Quote of the Day
“I’ve always been ‘easy,’ and I’m a skinny girl.”
“I’ve always been ‘easy,’ and I’m a skinny girl.”
I got to appear on Blog Talk Radio today with Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters, discussing my year-end review of the L.A. Times. You can listen to an archived version here. Sounds like my cell phone cut out a couple of times during the conversation; hopefully you’re able to follow the flow.
[Guest post by DRJ]
Happy New Year from Australia:
“SCORCHING temperatures all across the southeast of the country set the tone for an explosive welcome to 2008 last night, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, parks and beaches to see in the new year.”
“It was something not seen in Baghdad since before the 2003 invasion—people publicly welcoming a new year with singing, dancing and alcohol-fueled revelry. The ballrooms of two landmark hotels—the Palestine and the Sheraton—were full of people for the first New Year’s Eve celebrations after four years of violence that has bloodied Iraq.”
“In London, where 350,000 turned out for the celebrations, Trafalgar Square filled up early and people lined the Embankment to hear the chimes of Big Ben and get the best view of the annual firework spectacular at the London Eye.”
And from Australia again, because Sydney knows how to do fireworks:
And, finally, from me!
[Guest post by DRJ]
NASA released today its controversial National Aviation Operational Monitoring Service (NAOMS) report, a study of commercial airline safety that was previously deemed too disturbing to release because it would upset travelers and hurt airline profits. For several reasons, the Houston Chronicle was not impressed:
“NASA begrudgingly released some results today from an $11.3 million federal air safety study it previously withheld from the public over concerns it would upset travelers and hurt airline profits. It published the findings in a format that made it cumbersome for any thorough analysis by outsiders. Released on New Year’s Eve, the unprecedented research conducted over nearly four years relates to safety problems identified by some 29,000 pilots interviewed by telephone.
Earlier characterizations from people who have seen the results said they would show that events like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than previously recognized. Such information could not be gleaned from the 16,208 pages posted by NASA on its Web site, however, because of information that was edited out. The data was based on interviews with about 8,000 pilots per year from 2001 until the end of 2004.
The NASA Web site shows formatted, printed reports that the space agency scrubbed to ensure none of the pilots who were interviewed and promised anonymity could potentially be identified. The data was posted as NASA officials began a telephone news conference, allowing no time to look at the material and ask them questions about it.
NASA did not provide documentation on how to use its data, nor did it provide keys to unlock the cryptic codes used in the dataset.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told reporters the agency typically releases information in Adobe System’s portable document format, known as pdf, which presents the information on formatted, printed pages. But there are dozens of reports available from NASA’s Web site about other subjects in Microsoft’s Excel data format, which would permit researchers to conduct a meaningful analysis more easily.
Griffin said NASA wanted to ensure that no one modified the survey results and circulated false data as NASA’s research product. He said even inexpensive optical character recognition software could convert the formatted reports. Such software can risk introducing errors in the data as it performs these conversions. “We’ve gone the extra mile with this data, and well beyond our original intentions,” Griffin said.
He dismissed suggestions that NASA chose to release the data late on New Year’s Eve, when the public is distracted by holidays and news organizations are thinly staffed. “We didn’t deliberately choose to release on the slowest news day of the year,” Griffin said.
NASA drew harsh criticism from Congress and news organizations for keeping the information secret. Rejecting an Associated Press request under the Freedom of Information Act, NASA explained that it did not want to undermine public confidence in the airlines or hurt airline fortunes. Griffin later overruled his staff and promised Congress that he would release at least some data by the end of the year.
NASA’s survey, the National Aviation Operations Monitoring System, was launched to see if a massive pilot survey would help pinpoint problems and prevent accidents. Survey planners said it was unique because it was a random survey, with an 80 percent response rate, that did not rely on pilots to take the initiative to report problems but rather reached out and interviewed them.
