May 20th, 2017

Do skaters get dizzy?

Yes, they do. But not nearly as dizzy as you and I would. They’ve got a system, although it takes a lot of practice:

The short answer is training, but to really grasp why figure skaters can twirl without getting dizzy requires an understanding of the vestibular system, the apparatus in our inner ear that helps to keep us upright. This system contains special sensory nerve cells that can detect the speed and direction at which our head moves. These sensors are tightly coupled with our eye movements and with our perception of our body’s position and motion through space. For instance, if we rotate our head to the right while our eyes remain focused on an object straight ahead, our eyes naturally move to the left at the same speed. This involuntary response allows us to stay focused on a stationary object.

Spinning is more complicated. When we move our head during a spin, our eyes start to move in the opposite direction but reach their limit before our head completes a full 360-degree turn. So our eyes flick back to a new starting position midspin, and the motion repeats as we rotate. When our head rotation triggers this automatic, repetitive eye movement, called nystagmus, we get dizzy.

Skaters suppress the dizziness by learning how to counteract nystagmus with another type of eye movement, called optokinetic nystagmus. Optokinetic nystagmus occurs in the opposite direction of the nystagmus and allows us to track a moving object—such as a train whizzing by—with our eyes while our head remains in place. As the first few cars of the train move out of view, our eyes jump back to their initial position to follow the next few, and the motion repeats. Skaters can train themselves to engage this opposing eye movement when they rotate to offset the nystagmus and keep the world from spinning.

That makes me a mite dizzy just to read about. I don’t think spinning is for everyone. It wouldn’t be for me, even though I was a dancer. Dancers use quite a different technique than skaters to defend against dizziness—a much easier one, in my opinion, one that is only possible because they spin far more slowly, since their friction isn’t reduced by being on ice.

But the biggest mystery is why dancers prefer to generally turn clockwise and skaters counterclockwise. I’m a left-handed right-turning dancer, and I have a good friend who was a right-handed left-turning dancer (left-turning dancers exist, but they are a great rarity), so it has nothing to do with handedness.

Nor does it have to do with dominant feet or legs, as that article linked postulates. There is a type of turn in ballet called the chaine turn which makes exactly equal use of both feet and both legs, and yet the clockwise preference of dancers is retained while doing chaines.

Want to learn how to do them? They’re relatively easy compared to other ballet turns:

By the way, I think the weight of that dancer’s upper back is ever-so-slightly leaned too far backward rather than on the vertical. I know, I know; picky, picky, picky (I used to teach ballet, too, but you won’t see me demonstrating it on video).

And I’d love to see this girl’s physics project (read the explanation at YouTube):

I used to be able to do many of these—but not on pointe:

Here’s the champ of spinning in skating, Lucinda Ruh:

May 20th, 2017

The high cost of insurance fraud in drug rehab

Health insurance fraud in drug rehab is not just about money. It can be an issue of life and death. But the money involved is enormous, too.

Read this article and weep. An excerpt:

When she enrolled in a South Florida drug treatment program in 2015, Alison Flory had high hopes of getting her life in order and starting anew.

But instead of receiving life-saving health care, the 23-year-old from a Chicago suburb found herself being recruited from one recovery residence to another as a string of shady drug treatment facilities systematically overcharged her mother’s health insurance policy for expensive, unnecessary procedures and tests.

By October 2016, Alison was dead…

Experts estimate that the government and private insurance companies lose $100 billion each year to health care scams and fraudulent claims…

Over a 15-month period in 2015 and 2016, Alison moved nine times to different drug treatment centers. It was largely the work of fellow addicts – young men – who were paid to lure her and others away from their current treatment program. They did so with the promise of free rent, free use of a scooter, and other benefits – including possible romance – if the patient agreed to enroll in a particular treatment program and live in a recovery residence or sober home associated with that treatment program.

Sobriety had nothing to do with it. It is an open secret among addicts enrolled in South Florida treatment facilities that hundreds of suburban homes posing as drug-free recovery residences are little more than co-ed flop houses where the use of drugs is permitted and sometimes encouraged.

