Hogan's Alley

Monday, January 28, 2008

Phony Statistics, Gaza Strip Version

One of my pet peeves is the misuse of statistics in political and journalistic pursuits. Martin Kramer has spotted a particularly egregious one.

According to the writers of an oped piece in the Boston Globe, one of whom is allegedly an objective scientist and academic, the Israeli government reduced the flow into the Gaza Strip of the essential staple, flour, by 99 percent, allowing in only 90 tons per day, when the need is for 680,000 tons, each and every day. Oh, the cruelty.

Kramer an observer of the political scene with a well-earned coating of cynicism, wondered if the 680k figure was correct. Well...it seems that there are 1.5 million citizens of the Gaza Strip. It does not require a PhD. to discern that it is highly unlikely that each person requires almost half a ton of flour per day.

In fact, the daily requirement appears to be somewhere between 350 and 450 tons per day. Although less dramatic, that figure still demonstrates that the Israelis were allowing in only a fraction of what is needed. Perhaps if Hamas stopped lobbing rockets over the border the Israelis might be a little more inclined to meet the true need.

Leaving that point aside, the writers of the piece in question deserve that their names receive the widest possible circulation and the mocking they so richly deserve. They are, Eyad al-Sarraj of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and his friend from Harvard Sara Roy, a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Perhaps a memorial prize for the stupid repetition of bogus statistics should be named in their honor.

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Changes - Presidential Candidates Singing To A David Bowie Beat

Thanks to Sully for grabbing this video. Be patient, the good stuff starts at about the one minute point.

Oh yeah, cover your keyboards and yourselves to avoid the splashing bullshit.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Meditation On Democracy Now That The Shouting Is Over

In the first six months of 1992, after the first Gulf War and well before 9/11, the Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen recorded an album that would be released that November. It was called, "The Future". Included in the album was a song called "Democracy". Somehow, I don't think that the election of Bill Clinton made the song irrelevant. Nor will next November's result.

It has a powerful beauty about it and (as Andrew Sullivan reminded us today), it should be remembered during all election cycles. Perhaps it should be the universal theme song for all the TV coverage.

Here are the full lyrics:


It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

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The Iowa Caucuses - The Most Un-Democratic Process

Tonight the talking heads and fingers of cable news and the blogosphere would have us believe that an event of great significance, the Iowa Caucuses, will display to the world the greatness of the American Democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Tonight a few of the citizens of the 30th most populous state in the nation, with just under 3 million residents, will come together in groups, abandon the central notion of the free ballot and openly declare their preference for a Presidential candidate in their respective political parties.

Ann Althouse would have us believe that there is nothing sacred about the secret ballot. Perhaps she is blinded by her own need to expound her opinions. Like all of us in the blogging biz, Ann is almost compulsive about stating who and what we stand for. And we don't care who knows. What we bloggers have in common is a position in life that insulates us from any of the possible consequences of our bloviating. No one can reach out an sanction us for what we think. "Sticks and stones...etc." Those of us who are concerned about such sanctions take the precaution of hiding behind what we hope is true anonymity.

Christopher Hitchens, on the other hand, bemoans (correctly in my opinion) the Tammany-like nature of the Iowa process.

Think about the process of the caucus. Although slightly different in each Party, the process at its essence is that each attending citizen must declare, in front of his neighbors and the world, who he or she prefers as their party's nominee for President of the United States. No sacred adherence to the privacy of the secret ballot for these hearty Iowans. No, each person must acknowledge in front of his friends, neighbors, employers, relatives, local government officials, law enforcement officers, clergyman, potential business associates and ex-girl friends, who they prefer.

How much passion for one's candidate it must require to risk offending someone on whom you depend, but who doesn't share your passion for Candidate A. Conversely, what a delicious way to stick it to a politically passionate adversary. In all probability, the truth is that the low turnout at these events is due in large measure to the complexities of risk and reward that factor in to a public pledge of allegiance. It is more than disinterest and cold, snowy weather that keep most Iowa voters home.

Thus those who vote in Iowa's Caucuses are different from most of their fellow Iowans. They are immune or inured to the effect that their political views will have on their lives. So in a state that is as non-typical of the bulk of the American population as you can get, we anoint a unique, and somewhat bizarre subset of that population, to speak for America. The victors in this process win as the result of a twisted mix of people's assessment of them and their positions and the byzantine calculus of the interpersonal interplay in the caucus rooms.

If you have been paying attention to the internet, the print media and the TV newscasts, you would begin to think that this process is somehow sacred and beautifully and uniquely American. It is unique, but it is hardly beautiful, anymore than the perversion of big city political machines or elections held under the sway of near-dictators seeking the cover of an electoral victory. It is, in fact an ugly thing. Its celebration by the media, and the constant flow of political operatives, is a function of politeness, for the best of them, and the blindness by the fans of political gamesmanship for others. For the worst of them it is simply an excuse to pad their expense accounts, have a few weeks away from the dull run of family life and continue to be able to pay their bills.

And what are we delivered as a result? We in the lowly states that must follow the charade in Iowa and the more proper primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina are left only with the survivors of that process. Regardless of who you like among the starting batch of candidates, the one thing you can count on is that you will not get to cast a meaningful vote for the likes of Tancredo, Dodd, Hunter, Kucinich, Paul, Biden and others. All of these will have been washed out of the process by residents of some of our most rural states. Who will have pulled out of the race by February 5th, when the big states get to vote? Suppose for a moment that Clinton or Obama, or McCain or Giuliani are forced out of the race by then? How will the millions of voters in NY, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and other large states feel? Will they not have truly been deprived of the exercise of the fullness of their right to vote by the historic vagaries and injustices of the process itself? I think that they will.

I for one will find nothing to celebrate in tonight's process, regardless of the outcomes.

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