Griffin said NASA never intended to analyze the data it collected, but rather they planned on passing on its methodology to the aviation community. He said he had only looked at a few results, but that, “It’s hard for me… to see any data here that the traveling public would care about or ought to care about.” That would be up to others who chose to analyze the data, he said.
Pilots were asked how many times they encountered safety incidents in flight and on the ground, such as near-collisions, equipment failure, runway interference, trouble communicating with the tower and unruly passengers.”
Based on this article, it’s hard not to share the Chronicle’s disdain for NASA’s attitude. On what planet is it logical to believe the traveling public would not be interested in “near-collisions, equipment failure, runway interference, trouble communicating with the tower and unruly passengers”?
It seems others are concerned, too:
“Griffin outraged some NASA employees by saying the project had been poorly managed and its methodology not properly vetted. Survey experts who worked on it, however, said they used state-of-the-art industry techniques and carefully validated the results.
NASA’s handling of the matter prompted a congressional investigation and separate investigations by its inspector general and by a union representing NASA workers.
Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who helped design the project for NASA, said the release of information was inadequate. “The data they released are intentionally designed to prevent people from analyzing the rates properly and are designed to entrap analysts into computing rates that are much higher than the survey really shows,” he said Monday.”
Here is the NASA NAOMS website that contains links to the study the Chronicle described as too “cumbersome for any thorough analysis by outsiders.”
This sounds like a job for the internet!
[Guest post by DRJ]
The US government provided intelligence information and security advice to Benazir Bhutto and her staff but she failed to act on it:
“The United States provided a steady stream of intelligence to Benazir Bhutto about threats against her before the former Pakistani prime minister was assassinated and advised her aides on how to boost security, although key suggestions appear to have gone unheeded, U.S. officials said Monday.
Senior U.S. diplomats had multiple conversations, including at least two private face-to-face meetings, with top members of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party to discuss threats on her life and review her security arrangements after a suicide bombing marred her initial return to Pakistan from exile in October, the officials told The Associated Press. The intelligence was also shared with the Pakistani government, the officials said.
Much of what was passed on dealt with general threats from Taliban extremists and al-Qaida sympathizers and “was not actionable information.”
The officials said Bhutto and her aides were concerned, particularly after the October attack, but were adamant that in the absence of a specific and credible threat there would be few, if any, changes to her campaign schedule ahead of parliamentary elections.
“She knew people were trying to assassinate her,” said an intelligence official. “We don’t hold information back on possible attacks on foreign leaders and foreign countries.” The official added, however, that while the U.S. could share the information, “it’s up to (the recipient) how they want to take action.” “We gave them a steady stream of intelligence,” one official said.
The officials spoke to AP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter and amid widespread disbelief over the Pakistani government’s assertion that Bhutto died not from bullet or shrapnel wounds but from injuries sustained while hitting her head on her vehicle’s sunroof during Thursday’s attack by a suicide bomber and gunman.”
The claims by the Pakistan government about the nature of Bhutto’s injuries and cause of death look particularly feeble and point out the need for other nations to participate in the investigation. That may be why, as reported in the linked article, the US has also quietly joined calls for international cooperation in investigating Bhutto’s assassination. There are indications that Britain’s Scotland Yard will assist and any US role will be limited.
It was also reported that Bhutto considered hiring private British or US security but the US government discouraged that because the involvement of Western interests might “increase the threat and become a target itself.” Instead, the US recommended Bhutto hire private Pakistani security and reduce her visibility in large crowds:
“However, there was no indication that Bhutto’s team—including her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who attended at least one of the meetings—had followed through on the most critical of the recommendations, including the hiring of private guards and reducing her visibility in large crowds like the one in Rawalpindi where she was killed.
The officials said Zardari rejected using private Pakistani security companies due to fears they might be infiltrated by extremists even though several of the recommended companies have international components and are used by Western embassies to protect personnel.”
