Thursday, July 26, 2007

Death Cat's a Cutie

Oscar the cat knows when you're going to die.

Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours.

His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means the patient has less than four hours to live.

"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," Dr. David Dosa said in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Consider the Alternative

I must agree with Josh Marshall--the only possible explanation for the fact that Alberto Gonzales remains Attorney General of the United States is that, were he to resign, his successor would surely feel compelled to do at least a minimal amount of investigating, which would inevitably lead to prosecution of numerous high-level administration officials, and the president is not about to let that happen.

In other words, the President George W. Bush is choosing to allow the ongoing public exposure of the fact that the Justice Department of the United States, during his presidency, has become a gross, exaggerated caricature of incompetence and corruption because the alternative would be something even more embarrassing.

At this point no other explanation makes sense.

“an azimuthally equidistant projection showing all the countries in one circle,” flanked by crossed olive branches

It had never occurred to me to wonder who was originally responsible for that logo we've all seen thousands of times. Now, thanks to Michael Bierut at Design Observer, I know his name: Donal McLaughlin.

Monday, July 16, 2007

In other news, 15% of Americans think the voices in their heads have a liberal bias.

So this morning I had a look at Instapundit (don't ask me why I keep doing it) and noted that Mr. Reynolds was shocked (shocked!) to see the findings of a recent Rasmussen poll:

By a 39% to 20% margin, American adults believe that the three major broadcast networks deliver news with a bias in favor of liberals. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 25% believe that ABC, CBS, and NBC deliver the news without any bias.

That proves it, right? There really is widespread liberal bias in the media!

But wait a minute. How good are people at evaluating bias in news reports? Do these numbers really tell us anything meaningful about actual bias in the news media, or does this tell us more about the ideological lenses through which people view the media? Here is what Rasmussen Reports has to say about that:

Not surprisingly, there are huge partisan and ideological differences in the data. For example, among self-identified liberals, all of the media outlets are believed to have some net bias in favor of conservatives. . . .

Conservatives throughout the nation see things entirely differently. Sixty-two percent (62%) see a liberal bias at the major broadcast networks and 55% say the same about CNN.

So, believe it or not, biased people tend to see evidence of bias in the media! Conservatives and liberals can look at the very same news networks, and liberals will see conservative bias, and conservatives will see liberal bias! Astounding!

Is there bias in the media? Of course there is. Anyone who looks hard enough can find evidence of both liberal bias and conservative bias. But the really sad thing is not that there is bias in the news media, but that we are slowly but surely losing our sense of what unbiased journalism is even supposed to look like. We have been led to believe that balanced journalism means giving liberals and conservatives equal time to try to spin the facts their way. If we add the 39% who see liberal bias to the 20% who see conservative bias, we learn that 59% of Americans see pervasive bias of some sort the news media. And once we see begin to distrust the media, we are less likely to believe actual facts that might contradict our political beliefs; we can just dismiss anything that makes us uncomfortable as yet more evidence of bias. We will have forgotten that somewhere out there there are actual facts, facts that are not biased one way or the other, just plain old facts.

There is one more thing worth noting in the Rasmussen poll results, something truly astounding.

There is one major exception to the belief that media outlets have a liberal bias—Fox News. Thirty-one percent (31%) of Americans say it has a bias that favors conservatives while 15% say it has a liberal bias.

Yes, you read that right. Fifteen percent of Americans believe Fox News is biased in favor of liberals.

Objectivity is dead.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rock, Paper, Scissors

President Bush says, "I strongly believe that democracy will trump totalitarianism every time."

That's a fine thing to believe, but how is that relevant to the current situation in Iraq? Yes, our democracy made mincemeat of Saddam Hussein's totalitarian regime, but that regime is long gone. What replaced it was neither democracy nor totalitarianism, but chaos. The current situation is, according to the best information I can gather, a free-for-all. Whoever has the most firepower in a given locale controls it, but only for as long as they remain. The U.S. could arguably keep the peace in any given Baghdad city block indefinitely by keeping a sufficient number of troops there, but our troops can't be everywhere at once, and by all accounts chaos returns the moment they move on to the next block.

I know that Bush would like to frame the issue in terms of fighting totalitarianism, or "Islamofascism," but that's not what we're fighting in Iraq. We're fighting anybody and everybody with a gun or an improvised explosive who feels like taking a shot at us. And Bush consistently fails to give us any indication that he understands this. He wants to fight totalitarianism, and while a totalitarian regime may eventually emerge from the chaos of Iraq, there is no totalitarian regime there today. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we must deal with the enemy we have, not the enemy we wish we had.

Rock may beat Scissors every time, but we're not fighting Scissors right now.