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People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Friday, January 14, 2005

From Here On Out, There's a New Sheriff In Town

If there is one reason to read weblogs daily that has become more important than any other these days, it is for fact-checking purposes. And people like Nicholas Kristof should know by now not to try to simply insert some hysterical claim into one of his New York Times articles without (a) making sure it is defensible and (b) being able to back it up with sources.

Yesterday Kristof made this claim:

Here's a wrenching fact: If the U.S. had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year.

Yes, Cuba's. Babies are less likely to survive in America, with a health care system that we think is the best in the world, than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba. According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S. (link)

And today, his claim is pummeled into bloody, unrecognizable pulp by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal, with the help of a couple of his blogger friends. Not with ridicule or condescension (which I prefer) but with a barrage of facts. (link requires subscription)

Even though he is a New York Times op-ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof is an honest and generally sensible guy. He does, however, have an annoying tendency, one fairly common among liberals: He seems to think it's cute to cast America in a negative light. Yesterday this led him seriously astray. His lead was a grabber:

Here's a wrenching fact: If the U.S. had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year.

Yes, Cuba's. Babies are less likely to survive in America, with a health care system that we think is the best in the world, than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba. According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S.

Kristof goes on to note that the U.S. infant-mortality rate, which declined in every year from 1958 to 2001, went up in 2002, to 7 babies per 1,000 live births from 6.8 the previous year. "America's children are at greater risk than they've been in for at least a decade," Irwin Redlener of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health tells Kristof. The column closes with another comparison:

As readers know, I complain regularly about the Chinese government's brutality in imprisoning dissidents, Christians and, lately, Zhao Yan, a New York Times colleague in Beijing. Yet for all their ruthlessness, China's dictators have managed to drive down the infant mortality rate in Beijing to 4.6 per thousand; in contrast, New York City's rate is 6.5.

Blogger Edward Morrissey notes some problems with Kristof's claims. For one, since there are no figures yet for 2003 or 2004, there's no reason to assume that the increase from 2001 to 2002 is a trend rather than a blip. Indeed, CNN reported last
February that the increase was "mainly because of complications associated with older women putting off motherhood and then having multiple babies via fertility drugs" and that based on preliminary data the Centers for Disease Control says "the U.S. rate for 2003 is expected to drop" (presumably final 2003 numbers will be out next month).

Kristof acknowledges this point, but spins it differently:

"Sandy Smith of the Centers for Disease Control says that the statisticians are pretty sure there was not a further deterioration in 2003, but that it's too soon to know whether there was an improvement or just a leveling off at the higher rate." But in any case, a look at the CDC data suggests that Redlener's statement about children being at "greater risk than . . . for at least a decade," which Kristof reports uncritically, is
bunk. The rate in 1995 was 7.6 per 1,000, and in 1990, 9.2 per 1,000.

Morrissey takes particular offense at Kristof's "cherry-picking" of Chinese data. The CIA World Factbook reports that China's nationwide rate is 25.28 deaths per thousand live births.

"Perhaps the rate is better in Beijing, but it hardly matters if the rest of the country has that rate," Morrissey writes. "Kristof also leaves out another issue with China and its infants: its forced-abortion policy aimed at population control."

But if Brian Carnell is right, Kristof's conclusion is utterly false. Carnell writes:
The United States . . . has the most intensive system of emergency intervention
to keep low birth weight and premature infants alive in the world. The United States is, for example, one of only a handful countries that keeps detailed statistics on early fetal mortality--the survival rate of infants who are born as early as the 20th week of gestation.

How does this skew the statistics? Because in the United States if an infant is born weighing only 400 grams [14 ounces] and not breathing, a doctor will likely spend lot of time and money trying to revive that infant. If the infant does not survive--and the mortality rate for such infants is in excess of 50 percent--that sequence of events will be recorded as a live birth and then a death.

In many countries, however, (including many European countries) such severe medical intervention would not be attempted and, moreover, regardless of whether or not it was, this would be recorded as a fetal death rather than a live birth. That unfortunate infant would never show up in infant mortality statistics.

Medical statistics can be tricky: An excellent hospital may have a higher death rate than a mediocre one because of differences in the patient population, with the former treating much harder cases than the latter. That is what seems to have happened here: Kristof has alighted on a statistical artifact of American excellence and misconstrued it as a sign of America's shortcomings.

