Patterico's Pontifications


Texas Parents Object to Sex Talk at School

Filed under: Education — DRJ @ 10:26 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Some parents at a Crosby, Texas, school objected to a discussion of sex with their 6th, 7th, and 8th grade daughters at a school assembly in which the speaker was scheduled to deliver a motivational talk. They may have good reasons — apparently the discussion was unplanned, unannounced, and graphic:

“At least two parents complained that [Shirley] Price discussed sex, said Randy Dowdy, director of school sports services. “They said it was graphic,” Dowdy recalled. News reports said the discussion included descriptions of how to perform oral and anal sex. Price, speaking through her pastor, declined to comment, but Pastor S.D. Siverand of the Galilee Missionary Baptist Church denied that she told students how to perform sex acts.

The school sent a letter from Superintendent Mike Bergman home with middle-school children Friday apologizing for the talk, which it described as containing “very sensitive and sexually specific information.”

In an ironic twist, it seems the speaker’s message was that the girls should abstain from sex:

“Dowdy acknowledged that sex was discussed, but said that much of the discussion was initiated by students.

Price, who is a trained counselor, learned that girls were being pressured to have sex and she took the opportunity afforded by the Jan. 15 meeting to exhort the children to abstain from sex, Siverand said.

“Someone took it out of that room and took it out of context,” he said. “It was twisted the wrong way.”

Price told the students oral sex is dangerous, he said. When several students said they did not know what it was, Price declined to explain it, Siverand said.

Other children in the room volunteered explanations, he said.

“Anal sex was never mentioned,” Siverand said.”

Parting thoughts: Modern media and culture tell us today’s sixth graders are as knowledgeable about sex as adults, but not all of them are … and doesn’t it seem odd that the school district spokesman is the “director of school sports services,” especially for a topic like this?


Obama on Process vs Policy

Filed under: Law,Politics — DRJ @ 10:13 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

In law school, one of the first things a law student learns is the difference between procedure (form or process) and substance (policy):

“Substantive law and procedural law are the two main categories within the law. Substantive law refers to the body of rules that determine the rights and obligations of individuals and collective bodies. Procedural law is the body of legal rules that govern the process for determining the rights of parties.”

My theory — and it’s based largely on observation so it could certainly be wrong — is that liberals prefer substance and conservatives prefer process. Specifically, liberals want society to promote substantive results such as making sure people have food, housing, health care, etc. Conservatives want society to promote procedures such as making sure people have equal opportunities to schools and jobs.

I believe one of the many reasons candidate and President Obama appeals to so many Americans is that his rhetoric promises both substance and process. His recent Diane Sawyer interview shows how Obama tries to appeal to both:

“In Diane Sawyer’s interview with President Obama today, she asked him if going forward all the conversations should be on C-SPAN.

“I think your question points out to a legitimate mistake that I made during the course of the year,” the president said, “and that is that we had to make so many decisions quickly in a very difficult set of circumstances that after awhile, we started worrying more about getting the policy right than getting the process right.

“But I had campaigned on process,” the president continued. “Part of what I had campaigned on was changing how Washington works, opening up transparency and I think it is — I think the health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don’t know what’s going on. And it’s an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals.

Mr. Obama said, “I think it’s my responsibility — and I’ll be speaking to this at the State of the Union — to own up to the fact that the process didn’t run the way I ideally would like it to and that we have to move forward in a way that recaptures that sense of opening things up more.”

ABC’s Jake Tapper describes this as a “remarkable admission,” and it is remarkable because Obama finally acknowledged he has not kept his promise of transparency. However, it’s also classic Obama as he embraces both process and substance.

The American legal system is based on the premise that process is more likely to yield justice. That’s why American laws are based on process — the rights of due process and equal protection — instead of a promise to reach the specific end result of “justice.” I think America’s political system is better served by people who believe that, too. As a lawyer, President Obama knows the persuasive value of promising fair and equal process but his political actions show those aren’t his goals.


Video: Mentioned on Hannity

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:55 pm

People are telling me that Michelle Malkin just mentioned the blog on “Hannity.”

Thanks, Michelle!

My kingdom for a video clip.

I don’t know if a TV mention translates into Internet traffic, but if anyone new is visiting from Hannity or anywhere else, please bookmark the main page. And thanks for stopping by.

