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May 2003 Archives

May 2, 2003

Last night's landing

There's a debate going on over at Glenn Reynold's site about whether the footage of President Bush landing on the aircraft carrier will make great campaign footage for 2004.

We read statements like: "There was nothing false about it, because a carrier landing is no walk in the park. But I don't think it was a stunt. Bush is a piolt, and I'm sure he loved getting behind the controls for a brief moment - it was an expression of who Bush is, not a PR stunt."

And there are links to statements like: "I also think it did, and will, play like a mad bastard with the American people. Judging from the wails of shock and horror now rising from the usual suspects on the left, I think they think so too."

I agree with Reynolds. It's not going to play well in 2004. In fact, I'm positive the Bush administration won't even use it. Not once. They will focus on his role during the war as President... not on him as a pilot or his past life or anything else. Because, if they open this door, they know they'll have to answer questions about being a pilot and his own military service. Right now, they know the "liberal" media won't ask about it (they didn't ask in 2000, why would they ask in 2004?), so why offer them the opportunity?

The Book of Virtues

Since he lectured me and President Clinton and values, morals, and faith, I think I'm going to have to lecture him a bit. Via Eschaton: William Bennett is a big-time gambler.

So Mr. Bennett knows:

The 10th Commandment given to Moses: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. (Exodus 20:17). Gambling, of course, is desiring -- coveting -- someone else's money.

Do not desire more than what God grants you. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:31-34) Mr. Bennett repeatedly tries to get rich quick, not comprehending these words from the first Gospel.

Money is the root of all evil. It's a oft told maxim, but it's from the Bible. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Timothy 6:10-11) There are things in life much worthier in pursuing than money. Mr. Bennett should know this; it should be a cornerstone of his Book of Virtues and, one assumes, his life.

Bennett's venom against President Clinton, including The Death of Outrage, made Bennett a lot of money. But he should be rest assured. Outrage isn't dead. I'm outraged at his hypocricy.

May 3, 2003

Well, actually, Andrew...

Andrew Sullivan defends William Bennett today, writing that "What, I ask myself, has he conceivably done wrong? He has done nothing illegal. He has done nothing hypocritical. Only in the minds of a few religious fanatics, has he done anything immoral."

Well, you don't have to be a religious fanatic to believe that gambling is immoral. It can be well argued (and it *has* been well argued) that legalized gambling like casinos and the lottery exploits the poor. (And, if one wants to quote the big Book of Virtues, "He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he." Proverbs 14:21.)

But, as Atrios has alerted us, Bennett's erstwhile poker games with William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork are indeed illegal and punishable by up to five years in jail.

No, of course, I don't think Bennett should go to jail for playing poker with his friends. However, we should remember, that this crime is more than Kenneth Starr found on President Clinton after investigating Whitewater, Filegate, and all the rest. Bennett loved going to town on President Clinton. For what? For even less.

Sullivan wants us to respect Bennett's privacy. Bennett has done nothing *really* wrong -- we should all let it go. I cannot agree. Bennett knows better than anyone else the warning about judging others yest ye be judged.

May 5, 2003

It's time for him to Let It Go

Andrew Sullivan's meta-keywords for his site (the words he wants search engines to look for so to direct people to his site, or, in other words the words he thinks best describe what his site is about) are "andrew sullivan, book club, war, terrorism, culture, politics, faith, homosexuality, people, abortion, presidential, scandal, campaign, american, constitutional, clinton, offenses, attitude, dubya, george bush," so this should come as no surprize.

In his most recent missive, he writes that "Bill Clinton's public character, his lying, untrustworthiness and abuse of his office were important things to notice and criticize. But some of the rhetoric went further than that, and Bennett clearly egged it on. I'm thinking not about genuine public issues of abuse of power, sexual harassment and perjury, but private adultery and womanizing, which were linked in Clinton's case but not inseparable."

