One of the things that really surprised me when I started at The Atlantic was that the company was intending to provide full-text RSS feeds. The folks from upstairs explained why that was a smart economic decision, and since they were telling me what I wanted to hear I bought it. But now Felix Salmon also makes that case thus providing some independent confirmation.
Recently, Brookings analyst Michael O’Hanlon was prominently featured on Fox News’ one-hour biographical account of Gen. David Petraeus. O’Hanlon showered praise on the general, calling him “distinctive,” “noteworthy,” and “self-critical.”
Fox highlighted the fact that O’Hanlon has enjoyed a 20-year personal relationship with Petraeus, extending back to graduate school. As ThinkProgress noted, this relationship leaves doubt about O’Hanlon’s ability to impartially assess Petraeus’s performance.
Yesterday, O’Hanlon escalated his obsessive defense of Petraeus, attacking the Pentagon because its statistics differed than those of his grad school buddy. In a Washington Times op-ed, O’Hanlon acknowledged that the Pentagon’s recent report “clouded” Petraeus’ report:
The latest confusion has arisen from the Pentagon’s own published reports and cannot be blamed on the media or anyone else [...]
My examination of the data convinces me Gen. Petraeus and his team in Baghdad have it right, and that the Pentagon needs to re-evaluate how it is assessing and presenting data.
O’Hanlon’s argument focuses on making the case for cherry-picking facts, or selecting what he personally thinks should and should not be included in a tally of violence:
I am less persuaded of the importance of tracking ethno-sectarian killings, where Gen. Petraeus’ data show even more improvement. While somewhat useful as a metric, they are also somewhat hard to define.
He also asserts that one should not focus on tallying wounded Iraqis, criticizing the Pentagon “for some reason focus[ing] on all casualties, including killed and wounded.” “Data on wounded probably also are ‘softer‘ than data on killings,” O’Hanlon alleges.
O’Hanlon has acquired a keen ability to make his conclusions fit his personal beliefs. In his infamous New York Times op-ed, he contradicted his own research to portray the escalation as successful. His attack on the Pentagon yesterday reflects how he is continuing to marginalize his own credibility in the foreign policy community.
We can always rely on Michael O’Hanlon to fix the facts around the policy to defend his good friend.
Ezra Klein spoke up the other day in defense of dating coaches. He notes that he pays for guitar lessons:
I would like to learn to play guitar well. But it’s nowhere near as central to my happiness as my lovelife. Yet I’m allowed — even praised — for seeking expert guidance there, but would be roundly shamed if I sought a dating coach.
I think the issue here is a sense that if you’re looking to expend time and money on you ought to be working on the fundamentals. Like maybe you should spend that cash on a gym membership or some better clothes or reading some interesting books or learning to cook (or play the guitar!) or whatever else it is that might make you a more appealing dating prospect. It’s true, of course, that in the real world better marketing often does work even in the absence of better fundamentals, but as an announced plan of action it sounds a bit disreputable.
UPDATE: I don’t even need a dating coach to tell me I should link to Sara Mead’s article on education in the 2008 race.
I know there’s a certain sentiment out there that bad data is better than no data, but I’m not really sure why one would think that since a lot of the polling data available is quite bad. To get a flavor, consider (via Marc Ambinder), Mark Blumenthal pointing out the wildly varying notions of who’s likely to show up in Iowa:
July we have seen 12 public polls released in Iowa by 9 different organizations, and each appears to define and sample the likely caucus-goer universe differently. To the extent that pollsters have revealed the details, their snapshots of the electorate are poles apart, to say nothing of the candidates that those voters support. A month ago, for example, I found the percentage of first-time caucus-goers reported on four different polls of Democrats varying from 3% to 43%, with Edwards doing worse (and Clinton better) as the percentage of newcomers increased.
So, okay, in the aggregate this data is better than no data. It tells us something real. Namely, that public opinion in Iowa is fairly closely divided and that the turnout volume will have a significant impact on the outcome and that the general shape of that outcome is that the more first-timers who show up, the better for Clinton and the worse for Edwards. So it would be good for the press to report results like that and, indeed, the particular branch of the press known as This Blog You’re Reading Right Now will endeavor to report public opinion news in this manner — i.e., an informative one.
It’s striking, however, that most of the organizations who actually sponsor the polls clearly aren’t especially interested in providing their readers with accurate information. Instead, their idea is that if they do a poll, that will generate proprietary information granting them an “exclusive” story on the poll’s results. Thus the results of your firm’s poll should be heavily covered and not placed into the wider context of other poll results and the vagaries of polling methodology.
In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, former Bush administration lawyer Jack Goldsmith “said that parts of the President Bush’s controversial eavesdropping program were illegal” and that “the White House has forbidden him from saying anything about the legal analysis underpinning the program.” Goldsmith said that the White House does not want the Terrorist Surveillance Program scrutinized. “There’s no doubt the extreme secrecy not getting feedback from experts, not showing it to experts led to a lot of mistakes,” he said.
