
Liquid List
Loopy Librarian
Mark Maynard
Martin Stabe
More White Teeth
No More Mr. Nice Blog Notes on the Atrocities
Open Source Politics
Passenger Pachyderms
Peevish...I'm Just Saying
Politics and Policy
Quantum Skyline
Radical Review
Random Points
Risa Wechsler

Sha Ka Ree
Sick of Bush
Signifying Nothing
Something's Got to Break
Talking Dog
Tom Runnacles
Truth is a Blog
Vaguely Right
Vast Left Wing Conspiracy
Vulgar Boatman
We Report... You Deride

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Boot Bush! Donate to the DNC today

2004 ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac

"Everything to Everyone" by Barenaked Ladies

"In Between Evolution" by The Tragically Hip

"Phantom Planet" by Phantom Planet

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell

"One Plus One Is One" by Badly Drawn Boy

"Sultans of Swing" by the Dire Straits

"Best of the Talking Heads" by the Talking Heads

How Shareholder Reforms Can Pay Foreign Policy Dividends, James Shinn, ed.

Weaving the Net, James Shinn, ed.

Fires Across the Water, James Shinn, ed.

Panasonic ES8017SC Men's Triple Blade Pro Curve Rechargeable Linear Shaver

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Sunday, February 29, 2004
More minor changes to the template. Nothing terribly noticeable, really.

Friday, February 27, 2004
Y'know, it's one thing when Charles Krauthammer writes something really stupid. It's another thing when he just writes something entirely wrong, as he does in today's column.

So says Krauthammer: "Not again. We are the only Western country to have legalized abortion by judicial fiat rather than by democratic approval of the people or the legislature. Are we going to do it again with gay marriage?"

Well, actually, no. I dunno about the link between abortion and gay marriage in Krauthammer's argument, but the United States is not the only Western country to have legalized abortion through a court decision (five states actually legalized abortion in 1970, three years ahead of Roe v. Wade - some due to state court decisions and some via state legislatures). Canada fully legalized abortion in 1988 through a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Morgentaler case (it had previously legalized abortion under certain restrictions in 1967). Australia legalized abortion on a state-by-state basis from 1969-86 through a variety of court decisions (except for South Australia, which legalized via legislation in 1969, and Tasmania, which has yet to repeal its laws criminalizing abortion as best I know). The United Kingdom first liberalized its abortion laws via the Bourne case of 1938, which allowed abortions to protect the life of the mother or to prevent her from becoming a "mental or physical wreck." Abortion laws in the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) were subsequently substantially liberalized by an Act of Parliament in 1967 (in effect in 1968).

So much for fact-checking.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Josh Marshall is musing on the apparent reticence of Congressional Republicans to wholeheartedly support the Federal Marriage Amendment. As Marshall points out, the FMA is clearly about getting Bush re-elected, regardless of the health of Republicans in the House of the Senate. They're upset - and with good cause.

The more I think about it, the more I have to believe that the cultural war isn't a winning issue for Republicans. Yes, it will motivate a large part of the base, but it simultaneously angers a smaller part of it - more libertarian types - while pissing off moderates. Similarly, if Bush were to propose that Congress move on a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade, it would essentially be electoral suicide. The American public doesn't support gay marriage and/or civil unions quite as strongly as it supports abortion, but it's just a weaker version of the same argument.

I find myself repeating Al Franken's story about the 1992 Republican convention. Pat Buchanan gave a particularly vitriolic speech in which he openly stated that the Republican party was in the middle of a cultural war. The major networks all simultaneously proclaimed the speech to be the 'red meat' needed to rally the base and put Bush back on top. Meanwhile, Franken, offering live commentary on Comedy Central, alone mused aloud that the speech would be scaring away moderate Americans from the Republican party. Only Franken was right.