The situation is an outrageous disgrace. And why is there no effective algorithm at insurance companies to catch this sort of thing? It wouldn’t seem all that difficult to do; and surely they are losing a lot of money in this way and one would think they’d be motivated to spot it and stop it. Are they afraid they’ll be accused of being meanies if they flag the behavior?

The situation is also a result—an unintended consequence—of Obamacare’s covering “children” up to 26. They are adults, and their parents don’t necessarily know what’s going on even though the payments and statements are on their insurance and come to them. Or perhaps they are just too trusting, but that’s what the perps depend on.

And why on earth was a new license given by the state of Florida? Was someone on the take?

[Hat tip Althouse.]

May 20th, 2017

Questions about Trump’s alleged “I fired Comey the nut job” remark

Yesterday: another day, another leak of a wild and crazy remark alleged to have been made by Trump to the Russians:

I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that Mr. Trump dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives.

“American official” is a fairly general designation. Who on earth might this person be, and in what position?:

The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.

That carefully-worded sentence doesn’t tell us much. It’s a “White House document.” Written by whom? Circulated among what group as the official account? For example, was this document signed off on by Trump as an official memo for in-house consumption? Was it written or approved by someone who was at the meeting? As I read the paragraph above, I also note that the second official confirmed the “broad outlines” of the discussion but did not confirm the Trump quote.

The latest group of revelations seem to follow a certain pattern. The leaks are to the NY Times and/or the WaPo. They are from nameless “officials” and sometimes are corroborated by another “official.” So the first thing that comes to mind is: is the leaker mostly the same person, over and over, or a bunch of different people? The law of parsimony would dictate the former, but the anonymity of the person or people’s identities makes it impossible to know.

What is that person’s or those people’s motive or motives in putting this information out? We don’t really know that, either, not exactly, although we can safely say that Trump-approval is not the impetus. But that doesn’t stop people from speculating. And perhaps that’s part of the MSM’s plan for the destruction of President Trump: the more speculation, the merrier.

Is this official or are these officials some sort of holdovers from the previous administration, or members of the Trump administration itself? Signs would point to the latter in terms of the way the person is being portrayed by the media. If so, is he/she a turncoat who originally was a Trump loyalist? Or was he/she a mole from the start?

Since most or all of this is based on memos rather than transcripts or recordings, and those memos have been read to the reporters over the phone without being seen, how does that work? Is this unprecedented in terms of constituting the basis of a major news story by a supposedly reputable periodical? Do “officials” write these memos—supposedly containing direct quotes—from memory? Even if the person is trying to get it right (and we have no idea whether that’s the case here, or whether the person is lying through his/her teeth), when you’re dealing with a memo written after the fact, how can it be verified? Should anyone rely on memory for something as slippery as a quote? I certainly wouldn’t trust that process, even if things are being recalled in good faith, and of course we have no way to evaluate whether this memo was originally written in good faith.

Was the person reading the memo the same person who wrote the memo? How is the newspaper purporting to authenticate the memo without seeing it (for that matter, how would they authenticate such a thing even if they did see it?) Is it just that they implicitly trust their informant? And if so, why would they? With the publication of information from an anonymous informant, they are asking us to trust them, the media (and why should we?) and an unnamed informant to deliver the truth.

So, it it the truth? Did Trump say something of the sort to the Russians? Sean Spicer didn’t repudiate the quote, but he didn’t confirm it either. This is ambiguous, but it indicates there may be at least something true about it and that Trump may indeed have said something very much like it.

So let’s take the Trump quote in the memo at face value for a moment, as a basically correct account of what occurred. Why is it being leaked? To discredit Trump, of course, but in what way? To prove the reason that Trump fired Comey was to stop the Russia investigation? The quote doesn’t do that, except for those who already believe it. Was it to prove that Trump generally colludes with the Russians? It doesn’t do that, either. To prove he’s got a big mouth and says inappropriate things during a meeting with foreign leaders? Certainly.

And although that might indeed be the case, no one who has observed Trump for the nearly two years since his campaign began should be the least bit surprised at such a thing. It’s something I wrote about during campaign season, and feared was a good possibility if Trump ever became president. I was hardly alone in that; it was a commonplace thought.

