Patterico's Pontifications


Fred Phelps “On the Edge of Death”

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:40 pm

Fred Phelps is about to die.

I have changed from a person who, not too many years ago, would have said: “Where’s the funeral so we can picket it?” to someone who just feels sad that someone would have dedicated his life to causing such misery.

I certainly don’t condemn anyone who wants to grab a “God Hates Fred Phelps” sign and camp outside his hospice facility waiting for directions to the funeral. I don’t share the feeling. To paraphrase Sam Kinison, I UNDERSTAND IT! But I don’t share it.

P.S. Politico wants you to know 10 facts about Fred Phelps. I won’t link those people, but if you Google it, you’ll see they think it’s important that he “represented African-American clients in civil rights cases” or that “was admitted to West Point” or that “The United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor.” Yeah, yeah, Politico. Big whoop.

If anyone has a “God Hates Politico” sign, hand it over. I’m ready to picket.

Tim Rutten: Why, You Can See the Great Wall of China and the California Aqueduct from the MOON!!!!!!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:58 pm

Tim Rutten, cut by the Los Angeles Times, is now spewing his nonsense at the Daily Breeze, the South Bay paper that many read as alternative to the nonsense put out by the Dog Trainer. Fact-checking was never Rutten’s strong suit, and it looks like he slipped one by the editors:

Think California’s recent rain storms solved the state’s water crisis?

Well, they didn’t, and to understand why, you have to go beyond the uncertainties of our state’s climate and into our unique — often confounding — economic and political history.

When American astronauts stood on the moon and looked back toward Earth, there were only two works of man that they could glimpse with the naked eye: One was the Great Wall of China and the other was the California Aqueduct.


It’s certainly news to NASA that you can see the Great Wall of China from the moon:

It has become a space-based myth. The Great Wall of China, frequently billed as the only man-made object visible from space, generally isn’t, at least to the unaided eye in low Earth orbit. It certainly isn’t visible from the Moon.

If you can’t see the Great Wall from low Earth orbit (around 100-1240 miles) it’s going to be a little tricky to see it from about 239,000 miles.

The theory that the wall could be seen from the Moon dates back to at least 1938. It was repeated and grew until astronauts landed on the lunar surface.

“The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow, and every once in a while some green vegetation,” said Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut. “No man-made object is visible at this scale.”

But what does NASA know, compared to the great knowledge of Timothy Rutten?

Bean ain’t the only astronaut to say this. Here is Neil Armstrong:

AMBROSE: I wanted to ask, I have heard or read somewhere that there are only two man-made objects on Earth that can be seen from the Moon, and that one of these is the Chinese [Great] Wall and the other is the Fort Peck Dam [Montana]. [I wonder if some Montana governor said that! — Patterico]

ARMSTRONG: I would challenge both. We could see continents, could see Greenland. It stands out, just like it does on the globe in your library, all white. Antarctica we couldn’t see because there were clouds over Antarctica. Africa was quite visible, and we could see sun glint off a lake. It might have been Lake Chad. I’m not certain which lake it was, but we could catch that reflection, sun reflection…. But I do not believe that, at least with my eyes, there would be any man-made object that I could see. I have not yet found somebody who has told me they’ve seen the Wall of China from Earth orbit. I’m not going to say there aren’t people, but I personally haven’t talked tothem. I’ve asked various people, particularly Shuttle guys, that have been many orbits around China in the daytime, and the ones I’ve talked to didn’t see it.

I’m beating this into the ground, but it’s fun. Here is Dr. Karl at ABC Science:

It’s claimed that you can see the Great Wall of China from the Moon.

That’s one big claim, but let’s take this apart brick by brick.

. . . .

Many other authors, publicists for travel agencies and even the drunk guy down at the pub kept on repeating this story. But is it true?

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, said about the Great Wall of China, “It is not visible from lunar distance”. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, his co-pilot said, “you have a hard time even seeing continents.”