The days of the liberal left tossing any wild claim into the marketplace of ideas are over. Old Nick would do well to ask the Times to lend him a researcher the next time he starts his whine. Then maybe he won't look so foolish.

Rathergate: The Summation

I post entries to my weblog for two reasons generally. I do it to entertain you and to entertain - and amuse - myself. But there is a third reason. I don't often invoke it but it is always a consideration lurking between the lines of every entry. I write for my grandchildren. And their grandchildren. For posterity.

To that end, I am posting an article written by Charles Krauthammer that appeared on the op/ed page of the Washington Post today - in its entirety - with his and your permission. It is that good. And it defines, in microcosm, the age in which we live as well as the direction we are headed.

Rather Biased

By Charles Krauthammer

First comes the crime: Dan Rather's late hit on President Bush's Air National Guard service, featuring what were almost immediately revealed to be forged documents.

Then comes the coverup: 12 days of CBS stonewalling, with Dan Rather using his evening news platform to (a) call his critics "partisan political operatives," (b) claim falsely that the documents were authenticated by experts, and (c) claim that he had "solid sources," which turned out to be a rabid anti-Bush partisan with a history of, shall we say, prolific storytelling.

Now comes the twist: The independent investigation -- clueless, uncomprehending and in its own innocent way disgraceful -- pretends that this fiasco was in no way politically motivated.

The investigation does note that the show's producer called Joe Lockhart of the Kerry campaign to alert him to the story and to urge him to contact the purveyor of the incriminating documents. It concludes that this constitutes an "appearance of political bias." What would producer Mary Mapes have had to do to go beyond appearance? Show up at the Kerry headquarters?

CBS had been pursuing the story for five years. Five years! The Manhattan Project took three. Five years for a minor episode in a 30-year-old byway in the life of the president? This story had been vetted not only in two Texas gubernatorial races but twice more by the national media, once in 2000 and then yet again earlier in 2004 when Michael Moore's "deserter" charge and Terry McAuliffe's "AWOL" charge touched off a media frenzy that culminated in a Newsweek cover.

To what, then, does the report attribute Mapes's great-white-whale obsession with the story? Her Texas roots. I kid you not. She comes from Texas and likes Texas stories. You believe that and you will believe that a 1972 typewriter can tuck the letter "i" right up against the umbrella of the letter "f" (as can Microsoft Word).

Did Mapes and Rather devote a fraction of the resources they gave this story to a real scandal, such as the oil-for-food scandal at the United Nations, or contrary partisan political charges, such as those brought by the Swift boat vets against John Kerry? On the United Nations, no interest. On Kerry, what CBS did do was ad hominem investigative stories on the Swift boat veterans themselves, rather than an examination of the charges. Do you perceive a direction to these inclinations?

Now comes the National Guard story, the most blindingly partisan bungle in recent journalistic history, and the august investigative panel, CBS News and most of the mainstream media do not have a clue. The bungle is attributed to haste and sloppiness. Haste, yes. To get the story out in time to damage, perhaps fatally, the president's chances of reelection.

This is not an isolated case. In fact the case is a perfect illustration of an utterly commonplace phenomenon: the mainstream media's obliviousness to its own liberal bias.

I do not attribute this to bad faith. I attribute it to (as Marx would say) false consciousness -- contracted by living in the liberal media cocoons of New York, Washington and Los Angeles, in which any other worldview is simply and truly inconceivable. This myopia was most perfectly captured by Pauline Kael's famous remark after Nixon's 1972 landslide: "I don't know how Richard Nixon could have won. I don't know anybody who voted for him."

Multiple polls of the media elite have confirmed Kael's inadvertent sociological insight. One particularly impartial poll, taken by the Freedom Forum in 1996, found that of 139 Washington bureau chiefs and congressional correspondents, 89 percent supported Bill Clinton in the previous election, vs. 7 percent for George H.W. Bush. The rest of America went 43 percent to 37 percent.

Some argue that personal allegiance does not matter because it is possible to be partisan at home and yet consciously bias-free at work.

Possible, yes. Actual? The Project for Excellence in Journalism did a careful study of mainstream media stories in September and October. The numbers are stunning.

To take one example, Oct. 1-14, 2004: Percent of stories about Bush that are negative -- 59 percent. Percent of stories about Kerry that are negative -- 25 percent. Stories favorable to Bush? 14 percent. Favorable to Kerry? 34 percent.