Apparently Bhutto, her family, or the PPP had been in contact with the US company Blackwater about its services:
“Anne Tyrell, a spokeswoman for the private U.S. security company Blackwater Worldwide, known for its operations in Iraq, said her company had been approached about possibly providing protection for Bhutto, “but unfortunately, an agreement was never reached.”
While Bhutto’s staff did take some steps to improve the safety of the party’s vehicles, the officials expressed surprise that the car in which she was riding when attacked had a sunroof and stressed that they would have strongly advised her against popping her head out of it in the presence of large numbers of people.”
Hindsight is 20/20 but I’m surprised the PPP and Bhutto didn’t hire private security, especially after the October bombing.
[Guest post by DRJ]
Mike Huckabee is getting lots of media attention and scrutiny in Iowa, and that’s not surprising for a front-runner in an early primary state. However, some of that attention is not very flattering, such as this Politico article that paints Huckabee as a showman up to classic tricks:
“Mike Huckabee’s move to not run ads hitting back at Mitt Romney is a risky move that could rejuvenate his fading campaign — or ensure his defeat on Thursday.
That Huckabee still showed the spot to dozens of reporters jammed into a press conference will ensure the most skeptical, bordering on cynical, coverage on every national news broadcast tonight and in all the major national papers tomorrow. After it became clear that he was not going to air the ad on Iowa television, but would still preview it here, the press corps offered a collective laugh in plain recognition of what Huckabee was up to. But what the snickering big feet here say tonight or write about tomorrow is not as important as how it will be described by the local journalists who were here.
How do the local TV affilates here describe the move? What will the AP story that dozens of papers here pick up tomorrow read like? And what sort of presentation and play will The Des Moines Register give to what can only be described as a singular moment in an already topsy-turvy campaign?
More than being a preacher and pol, Huck is a showman first. And today he was in his element on center stage. He’s risen to this point almost entirely by virture of his unparalled communications skills. Those were put to the test today under a withering line of questions.”
So far, the Des Moines Register has treated this as a straight news story, without commentary, noting that Huckabee showed the ad to reporters but decided not to run the ad state-wide about an hour before the news conference:
“Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee cancelled an attack advertisement today that his campaign had planned to air against his competitor, Mitt Romney. However, he showed the television advertisement to a room packed with members of the media in a room at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines.
In the ad, Huckabee criticized Mitt Romney’s “dishonest attacks” even against “an American hero, John McCain.”
Huckabee said he decided about an hour before the noon press conference, which was originally planned to unveil the ad, to pull it. “At some point we have to decide, can we change the kind of politics and the level of discourse?” he said. “I‘d like to believe we can, and it’s got to start somewhere, and it might as well start here, and it might as well start with me.”
This story isn’t up yet at the Quad-City Times but the Times did have two other interesting Huckabee soundbites:
“Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee defended his failure to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in early December, joking in an interview Monday that President Bush didn’t read intelligence reports for four years.
Huckabee came under fire in early December when, in response to a reporter’s question about the Iran report, Huckabee said he wasn’t aware of it. Huckabee’s lack of familiarity with the National Intelligence Estimate — a report that showed Iran had discontinued its nuclear program — provided fuel for his critics who said he was a lightweight on foreign policy.
“The whole perception was based on an ambush question on the NIE report,” Huckabee said in an interview Monday with the Quad-City Times. “From there, it was like, ‘Wow.’ That was released at 10 o’clock in the morning. At 5:30 in the afternoon, somebody says, ‘Have you read the report?’ Maybe I should’ve said, ‘Have you read the report?’ President Bush didn’t read it for four years; I don’t know why I should read it in four hours.”
There was also this excerpt about the purpose of punishment in criminal law cases:
“Just as he was hitting the trail, a man who manages a halfway house asked Huckabee about prisoner rehabilitation. “One of the reasons I get into a whole lot of trouble is because I do believe that you don’t just keep punishing people forever,” responded Huckabee, whose record on pardons has been criticized by some of his rivals.
