Friday, December 30, 2005

Michael Crichton Speech On Media Accuracy

In early November, Michael Crichton gave a speech at the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy concerning media reporting accuracy. Actually, that wasn't the advertised topic of his speech. His speech is titled "Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century." The text of the speech, along with images of important slides, can be found on Crichton's web site. Its main focus is how the reporting about environmental concerns is fear-based. But my take-away from reading the speech (and I highly suggest you do--the whole thing is fascinating) was about media accuracy.

Explaining why he wrote his book, State of Fear, Crichton says:
The book really began in 1998, when I set out to write a novel about a global disaster. In the course of my preparation, I rather casually reviewed what had happened in Chernobyl, since that was the worst manmade disaster in recent times that I knew about.

What I discovered stunned me. Chernobyl was a tragic event, but nothing remotely close to the global catastrophe I imagined. About 50 people had died in Chernobyl, roughly the number of Americans that die every day in traffic accidents. I don’t mean to be gruesome, but it was a setback for me. You can’t write a novel about a global disaster in which only 50 people die.

Undaunted, I began to research other kinds of disasters that might fulfill my novelistic requirements. That’s when I began to realize how big our planet really is, and how resilient its systems seem to be. Even though I wanted to create a fictional catastrophe of global proportions, I found it hard to come up with a credible example.
When I read this, I must admit I was shocked to hear that only 50 people died at Chernobyl. The source for this number is a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which can be found in a large PDF file here. So why was my impression of Chernobyl so wrong? Perhaps it was the media.
The initial reports in 1986 claimed 2,000 dead, and an unknown number of future deaths and deformities occurring in a wide swath extending from Sweden to the Black Sea. As the years passed, the size of the disaster increased; by 2000, the BBC and New York Times estimated 15,000-30,000 dead, and so on…

Now, to report that 15,000-30,000 people have died, when the actual number is 56, represents a big error.


But, of course, you think, we’re talking about radiation: what about long-term consequences? Unfortunately here the media reports are even less accurate.

The chart shows estimates as high as 3.5 million, or 500,000 deaths, when the actual number of delayed deaths is less than 4,000.
As I said up top, there's a lot more to read in the full text of the speech that is quite eye-opening. But the section on Chernobyl was the most intriguing to me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Let's talk about Quebec

Back to posting on the ensuing Canadian election...

Quebec is somewhat of an anomaly in Canadian politics. In the rest of Canada (and much of the rest of the democratic world) a voter's choice is between left and right. In Quebec, however, the choice is essentially between the Bloc Quebecois, and the Liberals - between a free, soverign Quebec, and a Quebec as a province of Canada. In the last federal election in 2004, the Bloc got 49% of the popular vote, and the Liberals got 34% of the popular vote, with the remaining 17% being split between the Conservatives (9%), the NDP (5%), and the Greens (3%). None of the latter three won any seats in 2004, and the Bloc got 54 seats, and the Liberals got 21 seats.

Fast-forward to 2006. Two years later, the Gomery inquiry has been bad for the Liberals in all of Canada, but particularly in Quebec. The Bloc are up to 60% in popular support in Quebec, and the Liberals are down to a staggering 20%. Things are BAD for the Liberals in Quebec right now. I would think that the Liberals will hang on to the ten seats that they won by 5,000+ votes last time around - other than that, the Bloc will hang on to every seat and pick up all the other Liberal ones. Bloc +11 to 65 seats, Liberals -11 to 10 seats.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Letter From Father Whose Son Was KIA In Iraq

The Mudville Gazette has published a letter from a father whose son was killed in action in Iraq. I won't comment on the content and will only say the following. Mr. Stokely wanted his thoughts heard and I can only hope that by linking to his letter here, a few more people will indeed hear them.

You can read his letter here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Reactions to President Bush's Iraq War Speech

I didn't feel the need to watch the speech by President Bush last night for the simple reason that I didn't need any convincing that leaving Iraq prematurely was a bad idea. From reading reactions on the web, however, it seems that I missed a good speech.

Two good collections of reactions can be found at Instapundit and by Michelle Malkin.