So we can’t see the Great Wall from the Moon, which is about 400,000 km away. But could you see it from the Space Shuttle? It flies in Low Earth Orbit, 300-530 kilometres up.

The astronaut William Pogue, who flew in space on Skylab 4, was able to see the Great Wall, but only with binoculars, and with lots of practice.

(Tim Rutten, for purposes of this blog post, is “the drunk guy down at the pub.”)

As for the notion that the California Aqueduct is visible from space, well . . . as best as I can tell, the sources for that preposterous notion include Andy Warhol, renowned for his deep knowledge of astronomy and physics, and Pat Brown (who was so proud of his pet project that he predicted it would join the Great Wall of China as one of only two manmade objects that could be seen from the Moon!) (Except, didn’t we just show that, um . . .?).

C’mon, Rutten. Even the drunk guy down at the pub could recognize that for the puffery it is.

Thanks to JVW, who has demanded a correction. Here’s hoping the Daily Breeze is more conscientious about facts than the L.A. Times was. I’d like to think so, but . . . they’re publishing Tim Rutten, aren’t they?

L.A. Times Reporter Is Fired; Was Previously Criticized by Patterico for Repeated False Characterizations in DNA Articles

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:05 pm

The L.A. Times has fired a writer, ostensibly for a combination of extreme sloppiness in a front page story, combined with a rather severe ethical breach. (H/t “Former Conservative.”) First, the extraordinary sloppiness completely undermining a front-page article:

A front-page article in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 7, 2013, was incorrect in reporting that Occidental College failed to disclose 27 alleged sexual assaults that occurred in 2012.

The article (“College shelved more assault reports”) dealt with Occidental’s obligations under the federal Clery Act, which requires schools to publish statistics annually on reported crime on or near campus.

Occidental representatives approached The Times early this month to seek a correction. Documents reviewed by The Times this week show that the 27 incidents did not fall under the law’s disclosure requirements for a variety of reasons.

Some were not sexual assaults as defined by the Clery Act. Rather, they involved sexual harassment, inappropriate text messages or other conduct not covered by the act. Other alleged incidents were not reported because they occurred off-campus, beyond the boundaries that Occidental determined were covered by the act. Some occurred in 2011, and the college accounted for them that year.

Subsequent Times articles published Dec. 20 in the LATExtra section and Jan. 23 in Section A repeated the original error regarding the alleged underreporting of sexual assaults.

The Times regrets the errors in the articles.

That’s the sloppiness. Here’s the ethical breach: Felch failed to tell employers that he was sleeping with a source:

Separately, as they began looking into the complaint, Times editors learned from the author of the articles, staff writer Jason Felch, that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with someone who was a source for the Dec. 7 story and others Felch had written about Occidental’s handling of sexual assault allegations. Felch acknowledged that after the relationship ended, he continued to use the person as a source for future articles.

Times Editor Davan Maharaj dismissed Felch on Friday. Maharaj said the inappropriate relationship with a source and the failure to disclose it earlier constituted “a professional lapse of the kind that no news organization can tolerate.”

He added: “Our credibility depends on our being a neutral, unbiased source of information — in appearance as well as in fact.”

If the name “Jason Felch” rings a bell: it should. Felch, along with Maura Dolan, authored a series of misleading articles about DNA in the L.A. Times. I contacted a statistics expert who said Felch and Dolan had mischaracterized the mathematical argument — a distortion that lay at the very heart of the front-page articles. I summarized all this in my L.A. Times Year in Review for 2008:


All year, the paper’s editors have been engaged in a holy war against the use of DNA in criminal cases. It started in May, when the newspaper ran an article about statistical probability in cold hit DNA cases, and it was immediately clear that some of the assertions didn’t make sense.

The editors don’t seem to like DNA when it’s used to convict.

For one thing, the article seemed to assert that larger databases made cold hits less reliable, when it would seem that the opposite would be true — at least in cases where the search revealed only one hit. A statistics professor named David Kaye agreed with me on that point. In addition, he told me, the article had falsely portrayed an anti-prosecution view of the statistical question as the consensus view — when, in fact, there is a competing view more favored by peer-reviewed articles. (The author of the L.A. Times article wrote me to claim that he had acknowledged there is a lack of unanimity of opinion, but the article didn’t clearly express this.)