Does this leak amount mostly to trying to get people to cringe because Trump says intemperate things, and to fear that he will say more of them? Well, du-uh. Didn’t the Trump voters pretty much factor that in? Perhaps they even considered this sort of talk to be a feature rather than a bug. Of course, if Congress wants to impeach and convict Trump for something, I suppose they can call anything a high crime and misdemeanor and vote to remove him. But at the moment, I have to say that nothing about this story surprises me in the least.

This is the Trump that has been on display for most of his life. This is the Trump we saw during the campaign. This is the Trump who came to the debates. It’s not the only aspect of Trump there is, of course, and since he became president we’ve seen less of it (and more of his more “presidential” side—mercifully, I’d say). But it’s not going to go away.

I also find it of interest that this Trump quote is pretty much all we have seen of the memo of this particular meeting with the Russians. We haven’t been told the full context, and although I doubt it would vindicate the remark of Trump’s, it would be nice to know. But what else happened during the rest of the meeting? Did Trump act in a way that would make him look good if we heard about it, and that’s why only the quote was released? Inquiring minds want to know.

[NOTE: Strangely enough, the incident reminds me most (although not in tone and style) of something Obama did in March of 2012, before the 2012 election:

Mr Medvedev, who steps down in May, said he would pass on Mr Obama’s message to his successor Vladimir Putin, according to an audio recording of comments the two leaders made during a meeting in Seoul, South Korea.

Mr Obama says: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defence, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.”

Mr Medvedev replies: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you …”

Mr Obama retorts: “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

To my way of thinking, that’s far more pernicious than anything Trump is alleged to have said to the Russians about Comey and the firing. Obama’s remarks were about policy, and as I wrote:

The Obama statement to Medvedev tells you something important, which is that Obama knew that the things he was planning to do in a second term would be very unpopular with the American people. Therefore he was planning to keep the voters in the dark about some of his intentions until after his re-election. His election and re-election were founded on a conscious and deliberate deception (or series of deceptions) perpetrated upon the American people.

This may seem obvious. It was even obvious then. But I think it needs to be made absolutely explicit.

But isn’t it interesting that the same MSM so incensed about Trump didn’t seem very perturbed about Obama? Interesting, but not the least bit surprising.]

May 20th, 2017

A slow-motion coup d’etat

Is there any doubt that we’re watching a concerted attempt at a slow-motion coup d-etat?

To achieve this they have undermined the institutions of the Fourth Estate, the bureaucratic apparatus of the U.S. government, and the very nature of a contentious yet affable two-party political system. Unlike the coup d’etat that sees a military or popular figure lead a minority resistance or majority force into power over the legitimate government, this coup d’etat is leaderless and exposes some of the deepest fissures in our system of government. This coup d’etat represents not the rule of one man or even many, but by the multitude of our elites.

This article outlines the mechanisms, institutions, and nature of this coup d’etat; not in defense of President Donald Trump — who has proven himself bereft of the temperament of a successful president — but in defense of the institutions of our republic that are now not just threatened, but may very well be on the verge of collapse…

With the aid of the media and the Democratic Party, the institutions of the republic are crippled, the levers of power having been seized not by the elected but by the unelected bureaucratic state — from ideologues at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the partisans and paranoid who inhabit our intelligence community…

Complicit with the authoritarian nature of the administrative state is factions within the United States intelligence community both inside and outside the White House. They have engaged in a campaign of selective leaks and plots to undermine the president of the United States and weave a media narrative of Russian influence, conspiracy, and now obstruction of justice. With their media allies, they have leaked information and intelligence that — while lacking any actual criminal element — has allowed a narrative to arise that casts a dark shadow over the White House and those who live and work in it.

I agree, at least in part. But I would add that the process is, in my opinion, an almost inevitable outgrowth of the increase in the size of our federal government and the bureaucracy appointed to administer it. Fear of a federal government when it reaches a certain magnitude is one of the main reasons the Founders tried to limit its size and power. I also think it’s clear that, although there are contributions from both left and right to this arrogance and lust to power of the “elites,” the left is inherently more wedded philosophically to that lust for federal power, and more up-front about it.

