Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Facts from the Racist Homophobes at the CDC
A few statistics
The data shows that 53% of all HIV cases involve male to male sex.
Three times as many men have HIV as women, even though it is much easier to transmit the virus from male to female.
MSM (Men who have sex with men) represent 2% of the population; however, their HIV diagnosis rate is more than 44 times that of other men and more than 40 times that of women. MSM is the only risk group with increasing numbers of new HIV infections annually, and they account for more than half of all new infections in the United States each year
Blacks/African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV. They represent about 12% of the population but are almost half of all new HIV infections.
The CDC issued an updated "fact sheet
" covering new information in 2008.
MSM account for more than half of all new HIV infections in the United States each year (61%, or an estimated 29,300 infections).
While CDC estimates that only 4 percent of men in the United States are MSM, the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM in the United States is more than 44 times that of other men (range: 522 – 989 per 100,000 MSM vs. 12 per 100,000 other men).
In their chart of the most affected groups, straight white males aren't included at all.
The Lancet published a study
in 2009 that calculated the per exposure risk for transmitting HIV based on 25 different groups and found that the risk of transmitting HIV during heterosexual contact as .04% male to female and .08% male to female. The risk for receptive anal sex was 34 times higher at 1.7%. Let's break that number down a bit. On average, it takes over 50 unprotected sex acts with a known infected partner to transmit HIV.
Are the folks at the CDC are a bunch of ignorant, racist homophobes who don't understand or care about the truth? Is the Lancet part of a conservative conspiracy to bully and marginalize homosexuals?
Or is the truth somewhat different than we have been led to believe? Do we completely ostracize these organizations for speaking the uncomfortable truth, that HIV is a disease which strikes mostly at gay men and is a result of their lifestyle?
What are the high risk activities?
- Unprotected sex? Check
- Multiple partners? Check
- Anal or rough sex? Check
Folks these are the facts and getting angry at the folks who present them doesn't change them.
Yes, there are straight people who get HIV, but they represent a distinct minority, and, if you discount IV drug abusers, almost vanish from the charts completely. We talk about how HIV is a critical health issue. How many people died with HIV last year?
Just over 9,000, making it the 22nd leading cause of death in the US. For comparison, 600,000 people died of heart disease and another 567,000 of cancer.
Seriously folks, Campfield is a publicity hound and he does say some ridiculous stuff, but from listening to his interview, (Anybody else bother to listen to what he actually said?) Mike Signorile's Huff Po article was a smear job from the get go.
When did speech become a reason to deny people their rights? Not too long ago, the left was in an uproar because their protestors weren't allowed to disrupt the Republican Convention or speeches by a President they detested. They were herded into "Free Speech Zones" and not allowed to get close enough to be heard. They were outraged, and rightly so. Free speech is often times disruptive and unpleasant. The OWS idiots camping on public property in DC in defiance of the law are being allowed to stay there because in some peoples' opinions, their free speech rights trump federal law.
But it seems the left is only a champion of free speech when they agree with it. When they don't, they shout down opposing speakers. They use bull horns to prevent others from being heard. They stage protests designed to prevent speakers from appearing.
And they are taking their lead from the President. He's willing to imprison Americans without charge, trial, or representation, indefinitely, for nothing more than speech. Even more, he's already assassinated an American citizen just for his speech.
With that attitude, it's no wonder the folks back home are following his lead. Today, a State Senator can't buy a meal in a restaurant, and 'the people' applaud wildly. What comes tomorrow? Fundamental Christians believe that homosexuality is both a sin and punishment for sin. Are we going to force them to abandon their religion in order to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks?
Not to get unnecessarily Apocalyptic on you or anything, but there is a passage in the Bible
that speaks directly to that. Now I'm not saying the Ms. Boggs is the Anti-Christ, or carries the Mark of the Beast, but her actions fall very neatly into the predicted events of the Bible. With the widespread approval Boggs has gained from her action, it doesn't take a whole lot of foresight to see a trend emerging that could fulfill that prophesy.
Armageddon aside, we're creating an environment where all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others. In comments on the various news sites, folks are saying that what Boggs did was legal because Sen. Campfield does not fall into one of the protected groups mentioned in civil rights legislation. Given that Campfield is a Catholic, and last time I checked, Catholicism is still considered a religion, it appears that he was discriminated against based on his religious beliefs, and that he is a member of a protected group. But even if he wasn't, do you remember that whole thing about "equal treatment under the law"?
By creating special classes with special protections, we've automatically diminished the protections for those not in the special class. That has been my primary objection to much of the civil rights legislation over the last couple of decades. If bullying is bad, then it is bad no matter who the target is. If bigotry is bad, it's bad no matter who the object is. If discrimination is bad, then...you get the point. By singling out specific groups, we are saying that it is okay to bully, or discriminate, against others.
And that's crap.
Enough with the name calling already. If you don't like what Campfield stands for, fine. Run against him. Deprive him of the bully pulpit.
That's the American way.
Monday, January 30, 2012
We Don’t Serve Your Kind Here!
So, a State Senator walks into a bar. Because he doesn't support special rights for a politically powerful special interest group, he is denied service and told to leave the bar.
And there was much rejoicing
I'm in the minority on this one.
First, a little background. State Senator Stacy Campfield has been pushing a bill for several years now regarding teaching about homosexuality is grade school. The text of the current bill
The general assembly recognizes the sensitivity of particular subjects that are best explained and discussed in the home. Human sexuality is a complex subject with societal, scientific, psychological, and historical
implications; those implications are best understood by children with sufficient maturity to grasp their complexity.
(2) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.