But the biggest error was a flat-out statistical misstatement in the article. Professor Eugene Volokh outlined the problem. I drafted a letter to the article’s authors, and ultimately sent this e-mail about the misstatement. Then I noticed yet another error in the article, again having less to do with the math, and more to do with how the math was expressed in English. Of the three errors I identified, the paper corrected only a trivial arithmetical error, leaving the more significant misstatements standing.

The editors denied they’d made a misstatement, even though they admitted that it would be wrong to make a different statement that my readers overwhelmingly agreed was identical.

Although editors denied that they had described the statistics incorrectly, they did start describing them correctly — which I took as a silent concession that I was right.

But true vindication came when a statistics expert — one whom the paper had previously quoted as an expert — claimed in a scholarly article that the paper had “mischaracterized” the statistic that I had complained about. I once again wrote the Readers’ Representative, citing the expert’s opinion. She didn’t give me the courtesy of a reply.

A second DNA kerfuffle began when the paper ran a front-page story portraying certain matches in an Arizona database as shocking. Why, the paper suggested, the results defied the laws of statistics! Only on the back pages were readers told that most of the matches “were to be expected statistically.” One of the authors of “Freakonomics” later pronounced himself surprised that the matches were largely to be expected; apparently, like many readers, he had been misled by the article’s initial spin.

A local jury freed a clearly guilty man accused of rape; the foreman was heard expressing concerns about the case based on “recent controversies” about DNA — a clear reference to the L.A. Times‘s misleading series of articles.

In discussing a technique called familial searching, the paper did its usual shtick with DNA: it played up phantom privacy concerns, and buried the fact that the technique has been used to free wrongly convicted individuals.

Follow the links. The stories I criticized were by the now-fired Jason Felch, along with Maura Dolan. You’ll see that in some of the posts I actually exchanged emails with Felch in which he frustratingly and repeatedly failed, somehow, to see how he was misleading readers. The errors were serial distortions, many of which remained uncorrected after I notified the paper about them.

Felch now joins Chuck Philips as an L.A. Times reporter whom I repeatedly chastised for regularly misreporting the facts, who was later fired for journalistic malfeasance. Maybe the editors should try listening to critics for a change, rather than dismissing them out of hand. They might save themselves some embarrassment that way . . .

P.S. I think it’s interesting that Felch and the L.A. Times don’t seem to agree on whether he was sleeping with the source while using her as a source. Felch has issued a self-serving statement which says, among other things:

In late December, I began an inappropriate relationship with a confidential source that lasted several weeks. When the relationship began, I stopped relying upon the person as a source. None of the subsequent articles published in the LA Times relied upon the source.

Weeks ago, I voluntarily disclosed the relationship to my editors and cooperated with their investigation. On Friday, I was fired for creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. I accept full responsibility for what I did and regret the damage it has done to my family and my colleagues at one of the nation’s great newspapers.

Contrast the bolded language with the L.A. Times correction:

Felch acknowledged that after the relationship ended, he continued to use the person as a source for future articles.

Somebody is not telling the truth.

Once again, this should not have come as a shock to the editors. But somehow, it always does.

Happy Birthday to My Dad

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:54 am

As I have done every March 17 since I started this blog, I am wishing my Dad a Happy Birthday.

(In fact, I’ve done it so long, I’m running out of places to put the links to past examples!)

He would have been 89 today. On goes the Shamrock bow tie.

In other news, my brother Kerry has the official release of his new book tomorrow, but it is already available for purchase at Amazon. The title is Shadow of the Flag (I see they’re out of stock, so consider it a pre-order.) Some of you may have enjoyed Kerry’s first book: Buried Lie. That one — which is a great story that deserves to be made into a movie, by the way — featured Nazi zombies. It will be interesting to see how Kerry tops that.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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