The significance of what’s happening is not about Trump, a man who “has proven himself bereft of the temperament” I’d like to see in a president. But, tough. We (or I, or you) don’t get to force presidents out because we (or I, or you) don’t like their style (although Congress does, if it feels like calling that president’s offenses “high crimes and misdemeanors”). Self-appointed government “officials” colluding with high and mighty “journalists” shouldn’t get to force presidents out (and certainly not on style points). But they will do it if they can, or at least rattle and undermine that president and his agenda. They’re certainly trying their hardest right now. They will succeed if Congress and/or the American people let them.

Unfortunately, as I’m not the only person to point out, President Trump is cooperating by giving them extra ammunition. But even without that, they would be mounting this effort with vigor.

May 19th, 2017

Honey badgers—YIKES!

Honey badgers. Their name sounds so—sweet.

But they don’t care. And you know what? That’s not just an internet meme. They really, really, don’t: fierce, smart, disgusting, they put the “omni” in omnivore. And if everything else about them weren’t awful enough, they sound terrible, too:

The voice of the honey badger is a hoarse “khrya-ya-ya-ya” sound. When mating, males emit loud grunting sounds. Cubs vocalise through plaintive whines. When confronting dogs, honey badgers scream like bear cubs.

Here’s the original honey badger don’t care YouTube video, which was posted in 2011 and now has 82 million views. Yep, you read that right, 82 with six zeros after it. But since my finger is not on the pulse of YouTube, I’d never seen it before until a couple of days ago. If you haven’t seen it either, warning for language and for all-around revulsion factor. But it’s funny:

You don’t care, honey badger? Well, nah nah nah nah nah; neither do we. The honey badger has been classed as a species of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. So there, honey badger.

May 19th, 2017

Meanwhile, Trump travels

President Trump is embarking on a trip to the Middle East and Europe:

President Trump on Friday afternoon will embark on his first overseas trip, a historic eight-day journey that includes visits to the holiest sites of three major religions, an unprecedented summit with Muslim leaders and a major meeting of NATO allies.

In any president’s first foreign trip, particular symbolic importance is attached to the first country visited, and in that regard Trump will put the spotlight on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is greeting the U.S. president with a highly choreographed red carpet welcome.

No doubt the hostile leakers will follow.

Saudi Arabia gives the appearance of being happy about it, or potentially happy:

Despite possible areas of contention with Trump in the past, the Kingdom is looking forward to the dawn of “a new beginning,” according to Riyadh’s official website for the summit — a “highly anticipated event, the first of its kind in history.”

In Trump, there are hoping for an American president more closely aligned with their priorities, especially after years of perceived neglect under the Obama administration.

There are other highlights planned:

The final and perhaps most important of these summits is the Arab Islamic-U.S. summit on Sunday, where Trump will be joined by leaders from more than 50 Muslim countries. It’s there that Trump will deliver a hotly anticipated speech on Islam and announce a new counterterror partnership.

“We’re going to have the president basically saying that this is not a war between the West and Islam, this is a war between good and evil and we all have to come together to try to attack it,” a senior administration official told ABC News.

The Saudis, of course, have historically funded and promoted the more extremist branches of Islam that have in turn spawned a great deal of the terrorism. Should be…interesting.

Much, much more about the trip at the link, as well as here.

May 19th, 2017

Intelligence sharing is not a Trump innovation

When the news report that Trump had shared some intelligence information with the Russians first broke, I wondered whether other presidents had done much the same thing with other countries, or whether this action was unprecedented. My guess was that other presidents had indeed done roughly similar things, but that we tended not to hear about them in the press—either because leaks were less common then, or because the president[s] in question were Democrats, or both.

