The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A long time ago I subscribed to Pravda. Well, I was young, and there were extenuating circumstances. I had taken Russian in college, and did not want my knowledge of the language to wane, so I subscribed to Pravda for a year. I would take the newspaper -- it was thin, maybe 8 pages, folded into thirds -- to the beach, or to a bar, and read articles slowly and painstakingly while referring to a Russian-English dictionary.

My subscription began in 1990, when the Soviet Union was just barely a going concern. I looked forward to reading lots of ridiculous propaganda about hooliganism and capitalist running dogs. Sadly, Pravda was just not that entertaining[1]. The easiest way to suppress the news is not to print anything meaningful at all, so Pravda was full of innocuous articles about boys who caused trouble with slingshots, and puff pieces about San Francisco.

Today's media has a lot in common with the Pravda of two decades ago; rather than bias, we now see actual suppression of news. The legacy media didn't tell you about John Edwards' mistress problems, and it isn't saying anything about Climategate, and the New York Times is recycling all the scary white people bugaboos from 15 years ago when it describes the Tea Partiers. Idahoans are stockpiling ammunition, and declaring they would die for the Constitution ... and they like Ron Paul. End of scary stuff. No violence, no one getting hurt, though that doesn't stop the Times from worrying on behalf of one colored, or partially colored, person:

Rachel Dolezal, curator of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene, has also watched the Tea Party movement with trepidation. Though raised in a conservative family, Ms. Dolezal, who is multiracial, said she could not imagine showing her face at a Tea Party event. To her, what stands out are the all-white crowds, the crude depictions of Mr. Obama as an African witch doctor and the signs labeling him a terrorist. “It would make me nervous to be there unless I went with a big group,” she said.

Now you can find examples of black people being roughed up at Tea Party protests. Unfortunately for the fervid imagination of Times reporters, this roughing up was done by members of the Service Employees International Union.

If you want to know about Kenneth Gladney getting beat up at a town hall meeting in Missouri ... don't bother looking in the New York Times. A Times search for that name for the past 12 months returns one hit, an opinion blog. (Remember that when the Masters golf tournament was held at an all-male club in Georgia, the Times was famous for flooding the zone with dozens of stories about the club's discrimination against women. If a black Democrat protester had been beat up by conservatives, do you think the Times could spare an article or two -- or fifty -- on the subject?)

[1] Except during the anti-Gorbachev coup in 1991, announced by Pravda with glaring headlines, then followed a few days later by a mournful apology. Sadly there was a 7-10 day shipping delay so the coup was old news when I got the relevant issues.


Monday, February 08, 2010

The mortgage industry financial crisis, in pictures:

Remember this quote when someone tells you that the financial industry needs more "regulation:"

This is Chris Dodd (D-CT), the powerful member of the Senate Banking Committee, who threatened filibuster after filibuster over additional regulation of the mortgage market (while accepting funds and sweetheart mortgages from the very organizations he was supposed to be regulating).

One of the most obnoxious habits of my fellow citizens is to take government policies at face value. Financial "regulations" do not control or moderate the financial industry. They are a cudgel that Senators like Dodd can use to acquire more money, and more power.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

While cleaning out old mail I found this wonderful Language Log post on the awful writing in The DaVinci Code:

The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, 'Prologue') is the Louvre, late at night:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don't do it in describing an event in a narrative.

I remain mystified by the popularity of Brown's work. Da Vinci Code wasn't just badly written; it was unrealistic, contained absurd errors, and was fundamentally unsatisfying. The book promised an amazing revelation, but at the end it sort of petered out.

(And lest you get the wrong impression -- I love thrillers and mysteries. When I say "unrealistic" I am accounting for the suspension of disbelief that all such works necessitate. To some extent all mystery/thriller fiction is schlock, but the better purveyors -- Martin Cruz Smith, Ken Follett -- at least will teach you something, and believe in their characters.

Brown is somewhat reminiscent of Robert Ludlum. My not-very-informed impression of Ludlum is that he wrote the first Bourne book as satire, wishing to mock thriller fiction in the same manner as Cervantes tried to kill off knight-errantry. Perhaps, like Ludlum, Brown is laughing all the way to the bank.)


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maximum, Mean, Whatever

The Antarctic is warming!

Well, actually, the warmest of 17 stations in the Antarctic was used to create the false impression that the entire Antarctic is warming. From the Air Vent:

There are like 1500 six figure people in the Antarctic and the primary GHCN global dataset has only one single series since 1993. The heroic global warming scientists at Rothera Point have been slaving away, reporting data for all of the Antarctic. That’s 16 years without anyone else bothering to take a temperature reading in the Antarctic for the GHCN or anyone from the GHCN making a phone call to any of the Antarctic towns for the data.

Oops, not so quick. There was data in the other series. In the GHCN’s unique value added process, (invented and widely sanctioned in the superior science of climatology) denialist data has been eliminated from the Raw data as we can see below.


So as we can see, of all the stations available in the antarctic, GHCN has chosen to use a single station on the Antarctic Peninsula to represent an entire continent of the earth for the past 17 years (red circle). But it’s not just any station, it’s a special one. Rothera Point has the single highest trend of any of the adjusted station data.

(Hat tip: James Donald.)


Saturday, October 24, 2009

From Little Acorns ...

