Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Forward indeed

A few articles from Left-wing news blog have come up in my news feed lately that fact check and disprove some current left-wing talking points and outrage blogs.

For example, writer Manny Schewitz demolished the quip that Ronald Reagan went golfing the day after the Beirut bombing in 1983, which is being used to counter criticism that President Obama was laughing on the golf course 10 minutes after saying he was deeply saddened by a reporters execution by ISIL.

A different ForwardProgressives writer, Allen Clifton, also took the time to disprove articles claiming right-wing musician Ted Nugents insults directed at his critics were really criticisms of American Indians. He added:

It’s one thing to be partisan based on the subjective manner in which you view particular issues. We’re all guilty of that. But it’s another thing to blatantly lie, or support those who do, just because those lies happen to tell you what you want to hear.

Clifton even penned a piece calling out people who are turning their anger at the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson into a sweeping hatred of police and celebration of murdered cops.

I admire what the writers at ForwardProgressives are doing. They are calling out lies and misinformation from their "side" while still being true to themselves and writing critical pieces of my world view. That should be the standard, but it's not. I try my best to do the same thing, but with a busy schedule that limits how much time I have to write and an abundance of rival topics, I don't do it enough.

Bravo to the writers and editors of ForwardProgressives for putting the truth before anything else.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Buzzfeed is still not trustworthy

The viral content sausage factory Buzzfeed has been deleting thousands of its older articles, some of which were plagiarized from other online articles and others that failed to meet the standards of journalism the website is now trying to establish.

But the one article that stood out to me in particular is still there, the 8 Foods We Eat In The U.S. That Are Banned In Other Countries piece by Ashley Perez that got a lot of attention after an actual chemist tore it apart as scaremongering nonsense. Once the article was revealed to be a fraud, and a plagiarized fraud at that, the editors at Buzzfeed chose to edit the links without posting that it was updated, and maintained the false claims.

That was bad writing, and even worse editing, and since that article is still there I have to reject any claims the company is making that it is transitioning itself into a legitimate news website. Buzzfeed is a fast food restaurant inside a stadium, not a gourmet cafe.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A kinship with John Adams

I just started watching HBO's John Adams miniseries, I'm only past the first episode and there's something that resonates deeply with me, and it's extremely relevant to today.

Adams was tasked with defending the British soldiers charged with the Boston Massacre, who behaved as police in a colony fueled with hatred of the British government. When an angry mob began pelting the soldiers with clubs and sticks they eventually fired and killed five people. Adams proved in court that they acted in self defense, despite being the only ones with guns.

It's a Hell of a thing to watch that while people around you respond to the Michael Brown shooting by making the strange claim that police shouldn't be allowed to shoot unarmed or knife-wielding assailants even when they are being attacked and are in mortal danger.

After that, we see Adams grow more and more frustrated with the heavy hand of the British government, but also feel revolted by the brutal violence carried out by ghoulish mobs and advocated by rabble-rousers. He wanted to live in a nation of laws, not one of thuggery and street violence.

Cue the militarization of police, Occupy Wall Street lawlessness and Cliven Bundy's needless armed standoff.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who both opposes a tyrannical government but rejects savagery as the response. I just hope most of the other people who feel this way didn't die 200 years ago.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to be a weasel: Kevin Sorbo edition

Actor Kevin Sorbo wrote a post on Facebook criticizing the rioters in Ferguson, calling them animals.

Nearly everyone is against the riots, including supporters of the protests who make great paints to separate the protesters from the rioters. As it happens, blacks are seen to be the majority of both protesters and rioters.

But of course, Sorbo is a conservative in Hollywood so the weasels have to find a way to be outraged. In this case, they decided to erase that stark line between protesters and rioters and falsely present his criticism against the rioters as criticism against black protestors.

For example, here are some weasel headlines:

Actor Kevin Sorbo: Ferguson unrest let black protesters be the ‘animals’ they ‘truly are’

'Hercules' Actor Kevin Sorbo Calls Ferguson Protestors 'Animals,' 'Losers'

Actor Kevin Sorbo’s Shocking Racist Rant: Ferguson an ‘Excuse’ For Black People to Act as ‘Animals They Truly Are’

As is customary when a famous person says something that caused offense, Sorbo issued an apology and clarification, explaining that he was indeed talking about the rioters and no one else. As is also customary, no one who was criticizing him cared about the apology.

Are all segments of the black population supposed to be immune to any and all criticism even when they are committing crimes against innocent members of the public? In a world where weasels get away with their skulduggery, that seems to be the case.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rick Perry used, not misused, power

I was just in the car and heard a 30 second NPR national story about Rick Perry's indictment for abuse of power, and it left out a crucial detail that seems to be left out a lot in coverage of this story.

Here is a good summary from the Associated Press:

After Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunken driving in April 2013, Perry threatened to veto $7.5 million in funding for the state's ethics watchdog unit in her office unless she resigned. Lehmberg is an elected Democrat and Republicans have long accused her public corruption prosecutors of targeting conservatives.