This isn't to say that the cultural war, in some weaker form, isn't a means for the Republican party to draw support. But at the end of the day, people want to tell each other how to act, not to be told how to act themselves.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004
With the Federal Marriage Amendment now closer and closer to reaching the floors of the House and Senate, I think we have to start wondering about it's actual chance of passing, regardless of the actual quality of the amendment (for the record, I think it's bigoted and idiotic, randomly snatching a state issue and making it a federal one). Josh Chafetz thinks that it's not likely to pass the Senate, but I have to wonder about that, given the large majority that the Defense of Marriage Act got - as it did in the House. I have to wonder, though, about the chances of ratification by the states. An enormous anti-amendment campaign will likely be taking flight soon. And while 38 states have passed laws refusing to recognize gay marriages, I have a hard time believing that a similar number would approve an amendment now. The small territorial size of northeastern states relative to western ones could be a distinct advantage there.

Random Tech Support

For reasons I can't understand, my ancient, Windows-95-running, laptop, has decided to start printing out one blank sheet when I turn the computer off at times. Basically, when I shut it down, it makes a lot of noise, the printer lights start blinking, and after about five minutes, a blank sheet gets fed out and the computer shuts off. Any ideas as to what's going on?

Arnold Schwarzenegger has come out in favor of an amendment to the Constitution proposed by Orrin Hatch that would strike the language requiring that the President be a natural-born citizen and replace it with a requirement that the President be a U.S. citizen for 20 years.

I oppose it.

I oppose it not because I think that the language in the constitution is any good - it's plainly a relic that is no longer needed. I'd quibble with the 20 year requirement (I think it ought to be a little longer, but I'm not so opposed to this as to oppose the amendment entirely. I oppose it because the Hatch Amendment seems plainly intended to promote the possibility of a Schwarzenegger campaign for the White House. And I do not believe that the Constitution should ever be altered because of one individual. The constitution is intended to represent the entire nation, not one individual. Come back to me in a few years, and I'll happily support the amendment, but not now, not for Schwarzenegger.

(I should point out, for consistency's sake, that I would argue that the 22nd amendment, which limited the President to two terms and was a reaction to the long presidency of FDR, was a bad idea, and that any attempt to repeal the 22nd amendment on behalf of a sitting or former president - as was talked about for Reagan and Clinton - would also be a bad idea)

Thursday, February 19, 2004
I haven't seen anything written about this, and have no indication of how certain or accurate the report is, but the local NBC affiliate in DC is reporting that investigators are now considering the possibility that the tests on the letter thought to have ricin that was found in the Dirksen Senate Office Building were oversensitive and produced a false positive by detecting castor bean pulp used to make the paper rather than ricin. Good news, I suppose, if true.

UPDATE: WRC has put up this synopsis of the situation.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Maybe the folk singers actually can save the world

There's an interesting article in the Guardian on the role of - of all people - Billy Bragg, in the reform of the House of Lords. Bragg, an English folk singer, has put forth a proposal that's actually being considered quite seriously alongside other proposals put forth by individuals more involved in the political process (Bragg has been quite politically active in the last couple decades, strongly promoting Labourite left politics, but isn't actually a politician).

Lords reform, of course, has been ongoing for nearly a century, as the upper house has been slowly neutered. Most of the hereditary lords were ejected a few years ago, but the house remains unelected. It has little power in dealing with most legislation passed by the Commons - it can only delay and amend - though it has occasionally stifled the passage of certain bills, most recently in blocking anti-fox hunting legislation. As the article notes, the Lords remains quite conservative and Conservative, despite the ejection of the hereditary lords, and tends to oppose Labour-held governments far more than Tory-held governments.

Bragg's proposal would allocate seats in the Lords through Proportional Representation party lists on a regional basis. The proportional representation rather than being decided by separate elections, would be set out at each general election by how many votes Commons candidates for each party receive. Thus, if the Lab-Tory-Lib Dem breakdown in Commons votes were 45-35-20 across an entire region, the seats in the Lords allocated to that region would be allocated accordingly. There would be a 4% cutoff for any party - that is, any party receiving less than 4% of the total votes in a region would receive no seats in the Lords from that region. Thus, there would still be no separate elections for the Lords, limiting election fatigue, but the Lords would become essentially representatives. This would probably allow some small parties - the Greens, Socialists and UK Independence Party - to take a few seats, but would still keep out the truly minor parties - i.e., the Monster Raving Loony Party, etc. The actual power of the Lords vis a vis the Commons would stay the same, though it would gain additional legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

The end result of this plan, though, would be to make the Lords as reflexively left-wing as it currently is right-wing. The result of the current single-member district system has been to distinctly penalize the left as votes have been split between Labour and the Lib Dems - even at the height of her premiership, with a hundred seat majority, Margaret Thatcher's Tories never won a majority of the popular vote.