The Death of “The Death of Environmentalism”: Nordhaus & Shellenberger are part of the problem — Part I
What do Michael Crichton, Bj¸rn Lomborg, Frank Luntz, George W Bush (and his climate/energy advisors) have in common with carbon.
In fairness to President Bush — he doesn’t really believe those two things (as evidenced by the fact that he has actually cut funding for key carbon-reducing technologies), he just says them because conservative strategist Frank Luntz says that is the best way to sound like you care about global warming without actually doing anything about it.
The “breakthrough technology” message is certainly the cleverest one the Deniers and Delayers have invented — who wouldn’t rather have a techno-fix than higher energy prices? — that’s why Lomborg endorses it so much in his book Cool It — but it is certainly wrong and dangerously so, as I argue at length in my book.
Why two people who say they care about the environment, from them in their landmark essay,”The Death of Environmentalism” and recent articles in The New Republic (subs. req’d) and Gristmill (here and here).
S&N simply don’t know what they’re talking about. Worse, their message plays right into the hands of those who counsel delay. For that reason, I will spend some time debunking them. Here is the most dangerous S&N falsehood, from TNR:
Both the Senate and the House have passed an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) with strong bipartisan majorities. In today’s White House press briefing, a reporter said that Democratic leaders would likely be sending the legislation to the President to sign (or, in this case, veto) this afternoon.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino confirmed that President Bush plans to veto the legislation “tomorrow or so.” When asked whether there will be a ceremony, Perino replied, “I would not anticipate that there would be any ceremony.” She added, “The President will probably veto it quietly.” Watch it:
It’s not surprising that Bush is hoping no one notices his veto, which will deny health coverage to four million children. Over 70 percent of Americans support Congress’s proposed SCHIP increase. Bush has stated that he opposes funding the program with revenue from cigarette taxes, even though such taxes are tied to decreases in smoking. Furthermore, the public overwhelmingly supports raising tobacco taxes, by a margin of 67 percent to 28 percent.
Bush knows his veto is unpopular. After all, he’s certainly not opposed to lavish ceremonies and using children for political photo-ops:
Perhaps Bush couldn’t find any families who would be willing to stand with him on this veto?
Transcript: Read more
I went this morning to a discussion with Akiva Eldar,
notorious anti-semite Haaretz columnist and co-author of Lords of the Land, a new book (new in English, at any rate) about the Israeli settlements in the post-1967 era. He had a good line about the incompatibility of the settlement policy with the Zionist dream of a secure, democratic Jewish state, noting that commitment to the policy had made Israel “less Jewish, less democratic, and less secure.”
Beyond that he had the striking observation that since Israel signed on to the “road map” and thereby committed to dismantling “unauthorized” settlement outposts (i.e., the ones that are illegal under Israeli law) only nine houses have been removed. Meanwhile, he said that while just two percent of the Occupied Territories are actually under settlement control, a much larger swathe of the West Bank is now off-limits to Arabs, either because it’s been set aside for further settlement expansion or else because it’s part of the network of no-Arabs-allowed roads that connect the settlements, etc.
On the flipside, he observed that the Balfour Declaration came in 1917, the UN plan for a Jewish state came in 1947, Sadat’s visit to Israel came in 1977, so we’re due for good news in 2007, possibly out of the peace conference scheduled to be held in November in Annapolis.
The Iraqi government is offering a $1,500 cash bonus “to married Iraqi couples from different sectarian groups in a drive to heal rifts between communities and foster reconciliation.” Sunni-Shi’ite marriages were commonplace prior to the U.S. led invasion, but are now increasingly rare.
In this morning’s House Oversight hearing, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) sharply criticized not only Blackwater USA, but also the State Department, which has authority over the contractor.
Waxman pointed to a Dec. 2006 incident, in which a drunken Blackwater contractor shot the guard of the Iraqi vice president:
The State Department advised Blackwater how much to pay the family to make the problem go away and then allowed the contractor to leave Iraq just 36 hours after the shooting. Incredibly, internal e-mails documented the debate over the size of the payment. The charge d’affaire recommended a $250,000 payment but this was cut to $15,000 because the diplomatic security service said Iraqis would try to get themselves killed for such a large payout.
Waxman noted that in light of such evidence, it’s hard “not come to the conclusion that the State Department is acting as Blackwater’s enabler.” Watch it:
Later in the hearing, Blackwater CEO Erik Prince confirmed that the company’s rules are dictated by the State Department and are not the “same rules as soldiers.”
Even after the most recent shooting incident in September, the State Department continued to cover up for Blackwater. The administration “discounted” an Iraqi report of the incident and instead supported Blackwater’s version of events.
Senior Iraqi officials have also “repeatedly complained to U.S. officials about Blackwater USA’s alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm until” the most recent incident involving the deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians.
U.S. military officials are now pressing the State Department to “assert more control over” Blackwater, calling the debacle “worse than Abu Ghraib.”
Transcript: Read more