One of the more interesting comments came from Glenn himself:
But one big thing struck me: In this national televised speech, Bush went out of his way to take responsibility for the war. He repeatedly talked about "my decision to invade Iraq," even though, of course, it was also Congress's decision. He made very clear that, ultimately, this was his war, and the decisions were his.

Why did he do that? Because he thinks we're winning, and he wants credit. By November 2006, and especially November 2008, he thinks that'll be obvious, and he wants to lay down his marker now on what he believed -- and what the other side did. That's my guess, anyway.
I think this analysis is spot on. I've said before that Iraq does not seem to be the best issue for the Democrats to rest all their election hopes on. Taking the stance that young American men and women soldiers are akin to terrorists and doomed to failure will never be a popular view, regardless of situation.

Apparently the speech was written and delivered well enough to convince proud Bush haters, who once wrote this:
There seem to be quite a few of us Bush haters. I have friends who have a viscerally hostile reaction to the sound of his voice or describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche. Nor is this phenomenon limited to my personal experience: Pollster Geoff Garin, speaking to The New York Times, called Bush hatred "as strong as anything I've experienced in 25 years now of polling." Columnist Robert Novak described it as a "hatred ... that I have never seen in 44 years of campaign watching."
and reacted to last night's speech with this:
I am not, to say the least, a fan of President Bush. But a portion of his speech tonight genuinely moved me and made me think more highly of him. It was the part where he addressed opponents of the Iraq war, said he understand their passion but asked that they think of the stakes of defeat now that the war had happened and asked that they not give in to despair. I cannot remember this president ever speaking to his political opponents except to mischaracterize their views and use them as a straw man. (His post-Florida speech did to some extent, but it was so vague and struck me as so patently disingenuous that it didn't produce any similar reaction in me.)

This may be easy for me to say because I supported the war and oppose withdrawal. But even Bush's prior pro-war speeches mostly struck me as simplistic, ugly and demagogic, reminders that I supported the war despite the administration rather than because of it. But this moment in his speech tonight really struck me as some kind of symbolic or emotional break from the past for Bush--a genuine attempt to unify Americans rather than polarize them. Bush and his supporters (both inside and outside the administration) have made it so damn hard to support them on this war. It just got a little easier tonight.
So again, all in all, it seems I missed a good speech. It does worry me that a political junkie such as myself decided not to watch the speech. If I chose not to watch it, how many people actually tuned in?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Update: Women's Rights In Iraq

In the past I've written about the prospects for women's rights in Iraq. The Iraqi public opinion poll that linked to yesterday provides some additional insight. The last question of the poll deals with the roll of women in the new Iraq society.
Q44 - Thinking about the role of women in public life, do you think that women should…
  • Vote (99.3%)
  • Be able to stand for Moukhtar (37.9%)
  • Be able to stand for public office such as member of a local council (77.2%)
  • Be able to stand for public office such as member of the national assembly (80.1%)
  • Be able to be Governor (50.7%)
  • Be able to be President (45.9%)
  • Be able to instruct men in their work (77.9%)
  • Be a (medical) doctor (98.5%)
  • Drive a car (84.1%)
The numbers in parentheses indicate 'yes' responses. I was unfamiliar with the term Moukhtar. My understanding (though a formal definition eludes me) is that it a cultural title, somewhat akin that of a village elder. The position is traditionally held by males, so it is unsurprising to me to see such a low percentage of respondent supporting women in that role.

Overall, I would say the results are mixed, but not surprising, except for one particular question. Almost unanimously (99.3%), respondents thought that women should have the right to vote. This result is so high that it makes me want to question the methodology of the poll. I doubt the number would be that high even in the U.S. or any western European countries.

A disappointing (in my opinion) percentage of people are in favor of women holding public office, especially a national post such as president. Still, for a heavily Islamic country, the results could have been far worse.

Finally, note that far more people are in favor of women voting (99.3%) or being doctors (98.5%) than driving cars (84.1%). Bad jokes aside, I really don't understand that result. Some people would be comfortable going under the knife of a female surgeon, but wouldn't trust driving home on the same roads with them? That makes little sense.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Iraqi Public Opinion Poll

Glenn at Instapundit has twice (here and here) posted links to people discussing a poll by Oxford Research International that attempts to measure Iraqi public opinion. A pdf file of the poll results can be found here.