UPDATE: I owe DRJ my kingdom, such as it is, as she has passed along the code for the video clip:

The “dramatization” will have you on the edge of your seat!

UPDATE x2: Michelle also has the story of a newspaper chain apologizing for running the Ellie Light Astroturf:

A woman named Ellie Light (if that is her real name) recently duped dozens of newspapers around the country, including some here in Wisconsin, into printing her letter praising President Barack Obama as if she were a local resident.

The letter appeared in three Gannett Wisconsin Media newspapers, including the Door County Advocate. As a result, it also appeared on the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Web site.

…People intent on duping us are using more sophisticated methods all of the time. We catch many mass-mailed form letters, but this person managed to get past editors with a simple misstatement of fact.

Like many newspapers, the Press-Gazette already requires writers to provide a street address and phone number (not for publication) for verification purposes.

We still believe in the inherent honesty of many letter writers, but this case will find us reviewing the incident to determine whether additional safeguards are necessary.

We apologize that this letter appeared on our Web site.

Well handled. Now how about the rest of the 60+ papers that ran this junk?

Newspaper Editors Begin to Address Pro-Obama Astroturfing

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:27 pm

One of the principal functions of political blogs is to keep Big Media in check. If you are concerned by the discovery this past weekend of a spate of pro-Obama Astroturfing, it’s because you agree that political persuasion should not be accomplished through misleading tactics. To the extent that Big Media is enabling such tactics, through sloth or purpose, we must hold them accountable.

Towards that end, I am pleased to see that at least two editors address the Astroturfing issue head-on. One published the infamous Ellie Light letter; the other published Astroturf originating from the web site of the Democrat party.

First, courtesy of SarahW on Twitter, we have the editor of Ohio’s Chillicothe Gazette.

Interestingly, he appears to understand the significance of the issue, and has implemented procedures to prevent Astroturfing. But they didn’t work, because of the dishonesty of “Light”:

By now, much is being made of the letter-writing campaign of “Ellie Light”, who apparently had her letter defending President Obama published in the Jan. 17 Gazette and — both before and after — a lot of newspapers and with different local addresses.

I’ve written several times on Astroturfing — a way of sending form political letters to multiple news outlets with a few key strokes — and authored a column on Jan. 17 on how the Gazette was bolstering Opinion page procedures to make sure the opinions submitted were true and accurate.

Yes, the irony of having a letter to the editor situation blow up in your face just days after saying the newspaper is following new procedures isn’t lost on me. It’s embarrassing and regrettable.

But if we hadn’t followed those procedures, I’d feel a lot worse.

In this case we did follow them and were lied to about the local nature of the opinion and the address used. In short, we were duped.

Just how he was duped is fascinating, and I think deals a blow to the idea that Light is an unsophisticated grandma:

We received Light’s letter via e-mail (sent from a Yahoo! address) on Jan. 6. The letter did not appear to have the telltale signs of Astroturf (framed a specific way, key phrases, etc.). One thing the original letter did not contain, however, was a street address or a phone number, which is required for our verification purposes.

So, on Jan. 7, we wrote her a reply e-mail and asked her to provide both. She provided a street address on Cherokee Road in Chillicothe and a phone number and verified both her opinion and her street as local.

Interesting. I still have my doubts about whether Ellie Light is a single person, as opposed to some employee of an Axelrod-affiliated P.R. firm. If she is, however, she somehow was able to prove an apparently genuine local Ohio address, and a phone number (whether that was local, the editor does not say). That’s quick thinking for someone who has an IP address tracing back to Huntington Beach. (If indeed that Ellie Light is not a P.R.-generated lightning rod designed to absorb attention from the larger concern of who might be behind her effort.)

I think the editor might want to follow up on the address to see if it is indeed genuine — if he truly thinks this is an important issue.

More at the link, which I advise you to read in its entirety.

Second, we can thank Bradley J. Fikes for asking the relevant editor at the North County Times to respond to the fact that his paper printed Astroturf from the Democrat party. The editor sent me the following e-mail, which has been reprinted at the paper’s site:


The North County Times may be unique in its treatment of letters to the editor. We publish all letters that we receive that are from someone within our circulation area or concern a topic of local interest (limiting writers to once every other week). We don’t pick and choose letters for “worthiness” or “political balance,” but run them on, roughly, a FIFO [first in first out] basis. When volume picks up we add additional letters space to the section (we have run as many as five pages of letters during the peak of a hot election).