But, of course, President Clinton did not sexually harass anyone (does any rational person really believe that he did?). He didn't abuse his power (what's the only evidence that he abused his power? That he lied about the affair to members of his cabinet? Please!) . And, a great argument could be made (and I'd make it), that he didn't perjure himself (lying is not perjury). All he did was what Sullivan calls "private adultery" and lie about it.

Sullivan should let it go. However, when your site is still about Clinton, offenses, and scandals, I suppose it's difficult.

May 8, 2003

American History 101

From professional Bush-hater Paul Krugman:

There was a time when patriotic Americans from both parties would have denounced any president who tried to take political advantage of his role as commander in chief. But that, it seems, was another country.
Apparently so. Does Krugman remember Dwight Eisenhower? Obviously he does, because he mentioned him earlier in the op/ed. Does he think Eisenhower was elected president based on his high school football career? Ah, but you say Eisenhower wasn't taking political advantage of his role as commander-in-chief to get elected; he was taking political advantage of his role as general to get elected. Uh, yeah? And the difference is? There's a difference between using military success to get elected and to get re-elected?

And what if there is? Has Krugman ever heard of Abraham Lincoln? Remember the slogan "Don't change horses in midstream?" Was Lincoln not taking political advantage of his role as commander-in-chief to get re-elected? Sure, that isn't exactly the same as this situation, either, and you can keep splitting hairs to find distinctions.

But the point is this: Bush is doing nothing unusual. He's playing up an area in which he has been successful. (We certainly know that if the war had gone badly, his opponents would have been taking political advantage of his failures as commander in chief.) This is just more sour grapes from Krugman.

May 12, 2003

Sample size

Lots of people, like Mickey Kaus, are going to town on the Blair story from the New York Times. Blair and the Times, these people are saying, prove that affirmative action is bad. Kaus writes that "fairly direct consequence of the Times's misguided race preference policy" (Kaus actually put this phrase in bold type).

John Leo at U.S. News and World Report writes:

"Everybody knows that this argument tends to trigger cries of 'Racism!' So let's stipulate: The overwhelming majority of plagiarism cases and journalistic scandals have been the work of whites.... But once you create preferences, you run the risk of increasing the number of screw-ups among the preferred group. Relaxing standards or pushing an unprepared candidate into a high-pressure job tends to increase the odds of trouble. All of us figure this out rather quickly when the preferred group is relatives of the boss or people who went to the boss's college. It's true of identity groups as well."

It's a cute little 'stipulation' on Leo's part, but it just doesn't wash. Blair isn't being accused of failing to meet standards that were relaxed for him. He has been accused of a crime. Leo knows this and plagarism is what he's been talking about until this paragraph. But then he equates standards with crimes. We have to throw away what Leo has written, unless he wants to rewrite his piece to "once you create preferences, you run the risk of increasing the number of plagarisers and criminals among the preferred group." Is that what he meant? If he did, you see why I don't buy his stipulation.

And, Leo is talking about trends. Trends. He uses terminology like "increasing" and "group" and "odds" -- that's trends talk.

In his talk about trends, how large is his sample? How many "unprepared candidate[s]" in this "preferred group" does his analyze? How much data does he have?

He, in fact, has a sample size of one. Blair. That's not trends data. He takes one datum point to paint with a wide wide brush. Not good argument technique -- not even in 8th grade.

So, Leo can't competently analyze data. (Or, he can, but choses, for rhetorical purposes, not to). He mix-and-matchs accusations (by equating 'low' standards with plagarism). Perhaps the New York Times isn't the only publication with editorial problems. U.S. News needs to edit its authors better, too.

May 13, 2003

Data, Reporting, and Blair

On the opinion page of the Washington Post, Richard Cohen weighs in on the Blair affair. Cohen is as sure as Mickey Kaus and John Leo: “Yet not only was Blair not stopped, he was promoted to the national staff and ultimately given more responsibilities. Why? The answer appears to be precisely what the Times denies: favoritism based on race.”