I’m glad that this National Review article has come along to shed some light on the subject. In it, Deroy Murdock describes several other incidents of the sort, including one in 2011 in which President Obama gave Russia secret information about Britain’s missile system. Murdock relates a good (although rhetorical) question:

Obama’s treaty was amazingly cold as it back-stabbed America’s cousins, from the Scottish Highlands to the white cliffs of Dover. The secret U.S. cable originated in “Mission Geneva.” Dated February 25, 2010, it summarizes a meeting that had occurred on February 9 between American and Russian arms negotiators, including decisions on submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Item No. 13 detailed “an agreed statement on the transfer of Tridents II SLBMs to the United Kingdom.”…

“So, let me get this straight,” says Steve Baldwin, former Republican whip in the California state assembly, who brought this travesty to my attention. “Trump shares intelligence with Russia about ISIS, a third-party terrorist group that both countries are fighting. All hell breaks loose. But Obama gives secrets about British nuclear missiles to Russia with no obvious benefit to the West, and our media ignore it?”

Precisely.

The Left’s volcanoes stayed dormant as Obama rejected London’s express wishes, betrayed America’s closest NATO ally, and helped Vladimir Putin and his admirals count the nuclear-tipped missiles that shield the heirs to Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

This may be the ugliest example of an American president donating state secrets to an unsavory, unfriendly government, but there are plenty more precedents for such executive action that predate Trump.

Please read the whole thing. And send it to any liberals on your list to whom you’re in the habit of forwarding articles.

This lengthy article is also worth reading (hat tip: commenter “AesopFan”). It goes over some familiar territory related to how Trump’s election was a revolt against the “elites.” The author is an extremely anti-Trump conservative, but he has this to say about Trump’s intelligence revelations to the Russians:

The president and his top foreign policy advisers, who were present during the conversation, say he didn’t [reveal any compromising details]. The media and Trump’s political adversaries insist that he did, at least implicitly. We don’t know. But we do know that when this story reached the pages of The Washington Post, as a result of leaks from people around Trump who want to see him crushed, it led to a feeding frenzy that probably harmed American interests far more than whatever Trump may have said to those Russians. Instead of Trump’s indiscretion being confined to a single conversation with foreign officials, it now is broadcast throughout the world. Instead of, at worst, a hint of where the intelligence came from, everyone now knows it came from the Israelis. Instead of being able to at least pursue a more cooperative relationship with Russia on matters of mutual interest, Trump is once again forced back on his heels on Russian policy by government officials and their media allies—who, unlike Trump, were never elected to anything.

Now, suprisingly, John Brennan, the former chief of the CIA under Obama, finds himself at least somewhat on Trump’s side:

What I have found appalling is the number of leaks that have taken place over the last several months,” former CIA Director John Brennan said…“This needs to be stopped.”

Brennan said Trump made a “serious mistake” when he reportedly shared sensitive intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in an Oval Office meeting in early May. But this mistake wasn’t sharing intelligence; it was violating the protocol for doing so. “I shared intelligence with the Russians when I was the director of the CIA,” Brennan said. “But you share that through intelligence channels, and you make sure you word it in such as way as to not reveal sources and methods. President Trump didn’t do that [NOTE: that’s according to the press; that part of the story has been vociferously denied by everyone who was present].”

Brennan said the press coverage of Trump’s impromptu intelligence reveal was “hyperbolic” and possibly more damaging than anything Trump revealed. “The damage that was done is what was leaked in the aftermath, what was put in the media. The real damage to national security is the leaks.” He suggested, without saying so explicitly, that news accounts revealed more sensitive information than Trump did.

“The real damage to national security is the leaks,” Brennan said. “These individuals who still stay within the government and are leaking this stuff to the press need to be brought to task.”

Yes, they do.

A historical note: Nixon tried to “bring them to task” back in 1971, but the landmark 1971 case New York Times Co. v. United States ruled otherwise. I plan to talk about that soon in another post.

[ADDENDUM: More information can be found here (from 2011) on what forms the basis for the NR article. The information was obtained from Wikileaks:

Information about every Trident missile the US supplies to Britain will be given to Russia as part of an arms control deal signed by President Barack Obama next week.

Defence analysts claim the agreement risks undermining Britain’s policy of refusing to confirm the exact size of its nuclear arsenal.

