Broder Brandishes Media Shield

From Meet the Press, Sunday, June 12, 2005:

MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, the press corps–was it more tenacious during Watergate, more tenacious against Bill Clinton, or is it people seeing things through their ideological prism–that when you’re going after Clinton it’s good, going against Bush bad, and vice versa?

MR. BRODER: The shortsightedness of Mrs. Clinton’s complaint is illustrated by this morning’s Washington Post. The front-page story on another memo, this one to Tony Blair’s government, about the lack of planning in our government for the postwar period in Iraq. Who does she think is doing this work if not investigative reporters? Give us a break.

Is Broder kidding? Walter Pincus’s story on the second memo did make it to the front page, but as everyone but Broder seems to be aware of, information about the first memo was buried in stories related to the British elections.

I have no doubt that there are some reporters out there who have been probing the lies of the Bush administration — you only need to read Sy Hersh as an example — but those people have gotten short shrift at the major newspapers. The New York Times, for instance, recently published its harsh story on detainee torture and homicide at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, but that report comes three years after the incident took place. The Downing Street Memo, which several media apologists have dismissed as “old news”, is, indeed, three years old, as well. But then, the media was hardly framing a potential war in Iraq as one that was built on a tissue of lies in 2002. They owe it to the American people to set the record straight.

Shopping For a Better Income Map

Take a close look at the circles on this map from the front page of the Oregonian‘s business page on Sunday. The graphic accompanied a story on grocery shopping patterns, how the industry is changing, and the background colors are supposed to indicate changes in the median household income in the metro area.

But for some reason — most likely in the interests of creating a stylistically “cool” graphic — the designers (credited as Derrik Quenzer and Lynne Palombo of the Oregonian) chose colors with virtually no contrast to represent three of the five income ranges.

The darkest blue and green are easy to pick out. The mid-range green used for the “$35,000 and under” category is fairly obvious in most contexts, but the two shades of light blue are almost indistinguishable, particularly on newsprint.

Within the circle, there’s actually a section of mid-range blue (“$86,000 to $63,001”) surrounded by light blue (“$63,000 to $48,001”). In the detail blowup, I’ve surrounded the the mid-range area with a red line just outside its boundary. It’s still almost indistinguishable.

This kind of style over substance negates the basic purpose of a news graphic. The blue/green look may have been intended to give a Portland “feel” to the map, but limiting the palette to those colors makes it virtually useless.

And what was the intent behind reversing the income ranges: $63,000 to $48,001? Who does that?

The Murderous Gene. And Bob, Joe, and Albert.

It’s a shame that more people online don’t see her work, because Sharon Begley, the “Science Journal” columnist at the Wall Street Journal gets off the occasional slam at wacko theories. I was catching up on some copies of the hard edition of WSJ the other day and ran across “Theory Men Are Wired To Kill Straying Mates Is Offensive and Wrong” (and unlike some other folks, I know that you can occasionally do a Google search to find WSJ articles without registration).

In her May 20 column, Begley discusses a theory put forth in a new book on the origins of homicide by David Buss, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, entitled The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill. The column opens with a “Just So” story of why men “evolved” to kill mates who stray, then continues (emphasis added):

Killing, according to his [Buss’] Kipling-esque reasoning, offered so many “advantages to our early ancestors in the competition for survival and reproduction” that, today, “all men have an evolved psychology of mate killing that lies latent in their brains.” Men with the genetically based mental circuit for uxoricide had such an edge over their pacifist peers, in other words, that all men living today — their descendants — have this murder circuit, too.

For proof, Prof. Buss cites homicide statistics showing that more men than women kill, that over a five-year period in Dayton, Ohio, 52% of the women murdered were killed by a husband, lover or ex, and that women age 15 to 24 are killed by their mates or ex-mates more than over-the-reproductive-hill women are. His explanation: Only the former have evolutionary value, so men are wired to kill them if they stray but not to bother with unfaithful old bags. Also, unemployed men are more likely to kill women who dump them than are gainfully-employed men. Such low-status men, explains Prof. Buss, have the toughest time replacing their lost access to a uterus, so they’re wired to raise their attractiveness to women (“you’re so strong and powerful!”) by murdering a cheating mate.

As evolutionary theory, this is ludicrous. Killing the owner of the uterus that is your only current chance to get your genes into the next generation (the evolutionary imperative), especially if she is caring for your current children and has a father or brothers who take exception to your uxoricide, is an excellent way to a dead end personally and genealogically. Being the target of angry in-laws, not to mention life imprisonment or lethal injection, tends to limit one’s reproductive opportunities.

As a parsimonious explanation of data, the “evolution made me do it” explanation pales beside alternatives. Yes, murdered women skew young. But twenty-something men are more impulsive than fifty-something men and more likely to have a 23-year-old than a 57-year-old as a mate. And yes, unemployed men are more likely to kill or try to kill when dumped. But traits that make getting a job tough (being poorly educated, stupid, impulsive, psychotic …) can also incline a man to murder.