Like Kaus and Leo, Cohen provides no evidence for his assertion. However, he does admit that Blair “clearly has talent” as a reporter. (Perhaps this is why Blair was promoted to the national staff?) If we review the logic of Kaus, Leo, and Cohen, we see their reasoning:

1. Blair was black
2. Well known to the Times editors, Blair was a mediocre reporter
3. Blair was promoted and kept working until the scandal broke
4. The Times editors must have promoted him because he was black

However, this line of reasoning does not work. There is not enough data to Jump to [these] Conclusions. For example, one could simply substitute the following:

1. Blair had gone to the University of Maryland
2. Well known to the Times editors, Blair was a mediocre reporter
3. Blair was promoted and kept working until the scandal broke
4. The Times editors must have promoted him because he was a Terripan

In absence of more data (or, for that matter, any data), this line of reasoning works just as well. We all know that there are ‘old-boy’ networks that exist at major places of employment – why couldn’t it be at work here? For all we know right now, it is at work.

What is needed are more data, and it is not difficult to figure out what data are needed. For instance, what are the promotion rates from the reporter internship program to the national staff? Is it near 100 percent? Is it, in fact, 100 percent? Is the hardest part of getting on the national staff actually getting the initial internship? What are the promotion rates by race? Do black interns get preference? Was Blair an exception or did he fit a pattern? Did Blair, in fact, receive preferential treatment?

Once these questions are answered, Kaus, Leo, and Cohen will be able to accurately talk about why Blair was promoted. Right now, they are three reporters who don’t have the facts – and who are not showing any desire to obtain the facts; they look like hacks who are using this incident to write ill-informed diatribes against affirmative action. You know, they may be right about why Blair was promoted, but, right now, they are showing the reporting skills worthy of Jayson Blair.

Kaus jumps the shark

Mickey Kaus has just jumped the shark on the Blair fiasco.

In his most recent post, Kaus writes: Howell Raines "is an egomaniacal Guilty Southern White Boy, running a star system based in part on loyalty, whose self-image involves him singlehandedly helping deserving African-Americans claim their rightful place in American society!" (Emphasis in the original.)

Nice use of sarcasm. But, one has to ask Kaus: prey tell, where do you think the rightful place in American society is for African-Americans? Either Kaus believes it's not as a reporter, or Kaus is in dire need of an editor.

Black and white and read all over?

Partha is technically correct: there is no formal proof that race was a deciding or even relevant factor in the Jayson Blair scandal. For all we know, Blair could have gotten special treatment because he was a University of Maryland graduate. (Or at least a pretend University of Maryland graduate, since he never actually did the work.) But to the best of our knowledge, Blair wasn't hired under an affirmative-action-for-Terrapins program. He was hired under an affirmative-action-for-ethnic-minorities program. To the best of our knowledge, the top brass at the New York Times never spoke out on the need to increase the ranks of turtle fans at the paper. The top brass at the New York Times spoke out on the need to increase the ranks of minorities at the paper. To the best of our knowledge, executives at the New York Times never singled out Blair as an example of his alma mater's importance to the paper. Executives at the New York Times singled out Blair as an example of his race's importance to the paper.

There is, of course, no evidence that Blair's malfeasance was caused by his race -- but that's a strawman, since nobody was claiming such. He's not corrupt because he's black; he's corrupt because he's corrupt. The issue is whether the treatment of Blair -- kid gloves doesn't even begin to cover it -- was affected by his race. And in that, there's no doubt. He was hired under an affirmative action program with virtually no credentials – not even a college degree. His own editor at the paper -- as the Times' own narrative recounts -- felt that Blair's race made his promotions a fait accompli.

There aren't that many possibilities. Either

  • Blair is the first dishonest reporter they've hired, or
  • Black and white reporters alike get away with murder at the Times, or
  • Blair got special treatment.
And why would he get special treatment? No, there's no smoking gun memo saying, "I know Blair's work is shoddy, but let's be lenient with him because he's black." (At least, none I know of. Boy wouldn't it be a journalistic coup to find it, if there were.) But the Times was openly lenient with Blair for his lack of credentials, because of his race. And the Times was incredibly indulgent of him during his career there, despite his poor performance. Connect those dots, and where do you end up?