The fact that the Americans used British nuclear secrets as a bargaining chip also sheds new light on the so-called “special relationship”, which is shown often to be a one-sided affair by US diplomatic communications obtained by the WikiLeaks website…

A series of classified messages sent to Washington by US negotiators show how information on Britain’s nuclear capability was crucial to securing Russia’s support for the “New START” deal.

Although the treaty was not supposed to have any impact on Britain, the leaked cables show that Russia used the talks to demand more information about the UK’s Trident missiles, which are manufactured and maintained in the US.

Washington lobbied London in 2009 for permission to supply Moscow with detailed data about the performance of UK missiles. The UK refused, but the US agreed to hand over the serial numbers of Trident missiles it transfers to Britain.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers said: “This appears to be significant because while the UK has announced how many missiles it possesses, there has been no way for the Russians to verify this. Over time, the unique identifiers will provide them with another data point to gauge the size of the British arsenal.”

Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems, said: “They want to find out whether Britain has more missiles than we say we have, and having the unique identifiers might help them.”

There were many other articles written about it at the time.]

May 18th, 2017

The worst media attack on a president ever?

In Trump’s speech yesterday at the Coast Guard Academy, he said many things.

He talked about not giving up:

Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair. You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.

He made it clear that he’s not backing down, that he’s proud of his accomplishments so far as president, and that he’s being treated unfairly by the media. I’ve written quite a bit about that last topic myself. But Trump added this:

Look at the way I’ve been treated lately — (laughter) — especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.

There’s no question that he’s been very badly treated. He may even be correct that no politician in US history has been treated worse. But I’m not so sure of that, although the attacks on Trump are notable for how early they have reached fever pitch. But Lincoln was attacked by the media with great ferocity. Nixon certainly was, as well. The media considered Reagan a dunce, and a dangerous one at that. And in more recent history, George W. Bush was a constant target (Rathergate, and the “Bush lied” meme, just to take two examples).

But when reminded of the media attack on Bush, I couldn’t help but recall that Trump was fully on board with it. In this 2015 post of mine I wrote about Trump’s own attacks on Bush: he wished that Pelosi had impeached Bush for lying about WMDs, he said that he couldn’t even imagine a worse president than Bush, and he called Bush “evil.” The most committed leftist could not have done better in slavishly following the MSM attack line on Bush.

But now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I have to say that it doesn’t matter in terms of what’s going on now with President Trump and the press. The press is determined to take him down, and they will do anything and say anything to accomplish it, and in that they have many willing accomplices.

May 18th, 2017

Robert Mueller as been appointed special prosecutor for the Russia/Trump investigation

I think it was inevitable that something like this would be happening:

My decision (to appoint a special counsel) is not the finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the special counsel.

“I determined that a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome,” he said.

Special prosecutors are often a step down a slippery slope, because they tend to lead investigations that go on and on and on till they finally find something to prosecute, although it may be a tiny offense and a small fish. However, in this case I’m mostly in favor of the appointment because I actually think Rosenstein is correct, and that this may be a way to achieve a somewhat calmer state in which the press is not the chief prosecutor of a sitting president.

Who is Mueller? He was appointed by President George W. Bush, confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and took office as FBI director just one week before 9/11, serving his 10-year term in that position. He continued in the office for two years beyond that at Obama’s request, and was replaced in 2013 by Comey.

How objective will Mueller be in this role? I cannot predict, but I caution that when Comey first took office he was uniformly praised as incredibly intelligent and fair. We all know how that worked out. But one can hope. Erick Erickson thinks Mueller’s appointment is a very good thing, and he offers his reasons why here.

[ADDENDUM: Mueller has actually been appointed special counsel, not special prosecutor, but the differences are very minor:

The terms are largely interchangeable to refer to someone appointed to investigate allegations that could involve a conflict of interest within the Department of Justice. But the manner in which they are appointed and why has changed over time. ]

May 18th, 2017

RIP, Roger Ailes

Roger Ailes is dead at 77:

Roger Ailes fell last Wednesday at his oceanfront home in Palm Beach, Florida, and hit his head, according to a report from the Palm Beach Police Department. Ailes suffered “serious bleeding” from the fall and was “not completely alert,” the report said.