Keep in mind that Buss is a psychologist bending evolutionary theory to his own uses (which, presumably, could include future court testimony to support a defense of “my genes made me do it”), not a biologist explaining an adaptation.

Begley goes on to make a couple of other points against Buss’ thesis, and she deserves credit for her exposure of this incredibly stupid conjecture. However, there is one argument against the evolution of the mate-killing trait that she misses.

Successful evolutionary adaptations are usually shared by the majority of a species. Eyes, for instance, can be considered a successful trait in humans, as they are in most complex animals on earth. Most humans have eyes when they are born; those who do not or whose eyes are non-functional have difficulty leading an unassisted life. Opposable thumbs are a successful trait. Most people are born with them; some, myself included, have one or more missing or malformed thumbs. I can tell you, having two thumbs would be handy sometimes (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Eyes and thumbs are dominant traits in humans, murder of a mate is not. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but genetic defects occur all the time and they’re not treated by biologists as the norm. Buss’ treatment of evolution in this thesis is almost as confused as that of the intelligent design crowd. Rather than looking at humans in general and hypothesizing a process of evolution that reaches that point, he chooses an outlier subset of men and draws his conclusions about all men from that small sample.

Most humans will never kill another human. Most men will not kill their mates, no matter what the circumstances. Those who do are not considered acceptable to society at large in most cultures.

As Begley points out, some of the traits that make men unemployable are also linked to murderous urges. Certainly, many people are stupid, many are impulsive, many are psychotic, but even the average person fitting each of those descriptions is unlikely to commit murder. My wife’s family once had a (non-feral) cat that would lash out at anyone but my mother-in-law unprovoked, scaring another male cat of theirs twice his size, until the day he slashed my sister-in-law’s wrist so badly the tendon was exposed and they finally, tearfully, decided to put him down. That was a maladapted cat.

If evolutionary psychology wants to end up with more credibility than, say, phrenology, it must accept the same logical constrains as biological evolution. There’s no doubt that inherited physical differences in the brain can affect behavior. In all likelihood, some of the internal forces that would lead a man to murder his mate are related to differences in the makeup of his brain. That’s not the same thing as saying that mate-murder is an evolutionary adaptation of male humans in general, particularly since the act is statistically uncommon.

Perhaps Buss intends us to view those with a predilection to murder as a further evolution of the human species, like the X-Men. But it would seem to me that the numbers lie with the mass of non-murderous humanity, and that those of us who make it through our three score and ten without taking another’s life (and here I make exceptions for self-defense, public safety, combat, etc.) can consider murderers as lacking something that’s supposed to be there but isn’t quite right — sort of like my left thumb.

There’s Something About Matty

Obviously, I’ve got to stop reading Matt Yglesias for the same reason I’ve got to try again to get mom to cancel the New Republic gift subscription. These people don’t have a clue about real life. Yglesias’s latest whining (thanks Digby) about Democrats is why aren’t we patriotic enough?

At today’s Take Back America conference I saw some interesting polling data from Diane Feldman on a subject I’d pondered now and again. Unfortunately, the written summary of the presentation doesn’t contain the exact numbers and I didn’t write them down because I assumed this question would be included in the summary. The point, however, was that when you ask if America is “the greatest country in the world” most voters say that it is. When you ask if Democrats believe that America is the greatest country, most voters say that they do not.

I think it’s clear that this perception creates some electoral problems. Indeed, it’s a particularly serious kind of electoral problem because my guess is that the perception is probably correct.

Imagine yourself in an America where segregation hasn’t yet been ruled unacceptable. Say, the years between the end of WWII and the mid-1960s. Or take, perhaps, the ante-bellum era.

Was America the greatest country then?

All of the institutions we cherished before the Republicans began gnawing away at them: the Bill of Rights, the separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, etc. They were all in place.

Was America the greatest country then?

As it’s been since its founding, America is a great country, with a lot of potential. But people who blindly say that everyone must bow and proclaim it the greatest are closing themselves off to the need for improvement and progress. Why would a greatest country need to improve at all?

The “greatest country” thing is just a “swinging dick” statement: “Yeaaah, I got the greatest damn country on the planet. Suck it, rest of the world!” Worrying about this kind of crap is for the people who try to run campaigns by polls. And quite frankly, those people keep losing races.

Maybe, instead of trying to figure out what’s wrong with Democrats, Matt could spend some time hammering on the people in the administration who’ve messed up America’s economy, foreign policy, health care, etc.

Tom’s Brain Is Flat

Since the Oregonian printed my letter about George Galloway last week, I suspect they’re not going to run this one:

Thomas Friedman’s syndicated column last week must have hit the Oregonian editorial funny bone when he complained that Muslims across the world were protesting against reported abuse of the Koran rather than Iraqis killed by insurgents in Iraq, because on Saturday the editorial page ran two editorial cartoon on the very same theme.

What is it with those Muslims? Protesting alleged religious desecration instead of the killing of hundreds of people a month? It’s too bad Friedman spends so much of his time these days on talk shows chortling about how witty his new book’s title is, otherwise he might have seen some parallels in his own country where there are heated debates over whether the words “under God” belong in the Pledge of Allegiance and whether giant rocks with the Ten Commandments should be placed in courthouses.