The shallow coverage has simply said that Perry vetoed funding to force a public official from office, and then moves on to other details of the case. Leaving the drunk driving out of it changes the whole ball game. It makes Perry's actions sound reasonable, although with Lehmberg's reputation for targeting conservatives it's likely his motivations are less pure.

I'm not saying this crucial detail is being left out on purpose to tilt the coverage or singling out NPR. NPR is far from the only news source to leave out that detail, and other NPR stories have included it. With our old friend Hanlon's Razor it's fair to chalk this up to incompetence and not malice, but it does mean members of the public are getting the wrong idea about the subject.

Even serial conservative-basher Jonathan Chait thinks this is a political witch hunt. He makes reference to the old joke that grand juries are so loose with indictments that they would indict a ham sandwich:

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves. Perry may not be much smarter than a ham sandwich, but he is exactly as guilty as one.

When you've lost Jonathan Chait, you've lost the case.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Michael Brown's supporters made the robbery relevant to discussions

Last week I had a Facebook discussion about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, during which I responded to a friend who was saying Michael Brown was an upstanding citizen with no police record who was killed by police for an incident that started because he was "walking while black"

I compared that to the early Trayvon Martin accounts from that later turned out to be false, and I wrote in part:

You're taking a gamble by saying that Brown was an upstanding citizen outside of the shooting, which is both irrelevant and is not proven. 
Even if Brown was a career criminal, it would not justify an unprovoked shooting by police... 
[The early Trayvon activist articles online] falsely portrayed Trayvon as a honor student who never got in trouble. When that turned out to be false and people wrote about his suspensions, theft and pot dealing they were accused of victim blaming when they we really setting the record straight. 
If we hold Brown up as an angelic figure the same thing could happen.

Well, that gamble blew up in their face, which is a complete shame for intelligent discussion.

We now we have security footage that Brown's family has agreed appears to show him assaulting a store clerk to steal $50 worth of cheap cigars just before the shooting.

Ken White at Popehat wrote a great piece explaining why this revelation should not be used to justify the shooting. If indeed police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed a suspect who had clearly surrendered then he is guilty of a great crime.

I agree with White that the biggest impact this revelation should have on the case is as something to consider when trying to figure out Brown's mindset when he interacted with Wilson, as police have said Wilson did not know Brown was a violent robbery suspect.

But unlike White I think the robbery does deserve a place in the public discussion because Brown's character was something his supporters frequently brought up, including his family who knew better. They are now saying discussion about the robbery and his gangsta rap attempts are character assassination, but they are really just setting the record straight. The issue is only on the table because one side put it there, but they lost control of the facts and now they want it off the table. Too late.

When they brought up Brown's alleged non-violent disposition, some supporters said what they thought was true, but those who knew him lied to the public or exaggerated. Which is normal, as people usually only say nice things about the recently departed, but the rest of us should have known better than to repeat it as gospel.

Talking about Brown's character in the media is not the same as factoring it in to a legal decision, so let's not conflate the two. Bad people are able to be victim's of abuse of authority figures just like anyone else, so let's not conflate the realm of public opinion with that of the judicial system.


Friday, August 15, 2014

The ice bucket challenge is working, stop complaining

I've seen several articles criticizing the "ice bucket challenge" as a wasteful, inefficient fundraising tactic. Here's a typical argument from Ben Kosinksi at the Huffington Post:

And although the ALS Assocation has seen as much as four times as many donations during this time period than last year, just imagine with me for one second: What if the thousands of people who spent money on buying one or two bags of ice actually gave that money to ALS? It would be out of control.

Spoiler alert: They wouldn't.

I'm reminded of a charity alternative I thought up when I was in my 20's. Instead of taking pledges for a 10k or biking, participants could take pledges for a work-a-thon and do some kind of repetitive task, like stuff envelopes, for a company that in turn would then pay the charity for the labor. Instead of doing meaningless physical activities, you would have a second stream of income for the charity.

But here's the problem: No one wants to do that sort of thing because it isn't fun. Whenever I see these articles about how much money is wasted on bags of ice for this spontaneous "campaign" which wasn't formally organized by any group, I wonder if the writer really thinks people would be making those donations without the gimmick.

We have thousands of worthy causes in America that could use some donor money, but we need a way to get the attention of potential donors, and a campaign or event is an effective approach, even if it has overhead costs. On Aug. 11, TIME reported:

The ALS Association national office reported collecting $5.5 million in donations since July 29, compared with $32,000 in the same time period last year. Nearly 150,000 new donors have contributed.

It's like people who think advertising costs companies more money than it brings in. If that was the case, why would companies continue to advertise? Why do restaurants have tables and chairs if it would be so much cheaper to just each on the floor? Why does Relay for Life hold those big walk-a-thons if it's so much more profitable to do nothing and expect people to donate? If there's one thing we know about casual donors, it's that they seldom give without having an icebreaker first.