The poll was rather extensive, and I'm still looking through the results. A few things jumped out at me during the first scan. (Sorry about the formatting, blogspot and tables don't mix it seems.)
Q34 - How safe do you feel in your neighbourhood. Do you feel very safe, not very safe or not safe at all?
  • Very safe (63.2%)
  • Not very safe (30.4%)
  • Not safe at all (5.5%)
  • Difficult to say (0.9%)
Well over half of the respondents feel "very safe" in their neighbourhood. I find this shocking. Imagine a similar poll of Americans; can you imagine 63% of people in America feeling "very safe" in Iraq?
Q33 - How long do you think U.S. and other Coalition Forces should remain in Iraq?
  • They should leave now (25.5%)
  • They should remain until security is restored (30.9%)
  • They should remain until the Iraqi government elected in December is in place (19.4%)
  • They should remain until the Iraqi security forces can operate independently (15.6% )
  • They should remain longer but leave eventually (3.2%)
  • They should never leave (1.3%)
  • Difficult to say (4.1%)
Note that the 2nd and 4th options are somewhat similar. Security is unlikely to be restored if the Iraqis cannot operate independently. In the same vein, there is little chance at security without an elected government in place (the 3rd option). So a vast majority of Iraqis are in favor of the security forces remaining until some measure of stability has been achieved.

Updates are likely as I study the results in more detail.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More Elections In Iraq

Voting has begun again in Iraq. Here are stories I could find at first glance.

Photoblogging from an Iraqi living in Omar. (Hat tip Instapundit.)

Michele Malkin, as usual, has a great list of links covering the story. I won't repeat all the links here, but I found this (somewhat unrelated) post particularly interesting.

Hugh Hewitt links to a list of Iraq polling places open in the U.S.

FoxNews covers the elections with a collection of links boxed on the left-hand side of the front page. The main article is here.

MSNBC doesn't cover the election specifically, but has a picture of President Bush with the headline of "Turning Point, Bush hails Iraq vote, denounces torture." Clicking on the picture leads to this article.

ABC news and CBS news had no mention of the elections.

CNN covers the elections by showing a picture of President Bush with a headline of "Bush: 30,000 Iraqis dead in war." The actual article is less biased than the headline, though. No media bias by CNN. Nope, none at all.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The biggest gaffe of the Canadian campaign so far

I was going to continue blogging about what the polls mean in different areas of the country, but we might have to throw out all the old polls after Scott Reid, the The Director of Communications for the Prime Minister of Canada made probably the worst mistake of any senior party operative during the young Canadian election campaign.

The issue behind this is child care. The Liberals have, as a policy in their platform, promised to legislate into existence a government-run child care system. Basically the government will fund a health care system that is either free or really cheap for working parents. The Conservatives have countered with a child tax credit, on the order of a $1200 credit per child given back to families to spend on their own on child care.

In a telephone interview today, Scott Reid criticized the Conservatives's plan, inferring that the Liberals care more for children than their own parents do, and therefore that the money is better in the hands of the government. Reid said in part: "Don't give people $25 a day to blow on beer and popcorn."

Wow. Just, wow.

The Canadian Election - who's going to win this, anyways?

Greetings – first, a big thank you to Dan Karipides for inviting me to blog in this space. Whether or not this is what he intended, for the next couple of months I’ll be primarily blogging on the upcoming Canadian election. As Dan indicated, on November 29th, the Governor-General of Canada dissolved the 38th Parliament, and issued a writ of election with a polling day of January 23, 2006.

I’m going to talk mostly about the recent polls, what they mean, and what we can expect in the general election. As in any Westminster system of government, should a party win greater than 50% of the seats (155 seats in this case), they’ll have a majority and will basically control the entire legislative agenda, as well as the entire cabinet, for the next four or so years. If no one gets 155 seats, then the Governor-General may ask some group of parties to try to form a coalition to govern, or she may simply ask the party with the plurality of seats to attempt to govern until they lose a “confidence vote”, meaning a money bill or an outright vote of non-confidence, which happened to the Liberals on November 28th. There are a number of polls out there, mostly giving a national breakdown of party preference, but since Canada uses a first-past-the-post system like the American Electoral College, regional voting preferences mean everything.