Of course, what might be really bad is for him to get his wish, because tens of thousands of civilians are estimated to have died in Iraq at US hands in the past two years, equal to years’ worth of insurgent attacks at the current levels. If Muslims around the world decide to protest about innocent people being killed in Iraq, there’s a far bigger target than the suicide bombers.

Counting Coup

A letter to The Washington Post:

In over 1,100 words on civilian casualties in Iraq, Ellen Knickmeyer disposes of those killed by coalition bombing and other operations in less than 50. While the Iraqi Interior Ministry has attributed 12,000 deaths to the acts of insurgents, the low estimates for total civilian deaths since the beginning of the war are twice that, and the high estimate is 100,000. Because the “U.S. military says it does not keep a comprehensive tally of people it has killed in combat,” there’s no way to know whether that number is merely equal to or many times greater than the thousands killed by insurgents. If members of the administration are anticipating that the public will turn against the insurgents because they’re killing so many people, wouldn’t it be important to know whether or not the coalition is killing more than the insurgents?

A Blind Eye to the Truth (Mark Felt Edition)

In three Daily Kos diaries (“Crazy Dean, Crook Galloway, Commie Chavez”, “McGovern Hearts Castro OR Gorbachev was a Commie”, and “George Galloway Stole My Shoes OR Cassandra Was Right”) and numerous comments over the past couple of weeks, I’ve suggested that every time someone makes a point which is important to democratic ideals of truth, that there are voices raised calling for us to disassociate from them, and even to avoid appearing to agree with them, because of failings they might have.

This has now happened to Mark “Deep Throat” Felt.

From the predictable Nixon aplogists like Pat Buchanan, G. Gordon Liddy, and Charles Colson (the latter two of whom spent time in prison because of their involvement in the Watergate scandal) this is to be expected. Their lord and master was, after all, driven from office.

What’s been interesting has been the people (nominally) in the Democratic camp who’ve questioned Felt’s motives for confirming details of the Watergate story for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and for involvement (and subsequent conviction) in the COINTELPRO surveillance of anti-war, civil rights, and other groups deemed “anti-American” in the 1960s and 1970s. Eileen McNamara of The Boston Globe writes “We want Deep Throat to be a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Instead, he could be a functionary in the US Justice Department of John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales.” At The Nation, John Nichols says “It is difficult to buy the line that Felt was all that worried about Nixonian skulduggery, as the tipster himself would eventually be convicted of authorizing federal agents to illegally break into the homes of suspected anti-Vietnam War radicals.” A number of comments at Daily Kos have been somewhat more vitriolic; Nichols, at least, goes on to say that while he wasn’t a hero, Felt was a “necessary player.”

I keep coming back to the question: “So, who’s looking for a hero?” Who cares why Mark Felt squealed on Nixon? Personally, I don’t buy the idea that a guy who was just shy of retirement age and a government pension 30 years ago (he’s 91 now, you do the math) would buck a vindictive bastard (no harm meant to anyone of the illegitimate community) like Nixon and his cronies and risk whatever shitstorm would have come his way if he’d been found out just because he lost a promotion, but maybe he was that arrogant and stupid. Maybe it was a little bit of conscience and the promotion was just the last straw. I just don’t care. The truth is that as with most criminal enterprises, anyone who was in a position to verify any of the story was involved with something illegal themselves.

Felt, at least, has stayed out of the spotlight for 30 years. Pat Buchanan — who doesn’t think Nixon did anything wrong — has been on TV the entire time. Colson and Liddy got on the Christianity and media bandwagons, respectively, once they got out of prison.

The old saying about the Watergate guys was: Don’t Buy Books By Crooks. If you feel Felt’s domestic spying activities with the FBI taint any book he might write, by all means don’t purchase anything he or his family puts out (I doubt I will). But he deserves credit for his part in bringing down one of the most corrupt administrations in history, with numerous jail sentences passed out to aides,  a Vice President resigning, an Attorney General convicted, and a President one step ahead of impeachment, one that began a modern era of Republican maneuvering around, over, and through the Constitution.

Hex To Dec

In a response on the dirGames-L thread “about sending data to html with webXtra”, Valentin Schmidt mentions that in his estimate, the fastest Lingo method of converting decimal values to hexadecimal is through the use of the rgb color object and its hexString method. The reverse is also useful.

As an example, take the hexadecimal value D7. To identify its decimal equivalent:

h = "D7"
hx = "#" & h & "0000"
put hx
-- "#D70000"
c = rgb (hx)
put c
-- color( 215, 0, 0 )
-- 215

215 in decimal notation, of course, equals D7 in hexadecimal.

Going the other direction, if you wanted to convert a number from decimal to hexadecimal:

d = 186
c = rgb (d, 0, 0)
put c.hexString ()
-- "#BA0000"
put c.hexString ().char[2..3]
-- "BA"

So simple!