Recently, Campfield was invited onto The Gist
, a radio show by Mike Signorile to discuss the bill. During that interview, Campfield made some statements about the origin and transmission of AIDS that are not politically correct, including observing, correctly, that transmitting AIDS through heterosexual contact is much more unlikely than transmission through homosexual activity. Following the contentious interview, Mr. Signorile chose some of the more incendiary quotes and highlighted them in a blog post.
The blog post is a beautiful example of taking quotes out of context to make the subject look bad. For example, when Signorile asked Campfield why heterosexuality should be discussed in classrooms and not homosexuality, Campfield's answer was :
"The only reason well, natural reproduction. If you’re talking in science classes you need to be able to talk about how natural reproduction works XY chromosomes and that sort of thing. If you didn’t talk about heterosexuality, you would not be able to talk about natural reproduction."
Certainly not a controversial answer. Sexuality should only be discussed in a classroom when it is directly related to the science of the reproductive processes. The social aspects should be left to the family. You may disagree with that, but it isn't hateful by any means.
But in his blog post, Signorile substitute's this quote from a couple of minutes later in the interview as Campfield's answer:
"I just think there are situations where some kids maybe sexually unsecure [sic] in themselves or sexually confused and don't necessarily know clearly what direction they are. If someone, a person of influence, says maybe you're gay, maybe you should explore those things -- maybe the child, who is young and impressionable, says maybe I am gay."
Then juxtaposes this quote, also from another part of the interview:
"[Homosexuals] do not naturally reproduce. It has not been proven that it is nature. It happens in nature, but so does beastiality That does not make it right or something we should be teaching in school."
The two quotes above come from different sections of the interview, but Signorile uses them to try and make Campfield look hateful. Additionally, he misquotes Campfield in the second quote, in my opinion deliberately, to make him look like he's comparing homosexuality to bestiality. In fact, what Campbell said was
"It happens in nature, but so does bestiality That does not make it naturally, necessarily something we need to talk about with children."
Now that is quite a difference. Signorile not only repositions a quote, he changes it from a simple statement of fact (There are some aspects of sexuality we don't need to discuss with children) to a value judgment on homosexuality.
I'm not going to go through the rest of the blog post. It's more of the same and Campfield does get some facts wrong. But the post is a hit piece plain and simple. Of course, it got widespread attention, and I'm willing to bet almost nobody went back to the original interview and listened. They just believed what they already prejudged about Campfield.
So, fast forward to yesterday. Martha Boggs, owner of The Bistro at the Bijou, reacting to the Huffington Post article, refused to serve Campfield, and asked him to leave the restaurant. She then posted on the restaurant's Facebook page
, "I hope that Stacy Campfield now knows what if feels like to be unfairly discrimanted[sic] against."
The irony of using unfair discrimination to protest unfair discrimination is amazingly obvious.
And amazingly stupid.
As the day has gone by, I've watched more and more people weigh in on this one, and they all seem to say the same thing. "Way to go Martha! That'll show 'em!"
Show them what? That prejudice and intolerance are okay, as long as the target is unpopular? How do we get to a point where we have people can say, and with a straight face, "Discrimination is evil, bad, hurtful, and ignorant. Unless I agree with it; then it's okay!"
After all, what Boggs did is no different than a bar owner throwing out a (insert minority of your choice here) and saying "We don't serve your kind here!" Does anybody think that this episode is going to do anything to cause Campfield to change his mind? Did it do anything to educate him? Did it show tolerance or acceptance? Or did it show that narrow minded jerks exist on both sides of the ideological divide?
Suppose a restaurant refused to serve the head of Planned Parenthood, or any of their supporters. Would that be okay?
Folks, tolerance isn't worth a flip if you only tolerate the folks you agree with. That's just good old high school conformity dressed up in flashier clothes.
Martha Boggs' actions were flashy, and drew a lot of attention, but ultimately petty, childish, and potentially actionable. I doubt Campfield will pursue it; his post on the matter
is fairly simple and straight forward; certainly far more mature than Ms. Boggs.
I don't agree with everything Campfield says, and certainly not all of the legislation he produces. I do, however, believe that he should enjoy the exact same amount of protection under the law as everybody else.
And no less.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Knox County Sheriff’s Department Comes Up Short on Drug Busts
Lags Behind Surrounding Counties as well as Similarly Sized Counties
According to records kept by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Crime Statistic's Unit
, the Knox County Sheriff's Office has the lowest arrest rates for narcotics in the Knoxville Metropolitan area, and falls far behind the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, a similarly sized county in East Tennessee. The KCSO has a lower proportion of total drug arrests when compared to the Knoxville Police Department than any of the other city/county groups in our region.
Last month, a grieving mother asked a simple questions. "How Often Does KCSO Actually Arrest, Charge Drug Dealers?
Katie Granju's oldest son, Henry, died of a drug overdose two years ago. Tennessee Law states that anyone who gives drugs illegally to another person is guilty of Homicide in the Second Degree if that person dies from those drugs. Yet the Knox County Sheriff's Department closed the investigation into Henry's death without any arrests or charges being filed. Coincidentally, on the day Henry died, another Knoxville teenager, Amber Blizard, also died of a drug overdose. While her death was within a different jurisdiction, her mother received the same result. No arrests, no charges, no justice.
As Ms. Granju fought for Justice for Henry
, the KPD responded. They looked into her allegations, and as a result, launched an investigation that resulted in felony indictments against the three adults involved with Henry's overdose. While those indictments were not specific to Henry's death, they did involve drug trafficking, including sales within protected areas, such as school zones. Additionally, the KPD is re-examining Amber Blizard's case, in the hopes of finally finding justice for her, and closure for her mother.