May 14, 2003


Yesterday, I asked: "What is needed are more data, and it is not difficult to figure out what data are needed. For instance, what are the promotion rates from the reporter internship program to the national staff? Is it near 100 percent? Is it, in fact, 100 percent? Is the hardest part of getting on the national staff actually getting the initial internship? What are the promotion rates by race? Do black interns get preference? Was Blair an exception or did he fit a pattern? Did Blair, in fact, receive preferential treatment?"

Some data has been found. Since 1995, there have been 44 people in the New York Times program Jayson Blair was in. Thirty-seven were promoted to the full-time staff. Of the 7 who were not, 3 were black. Of the 37 who were promoted, 16 were members of minority groups. (We don't know how many of these 16 were black.) With this data, we find:

The New York Times had an overall 84.1 percent promotion rate from internship to staff (the 37 promoted divided by 44 total).

The New York Times had, at most, a 84.2 percent promotion rate for minorities from internship to staff (the 16 promoted divided by 16+3 we know were in the total -- we don't know how many of the other seven who were not promoted were 'minorities').

From this glimpse into the New York Times newsroom, it does not seem that 'affirmative action' played a large role in promotion decisions. To me, it looks like Blair was a con-man and there is nothing more to this story.

These data are, of course, limited, but for those saying that 'affirmative action' *necesarily* played a role in his promotion and his tenure at the Times, the ball is in your court.

The Blair Math Project

Thanks to Partha for finding data on the New York Times' internship program. I do not think it exonerates the Times on charges of racial bias, however. Quite the opposite. Assuming the self-reported data -- and for some reason I'm leery of relying on New York Times fact-checkers right now -- is accurate, it seems that minorities in the internship program receive treatment similar to that of whites in the internship program in one limited respect, getting hired for a full-time job. However, it also shows massive racial bias in the internship program itself. By my count, 19 of the 44 participants -- that's forty-three percent, for those of you scoring at home -- in the program were minorities.

Quick googling turned up this article, which cites the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual newsroom employment survey for the data showing that in 1997, fourteen percent of print journalism graduates from journalism schools were minorities. And that minority graduates were, as a group, less qualified (in terms of credentials and experience) than non-minority graduates. 14% vs. 43%. To claim that this doesn't raise at least a prima facie case of disparate treatment is... stretching it.

And that doesn't address the issue of how fast Blair was promoted through the ranks; there's a big difference between merely being given a job on the newspaper's staff, on the one hand, and being made the lead reporter on major national stories, as Blair was, on the other hand.

Finally, the claim that Blair "was a con-man and there is nothing more to this story" just doesn't hold up. Reading the Times' ridiculously long account of the Blair affair, Blair didn't "con" anybody at all. Everybody who interacted with him quickly became aware of his poor performance, his sloppiness, his erratic behavior. His supervisor begged the Times to do something: "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now." He certainly wasn't "conned."

The question isn't how Blair was able to get away with pretending to travel without actually leaving New York; that didn't take "conning" so much as simple lying. (Stephen Glass actually invented phony evidence in an effort to hide his fiction-writing at the New Republic. Blair wasn't even smart enough to stay out of the office on days when he was pretending he was out of town.) The question is why Blair was allowed to retain his job, and get promotions, when everyone knew he was a problem. Why the Times kept him on for more than a year after his editor desperately tried to get rid of him.

Certainly, the operational failures which allowed Blair to, for instance, get away with "traveling" without filing expense reports for tickets or hotels, are an issue which the Times needs to look into. But the management failures which allowed Blair to get and keep his job despite shoddy performance are the real story here. Why did he get a job without a college degree? Why was he regularly promoted? Why did it continue even after he was forced to take leaves of absence after misbehaving? Why were some of his editors not informed of his sketchy track record? If it wasn't because of the Times' commitment to "diversity," -- which had previously led the Times to give special treatment to minority candidates -- then what was it?

