Posted tagged ‘deceit’

Dog Bites Man (Woman): Palin is Lying Again/Basic Arithmetic edition

October 4, 2008

Amazingly enough, when Sarah Palin got her Couric do-over in the friendly confines of Fox News, all of sudden she remembered some stuff she “forgot” when talking to someone who actually asked follow up questions.

Her court case nonesense is probably better eviscerated by someone who actually knows something of the law, but I want to take a whack at her claim that, oh yes, she does read the newspapers…or as she put it:

CAMERON: Well, what do you read?

PALIN: I read the same things that other people across the country read, including the “New York Times” and the “Wall Street Journal” and “The Economist” and some of these publications that we’ve recently even been interviewed through up there in Alaska.

Oh yeah?

Think Progress has already questioned the probability of Palin reading The Economist.  But the idiocy goes deeper than the mere likelihood that Palin was simply parroting a list of approved elite-friendly titles a leader of the free world would be expected to read.

Think about this with an eye toward real life.  In Palin you have a governor of a state who also happens to have five children still at home.  She is a moderately busy person.

She also has a certain media list she needs to monitor. She has a direct political and governance interest in reading local newspapers, especially that or those of record for her state; she would also, being a skilled thoroughly modern politician, have her eye and ear on local political TV and radio.

She is also a human animal, subject to the same physical constraints that anyone with this basic biology must face.  In this context, that means she is subject to the same limits on reading speed that anyone faces.  The reading speed for comprehension has a range of 200-400 words per minute; skimming can be accomplished at rates as fast as 700 words per minute.

So let’s confront The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  What follows is a mix of real data and inferences; the idea is to get a broad sense of the scale of the task Palin has set herself without spending half a day on the analysis.  It’s a first order “does this make sense” pass, nothing more.

On average the Journal is 96 pages long. A single broadsheet page of a newspaper, even in its modern, slightly shrunken form, can deliver roughly 3,000 words (actually more — the page used for this number is the Times’ op-ed, which typically runs three – four pieces c. 800 word pieces with some art).   Clearly art (in the newspaper sense) and advertising cut into the news hole available for words — and lets be conservative here too; say only one quarter of the average issue actually contains words to be read.

That would leave someone reading the WSJ cover to cover with something like 24*3000= 72,000 words to take in.  Give it another hair cut to acknowledge the ongoing constraints of print journalism.  So two national newspapers today could offer a dedicated reader 100,000 words (and quite possibly much more).  At 400 words per minute — fast for comprehension, slow for skimming, that many words would occupy someone for 250 minutes, or just over four hours every day.

Give it another haircut.  Throw out half the paper. Sarah Palin does not need to read the company news pages of the Journal or the New York Region report in the Times.  We’re still talking two hours (and we haven’t even touched the drag on the day that The Economist hits her in-tray.

In other words…all this is nonsense.  Palin does not read these papers in any meaningful way. Nor should she, in fact.

She’s the governor of Alaska, not of New York.  She needs to read her local stuff, and her staff should be flagging what she needs to get from the national media; certainly it would make sense if someone in Juneau prepared a digest of stories relevant to state-state issues and those national ones that impinge on her decision-space.

Palin could have said something like this during the Couric interview; she could have made this basic point to Fox — that she stays up on the information most relevant to her job, and relies on her staff to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.  The moment would have passed unnoticed.

Instead, she committed herself to an impossibility; that she as governor and mother still finds the time to read the papers for several hours per day.

Two last points:  First:  Once again we see in Palin someone willing to lie at any moment to reinforce the image she or her handlers think she needs to display.  I know that what you have just read is overkill — but there is something about the contempt in which Palin and her keepers hold their audience that makes me want to stomp each moment of stupidity until its cries “uncle.”

Second:  The running scream of this blog is that simple quantification exercises are essential for making sense of the world around us.  Journalists and everyone need to count.  I know that Fox News is not a journalistic enterprise; it’s Pravda with better graphics.  But as I hope the above back of the envelope exercise suggests, it would help the rest of us a great deal if we turned the niggling feeling, “but-does-it-make-sense,” into a reflex animated by a habit of quantification, approximation and inquiry.  Here the lesson endeth.

Image:  Johnny Automatic Children Reading Newspaper.  Source:  Clker.com.

Not to Defend Sarah Palin, But…

October 1, 2008

There has been a flurry of glee in the blogosphere — see, e.g., Andrew Sullivan — over this report from Anderson Cooper’s shop on CNN “confirming” that Sarah Palin has never actually been to that part of Alaska from whence you can see Russia.