The KCSO, on the other hand, continued to insist that they did a thorough job, that there was no prosecutable crime, and that the folks who were present when Henry died were simple "Good Samaritans," trying to help a young man in trouble. Their arrests last September, combined with their criminal histories, put the lie to that claim. But the reluctance of the KCSO to conduct a truly thorough investigation led Ms. Granu to ask if Henry's case was unique, or if the way the KCSO handled Henry's case was standard operating procedure.
That question is now answered.
The records show a total of 276 Drug/Narcotics violations for the KCSO for 2010, while the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department notched 480 violations over the same time period. That difference is made more stark by the fact that roughly 250,000 Knox County residents are subject to KCSO jurisdiction while only 103,000 Hamilton County residents are outside city limits and subject to the County Sheriff's jurisdiction. Additionally, the budget for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office was just under $30 million in 2010; while the KCSO spent over $70 million. With twice the number of residents, and over twice the budget, the KCSO recorded roughly half the violations.
A survey of other crimes do not show this same level of disparity. Hamilton County and Knox County show comparable rates for Murder, Rape, Aggravated Assault, and Burglary. However, Knox County does show elevated levels of Robbery, Shoplifting, and Auto Theft. In fact, the only major crime statistic surveyed that shows Knox County at a significantly lower level than Hamilton County is Drug/Narcotics violations.
The KCSO shortfall becomes even more obvious when city statistics are examined. In Hamilton County, the Sheriff's Department has jurisdiction over 31% of the county's total population and accounts for 23% of all Drug/Narcotics violations. In contrast, the KCSO has jurisdiction over 59% of the residents in the county, yet accounts for only 11% of the total Drug/Narcotic arrests.
The KCSO fares just as poorly when compared to the eight surrounding counties. The KCSO has the lowest Drug/Narcotic arrest rate (1.09) per 1000 residents of any of the contiguous eight counties. The KCSO also has the highest disparity between city and county drug arrests with the KCSO notching only 9% of the KPD's arrest rate per 1000 residents.
The combination of the KPD/KCSO comparisons, the relative crime rates between similar jurisdictions, and the comparison with other counties in the region make it clear that there is a drug enforcement problem within the KCSO. The numbers discount the possibility that drug traffic within Knox County is exceptionally low, especially since Knox County's position on the I-75 corridor tends to suggest a higher level of drug activity when compared to similarly sized communities away from the Interstate.
The traffic is there; it is the enforcement that is missing.
DISCLOSURE: I am a friend/acquaintance of Ms. Granju. While we have met in person less than five or six times, we have spoken extensively about this case, both professionally, as writers, and personally, as friends. It was this relationship that inspire me to dig into the records to find the answer to her question; however, the numbers come directly from state sources and are linked for easy verification. Statistics for this article came from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Crime Statistic's Unit
and the US Census Quick Facts
page. This article is available for reposting or reprinting in its entirety as long as authorship (Rich and Lissa Hailey) is acknowledged. An image of the spreadsheet used is available here.
Bartholomew Sullivan Gets One Right
I just reviewed the current crop of PolitiFact Tennessee claims, and these are much better. Even Bartholomew Sullivan's contribution, Another Republican Claims Martin Luther King Jr was a Republican
, is well reasoned, accurately assessed, and logically sound. I could quibble that the evidence might call for a Mostly False rating, since there are some hints that Dr. King had some connection with the Republican Party, but that association was certainly a very loose one, and not enough to warrant claiming he was a Republican.
The choices are all Tennessee centric, and are based on statements actually made by Tennessee politicians.
UPDATE: Another PolitiFact Tennessee article came out shortly after I wrote the above. This one has to do with US infrastructure and our global ranking
and while the conclusion is justifiable, the language used to get there, on a site devote to objective analysis, is a problem.
So Cohen is off by a notch in the current overall rankings, while for roads and bridges, the U.S. actually ranks slightly lower, providing more evidence for his point. That's close enough to earn a True.
Close enough? Sounds to me like a "Mostly True" rating here. Like the above example, it's kind of a quibble, but once is a quibble, twice becomes a trend. I'm not talking about bias here, even though both instances the shade is given to the liberal side; I'm talking about sloppiness. IS the claim fully true, or just mostly true? Call it straight every time and you'll develop a reputation for objectivity. Shade it too often, and you'll be accused of bias no matter which way you call it.
Rocky Tops vs Home Depot: Homer Takes a Beating
Suppose I told you that I would make you a special deal that could save you 18% on counter tops for your kitchen. Then, when you came to place your order, suppose I told you that the deal wasn't quite as good, that after the conditions exclusions and fine print, you were only saving 8.5%. Would you buy? Or would you look elsewhere?
That's what happened to us at Home Depot.
We started out our search for new materials for the kitchen with the counters. Our existing counters are particleboard covered with plastic laminate. While it has the virtue of being very cheap, it also looks very cheap. It isn't very durable either, so we wanted to upgrade. We looked into different materials, trying to find the best value. Not necessarily the cheapest, but the one that gave us the most bang for our bucks.
We went out to our local Home Depot to look at some of the different materials and color choices. While we were there, the sales person came up to us and started talking to us about the "Big Sale" they had coming up in a few days on Silestone, a manufactured quartz counter top. The Silestone came in several different color groups, starting at $42 per square foot and going up quickly after that. You also have to pick the edge treatment you want. The basic edge include with the price is okay, but boring. The edge upgrades started at $16 and went up, particularly for the built up edges. The Silestone slabs sold at Home Depot are only 2 cm thick, which works out to about 3/4 inch. Without building up the edge, it looks thin and flimsy. The built up edges are 1 1/2 inches and started at $28 bucks per foot, with an upgraded edge costing $40. Our kitchen design includes a lot of counter space so the edge charge was significant particularly when added to the cost of the slab itself.