So, publishing a letter that contains language duplicated elsewhere isn’t surprising.

On a number of occasions, we have been hit with letter writing campaigns by organizations who suggest “talking points” to their members. For instance, a few years ago during one of Bush’s state of the union speeches I was hit with dozens of letters from people with local addresses beating on the president’s remarks with nearly identical wording —- and this was 20 minutes before Bush had finished his remarks. I emailed several of the writers back to ask if this was part of a letter campaign. Several people wrote back to affirm it as so.

Our normal procedure with a letter is to call the writer to confirm the authorship (an admittedly loose verification system, but that is one price of publishing more than 6,000 letters a year). If we catch some one plagiarizing, we will ban or warn and ban on a reoccurrence (adopting suggested language doesn’t strike me as plagiarism even if it is lazy). If we find a copy and paste campaign, we typically will run one or two as examples and discard the rest. We also don’t knowingly allow false signatures on letters.

When facts are obviously in error, we will edit it, try to get the letter writer to straighten it out, or reject the letter if it is unsalvageable.

Regarding organized letter writing campaigns, however, I’m not particularly alarmed by them. People from all across the political spectrum adopt other people’s language and use it for various purposes including debating with their friends and neighbors. Nothing new there. It’s just easier to mount letter campaigns with the internet —- doesn’t cost you postage.

Since you have raised the question about this particular letter, I have left a voice mail and sent an email query to its author. She appears to be a local citizen (there are several internet traces of her presence locally). I’ll let you know how it comes out.


Kent Davy

I appreciate the e-mail, but I think this attitude misunderstands the need for disclosure. As I explained in an earlier post, when people repeat talking points fed to them by a large organization, and pass them off as their own, readers may well be misled:

While the participants were undoubtedly well-meaning, the effect is simple. A Centralized Body determines a message. Minions repeat it. And readers are tricked into thinking that the message is individualized.

Clearly, the credibility of the letters is undercut once the reader realizes that the letter writer is passing along other people’s thoughts verbatim. It is indeed plagiarism, although authorized, because it is not “quoting” with attribution but rather disguising another’s writing as one’s own. When you realize that you are reading a Central Organization’s thoughts, you realize that the letter writer may have put very little thought into sending the letter. Indeed, the letter writer might not even agree with all of the things he himself “said.”

Granted, it’s “just” a letter to the editor. Maybe it’s nothing to you. But it’s allotted space given to someone to try to persuade. Large political organizations motivate people to do this because it works. And it works with the element of deception.

It’s a small deception, to be sure. Venial, not mortal. But deception nonetheless.

And by deliberately failing to tell readers that the letter is mass-produced, the editor of the North County Times is knowingly aiding and abetting that small deception. I don’t think he should be.

But I do thank the editor for his response.

Finally, I have received all sorts of recent tips and theories as to who “Ellie Light” might be. This may well be useful information, if we learn it — but I urge people not to get too carried away with that question, such that they lose sight of the bigger picture. Which is the need to work to eliminate deception from our political discourse.

Of course that effort will never be entirely successful — just like we’ll never wipe out crime. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort.

To the extent that revealing Ellie Light’s identity helps that cause, great. Just don’t take your eye off the ball.

UPDATE: The first version of this post erroneously said (in one place) that Bradley’s paper published the Ellie Light letter. This is an error that I thought I had caught before publishing, but Firefox crashed as I was composing the post and apparently the edit didn’t take. Sorry for the confusion.

UPDATE x2: Another newspaper chain apologizes. (See updates.)

Senators: Move Abdulmutallab to Military Custody

Filed under: Obama,Terrorism — DRJ @ 12:44 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sent a letter to Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to transfer Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the DOD to be held in military custody:

“[O]nce Abdulmutallab was in custody, federal law enforcement officials on the ground in Detroit read the terrorist his Miranda rights. According to press reports, by the time the Miranda rights were read and Abdulmutallab went silent, he had been questioned for just under an hour, during which time he had been speaking openly about the attack and AQAP’s role. The decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than a UEB almost certainly prevented the military and the intelligence community from obtaining information that would have been critical to learning more about how our enemy operates and to preventing future attacks against our homeland and Americans and our allies throughout the world.