There are 308 ridings across the country. We’ll start in the east:

Atlantic Canada consists of the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador. There are 32 seats in total up for grabs here. In 2004, the Liberals got 44% of the popular vote in the region, the Conservatives got 30% of the popular vote, and the NDP got 23% of the vote. This got the Liberals 22 seats, the Conservatives 7 seats, and the NDP 3 seats.

SES Research currently has the Liberals polling at 50%, the Conservatives at 36%, and the NDP down to 11% in Atlantic Canada. Let’s start with the NDP, who are down by 12% from their last outing. Two of their three seats are in very NDP-safe areas where they aren’t vulnerable at all, Acadie-Bathurst (New Brunswick), and Sackville-Eastern Shore (Nova Scotia). Alexa McDonough just barely won Halifax (Nova Scotia) for the NDP last time around, and since they’re polling so much lower this time, I’ll give this seat to the Liberal challenger.

Since the Liberals and Conservatives are polling close to the same relative to each other, I’ll say the other 29 ridings are a wash at this point. The biggest unknown at this point is what will happen the rest of the campaign – just as in the United States, six weeks in a political campaign is an eternity.

My prediction (for now): Liberals +1 to 23 seats, Conservatives even at 7 seats, NDP minus 1 to two seats.

Stay tuned for my predictions in Quebec, Ontario, and the rest of Canada!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Welcome Stephen Young

No, I'm not referring to Steve Young the football player; the Internet Freedom Trail is not branching out in to the world of sports blogging. I do, however, want to welcome Steve Young to the Internet Freedom Trail team.

You'll find out more about Steve via his posts, but as a quick introduction, I think the following quote will tell you all you need to know. Steve is Canadian and I asked him once how many conservatives there are in Canada. His answer? "There are about 12 or so conservatives in Canada and I think I have 10 of them on my ICQ list." I'm not sure what exactly a conservative Canadian will choose to write about, politically, but I am interested to find out.

Welcome, Steve.

Afghans Optimistic About The Future

There's a fascinating report at ABCNews (hat tip Instapundit) that investigates the opinions of the citizens of Afghanistan 4 years after the fall of the Taliban. (The poll is the first national survey sponsored by a news organization.) The entire report is interesting, so I suggest you read the whole thing. Particularly noteworthy were these two poll question results:
Public Attitudes in Afghanistan -- Current Direction?
Right Direction: 77%
Wrong Direction: 6%

U.S.-Led Overthrow of Taliban
Good Thing: 87%
Bad Thing: 9%
Now remember, two or so years ago, Michael Moore and company were making movies about how Afghanistan was a quagmire, and would only get worse.

Remember this report the next time you hear some politician argue it is time to cut and run in Iraq. Remember this report the next time Howard Dean says the war in Iraq is not winnable.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Positive Coverage of President Bush At CNN

No, you didn't read that subject line incorrectly. After Howard Dean's inflammatory comments yesterday, President Bush immediately countered with a speech of his own. I'm still shocked at the manner in which CNN has covered the response. They chose the headline "Bush: 'Amazing Progress' in Iraq." The following four links are available under the article:
Interactive: Highlights of Bush strategy for Iraq
Normally I would expect you could watch the Democratic response, the chart would be of U.S. casualties by month, and the interactive would have something to do with his sinking approval ratings. What exactly is going on here?

As the last piece of evidence, CNN is infamous for using unflattering pictures of Bush, featuring odd hand gestures and awkward open-mouth captures. However the one they chose today looks quite presidential.

Perhaps the outrageous comments by Kerry and Dean have called for a more subdued response by CNN. I have my doubts if this type of coverage will continue, but even the single occurence was noteworthy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Battle Lines Drawn Over Iraq Politics

It would appear that the leading members of the Democratic Party have gotten together and decided to step-up the anti-war, anti-Iraq rhetoric. On December 4, John Kerry was on Face the Nation on CBS where he called U.S. soldiers terrorists.
You've got to begin to transfer authority to the Iraqis. And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the--of--the historical customs, religious customs.
Yesterday, Howard Dean was a guest on a Texas radio station where he stated that the U.S. cannot win the war in Iraq.
Dean said he wished President Bush "had paid more attention to the history of Iraq before we had gotten in there."