The sale was a color upgrade, an edge treatment upgrade, and a free sink. With a kitchen as large as ours, that could save us a ton of money and since we have a tight budget anyway, every little bit helped. He told us that the sale started in a few days, and only lasted 5 days, so we had to hurry and decide. We chose a color, and an edge treatment and then came back to the store once the sale began.
That's where things went bad. The vendor changed their pricing scheme on the same day the sale started. The edge treatment we chose went up significantly in price, and the edge upgrade we received didn't fully offset the increase, meaning we were paying $3 more per foot than the original pricing scheme. Also, the color we chose wasn't eligible for the color upgrade, so we would end up paying full price for the slab. Finally, we were told that while the sink was free, the mandatory installation fee was an extra $225 dollars. All in all, our projected savings went from about $1200 to $600.
Now I don't mind saving $600, but the way everything changed on us left a bad taste in my mouth. Add to that the total cost was in the realm where I had a hard time spending that much for a quartz counter top.
So Saturday, we went investigating other options. I called several shops around town, and while several were closed or closing for the day, when I called Rocky Tops Marble and Granite
, the phone was answered by Frank. He said the shop was getting ready to close down for the day, but that he would be happy to stay late if we wanted to come out and take a look at their stock and their facility. His energy and enthusiasm impressed me and put Rocky Tops at the top of my list of places to check. I told him about my experience with Home Depot, and he told me right up front that wasn't how they did business. The quote would include everything, fabrication, installation, polishing, edge treatment, the whole nine yards. No deceptive add ons or exclusions, or anything like that. The price was the price, period.
Lissa and I drove straight out there and met with him and another Rocky Tops employee, Jerry(?). Frank was busy with another late customer, so Jerry took my drawings of our kitchen and began writing up an estimate for us, while we walked around the cavernous storage and fabrication area. We looked at slabs of granite with the most amazing colors and figures. We picked out several that we liked, and when Frank was done with his customers, he came out to meet us. The estimate was done, and for about $500 more than what Home Depot was going to charge for the 2 cm Silestone, Rocky Tops would sell us 3 cm granite. With a finished edge and installed sink.
In fact, they were willing to bring the price down even further for us if needed, although they couldn't match the Home Depot price. But I didn't really want them to match that price. In the first place, we were getting an upgraded material, from quartz to granite. In the second, we also upgrading the size of the slab, from 2 cm thick to 3. While that doesn't seem like much, compare 3/4 inch to 1 1/4 inch. It really makes a difference on the edge. You get the feel of solidity, of real weight. 2 cm seems almost fragile, which is why so many people pay for a laminated edge.
Long story short, the difference between the two establishments was like night and day. It wasn't just that the price was competitive for a better product, it was that there were no surprises, no up selling, even though they do work on commission. Better products, sold by a local company, and at a competitive price, by people who are enthusiastic and professional. What more can you ask for?
We'll be going back this week to put the deposit down on the counter top slabs so that once I've finished the cabinets, they can make the template (which is what Frank does when he's not selling) and machine the countertop.
I've never spent that much for a rock before. Not even for an engagement ring!
Monday, January 23, 2012
Our Kitchen Nightmare: The Beginning
There are actually two nightmares. The first is the kitchen itself; the second is that we are going to completely demolish and renovate it.
In 9 days.
Yep. 9 days from kitchen pathetic to kitchen fantastic, and we're doing all of the work ourselves. Well, except for fabricating and installing the countertops; we're letting professionals do that. But everything else, we're doing.
- I'm building custom cabinets.
- We're doing all of the demo work ourselves.
- We're taking out a wall, one sliding glass door, and a window.
- We're installing a larger window, a smaller door, and not replacing the wall.
- We're rewiring the kitchen to bring it up to code, and improve the lighting, which right now sucks.
- We're replumbing the sink, garbage disposal, dishwasher and refrigerator.
- We're moving the stove to a more useable location.
- We're repainting, installing a new subfloor, and new flooring.
And we're going to do it all in 9 days.
We will be doing some prep work ahead of time. Obviously, I'll have the cabinets built and finished prior to the day we start, and we'll remove the appliances and empty the cabinets before we begin. I'll also clear out the attic over the kitchen and pre-stage some of the electrical wiring for the job, Other than that, and the 2 week wait for the fabrication of the counter top after we install the cabinets, everything else willo be done during the nine days from March 17th to March 26th.
Follow the link to see some images of what we have now, and where we're going to be soon.
Dark. Dingy. Dated. Cramped. Boring. Other than that, what could be so terrible?
Counter space is lacking. Counters are a Formica woodgrain laminate straight from the big box home improvement store and ugly.
By the way, did you notice the floor? The tiles looked good when they went down, but they tended to spread out pretty soon afterward.
Note the cheesy 70s paneling? And the unfinished sliding glass door?
Unfinished book shelves and stuff stacked everywhere.
So, how are we going to change things? Well, here's the new floor plan:
We've opened up the space in the kitchen and increased the counter space. We've added additional counters and cabinets along the lower wall, moved the stove up against the outer wall, installed a much bigger window over the sink and replaced the sliding glass door with a french door.
This is a rendering of the floor plan showing the main area of the kitchen.
And this shows the new cabinets and the refrigerator on the inner wall.
We're updating the materials as well. We're replacing the vinyl tile on the floor with a hardwood floor and we chose Brazilian Koa, AKA Tigerwood for the flooring. And yes, I've already made the jokes about Tiger Woods laying in our kitchen. Lissa was not amused.
This is the countertop material we chose; Called Peacock Green or Labrador Gold. It is granite and gorgeous.