The reform could also significantly affect the formation of cabinets. Current rules allow members of the Lords to sit in cabinets, but leaves parties choosing possible ministers from a group that does not sit on its political merits. The reform would allow parties to place favored ministerial candidates on the party lists for the Lords, thus ending any uncertainty about winning a position in the Commons.

The biggest downside about the reform would be that it would make the Lords distinctly more partisan, eliminating the role of non-partisan cross-benchers, and would convert the Lords to being a chamber for debating from a chamber for carrying out oversight.

I don't know about how it stands up to the alternatives, but Bragg's plan does seem likely to be able to please far more of those on both political extremes more than any other plan I've seen yet.

Monroe Doctrine redux

Josh Marshall, writing yesterday, asked whether the possibility of French intervention in Haiti to deal with the ongoing rebellion would raise any Monroe Doctrine issues?

Well, no, not really.

First, the Monroe Doctrine - glibly simplified, the idea that the Europeans should leave international conflicts in the Western Hemisphere to the U.S. to deal with and the U.S. would do likewise to international conflicts in Europe - was never as strong in reality as it was on paper. At the time the doctrine was first promulgated, British, French and Spanish troops were garrisoned in Canada and throughout Central and South America. Anyhow, Haiti is internally divided, not currently at odds with anyone else (though this could conceivably change if relations with neighbors or humanitarian issues deteriorate). Anyhow, it would seem that any pretense to the Monroe Doctrine was abandoned by the American government during World War I, irretrievably so after World War II.

Second, the French aren't proposing to send troops from France to Haiti. They're considering sending some troops currently stationed in the Caribbean to Haiti (the French still have a few troops in territories in the Caribbean - I believe the British also do station a few troops there, as well as in Belize). Technically speaking, this would a reorganization, and not any new intervention in the Western Hemisphere.

This, of course, ignores the question of whether foreign powers should currently interfere in the internal conflict. I'm inclined to feel that nothing more than humanitarian aid (and what ever security needed to safeguard it) should be sent right now. To intervene now would essentially be to protect Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has, a la Robert Mugabe, abandoned any pretense of running the country in a transparent and democratic manner. Of course, the rebels might well not be any better ...

From the 'I have some truly weird professors' dept.

Earlier today ...

Prof. X: Um, sorry, I keep having trouble remembering your name ... it's that you look exactly like my roommate when I was in the Peace Corps ... uh, do you mind if I just call you Jim?
Me: Umm ... ok.

I think he might of been joking. I hope he was joking.

Monday, February 16, 2004
I occasionally photograph basketball games for the school paper. This means sitting right along the endline of the court (well, actually, set back a few feet for the safety of myself, the players and the referees). It also often means that I'm sitting right in front of the band. And let me say unequivocally that, no matter how catchy the original performance may sound, Outkast's "Hey Ya!" was not meant to be played by a marching band. Particularly not one located ten feet behind you.

Monday, February 09, 2004
Well, this story just keeps getting more and more interesting ...

Kevin Drum has uncovered the full (i.e., not torn) document listing George W. Bush's military service in 1972-73. The document shows that Bush, in fact, did not actually show up for his Air National Guard training. As a result, he was transferred to the Army Reserve Force, where he could have theoretically been called up to actually serve in Vietnam. He continued to accumulate service points while in the Army Reserve Force, though it's not yet clear for what.

Thursday, February 05, 2004
Helluva day for Georgetown alums doing time for the Bush administration ...

Manuel Miranda (SFS '82, 6 or so years after Tenet, I believe) is being forced to resign (very much against his will, the article seems to think) from his position on the Majority Leader's staff. Oddly enough, Miranda is being forced to resign by Orrin Hatch, his former boss while he worked for the Judiciary Committee, not his current boss. While there, Miranda was apparently involved in a break-in to the servers of Democratic staff members in order to get an understanding of their plans to filibuster the nominations of the more extreme individuals that George W. Bush had nominated for the federal bench. It hardly seems that Miranda was the only person involved in the break-in - judging by the spread of the memos, he clearly passed them along to other people, at the very least, who must have then known of the plot.