"The idea that we are going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong," he said.

How politically brain dead can someone be? There are many valid reasons that one might oppose the war in Iraq. Or oppose any war, for that matter. I know many people that truly are pacifists, and firmly and passionately believe that war is never the answer. I don't agree with these people, but they are free to believe, think, and say what they will and I respect their right to do so.

Why is it that others can't stop there? Opposing the war in Iraq doesn't make U.S. soldiers evil terrorists. Opposing the war in Iraq doesn't mean that it has to be doomed to failure from the beginning. Do they really think they can gain political favor with the majority of the country by making statements like the ones above? I'm sure parents whose children are serving in Iraq are most pleased to hear Kerry call their sons and daughters terrorists.

From a political junkie's perspective, I'll be fascinated to see if this approach is as disastrous as I think it will be. It is interesting to note that the Democratic Party as a whole can't seem to get aligned on this issue. Murtha put forth a withdrawal deadline bill, but when a vote was forced everyone voted against it. Lieberman wrote about the progress he has witnessed in Iraq and now there is a bizarre call by Democrats for Bush to replace Rumsfield with Lieberman.

Perhaps I have too much faith in the U.S. population as a whole, but I can't believe these hyperbolic, negative rants by some members of the party mixed with supportive statements by other members and a lack of consistency from all is an effective strategy for the Democratic party.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The 4th Annual Warblogger Awards

John Hawkings, at Right Wing News, has posted the results of the 4th Annual Warblogger Awards. In addition to just being interesting to see what blogs are popular, I found it a good source for some new blogs to read. In particular, I'm always on the lookout for palatable left-of-center blogs, finding Kos and such to be unreadable. So this category was intriguing to me:
Favorite Left-Of-Center Blogger
3) Matthew Yglesias (3)
3) Harry's Place (No blogger specified) (3)
3) Norm Geras from Normblog (3)
2) Mickey Kaus from Kausfiles(7)
1) Kevin Drum from Political Animal(8)
I did find it interesting the Instapundit won "Best Blog Round-Up Site" and "Best Linker", came in second in "The Best Blog Overall", and yet also won "Most Overrated Blog". I don't understand.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

MoveOn Caught Altering Photos In Anti-Iraq Ad

A couple of days ago, MoveOn was caught with a silly mistake in an anti-Iraq ad shown over the Thanksgiving holiday. The ad bemoans "A hundred and fifty thousand American men and women are stuck in Iraq," while showing this scene.

It turns out that these are British soldiers, not U.S. troops. Note specifically the one soldier in shorts, which is not a typical U.S. combat uniform. I did find it humorous that the good people of MoveOn, who are so concerned with the welfare of the U.S. soldiers in Iraq, can't even take the time to identify them. However I didn't consider it blog-worthy until I saw this follow-up (hat tip Instapundit).

It seems that MoveOn posted a still of the video on the web site and digitally altered the soldier in shorts to be wearing pants.

I detest digitally altered photographs used in news stories. But I find this alteration baffling. Why did they remove shorts? Did they know the still wasn't of U.S. troops? If so, why didn't they find some footage of U.S. troops--it can't be hard to acquire.

MoveOn has pulled the anti-Iraq ad admits the criticism.
James Taranto, the author of the column, wrote that the Army captain was "an old friend" of his who emailed with his criticism. The captain was quoted as calling the TV ad "completely offensive" and "a Bush-bashing ad" that "shows turkey and crying wives and blames Bush for it all."

As "the idiots from ... pretend to argue on my behalf, they show a group of soldiers standing around a table in the Middle East," the captain reportedly wrote and added that the individuals in the photo were "actually British soldiers.

"One is in shorts (we don't have shorts as a normal combat uniform), and the others are all clearly wearing British pattern fatigues," the Army captain wrote, noting that people at "don't even know what an American soldier looks like!"
The Opinion Journal wonders if MoveOn's dishonesty is simply pathological. I'm tempted to agree.