This is what we're going to use for a backsplash material. Maybe; Lissa is still working on that.
As for the cabinets, they will be plywood with a maple face frame, and we're probably going to go with a natural finish, although the red tones in this kitchen look good as well.
So, that's the plan. I didn't talk about the lighting, or adding internet access, but don't worry; I will.
The last part of this nightmare is that we will be posting pictures and videos of the work in progress. DIY has a show called Renovation Realities and we're going to do our own version of that, so that should be interesting. Of course, since we're shooting it ourselves, we can edit out all the embarrassing stuff. Unless of course DIY wants to come in and shoot the project. I'll take some embarrassment for some help meeting the budget on this job!
« Close 'er up!
Thursday, January 19, 2012
$6.5 Million Dollar Drug Drug Ring in Knox County
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel
[Eric Christopher] Hefner was arrested Friday on a federal indictment alleging he headed up a pill-trafficking ring in West Knoxville and Oak Ridge, but Poston said he's been on the radar of the DEA, the IRS and U.S. Postal Service inspectors since September thanks to a tip from a "source."
DEA knew about him. The IRS knew about him. Heck, the Post Office knew about him.
But somehow, he managed to fly under Sheriff J.J. Jones' radar while importing 260,000 pills a year into Knox and Anderson County.
Then again, unless you're running a home poker game, it appears to be fairly easy to fly under his radar.
Fortunately for the citizens of Knox County, a 'source' provided information to the DEA in September and using that information, the DEA , IRS and the US Postal Service launched an investigation.
The timing of the source is interesting because if I remember correctly, there was another drug related story
making the local news in September, one that also involved the distribution of prescription pills, and involved the arrests of 4 local dealers. I would be very interested to find out if the DEA source was either one of those dealers, or somebody else involved with that investigation.
If there is a connection, and my personal opinion is that a connection is more likely than not, then Friday's arrest can be chalked directly up to the refusal of a mother to allow her son's death to be written off as just another overdose. The KCSO closed the case and said that there was no way to pursue it further or arrest the people involved. The KPD thought differently, and the people involved with Henry's death now face criminal drug charges. Even better, if the two cases are connected, that means that federal agencies have gotten involved and are chasing this thing up the ladder to take down the major players.
And maybe, just maybe, the ones who have been protecting them.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
New PolitiFact story in the KNS More Politics than Facts
Here we go again.
The newest PolitiFact article
in the KNS examines a claim in a blog by a national trade association
made back in July.
Apparently, blog posts from 6 months ago represent the cutting edge of political analysis at the Scripps News Service, which could explain why subscription rates are falling faster than ad revenue at their newspapers.
So what controversial statement was so hot that it was still burning 6 months after it hit the blogosphere?
Apparently, Cindy Zimmerman, a part time contributor to CornCommentary.com, the blog of the National Corn Growers Association, had the gall to refer to Tennessee Rep Stephen Fincher as "the only working farmer currently serving in the House."
I'm surprised 60 Minutes didn't leap onto this story.
Next week, PolitiFact Tennessee will be investigating whether Davy Crockett really did 'kilt him a b'ar when he was only three.'
For a detailed takedown of the piece, follow the link.
Even though the choice of story is somewhat lame and certainly dated, let's see if it is evaluated fairly.
So we set out to find out whether Fincher, of Frog Jump, Tenn., is in fact the only working farmer now serving. That Fincher is running a headline that says "Only Farmer in Congress . . . " next to a big photo of himself on his website also strikes us as an implicit endorsement of the statement, though we could not find any other evidence of him making the claim independently.
PolitiFact fails to mention that the three most recent stories
are all posted right beside the Congressman's picture, and that the story titles match the titles of the stories they link to. That's not an endorsement; it's common courtesy when linking to another writer's work. Yet PolitiFact disregards this basic style point and instead uses their own judgment ("also strikes us") to label that as an "implicit endorsement" of the statement by the Representative.
A working farmer would, we figured, be someone who gets involved in farm operations, drives a tractor, tends to fence posts, and is known down the blacktop at the local feed store. Fincher clearly meets those specifications.
PolitiFact established objective criteria with which to judge the accuracy of the statement.
- Is involved in the farm operations
- Performs farming related activities
- Is known to other farmers in the community as a farmer
But a quick call to the House Agriculture Committee, where Fincher served briefly before taking a seat on the Financial Services Committee, revealed that its chairman, Frank Lucas, R-Okla., considers himself a fifth generation farmer and runs a cattle operation.
Is a rancher a farmer? Not according to most of the farmers I know. And I do know that historically, there have been major conflicts between farmers and ranchers regarding land usage among other things. PolitiFact doesn't make clear whether Lucas actually works his ranch full time or not, nor whether he is considered a farmer by his local peers. A Bing search for Frank Lucas rancher
turned up no stories about his working a ranch and there's nothing on his official website
about his ranching activities.
Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., is a co-owner of Stutzman Farms in Howe, where he farms 4,000 acres with his brothers and brothers-in-law, growing soybeans, green beans and seed corn. Stutzman’s spokesman James Wegmann reports that the congressman sets aside "combine time" during the harvest season and is very much involved in the operation.
His political spokesman says he is, so he must be, right?
Digging a little deeper, I found that Stutzman's biography on his official website
also mentions his work for the farm, and his campaign page gives further detail
. For me, that's good enough to say that he is a farmer, but it doesn't fully meet the criteria set out by PolitiFact.
They set the criteria, not me.
Foul Tip; Strike Two.
Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., lives on a working farm in Cass County, served on the Missouri Farm Bureau and owns businesses that sell farm equipment. Her spokesman, Steven S. Walsh, said she "can, indeed, be considered a
Again with the spokesman. Her official website
gives a clearer picture. She worked the farm with her parents until she went away to college. After college, she was a teacher for 11 years. For 6 years after that, she was in the Missouri State House. From 2004 until her election 2 years ago to the US House, she's written a book, raised her family, and remained very active politically both at the state and national levels. Based on the description of her activities, it is hard to say whether she is "comfortable with manure on her shoes."
Fortunately, we do have another source of information to aid in our determination. Politifact linked to but did not quote, or apparently read, the Environmental Working Group's article on farm subsidies paid to members of the current Congress
. As that article points out:
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)
Hartzler is listed in the EWG Farm Subsidy Database, but no subsidies were directly paid to her. Her husband, Lowell Hartzler, however, is listed as a 98 percent owner of Hartzler Farms, which received a total of $774,489 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. His ownership percentage rose from 53 percent in the years up to 2005 to 98 percent in 2006.
Compare that to the information from the same article for Stephen Fincher:
Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.)
Fincher is listed as directly receiving a total of $114,519 from USDA between 1995 and 2009. Fincher’s farm, Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms, is also listed in the EWG database as receiving a total of $3,254,324 between 1999 and 2009. Fincher and his wife Lynn are each 50 percent partners in that farm.
Based on the description of her activities on her official website, and on the change in ownership of her family farm, she is not an active farmer at this time.
Foul Tip, Strike Two.
Two others have extensive experience on the farm although they no longer claim to be "working farmers."
Then this information is irrelevant. They aren't active, by their own admission. The only reason to include them is to bolster a weak argument.
We were also curious how many members of Congress look like farmers on paper by receiving U.S. Agriculture Department payments for farm operations they may not actually actively farm. For that we turned to the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, which for years has maintained a database of crop subsidy payments obtained from the USDA through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Again, irrelevant information. My mother owned a portion of a soybean plantation in Arkansas through her parents' trust. That plantation received subsidies from the federal government but I assure you, my mother is not an active farmer.
Strike Three for PolitiFact.
Once again, PolitiFact Tennessee uses faulty research, subjective judgments, and poor analysis to arrive at the conclusion they wanted from the start. It was no surprise to me to see that the author was, once again, Bartholomew Sullivan.
While the PolitiFact piece is garbage, it is clear that while you could fit all the true farmers in Congress into a Chevy Volt and still have room for a hitch hiker, Stephen Fincher is not the only real farmer in Congress.
« Close 'er up!
Monday, January 16, 2012
More Spin Masquerading as Truth from the Knoxville News Sentinel
Bright and early Sunday morning, Jack McElroy trumpeted
a new addition to the KNS. The Commercial Appeal and the KNS have joined forces to create Politifact Tennessee, an off shoot of the Pulitzer Prize winning effort by the St Petersburg Times to fact check the statements of politicians, and to do so without bias or agenda.
According to Jack:
The project may sound like silly, and biased, journalism. But PolitiFact, as the initiative was called, adhered to the highest standards of reporting. Political rhetoric was checked against strictly verifiable data. All sources of information were revealed, and the reasons for the Truth-O-Meter ratings were clearly spelled out.
Let's take a closer look, shall we?
From the Politifact Tennessee
Every day, reporters and researchers from the Commercial Appeal and News Sentinel examine statements by Tennessee elected officials and candidates and anyone else who speaks up in the political discourse. We research their statements and rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter:
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
Now, as I read through the possible categories, I'm seeing a lot of subjective words in what should be objective criteria. Words like "significant", "critical facts", "partially", and so on. The true and false categories are fairly clear, but the Mostly True, Half True, and Mostly False are clearly areas where subjective bias can easily be masked as objectivity. After all, who decides which facts are critical and which are not? Who decides which details are important and which ones are not? And on what basis do they make those decisions?
This presents a serious problem with the root conceit of Politifact; the folks involved are making subjective judgments and labeling them as objective facts. This misrepresentation is more in keeping with propaganda than journalism.
The potential for abuse is demonstrated by the very first set of stories in the KNS. They "fact checked"
Marsha Blackburn's statements about incandescent light bulbs and ruled her statement as "Mostly False."
Let's examine the article to see how they came up with that conclusion.
The headline for the article is:
New energy standards will take away "our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes."
Actually, that is not what Blackburn said. She said (quote appears below) that the new standards will take away our incandescent light bulbs,
not our freedom of choice and selection. There's a huge difference in both the text and subtext presented here that reflects the bias of Bartholomew Sullivan, the author.
This is not a good start.
The sub head is:
Marsha Blackburn says she is battling for freedom of choice – for energy-inefficient light bulbs
Snarky headlines do not contribute to the appearance of objectivity. Even worse, this header puts words into Blackburn's mouth that she most assuredly did not say. Sullivan is belittling Blackburn and her position, which is irrelevant to the veracity of her statement.
The article then provides this partial quote, and a link to the video it comes from:
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., has been on a crusade to, as she put it on the House floor in July, prevent higher efficiency standards for light bulbs from creating "a de facto ban on the incandescent bulb." In an appearance on the Fox Business Channel in December, she re-calibrated her rhetorical salvo when she told Stuart Varney she’s fighting "to keep our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes."
Before I get to the quote, notice the loaded words used in this introductory paragraph. She's on a "crusade". She had to "recalibrate her rhetorical salvo." These are not neutral, objective descriptors; they are carefully crafted to provoke an emotional reaction to the content of the story. Along with the snarky sub head, they paint Blackburn as an obsessed ideologue who is in favor of wasting energy.
That is an editorial, subjective judgement, not a fact. It goes to her personality, not her statement.