One problem:  the CNN report only confirms that Gov. Palin has never been to Little Diomede, the Alaskan island in the Bering Strait that is a couple of miles or so — and in line-of-sight — to Russian-owned Big Diomede.

But there is another Alaskan Island from which it is possible to catch a glimpse of the Russian mainland (whenever the fog lifts).  As discussed at too great length in my post here, that would be St. Lawrence Island.

Now, I could find no reference on the web to any Palin visit to that island, but it is not quite as remote as Little Diomede. I’m betting she has never been there either.  But you cannot say on the strength of Little Diomede that Palin has never confronted the Siberian menace face to face.  More research please!

And just to be going on with:  one of my students actually visited it last year (in January, of all poorly timed vacations) to do some research on her masters thesis.  Just last weekend she told me that she had in fact stared out at some wind and cold wracked shoreline that counted as seeing Russia.  (Wonderful as that student was, I can’t say I see her as Vice President yet either…._

Would It Be Better If He Were Lying, Or Telling The Truth?

October 1, 2008

I’m genuinely not sure:

Yglesias reports on the interview McCain gave to NPR this morning describing the wisdom and good counsel he receives from his running mate on international affairs:

NPR: Given what you’ve said Senator, is there an occasion where you could imagine turning to Governor Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis.

MCCAIN: I’ve turned to her advice many times in the past, I can’t imagine turning to Senator Obama or Senator Biden cuz they’ve been wrong, they were wrong about Iraq, wrong about Russia…

NPR: But would you turn to Governor Palin?

MCCAIN: I certainly wouldn’t turn to them, and I’ve already turned to Governor Palin particularly on energy issues and I’ve appreciated her background and knowledge on that and many other issues.

NPR: Does her energy qualification extend to the international energy market?

MCCAIN: Of course. Of course. That’s what it’s all about. It extends to a broad variety of issues from her worldview to threats that we face, to radical Islamic extremism, to specific areas of the world. I’m very proud of her, and proud of the knowledge and background that she has.

Image: British Empire in 1897.  (Note:  the map suggests that Britain possessed parts of Greenland, which is incorrect.)  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

What Josh Marshall Said

September 11, 2008

Read this.

Barack Obama’s New Stump Speech (Outsourced to Andrew Sullivan et al.)

September 10, 2008

I was just about to apologize for yet another science free post.  I was about to write, for free and gratis and all, the speech I though Obama should give to round up all the pigs masquerading as ideas and positions trotted out by John McCain over a campaign that now seems designed to prove exactly what price the Devil demanded for his soul.

And now, to my great pleasure, I find I don’t have to, as Andrew Sullivan, the scales finally, completely dashed from his eyes, has just posted one of his reader’s version of the same thought.  It’s better than what I had in mind, I’m sure, and so, without further blathering from me, here it is:

“Yesterday I talked to a group of voters about how the McCain campaign is trying to call their continuation of just about every single Bush-Cheney policy of the last eight years “change.”  In doing so, I used a common, hundred-year-old phrase that we all understand: You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Now the McCain campaign demands that I apologize for saying this.  Everyone, it seems, wants to hear my answer.  Here it is: NO.

No, I will not apologize for telling the American people the truth: That McCain and Palin represent a stunning, and disastrous, continuation of Bush and Cheney’s policies.  Policies  of sacrificing the middle class to give huge tax cuts to millionaires and big corporations.  Policies that prevent Americans from getting the health care they need.  Policies that would privatize Social Security and take away a woman’s right to choose.

No, I will not apologize for saying the truth, even if it hurts John McCain’s and Sarah Palin’s feelings.  Because this is not about them.  And it’s not about me.  It’s about you.  These past eight years, Americans have suffered a lot more than hurt feelings . . .  [insert brief litany of Bush disasters here].

You are the ones who have been hurt, and someone has to fight for you.  And I will do that, even if it gets me in trouble.

There’s a word I’ve heard from the McCain campaign recently: “deference.” No one is going to ask Sarah Palin a question, they say, unless they show her “deference.”  Joe Biden points out that they oppose all stem cell research, and they are offended he even mentioned it.  I point out that their claim of bringing change is ridiculous, and they demand an apology.  Apparently we are not showing them enough deference.

Let me explain something to Senator McCain and Governor Palin, as deferentially as I can: This is a democracy — not a monarchy.  You don’t get to demand “deference” from the American people as if they were your royal subjects.  You — and I — and everyone who seeks elected office must defer to the American people, and answer their questions, and fight for them even when it’s politically inconvenient.  That is what I promise to do.  Thank You.”