That is not a difference. That is a chasm. And you do not have to be a weatherman to ascertain wind direction. When, in February 2003, Gallup asked Americans their perception of media bias, 45 percent said the media were too liberal, 15 percent said they were too conservative. That's 3 to 1.

Bias spectacularly, if redundantly, confirmed by Rathergate. All that is missing is a signed confession. (link)

Krauthammer is the best.

Moral Cowardice

There are people out there who wonder why it is that mainstream Christian denominations have been losing membership for the last several decades. The number one reason is exemplified in this:

Lutheran Decision Splits on Gay Clergy

By Julia Duin The Washington Times

A Lutheran task force handed a victory to homosexual rights groups yesterday by recommending that although the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America should not change its policy against ordaining homosexual clergy, it should not censure churches that break the rule.

But "those who feel conscience-bound to call people [as pastors] in committed same-sex unions should refrain from making the call a media event either as an act of defiance or with the presumption of being prophetic," the task force warned.

The 14-member task force pronounced itself conflicted and unable to agree about how the ELCA should proceed.

What emerged in their report -- released at church headquarters in Chicago -- was a compromise in which congregations could hire homosexual clergy without making this the official policy in the 4.9-million-member denomination. (link)

You have to read the entire article to understand how muddleheaded these Evangelical Lutheran church leaders are. They didn't walk a fine line here. They crawled under the rug. "We shouldn't change our rules - but we should be accepting if a lesbian decides to break them - but lesbians should not want to break them - but if they do, we should embrace them just the same - if you choose to."

Right out of the 1960's. "If it feels good, do it." This coming from the people who are supposed to be teaching us right from wrong as they have been ordained (ordered by virtue of Superior Authority) to do.

Such cowards.

Like Trying To Push Back The Sea

My heart goes out to them for trying to do something about the problem with stray animals.

New Web site features local dogs for adoption

WAYNE QUESENBERRY -- Staff Bland County Messenger

John and Esther C. Witt can testify to the quality of dogs from the Wythe County Animal Shelter. The Max Meadows couple have three from there.


Because of their enormous love for dogs, they wanted to do something to promote local adoption of the animals, which also come from Bland County. Two weeks ago, John Witt obtained permission from the county's animal control officer Bill Ward to photograph all the dogs available and post them at no charge on a Web site he designed.

"I'd been thinking about it for awhile. Esther and I both are into photography. So, we decided to do it," John Witt said late last week.

They plan to update the page as the dogs are adopted and others become available. Information about each animal is included with the photograph.

"I think it's a good idea. Any way we can find a home for an animal is worth a try," Ward stated of the new project. (link)

Paula is a member of the Wythe County Humane Society. She and John and Esther Witt are attempting the impossible. To make the lives of the thousands of unwanted and abandoned pets around here a bit better. They hope to provide food and shelter to them and, ultimately, to find them a loving home.

But for every Paula and John and Esther there is in Bland and Wythe Counties, there are a hundred dirtbags who don't care about the cats and dogs they allow to come into this world and then turn loose on the county's back roads. I see the efforts of these three as being futile. And heartbreaking. Because they care so much.

I ask this of you: If you know someone who has abused a pet or has intentionally abandoned one in your area, don't just call animal control. Send a clear message that he will understand. Go over to his house and beat the hell out of him. Share the abuse with the abuser.

Any Friend of Jimmy Carter...

Amid cries of voter fraud a few months ago, former President Jimmy Carter, on the scene to "validate" the "legitimacy" of the election in Venezuela, ignored all evidence to the contrary and reported with a great deal of glee that Hugo Chavez had been chosen by the people there freely and fairly. He even seemed to take offense at the very idea that he was simply invited there to be used as a stooge for the marxist regime and that he had made absolutely no attempt to investigate the charges that Chavez had simply altered the results and declared himself the winner.

It is fair to say that Carter, unarguably our weakest and most inept president of the 20th century, chose not to look. His soul brother had won.

Well, he must be watching with pride as Chavez now moves to consolidate his "victory" by confiscating the lands of Venezuelan citizens, as reported by the Washington Post this morning:

Venezuela's 'Revolution'

Last Sunday hundreds of heavily armed Venezuelan troops invaded one of the country's largest and most productive cattle ranches, launching what President Hugo Chavez describes as his "war against the estates." The next day Mr. Chavez signed a decree under which authorities are expected to seize scores of other farms in the coming weeks. This assault on private property is merely the latest step in what has been a rapidly escalating "revolution" by Venezuela's president that is undermining the foundations of democracy and free enterprise in that oil-producing country.