Now, let's put the quote into context. The subject of the video was not light bulbs, but the accomplishments of the Republican controlled House. The segment lasts for 3:40, of which Marsha spends roughly 30 seconds talking about the light bulbs. Her full statement was:
"We have been able to block the money that EPA would use to implement the new energy efficiency standards that take away our incandescent light bulbs, so that is, that is in this Minibus that we are going to pass today. We are going to be able to hang on to our light bulbs one more year and be able to keep up this fight to keep our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes."
So we have two parts to this statement to fact check. The first is that the new energy efficiency standards are going to take away the traditional tungsten incandescent light bulb. The second is that this will limit our freedom of choice and selection.
From the article:
The Obama administration issued a statement before the vote that said consumers still have freedom of choice under the law. "Any type of bulb can be sold as long as it meets the efficiency requirements. In sum, the bill would hinder an opportunity to save American consumers money, while enhancing energy efficiency and reducing harmful emissions associated with energy production."
Let's translate this statement. "You can choose to buy any light bulb we allow you to buy."
Hardly freedom of choice.
Supporters of the standards say the higher-efficiency bulbs mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act not only save energy but, despite higher up-front costs, save consumers money over time because the bulbs last longer.
This claim is not sourced. What bulb types are these unnamed supporters referring to? Florescent? Compact Florescent? Halogen? Some undeveloped technology to be named later? Any links or sources for any of this? And more importantly, how does this statement relate to Blackburn's statement? It goes to justifying the law, not addressing the truth of either of her claims.
So does the imposition of higher energy standards amount to a "de facto ban" on incandescent bulbs? Does it strip away "our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes?"
The short answer is no. Existing inefficient bulbs will stay in circulation and will continue to be sold to consumers until supplies run out. And while traditional tungsten-element bulbs can’t meet the higher standards and will not be manufactured, light bulb companies are continuing to make incandescent halogen bulbs, although they are more expensive than incandescent tungsten. So the only way you could consider there to be a ban would be if you couldn't afford the halogen bulbs.
OK, here's the only part of the article that actually addresses Blackburn's statement. While Sullivan admits that traditional bulbs will not be manufactured anymore, which concedes the truth of the first part of Blackburn's statement, he argues that since replacements are available, you haven't really had your choice taken away. By similar logic, the ban on saccharine wasn't really a ban on saccharine because you could still buy aspartame. In both cases, your choice has been limited by government regulation, infringing on your freedom of choice.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that supports the higher standards, points out that the trade association for domestic light manufacturers, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which would appear to have an interest in a banning of its products, has embraced the increased efficiency standards. The NRDC also notes that a factory in St. Marys, Pa., is retooling to make more efficient incandescent bulbs, creating domestic jobs.
In perhaps the most telling endorsement of the higher standards, Barry Edison Sloane, the great-grandson of the inventor of the incandescent bulb, Thomas Edison, called those who sought their repeal "narrow-minded." Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports, also endorses the higher standards.
Two paragraphs with more endorsements of the new standards, and completely irrelevant to whether Blackburn's statement was true or false.
Traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs would have been the first to fail to meet the new standards that were to have taken effect Jan. 1. Congress in late December effectively delayed that until October 2012. Other traditional incandescents will fail to meet the lumens-per-watt standard between then and 2014, when the standard for 40-watt bulbs kicks in. Several kinds of incandescent bulbs within those wattage ranges are exempt from the new standards, including appliance bulbs, colored bulbs and stage lighting in theaters.
This paragraph explains the process of removing traditional incandescent bulbs from the marketplace, and is material that completely backs Blackburn's claims.
PolitiFact has checked many other assertions regarding the light bulb controversy, finding a claim by the conservative political action committee AmeriPAC that "you will be mandated by federal law to get rid of your existing light bulbs" to be a "Pants on Fire"-level misrepresentation. Others have been equally misleading, particularly Varney, who can be found in a 2009 debate with environmentalist actor Ed Begley Jr. stating: "The government is telling me I may not have incandescent lights."
A lovely little paragraph that again, has nothing to do with Blackburn's statement, but is used to make her look bad through association.
Let me illustrate how this associative guilt thing works. Instead of describing Ed Begley Jr. as an 'environmentalist actor,' what if he were described as '9-11 truther and conspiracy theorist Ed Begley Jr.?' It would be just as accurate, but it would certainly prejudice the reader against his opinions, would it not?
Is that how McElroy defines the highest standards of journalism? Guilt by association?
And the conclusion:
Blackburn has been more careful in qualifying the language she uses to advance her cause. Because the standards will ultimately bring about the end of traditional incandescent bulbs, there is an element of truth in Blackburn’s claims. But consumers will still have plenty of choice of different types of bulbs, even if traditional incandescents are not for sale.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
In Blackburn's full, unedited statement, she is clearly talking about traditional incandescent bulbs being removed from the market, thus limiting consumer choice by government fiat. Those bulbs will be removed from the market. Blackburn's statement is mostly true. However, because Sullivan clearly agrees with the new standards, he chooses to ignore this basic fact and instead uses selective quotation, emotionally loaded language, unsourced and irrelevant statements, as well camouflaged subjective judgments to reach his "ruling" of Mostly False.
In other words, PolitiFact is little more than opinion based journalism masquerading as fact checking.
For this feature to be worthwhile, there are some significant changes that must be made.
- No snark. At all. Straight forward old school journalism rules apply. Just the facts and any relevant context with opinions and/or assumptions clearly stated.
- Only information that directly reflects the veracity of the claim being checked is allowed. No discussion of the merits of the issues involved, just the truth of the statement.
- Every claim for and against the veracity of the statement must be sourced and linked to allow checking by the reader for accuracy and context. If you include a quote from a speech, there better be a link to the transcript. If experts or supporters are cited, there better be a side bar with their name and where the information came from.