Patterico's nasty letter to the LA Times is remarkable and useful. Patterico complains about the Times' bias in allowing a former ACORN consultant to make inaccurate statements excusing that group, and while doing so composes the best summary of the ACORN scandal I have yet seen: Five ACORN offices were visited by undercover reporters, a man and a woman who claimed to be pimping 13-15 year old Salvadoran girls, and the workers in that office were happy to help them camouflage their gains -- and in some cases, even assist with the importation of the prostitutes! Patterico links to transcipts and video -- I'm not kidding about the ACORN worker who was willing to help bring the teenage hookers into the US:

Juan Carlos [ACORN adviser]: It's better in Tijuana
James ["pimp"]: Tijuana? Why?
Juan Carlos: Because I have a lot of contact in Tijuana
James: Okay. And, they might be able to ah assist in crossing the border.
Juan Carlos: Yeah.

I browsed the Wikipedia article on ACORN and was surprised to find that while the ACORN article was reasonably fair, the article on plain old acorns veered into unsourced earth-worshipping drivel:

Native North Americans took an active and sophisticated role in management of acorn resources through the use of fire, which increased the production of acorns and made them easier to collect. The deliberate setting of light ground fires killed the larvae of acorn moths and acorn weevils that have the potential to infest and consume more than 95% of an oak's acorns, by burning them during their dormancy period in the soil. Fires released the nutrients bound in dead leaves and other plant debris into the soil, thus fertilizing oak trees while clearing the ground to make acorn collection faster and easier. Most North American oaks tolerate light fires, especially when consistent burning has eliminated woody fuel accumulation around their trunks. Consistent burning encouraged oak growth at the expense of other trees that are less tolerant of fire, thus keeping landscapes in a state in which oaks dominated. Since oaks produce more acorns when they are not in close competition with other oaks for sunlight, water and soil nutrients, eliminating young oaks more vulnerable to fire than old oaks created open oak savannahs with trees ideally spaced to maximize acorn production. Finally, frequent fires prevented accumulation of flammable debris, which reduced the risk of destructive canopy fires that destroyed oak trees. After a century during which North American landscapes have not been managed by indigenous peoples, disastrous fires have ravaged crowded, fuel-laden forests. Land managers have realized that they can learn much from indigenous resource management techniques, such as controlled burning, widely practiced by Native Americans to enhance such resources as acorns.
Yes, we can be confident in the accuracy of statistics for destructive fires in pre-colonization America, given that there were no written records.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

As a child I remember being hectored to love the environment. "Give a Hoot -- Don't Pollute!" was one slogan. At that time it was considered sufficient to pick up one's trash and not pour toxic waste in rivers.

Earth-worship has now gotten to the point where putting trash in the garbage is as much of a crime as leaving it strewn about. A few days ago I received a glossy six-page missive from Sunnyvale Solid Waste & Recycling. The front page is a screed against that enemy of wildlife, the plastic bag:

Every second, 400 light and aerodynamic plastic bags are distributed in the State of California...

(I have a vision of engineers testing grocery bags in a wind tunnel. But let's move on:)

Plastic bags clog our creeks, streams, and bays. They are a major component of the worsening problem of plastic litter that kills thousands of marine animals every year. In one large area of the Pacific Ocean there are already 46 times more plastic particles than plankton.

I call bullshit. I have never seen a creek, stream, or bay (an entire bay, really?) clogged by plastic bags and I doubt the author of this article has either. And the density of plankton varies widely in the ocean, so the factoid of 46 times as many plastic particles (of what size) is meaningless without context.

...There's no reason for these bags to end up in the landfill or our oceans...

Um, how about the reason these bags should end up in the landfill is so they don't wind up in the ocean? What, are the landfills too precious to hold bags now?

Not content to lecture us once, the same booklet (is the glossy paper recyclable?) descends from marine-mammal-hugging to utter insanity:

Musical greeting cards are more popular than ever. But because they contain electronics and a battery, they don't belong in the trash.

Just what the hell can you put in your trash now? I note that the electronics and battery are tiny. Not that many people receive musical cards. Scientifically, cards in the trash are unlikely to have an adverse effect. But from a religious point of view, they are impure and therefore verboten.
Consider not buying musical cards. Will the person you are giving it to know how to properly dispose of the hazardous waste?
"Dearest Clarabelle: I hope you enjoy this 3x5 Postit note. I was going to buy a musical card, but decided you were too stupid to dispose of it properly as mandated by the High Church of Recycling."

It's not just greeting cards that contain electronics. So do toys and phones. Am I really expected to treat my kid's animatronic T-rex as if it were a jar full of arsenic?

Sunnyvale is more or less the geographic center of Silicon Valley, and its recycling department has decreed that it it immoral for people to use products which contain embedded electronics. Ye gods and little fishes.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm Gawking At You, Not With You

Gawker felt the need to lecture us sternly thus: "Sorry, Reasonable Republicans, But Those Really Are Brownshirt Tactics." No argument from me. For goons from one party to beat up a member of a competing party, as public employee union members did a black conservative, is utterly beyond the pale of civilized discourse. And one is reminded of the brawling in the streets of Germany in the end days of the Weimar--

What? Fuck the heck? Gawker didn't mention Kenneth Gladney? Gawker thinks disagreeing with one's elected representative is a Nazi tactic?

I hope such extensive contact with reality works well for y'all in the 2010 elections.

(Note that Gawker lent credence to Speaker Pelosi's bizarre claim that town hall attendees were carrying swastikas. I Googled and found one news report of a conservative protester who used Nazi regalia to compare Obama to Hitler. Likely to persuade? No. But if it's evidence of "brownshirt tactics", then liberals who display pictures of Sarah Palin riding a dinosaur are promoting the belief that man and dinosaur coexisted. Sorry, Democrats, but these are creationist tactics!)