Huckabee said the reason to punish should be to correct. “We lock up a lot of people that we’re mad at, not the ones we’re really afraid of,” he said. “And we ought to lock up the ones we’re afraid of, but the ones we’re just mad at we might find better ways” of correction.
The man told Huckabee: “If you’re going to continue on that path, you’ve got my vote. Huckabee said he was glad to hear it, “cause I would have hated to give that answer in front of all these cameras and lose your vote.”
That’s a sad commentary on the American justice system — that we lock up people we’re mad at — but it illustrates how well Huckabee uses simple soundbites to communicate. Reading Huckabee’s quotes makes him sound entertaining and likeable, similar to Bill Clinton. He’s a great salesman … but I’m not buying.
UPDATE: Here’s more from the New York Times’ Politics Blog on Huckabee’s “Enough is Enough” news conference.
[Guest post by DRJ]
The political world is focused on Iowa, New Hampshire, and to some extent on South Carolina but absentee ballots have been out in 11 states since December and will be available in 16 more states in January:
“While candidates stump in Iowa, voters already have opened the 2008 presidential race by casting absentee ballots in nearly a dozen other states.
Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses are Thursday. But residents of 11 states—Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina and Utah—have been able to vote for their favorite candidates since December.
The first was Michigan, where absentee ballots were made available Dec. 1 for the Jan. 15 primary. Requests are high so far. “We’re burning through a lot of OT in my office,” said Lansing, Mich., Clerk Chris Swope, who estimated that three or four employees have been working two to three hours a night to keep up with absentee applications.
Absentee voting expands to a majority of the country in January. Sixteen other states make ballots available to their voters before the end of the month, including delegate-rich California on Jan. 7.
Nearly 4 million voters in California are signed up as “permanent absentee voters,” meaning early ballots for the primaries will automatically pop up in their mailboxes. In 2004, about a third of the state’s primary ballots were cast early. In 2006, the figure was 47 percent.”
Voting absentee is easy and it’s becoming more and more common nationwide. That’s why it’s important to have laws that require local governments to check voter IDs and proof of citizenship when they register as well as when they vote.
[Guest post by DRJ]
I haven’t paid much attention to the Democratic primaries but it’s hard not to notice the duel Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have had over who has the most foreign policy experience. Obama has relied on his experiences as a child living in and visiting other countries, and specifically on his knowledge of “how ordinary people in these other countries live” and the understanding he’s gained from having a grandmother who “lives in a tiny hut in Africa”.
Hillary Clinton has also touted her personal experiences from 8 years as First Lady during her husband’s Administration:
“As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton jaw-boned the authoritarian president of Uzbekistan to leave his car and shake hands with people. She argued with the Czech prime minister about democracy. She cajoled Roman Catholic and Protestant women to talk to one another in Northern Ireland. She traveled to 79 countries in total, little of it leisure; one meeting with mutilated Rwandan refugees so unsettled her that she threw up afterward.
But during those two terms in the White House, Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance. She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.
And during one of President Bill Clinton’s major tests on terrorism, whether to bomb Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, Mrs. Clinton was barely speaking to her husband, let alone advising him, as the Lewinsky scandal sizzled.
In seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton lays claim to two traits nearly every day: strength and experience. But as the junior senator from New York, she has few significant legislative accomplishments to her name. She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her “eight years with a front-row seat on history.”
Now, in an Iowa speech Saturday night, Hillary Clinton turned up the rhetoric when she revealed a story of personal danger:
“Ever since Barack Obama suggested Hillary Clinton’s eight years as first lady were a glorified tea party a few days back, she’s looked for an opening to strike back. On Saturday night in Dubuque she pounced, arguing she risked her life on White House missions in the 1990s, including a hair-raising flight into Bosnia that ended in a “corkscrew” landing and a sprint off the tarmac to dodge snipers. “I don’t remember anyone offering me tea,” she quipped.