- A rebuttal by the subject should be included in the article.
Just for fun, here is how I would have written up this article, using the exact same information available to Mr. Sullivan.
Marsha Blackburn claims that the new energy efficiency standards will "take away our incandescent light bulbs."
Plans "to keep up this fight to keep our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes."
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., claimed during a speech on the House floor last summer that the new energy efficiency standards amount to "a de facto ban on the incandescent bulb" and during a December interview on Fox Business Channel took credit, along with the rest of the Republican led House, for delaying implementation of the standards.
Her full statement during the interview was:
"We have been able to block the money that EPA would use to implement the new energy efficiency standards that take away our incandescent light bulbs, so that is, that is in this MiniBus that we are going to pass today. We are going to be able to hang on to our light bulbs one more year and be able to keep up this fight to keep our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes."
Blackburn has said she was concerned with government limiting consumer choice.
The Obama administration issued a statement that said that consumers still have freedom of choice under the law. "Any type of bulb can be sold as long as it meets the efficiency requirements."
So does the imposition of higher energy standards amount to a "de facto ban" on incandescent bulbs? Does it limit "our freedom of choice and selection in the light bulbs we have in our homes" as Blackburn said it did?
The short answer is yes. Traditional tungsten-element bulbs can’t meet the higher standards and will not be manufactured and therefore will be removed from the marketplace once the last ones are sold. However, there will be some incandescent bulbs still available. Light bulb companies are continuing to make incandescent halogen bulbs, which are more efficient than the traditional tungsten bulbs, but also more expensive, and do pose a fire hazard. Also, some traditional incandescent bulbs will still be manufactured, mainly for appliance lights, and for stage and theater lights. But as Blackburn’s spokesman Mike Reynard said: "It’s a de facto ban because traditional incandescent light bulbs can’t meet the new energy standards. An American innovation may be able to create a new incandescent bulb 2.0 -- which can meet the new standards -- but it won’t be the incandescent bulb your parents grew up with."
Traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs would have been the first to fail to meet the new standards that were to have taken effect Jan. 1. Congress in late December effectively delayed that until October 2012. Other traditional incandescents will fail to meet the lumens-per-watt standard between then and 2014, when the standard for 40-watt bulbs kicks in.
Because the standards will ultimately bring about the end of traditional incandescent bulbs, Blackburn’s claims are accurate. But because some incandescent bulbs, including some tungsten types, will still be manufactured for special uses, and because the consumers can choose to use halogens, which are a type of incandescent light, the idea of an outright ban overstates the truth.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
No snark, no extraneous information, no bias, and no opinions hidden as facts. I even changed the wording of the conclusion from 'ruling', which implies some sort of objectivity, to 'judgment', which acknowledges that we are all subjective in our evaluations of the relevant facts.
Monday, January 02, 2012
Thank You Jaime Satterfield
In a moment of inadvertent honesty, Ms. Satterfield gave us all a glimpse behind the mask of impartiality and allowed us to see the truth about the bias that exists at the KNS.
On Friday, Jaime tweeted the following:
"@jamiescoop: How ironic is it that a blogger uses docs I obtained after court fight to trash my reporting as inept and her cult followers eat it up?"
Over at Knoxviews, rocketsquirrel has an excellent post
detailing all the ways this tweet is unprofessional.
But despite the unprofessional nature of the tweet, which has since been deleted, I can't help but applaud its honesty. Ms Satterfield very openly expressed her contempt for Katie, and all the folks who have joined her fight for justice. In Satterfield's eyes, we're a cult, blindly following Katie on a Quixotic mission to destroy the KCSO, the DA, and the KNS.
This attitude explains why Satterfield's reporting on Henry's case has been so poor; she has already decided there's no story there, and no amount of evidence is going to change her mind. In fact, she's so sure of herself that any attempt to change her mind will be met with closed minded scorn.
What I wonder now is whether or not Jack McElroy will continue to allow Ms. Satterfield to cover stories related to Katie and to Baumgartner. The tweet makes it very clear that Ms. Satterfield is no longer capable of objective reporting on the Baumgartner story or Henry's story.
But if her biases aren't reason enough, then perhaps her friendship with one of the principles in the case, Special Prosecuter Al Schmutzer is. According to a recent post
by Ms. Granju:
Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Jamie Satterfield, (who in a recent live interview with local talk radio host George Korda volunteered the information that Special Prosecutor Al Schmutzer is a personal friend of hers, something one might reasonably think would make her a less than ideal choice for covering this story) wrote the June 3, 2011 article about Gibson’s disturbing claims.
The irony here is that Ms. Satterfield herself called me out for this very thing in an email exchange I documented in this post.
Thursday, August 4, 2011 1:27 PM
If I were close enough to one side in a story to accompany her to the sheriff's office I could not ethically report on the case as a reporter. Maybe the rules for bloggers aren't as stringent.
And we're back to that again. I'm asking questions without easy answers, so now I'm unprofessional and lacking standards.
You may our may not have noticed, but I did not report on Katie's trip to the sheriff's office. Instead I provided an eye witness account to a reporter who wasn't there and who had voiced misgivings about how the incident was portrayed by one of the participants.
My standards are just fine.
Ms. Satterfield is now actively doing exactly what she called me out for, writing a story about people I was personally involved with.
So, while I applaud her honesty in demonstrating her bias, I'm now hoping she will demonstrate an equal amount of journalistic integrity, and allow somebody else without her bias and without her close relationship with one or more of the principle figures to cover both the Granju story and the Baumgartner story.
In her own words, that would be the ethical thing to do.
But will she live up to them?
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