Note #1: One of Miranda's defenses was that "there is no such thing as a property right to a federal document." Uh, in that case, I'm sure he'd be happy to provide us with the papers that Miguel Estrada had written ... and his own strategies for dealing with the filibuster, for that matter. Makes sense, no?

Note #2: Miranda has been a continual thorn in the side of the university since he graduated (some people don't understand that - unless you're entering academia - you leave when you're done). Besides formerly serving as the President of the Cardinal Newman Society, which argues that Catholic universities should become more Catholicized, at all costs (not being Catholic, this is one of those things that I think should be entirely left up university administrators and students, not to outsiders). Miranda has also been involved with The Georgetown Academy a hyper-conservative newspaper usually filled with insults and screeds against various students and faculty deemed too left-wing (or in other words, anywhere to the left of Pat Buchanan). Fun guy, eh?

OK, so I just got back from the Tenet speech, which was apparently his first public defense of the pre-war intelligence and first speech in months. He ranged over a number of topics, which can be summarized in the following:

1. No imminent threat The CIA estimate of Iraq's WMD capabilities in late 2002 found that Iraq was trying to build a number of different WMD programs and had various capabilities, but was not an imminent threat to the United States. (Spinsanity has some background on the 'imminent threat' rhetoric)

2. Analysis of intelligence Tenet said "Unfortunately, you rarely hear a patient, careful or thoughtful discussion of intelligence these days. But these times demand it, because the alternative -- politicized, haphazard evaluation without the benefit of time and facts -- may well result in an intelligence community that is damaged and a country that is more at risk."

3. The Iraq Survey Group Despite the assertions of David Kay and others, the ISG is nowhere near '85%' complete, Tenet said, and is far from complete. It still has much work to do in all parts of Iraq. Moreover, it has run into systematic attempts to inhibit its work, both through intimidation and the organized destruction of files and other information during the immediate aftermath of the war and thereafter. As a result, Tenet was insistent that any information he gave today was provisional and subject to future revision as more information becomes available - and insisted that this would be made available to the American people.

4. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Iraq has been found in recent months to have had various unmanned aerial vehicles - probably, though not certainly, for the dispersal of biological and chemical weapons - that could have been used regionally, or, if launched close enough, used to attack the United States. Iraq did admit to parts of this program - in violation of UN sanctions - in the run up to the war.

5. Nuclear Weapons No one thought that Iraq had any nuclear capability during the war, but would have been able to build a bomb within 12-24 months if it could acquire fissile material, it was thought during the run up to the war. This now appears to have vastly overestimated the capability - it probably would've been a few years.

6. Biological Weapons We thought that they were building dual use facilities - which could be used for civilian production or converted to illicit use - but did not have much success in actual production yet. We haven't yet really found much.

7. Chemical Weapons We thought that they were building dual use facilities and may have had relatively small stocks. We haven't yet really found much yet, but we believe that they probably didn't have the stocks we thought they did.

8. The Chem/Bio mobile production trailers We thought they were to be used for mobile production of various weapons in violation of UN sanctions. We're not sure whether they were intended for that or for hydrogen production - they don't appear to have been ideally suited for either one.

9. CIA productivity Tenet argued that the CIA knew what was going on in Libya, Iran, North Korea and elsewhere. This may or may not be true - I really have no idea how accurate it is - but it seems pretty clear from elsewhere in the speech that the CIA gets a lot of information and has to often balance contradicting info. Thus, it may be technically correct to say that it had accurate information about various threats - though it probably also had other information that has been subsequently been proven wrong. If we do have things right more often, it raises the question of why we're apparenlty not doing more - we've dealt with Libya, but seem to have no footing in dealing with Iran or North Korea right now.

10. The CIA and the rest of the intelligence community Tenet, when asked about the effect of the Office of Special Programs (Doug Feith's domain) in the Pentagon in its effect on the politicization of intelligence on Iraq. Tenet replied that he did his job at the CIA, and that the President worked off of the objective view and information of the CIA alone. The former is a valid point - Tenet had little control over OSP. As far as the latter, well, fat chance.