During a hearing before our Committee last week titled Intelligence Reform: The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack, we were told that the Department of Justice did not consult with leadership in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense for their input on whether or not to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal and read him his Miranda rights. In addition, in the aftermath of the hearing, we learned that the so-called High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which the Department of Justice announced last August – more than four months ago – is not yet operational.

Though the President has said repeatedly that we are at war, it does not appear to us that the President’s words are reflected in the actions of some in the Executive branch, including some at the Department of Justice, responsible for fighting that war. The unilateral decision by the Department of Justice to treat Abdulmutallab – a belligerent fighting for and trained by an al-Qaeda franchised organization – as a criminal rather than a UEB and to forego information that may have been extremely helpful to winning this war demonstrates that very point.”

The Senators suggest this was Attorney General Eric Holder’s “unilateral decision.” The letter also notes the December claim of responsibility by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the recent release of a tape by Osama bin Laden praising the Christmas Day attacker:

”The message delivered to you through the plane of the heroic warrior Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a confirmation of the previous messages sent by the heroes” of Sept. 11, Mr. bin Laden said. *** “If you read it carefully, it’s not really a claim of responsibility,” said Steven N. Simon, senior fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He endorses the attack. He valorizes it. He says, ‘You’re going to get more of the same.’”

Wake up, President Obama, if not to protect Americans then at least to protect your Administration from blame and scorn if an attack succeeds.


MORE: One group thinks bin Laden’s recent statement could be an indicator of another attack:

“IntelCenter, a US group that monitors Islamist websites, also said that manner of the release and the content of the message showed it was “credible” that it was a new release from the Saudi extremist.

“The Osama bin Laden audio message released to Al-Jazeera on 24 January 2010 contains specific language used by bin Laden in his statements in advance of attacks,” IntelCenter said in a statement.

The group said it considered the language “a possible indicator of an upcoming attack” in the next 12 months.

“This phrase, ‘Peace be upon those who follow guidance,’ appears at the beginning and end of messages released in advance of attacks that are designed to provide warning to Al-Qaeda’s enemies that they need to change their ways or they will be attacked,” the group said.”

Chemical Ali Executed in Iraq

Filed under: International — DRJ @ 12:29 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Saddam Hussein’s cousin Chemical Ali was executed Monday in Iraq:

“Iraq says the man known as “Chemical Ali” was hanged today for ordering the 1988 poison gas attack that killed more than 5,000 Kurds.

The chemical air raid is thought to be the worst single attack of its kind against civilians.”

Ali’s execution followed his fourth death sentence for the Kurd and other attacks, as well as the deaths of several relatives.


How “David Axelrod Astroturfing” Works, Step by Step

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:50 am

I noted in an earlier post that some recent Astroturf had been tracked by this blogger to the Democrat party. I’m worried that it got lost in the mass of updates, so I am noting it again, and doing a step-by-step demonstration of a similar Astroturf job from Organizing for America.

Go to Organizing for America’s web site. There is a page you can use to write letters to the editor.

Organizing for America Astroturf

Fill in the information and it takes you to this page, with some suggested talking points:

Organizing for America Astroturf 2

Here’s a close-up:

Organizing for America Astroturf 3

Write your letter, and BOOM! some editor somewhere prints it:

Organizing for America Astroturf 4

And he’s not the only one, by a longshot.

Again, as noted above similar form at the Democrat party web site

Democrat Party Astroturfing

ended up in the Danbury News-Times, the Baytown Sun, the Austin-American Statesman, the San Francisco Chronicle; San Gabriel Valley Tribune; the Tulsa World; the Santa Clarita Valley Signal; The Citizen’s Voice; the Suffolk News-Herald; the Cincinnati Enquirer; Chicago’s Daily Herald; the Cape Coral Daily Breeze; Missouri’s Lake News Online; and the North County Times.

I think it’s worth noting that when the GOP was caught doing this in 2003, the story made the New York Times. (H/t Life Line.)

What will be the media response now?

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