The dictum around the Oval Office in the ’90s, she added, was: “If a place was too dangerous, too poor or too small, send the first lady.”
It turns out that Clinton wasn’t quite flying solo into harm’s way that day. She was, in fact, leading a goodwill entourage that included baggy-pants funnyman Sinbad, singer Sheryl Crow and Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, then 15, according to an account of the March 1995 trip in her autobiography “Living History.”
As the plane approached the runway, the pilot ordered the Clintons into the armored front of the plane, Clinton writes. What’s not clear is whether Sinbad or Crow were invited to the cockpit or had to brave it out in the unprotected rear.”
Based on this article, Hillary’s quote should have been “If a place was too dangerous, too poor or too small, send the first lady, Sinbad, and Sheryl Crow.” But it makes sense her story included Hollywood celebrities since I can’t tell if Hillary is auditioning to be the next President or for the sequel to Air Force One.
[Guest post by DRJ]
The United States Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic aviation fuel for military and commercial use:
“The US Air Force is experimenting with a synthetic fuel that could become a cheaper fuel-alternative for the entire US military and even commercial aviation, officials say.
As the cost of a barrel of oil approaches $100 and US reliance on foreign oil sources grows, the Air Force, the single biggest user of energy in the US government, wants to find a cheaper alternative. Air Force officials think they may have found it in a fuel that blends the normal JP-8 fuel, currently used for the military’s jet engines, with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas and liquid coal.
The 50-50 blend is less expensive – between $40 to $75 per barrel – and it burns cleaner than normal fuel. The synthetic fuel is purchased from US-based suppliers and then blended with the military’s JP-8 fuel.”
The fuel has been successfully tested in a B-52 Stratofortress bomber and in the C-17 Globemaster III:
“Last week, on the 104th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, the Air Force flew a C-17 Globemaster III from Washington state to New Jersey, the first transcontinental flight using the synthetic fuel. The flight was an attempt to demonstrate that pilots could fly the plane, considered a “workhorse” of the Air Force fleet, using “syn-fuel” without degrading the performance of the plane’s engine.
The flight went well, officials say. “It was completely unremarkable, which is exactly what we wanted to have happen,” says Mr. Billings.
The flight followed a similar demonstration with a B-52 Stratofortress bomber last year. The fuel was then certified for use in the B-52 this summer. The service hopes to have all its planes certified to run on the fuel within the next five years. And by 2016, the Air Force hopes to meet half their US demand for fuel using the synthetic blend, first used in the 1920s, but further developed during World War II.”
The Air Force chose the C-17 for its second test because its engines are similar to those on the Boeing 757, the workhouse of commercial aviation. Military use is only 10% of the aviation market so the synthetic fuel must be commercially viable. As a bonus, the synthetic fuel may also be better for the environment:
“In addition to being cheaper and ultimately more plentiful, synthetic fuel can also be greener, Air Force officials say. The fuel itself burns cleaner than regular JP-8 fuel, but the current process used to make the fuel produces nearly twice the amount of carbon.”
I bet they will find a better way to process the fuel. After all, this is America doing what it does best: Solving problems.
It is time for this blog’s fifth annual review of the performance of the Los Angeles Times, which long-time Patterico readers know as the Los Angeles Dog Trainer. Previous annual reviews can be found at these links:
This year’s installment covers a number of topics, including the 2008 election, the U.S. Attorney scandal, and many others. It summarizes an entire year’s worth of work documenting omissions, distortions, and misrepresentations by this newspaper. The evidence is voluminous, but hopefully entertaining. If you have half as much fun reading this as I did writing it, you’ll enjoy this post considerably.
I hope every new reader who reads this post will bookmark the main page and return often. Bloggers: please blogroll the site if you like it. I’ll be happy to reciprocate the link if I like your site — write me and let me know your URL, and I’ll take a look.
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Without further ado, let’s get to the bias:
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