A source told ABC News that Ailes slipped into a coma while being treated at the hospital and died. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy this afternoon.

I had two quick thoughts on hearing of his death and the manner of his death. The first was how young 77 now seems to me. The second was that the way he died seems a metaphor for what happened to him recently at Fox.

Ailes was a media giant who changed the face of news broadcasting:

Ailes…studied radio and television production at Ohio University…

After graduating in 1962, he started working on the “The Mike Douglas Show,” which gave him “a keen eye for production,” …Ailes went into politics after meeting President Richard Nixon, who made an appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” in 1967…

Ailes went on to advise President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and then–Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988 for their election campaigns…

In 1996, Ailes helped launch Fox News, which dramatically changed the media landscape. However, last summer he left the channel after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson accused him of sexual harassment in a lawsuit. Other women at Fox News, including former host Megyn Kelly, have said that Ailes sexually harassed them during his tenure at the cable news channel.

Shortly after his resignation, he reportedly returned to politics. Sources told ABC News he was advising Donald Trump during his preparation for the presidential debates, although Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied Ailes’ involvement at the time.

“He is not advising Mr. Trump or helping with debate prep. They are longtime friends, but he has no formal or informal role in the campaign,” she told ABC News in a statement last August.

Not a happy day for Trump, either, I’d guess. Ailes was his ally in a media world that is almost entirely arrayed against him.

May 18th, 2017

The history of the anonymous source: blame it on Watergate

[NOTE: The following is a very slightly-edited copy of an early post I wrote on this blog (May, 2005)—twelve long years ago, and it does not seem like it was only yesterday. But I think you’ll see how very relevant it still is today. Some of the links in it have died in the interim. But I’ve kept them in, just to show you where I got the information.]

To the best of my recollection, the newspapers of my youth attributed every quote to an actual named person–not that I was paying a whole lot of attention at the time to subtleties like that. Now, however, it seems as though articles are often merely glorified gossip columns full of anonymous commentary–a sort of “he said, he said” kind of journalism.

The only thing we know for sure is the identity of the article’s author. We are asked to take the facts on trust, without a chance to evaluate the source of the remarks. This over-reliance on the anonymous source gives both the journalist and his/her informant an overwhelming power, and takes away our ability to judge the veracity of what we are being told. I believe it’s one of the most pernicious trends in journalism.

This practice seems to be the logical development of a phenomenon that started with Vietnam and became stronger with Watergate. As I’ve written earlier, during that era many people’s attitudes towards the government and the military became more negative, while their attitudes towards the press became correspondingly more positive, in a sort of reciprocal seesawing movement. As trust in the press grew, it seems that the time-honored journalistic methods of sourcing, previously acting as a system of checks and balances against the power of the press, were now considered unnecessary.

The most famous anonymous source of them all, of course, was Deep Throat of Watergate fame. He was not only a seminal figure in Nixon’s denouement (and thus a hero to liberals everywhere), but he was so renowned that he had his own nickname, taken from a popular porn flick. It turns out that Deep Throat had another claim to fame: he was the trailblazer in the practice of relying on anonymous sources, now so commonplace in today’s journalism.

I had suspected all along that Watergate might be at the heart of it, but it was difficult to document when I first tried to do some online research on the subject. I finally struck pay dirt with this article from American Journalism Review. It’s hardly up-to-date (it was written way back in 1994), but it was the only discussion of the history of anonymous sources that I could find. It turns out Watergate was indeed a watershed in the use of this practice:

Although confidential sources predate Watergate, they were infrequently used before that celebrated story, which produced the most famous unnamed source of all time. Deep Throat, whose identity remains a mystery*, helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down Richard Nixon in 1974. After that, the use of anonymous sources flourished, with many reporters considering it sexier to have an unnamed source than a named one.

Unfortunately, it’s only gotten worse since then. See this, if you want to remember the good old days:

“Of course, you talk to everybody when you begin a story,” says Philip Scheffler, a senior producer for CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “Off the record. On the record. In the record. For background. Not for attribution no matter what. But it’s not the raw notes we are talking about. We are talking about what goes on the air.” And “60 Minutes” does not use anonymous sources on the air.