May 16, 2003

Sullivan Jumps the Shark

In an attempt to remind us all of the 1990s (the gossip-mongered, no-unsubstantiated-accusation against the Clinton left-unturned 1990s), Andrew Sullivan jumps the shark on the New York Times Blair scandal.

In his most recent post, Sullivan writes: "Two days after he quit the New York Times, Jayson Blair, whose credit cards were all maxed out and who used national editor Jim Roberts' card for expenses, somehow paid off a $3853 American Express bill. Whence the sudden infusion of money?"

Sullivan's implication is clear: Blair was paid off by somebody. By whom, of course, Sullivan doesn't say (but he does use the word "whence" -- a word I don't think I've ever used, myself). But, who would pay Blair off? The Times? Howell Raines, himself? The University of Maryland journalism school? Any other guesses? Any other guesses that are *less* absurd? Question number two is, of course: why would they pay him off? To keep Blair quiet so the Times would not have to come clean about the scandal?

Whence came the money? Let's give it a try. Perhaps he got a new credit card with one of those balance-transfer programs? Or a loan from friends? Or from his savings? Or his parents paid it off for him? Or he had worked out a payment plan with the law firm representing American Express -- a plan which was finalized this month? None of these seem too illogical.

Or maybe, I suppose, Blair did get the money via nefarious means. However, without any data, Sullivan is attempting to manufacture a scandal. It's the "good old days" all over again.

May 19, 2003

Praised be his name

In certain religions, every mention of God is accompanied by a stock mantra of praise. Well, "diversity" is one of the media's gods, so we see a similar phenomenon in discussions about that topic. For instance, in the course of a Boston Globe column condemning the New York Times for its management failures with regard to Jayson Blair, a column which openly accuses the Times of treating Blair specially because of his race, the columnist still feels the need to add:

Let's be clear: Diversity is a crucial and honorable cause. A newspaper that looks like the community it covers is a better instrument of journalism, just as a diverse police department can better understand the people it is sworn to protect.
But is that true? One thing nobody has shown, in all the coverage of Blair's career, is how this desperately-sought after diversity mattered.

The Times wasn't gauche enough to make Blair their "black correspondent," were they? He covered news, same as everyone else. (Well, not exactly the same as everyone else, we hope. I assume the other reporters at least endeavored to report the real news.) Do newspapers generally assign black reporters to write stories about the "black community", Hispanic reporters to write stories about the "Hispanic community," etc.? I sincerely hope not. Nothing in the Times' long mea culpa, in which they gave examples of Blair's malfeasance, indicated in any way that Blair's reporting involved race in any special way. So what was this vaunted "diversity" good for? How did he help make the TImes "a better instrument of journalism"? (Or, rather, how would he have, if he had been honest?) Isn't the real answer that Blair was there to fill employment quotas?

I think I see the problem

From a New York Times sob story about a poor city worker who is getting laid off:

"I always thought when my time was right, I would get my promotion and my raise," said Ms. Gourdine, 47, of the Bronx. "But this is terrible. My father was a civil servant, a bus driver. I come from an era that believed when you get into city government you're secure. You don't have to ever worry when you work for the city."
And said without any sense of irony.  Yes, it's sad for this woman that she lost her job -- but when municipal workers believe that government jobs should be guaranteed lifetime employment, that might illustrate why government doesn't work quite as well as we'd hope.

Speaking of media bias, by the way, when can we expect sob stories in the Times about small businesses driven out of the city by high taxes and/or overregulation?