11. The independent WMD commission Tenet said that he welcomed the establishment of a commission to investigate WMD claims and the chance to explain the actions of the CIA in drawing up its estimates.

12. Human intelligence Tenet suggested that we did not have the human intelligence in Iraq that we would have liked to have had, but our human intelligence elsewhere is much better, and we were able to rely on the intelligence sources of our allies in Iraq.

Analysis ...

I think Tenet seems to have overestimated the importance of the CIA in the intelligence process and underestimated the role of Defense and other groups in setting the President's mindset on Iraq. That said, I think he wants to fiercely defend the CIA's independence and commitment to objectivity - when he uttered the words "politicized, haphazard evaluation," he practically spat them out. Tenet seemst to be confident in his ability to prevent the politicization of the CIA but simultaneously seems unconcerned about the politicization of the rest of the intelligence community. He was quite insistent that the CIA would make further information that it finds out about Iraq available as found out "no matter what," rather than this information being politically controlled.

It seems that both the left and right on the political spectrum will find something to be pleased about with this speech. Opponents of the war will clearly be pleased by the disclosure that the CIA did not see Iraq as an imminent threat. On the other hand, supporters of the war will look at the list of intelligence as far as Iraq's repeated violations of UN sanctions on missiles and UAVs and the possible future threats from eventual WMD production as justification for the war.

The news outlets ...

CNN's current story is mostly just a few quotes from the speech and some stuff excerpted from the preview earlier.

MSNBC currently has an AP story up that emphasizes Tenet's point-by-point estimates, and the fact that Tenet said that the CIA never saw Iraq as an imminent threat.

The WaPo has a partial transcript here.

The New York Times has an early article up here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004
CIA Chief George Tenet is set to speak at Georgetown University tomorrow to 'correct misperceptions' about the CIA and its intel on Iraq. Now, I think I should have a ticket (long story). Anyhow, Georgetown usually makes sure that its speakers have to answer questions from the audience (they have made exceptions once in a while in the past, though the only one that I can remember was Bill Clinton during the speech in which he announced he was postponing certain work on the Missile Shield). Any suggestions as to any questions that I should ask if I were to get a chance? Thanks.

UPDATE: I got stuck in the balcony and didn't get a chance to line up for the only microphone in the room. In any case, someone asked the question, more or less, about the Pentagon reinterpretation of the case for war in Iraq, that I wanted to get at, and Tenet essentially brushed it off, saying he did his job and others did theirs.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004
I'm getting really sick of people releasing the exit poll data early. Besides the fact that this can distort the democratic process by causing some voters - though probably not a huge amount now - to just follow the herd rather than voting their preferences, the early release takes the fun out of waiting for the results to roll in at night.

Sunday, February 01, 2004
Super Bowl Prediction

The halftime show will suck.

UPDATE: And my immaculate record of predictions stands intact ...

There's an interesting article over at MSNBC on how the remaining Democratic candidates are targeting specific states in Tuesday's primaries, save Dean - who is targeting the subsequent Washington and Michigan caucuses and Wisconsin primary - and the no-hopers, Kucinich and Sharpton. Essentially, it looks like Edwards, Clark and Lieberman have roughly divvied up the states, each taking on Kerry in one of them. Edwards has staked a claim to South Carolina (and promised to withdraw if he doesn't finish first, though he might conceivably stay in if it's extremely close). Clark has staked out Oklahoma, and also Arizona. Lieberman, riding that wave of Joementum, has targeted tiny Delaware. No one paid much attention to Missouri until recently because Gephardt was still running, and New Mexico's size and distance have made campaigning there relatively difficult.

I don't really have the expertise to know how much the divide-and-conquer strategy might work. In any case, it will depend a fair amount on who gets momentum where, and how the media ends up covering things.

Interestingly, though, the whole article reads like a big endorsement of the idea that realism is alive and well, if not in international relations, then certainly in domestic politics. Realist theory, for those who don't know, is (in an oversimplified sense) the idea that the world is essentially stuck in a Hobbesian mentality in which groups are always contesting for power. If one group gets too much power, other groups will band together to attack. In this case, Clark, Edwards and Lieberman are effectively - though not overtly - trying to band together to weaken Kerry so that each of them has a chance to ascend to the empty podium at the crucial moment.