Would that that last sentence were still true!

And how about this guy:

There’s not a place for anonymous sources,” says Allen H. Neuharth, founder of USA Today and chairman of the Freedom Forum. “I think there are a few major historical developments that happened in journalism – the Pentagon Papers, maybe Watergate – where anonymous sources had a more positive influence than a negative impact. But on balance, the negative impact is so great that we can’t overcome the lack of trust until or unless we ban them.

Where is Mr. Neuharth now [as of May, 2005]? Retired to Florida and eighty-one years old–which makes him something of a dinosaur, I guess. As recently as 1998, though, he was still speaking out against the use of the anonymous source, which he calls evil. Here’s an excerpt from a 1998 interview with Neuharth [emphasis mine]:

Traditionally journalists were taught to believe in accuracy above all else. And that changed. I think it changed with Watergate, and I think the anonymous source is the most evil thing that newspapers and the media have adopted or adapted in the last 25 years [said in 1998]. It started with Watergate, (when) journalists coming off college campuses (were) determined to be (Bob) Woodward or (Carl) Bernstein. They believed that because of Watergate’s successes there was dirt under every mat in front of every office. They came out as young cynics. The journalists of my generation were taught to be skeptics. And there’s a hell of a difference between a skeptic and a cynic. All you need to do is be accurate and fair.

Sounds about right to me.

Back when that 1994 American Journalism Review article was written, there was apparently a great deal of variation in the rules for using anonymous sources—some papers used them liberally at the time, and some vary sparingly or not at all. My impression is that the use of anonymous sources seems to be something like alcohol—seductive and habit-forming. In that 1994 article, everyone keeps talking about going on the wagon and curbing the practice, but very few have actually done so. Apparently it’s too enticing to give up, for so many reasons: getting a sensational story, beating the competition, laziness, habit.

Is there any hope, short of Mr. Neuharth coming out of retirement? Well, in 2003 a group of eighteen well-known journalists were brought together by Poynter to make recommendations about improving journalism. They came up with this set of extremely sensible-seeming rules for the use of anonymous sources. If followed, they would eliminate a lot of trouble:

• Anonymous sources should be encouraged to go on the record.

• We should weigh the source’s reliability and disclose to readers the source’s potential biases.

• The more specific we can be in describing the source in the story, the better.

• Anonymous sources should not be used for personal attacks, accusations of illegal activity, or merely to add color.

• The source must have first-hand knowledge.

• Journalists should not lie in a story to protect a source.

I don’t know why these guidelines haven’t been widely adopted [NOTE: I may not have known when I wrote that back in 2005, but I certainly feel that I know now, in 2017]. I guess the bottom line is that journalists have become far too addicted to the easy fix that anonymous sources provide.

Like all addictions, this calls for a 12-step program, right? I even have a name for it: ASA, Anonymous Sourcers Anonymous.

That’s how the post ended in 2005. My suggestion about ASA was tongue-in-cheek; I didn’t seriously think for a moment that the press really wanted to give up the use of the anonymous source. But looking back, what I wrote still seems naive of me at the time. The anonymous source is the bedrock of the MSM political agenda, and the MSM’s pretense of objectivity is now tissue-paper thin. The reputation of the press is also far lower than it was in 2005, but its pro-left anti-right agenda continues—not just unabated but intensified.

The anonymous source is not going anywhere; it’s far too valuable. Not only that, but it has become so standard and so accepted that I wonder whether younger people question its use at all, or realize that things were once very different.

* [NOTE: Coincidentally, only about a week after I originally wrote this piece in May of 2005, “Deep Throat’s” identity was revealed to have been FBI Associate Director Mark Felt.]

May 17th, 2017

The Israeli connection

This result, if true, is part of the danger of the “Trump compromised security” story.

I wonder if the NY Times cares.

Of course, if Trump did in fact leak sensitive information of that degree, Israel needs to know it (and we would need to know it, too). But if he did not, the Times may have done incalculable damage in its zeal to get Trump and publish leaks of sensitive material in order to hurt him.

Either way, trouble.

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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