May 20, 2003

I wonder if the diplomas are color-coded

Remember all that talk last week about the segregated proms in Georgia? Remember how the phenomenon was held up as a prime example of continuing racism in America? How could white students want to hold themselves apart from black students? Why, it's so... archaic. It's reminiscent of separate water fountains for blacks. Come to think of it, it's almost as bad excluding black students from graduation ceremonies. For instance, the policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Oops, sorry, I read that wrong. At the University of Pennsylvania, black students create their own graduation ceremonies exclusively for them. And as you can imagine, since this is the University of Pennsylvania, rather than a high school in rural Georgia, the news coverage is far less critical. And that's the case, even though the ceremonies sound like something a bigot would come up with:

As the master of ceremonies called their names, the black seniors proudly strode to the front of the room to receive colorful pieces of kente cloth marking their impending graduation from the University of Pennsylvania.

The students solemnly called out the names of their elders as poet and social worker Kamau McRae poured water on a plant in an African libation ritual.

What do you think the reaction would be if, say, a white fraternity portrayed them as engaging in African rituals? Stereotyping black Americans as primitive Africans? Furor, I imagine. There would be cries of racial harassment, demands for suspensions, sensitivity training, etc. But when black Americans themselves do it, it's an assertion of identity. And the contortions that defenders of the program go through to deny that this is exactly what it seems like are impressive.
"When black students come together, the assumption is often that they are being separatist," said Karlene Burrell-McRae, director of the Makuu Black Cultural Resource Center, which organized the black graduation celebration at Penn. "But the reality is that they are full members of the university community who take on responsibility for contributing to their community while also contributing to the larger community."
So they're not being racial separatists… they just have a separate "community" defined by their race.

And the purpose of this program? For black people to provide "support" for each other, because they feel so troubled over the “isolating" environment. Now, keep in mind that this is hardly Bob Jones University we're discussing; according to the article, 43% of Penn's freshman class is made up of minorities. So where's the "isolation" coming from? (Sure, you can bet that this group is disproportionately Asian rather than black -- but that's okay, because Asian students get their own ceremony. As do Hispanics.) And dare I suggest that perhaps black students having separate organizations, dorms, student centers, and ceremonies, might be the cause of, rather than the solution to, this feeling of isolation? Shouldn't we question the university's entire approach to "diversity" if these are the results? If the university really believes, as claimed, that its educational mission requires a commitment to diversity, then shouldn't it forbid all formal racial groupings, thus forcing black, white, Hispanic, and Asian students to have more diverse interactions? (Answer: of course not, because diversity in eduspeak just means de facto admissions quotas.)

May 29, 2003


If you are getting scared about the United States's future, you should check out the National Spelling Bee, currently being held in Washington. It won't quiet all of your fears, but it'll make you feel a little better.


Pococurante was the winning word in this year's National Spelling Bee.

The final 5 competitors were J.J. Goldstein, a Jewish girl from Rockville Centre, New York, Evelyn Blacklock, a homeschooled girl from Middletown, New York, Sai Gunturi, a South Asian American boy from Dallas, Samir Patel, a South Asian American boy from Fort Worth, and Trudy McLeary, a black girl from originally from Jamaica.

God Bless America.

May 30, 2003

Worst. Trade. Ever.

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, the consipirators have been discussing what the worst trade ever was in baseball history.

David Post says, without question, it was Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, and Steve Finley for Glenn Davis. Jacob Levy reminds us of Babe Ruth for money, and Philippe de Croy brings up (not a trade, exactly, but a person) Calvin Schiraldi and the supposedly cursed Red Sox.

The answer to the question: what was the worst trade in baseball history? It wasn't Harnisch/ Shilling/Finley for Davis. Nor was it Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas. Or Ruth for money. Or Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa for Ivan DeJesus.

It was Amos Rusie for Christie Mathewson.

After the trade, Mathewson won 372 games for his new team (winning over 20 games 11 different seasons), the New York Giants, and was one of the greatest pitchers ever.

After the same trade, Rusie pitched in three games, winning none and losing one, for his new team, the Cincinnati Reds -- the team that traded Mathewson. And then Rusie's career was over.

About May 2003

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in May 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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