Mr. Chavez, a disciple of Cuban President Fidel Castro, has also accelerated his attempt to reorient Venezuelan foreign policy away from the United States and other democracies. In recent weeks he has visited Iran, Russia, Libya and China, in addition to Cuba. In Moscow, he said that Venezuela would make a major purchase of Russian weapons, including 40 helicopters and 100,000 rifles. According to reports in the Russian press, Mr. Chavez may spend $5 billion on arms, including advanced MiG-29 fighter jets. That prospect has alarmed neighboring Colombia, which recently arrested a senior leader of the FARC movement -- designated a terrorist organization by the United States -- who had been given sanctuary in Venezuela. (
link)

Yes, Jimmy Carter, a man who famously told Haitian dictator Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country," (link) is no doubt very proud of Hugo Chavez's actions against his people. As should every one of you who cling to the notion that the man was worthy of your vote, and that he is, in his own inimitable way, looking out for the little guy.

The New York Times Hopes We Fail

You can detect their eagerness in the words they write. They are praying (that may be a poor choice of words considering the people involved) for our military to fail in Iraq. They find pleasure in the smallest setback. They report with glee the most obscure news as if it is somehow a life-altering event. How else to explain sentences like this, regarding the news that Ukraine is withdrawing its 1600 man contingent from Iraq, as the Ukrainian government previously announced it would:
Ukraine's withdrawal punches a major and potentially fatal hole in the much-ballyhooed multinational division that Poland volunteered to lead in Iraq. (link)
A potentially fatal hole. Ukraine.

They want us to lose.

I know these intellectual giants routinely find the end of the world in most every piece of news relating to such widely varied topics as Prozac to global warming, and that their dire predictions of doom never manifest themselves, but their cheerleading for the terrorists who are bent on killing every one of us is beyond intolerable. I hereby condemn them for their strident (and often shrill; often fatuous) efforts to undermine our efforts in the war on terror. Shame on them.

Would Someone Get In Contact With Bill Gates?

This news regarding your tax dollars at work comes from the New York Times:

F.B.I. May Scrap Vital Overhaul of Its Outdated Computer System

By ERIC LICHTBLAU

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 - The Federal Bureau of Investigation is on the verge of scrapping a $170 million computer overhaul that is considered critical to the campaign against terrorism but has been riddled with technical and planning problems, F.B.I. officials said on Thursday.

In a last-ditch effort to save the program, the bureau has hired a research firm at a cost of $2 million to evaluate the mounting problems in creating a "paperless" work system and to determine whether any parts of the project can be salvaged, officials said. One idea under strong consideration is for the bureau to use off-the-shelf software instead of the expensive customized features it has unsuccessfully sought to develop.

The development is a major setback for the F.B.I. in a decade-long struggle to escape a paper-driven culture and replace antiquated computer systems that have hobbled counterterrorism and criminal investigations. Robert S. Mueller III, the bureau's director, along with members of the Sept. 11 commission and other national security experts, have said the success of that effort is critical to domestic security. (
link)

Ah well. Its only money. Our money. That $170 million would have gotten you and me more than a few Bud Lites for this weekend's playoff games. At least then, while cheering the Vikings to victory, we could have gotten a small bit of pleasure out of it, before we "urinated" it away.

A Clarification

A trusted reader emailed me to inquire if I had homosexual tendencies. His motivation was unclear but I shudder to think ... Anyway, he read this in a post yesterday relating to a survey of men and their "proclivities."

"2% of us are gay."

I didn't mean us as in us gay guys. I meant us as in 2% of us men are gay. And don't you be calling me ... one of those. I am a real man. A man's man. One who can put a smile on the face and a song in the heart of any woman across this great land. A man who has stimulated the desires of women of all ages (which was sometimes not a pretty sight, and most of them didn't want me to pay them). I once read Playboy, for God's sake. I have a wife who will attest to my manhood, although she refused to contribute to this weblog even knowing that my sexual prowess was at stake. I'm not sure how to take that. Abandoned at a critical moment in my life. So typical. Why doesn't someone survey that?!

Do I seem a little too defensive here?