Bush and the Media

Earlier, I said that the media let the Bushies get away with their lies. They have, so the Bushies lie more. If you can make up quotes about Gore, make up stories about Gore, and no one calls you on it, then why would you stop? Until the Bushies are shown some negative reinforcement, they have every reason to grow more secretive, more autocratic, more arrogant, more insular, and more deceptive. Yglesias says it better:

I used to get mad at the administration for trying to manipulate people all the time. I don’t anymore. You can hardly blame them. Everyone would act this way if the media were so casual about letting them get away with it. But now we’re well beyond letting them get away and deep into aiding-and-abetting territoriy.

The only difference between us is that I am still mad.

2004 Election Analysis

GWB is president because he lied and got away with it. Too many people believed the lies.

Consider Iraq. Either you believe it was connected to 9/11 in some way or you don’t. If you do believe that Iraq has a connection to 9/11, then the invasion makes sense. And whatever bad things happen there are unfortunate, but neccessary to effectively take on the bad guys. On the other hand, if you think they are unrelated, then you think it was a gigantic mistake on ever level.
Fact: Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11. There is no reputable independent source that will say otherwise.
Fact: The Bush administration knew this, and decided to go to Iraq anyways, spreading lies to the American public.
What did the exit polls show? 55% of the voters believed that Iraq was part of the war on terrorism, and the voted 81%-18% for Bush.

Consider the WMDs. If you believed that Iraq had WMDs, and you believe that Sadaam was a nutjob who was unpredictable, then you might reasonably feel we had to do something about it. If you thought there were never WMDs and we had defanged Saddam back in Gulf War I, then you didn’t see what the all the fuss was about.

Fact: Iraq did not have WMDs. They had close to zero offensive capability. We were more threatened by Australia then we were by Iraq.
Fact: The Bush administration knew this, and decided to go to Iraq anyways, spreading lies to the American public.
What does/did the public believe about this? In November 2003 (the closest date I can find), polls showed that about half the country overall believed there were WMDs in Iraq, while 80% of Republicans did. (According to Gallup, over half the country now believes they were lied to about WMDs.)

And Iraq and related issues were the #1 issue for voters, not “moral issues”. Of the 46% who bought into the fantasy that the Iraq War made the US more secure, 90% voted for Bush.

How about the economy?
Fact: The Bush taxcuts were bad economic policy, roundly denounced by hordes of economists. They were not designed to help the economy. Yet, 41% of the populace believed that they were even after 4 years of job losses and poor economic news, and they broke 92%-7% for Bush.

So what do have here? We have a country were roughly half the people believe in fairy tales they’ve been told. In fact, as the article nicely demonstrates (and has been shown elsewhere), the majority of Bush supporters simply don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. ..
Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions….
only 31% of Bush supporters recognize that the majority of people in the world oppose the US having gone to war with Iraq.

So are people idiots? Well, there’s never a shortage of idiots. But for the most part, that isn’t the answer, and it ain’t their fault. Citizens shouldn’t have to spend their time investigating to see if their leaders are telling the truth. I spend a lot of time diving through news sources, going to primary sources, reading informed commentary. Most people don’t. Most people shouldn’t. In a well-functioning democracy, there is no need to. Your leaders normally aren’t presumed to be liars, and a properly-functioning media will let you know when they are. We do not have a properly-functioning media. I will simply point you to 6 years of cites at The Daily Howler.

Yep, GWB lied. He wasn’t called on it. Enough people believed. He won. He continues to lie. The US, and the world, is the worse for it.

(“Lies” is a term that carries a lot of meaning behind it. If it makes you feel better, substitute in “a careful program of misstatements, misrepresentations, and disinformation designed in such a way that they could always be defended on some tortuous hair-splitting fine point, but were designed purely to decieve” To me, that’s a lie.)

(Any uncited poll data comes from here or here.)

Sports: The Funnel Theory

In my last post, I explained why some sports are better than others. There is an semi-empirical test (a thought experiment really) to evaluate the relative merits of sports too. That last post had gone on way too long though, I had to separate it out.

(The funnel theory was developed in collaboration with Mr. Kid. In keeping with the psedononymous nature of this site, I will only use his real name if he requests.)

The funnel theory was born in 1997 or so, when I got a new roommate. I was then in my volleyball and basketball years, playing 5 or 6 times a week. He also claimed to be a sportsman. What sport did he play? Underwater Hockey. I’m not kidding, underwater hockey. Here’s the best link I could find. Needless to say, I didn’t think much of this. I grew more contemptuous when he claimed to be one of the top 20 players in the world. Big deal! I could be in the top 500 just by jumping in the pool. If I can avoid drowning, I’d make it to the top 100. Anyone who plays professional basketball, football, baseball, soccer, tennis — if they chose to play underwater hockey instead, they would be the best player in the world. But instead, they chose to play a real sport instead. This insight birthed the funnel theory.

Imagine all the people in the world at the top of the funnel. At the top are sports anyone can play. Hopscotch, Hide and Seek, etc. As you move downwards, the sports get more difficult, and it grows harder to keep moving down. At the bottom of the funnel are sports that you have to be something truly special to excel in. The sports at the bottom of the funnel are “better” in some real, empirical sense.

What distinguishes the levels? Let’s say curling is above hockey (as it is). I claim that means that if you took all the hockey players, and pretended they had spent their life training in curling instead, and did the same with the curlers (brought them up to be hockey players), more of the ex-hockey players would be great at curling than the ex-curlers would be great at hockey. Another example, if you took all the skiiers of the world, and had them start their life over playing underwater hockey, they would dominate the sport. But the underwater hockey players would not dominate skiing, they’d be terrible.

This is all statistical. It’s not to say that Shaquille O’Neal could beat Tiger Woods at golf. But more basketball players would be world class golfers than golfers could be world class basketball players.

Note that very few people could become worldclass boxers, basketball or football players who aren’t already. These are the sports at the bottom of my funnel, and the top of my list of great sports.

Some folks may be muttering “Michael Jordan and baseball!” under their breath. The best basketball player in the world, and he was an average baseball in the minor leagues. True, but remember, he was good enough to be in the minors. And the thought experiment is to imagine if Michael Jordan had spent the time and effort in baseball that he did in basketball. There is no doubt in my mind that more basketball players could succeed at baseball than the reverse. None at all.

(Not sure how Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Jim Thorpe fit into this theory, suggestions are welcome.)

Grading Sports

I have a lot of disputes with people about why some sports are just plain better than others. I am anti-baseball, and virulently anti-golf. But it is not merely random preferences. There are some definite parameters that define what makes one sport better than another.

Defense / Competing directly against another human being: Golf is not against a person. It is against the course, which another person happens to occupy at the same time. Same for track and field events, swimming events, skating. These all score low. Competition should be against another person. Sports that score highly are boxing, basketball, soccer, tennis, fencing, dodgeball, and most card games and board games. Baseball is an interesting case. At first glance, it seems like two full teams, but it isn’t. It is pitcher against batter, and sometimes a batter against the fielders. But the fielders are not playing defense to the extent a polo player does, and most of the offensive team is sitting around spitting tobacco.

After getting in an argument with several people about this one, I will clarify that a bit more. Let’s say you are running the 100-yard dash against someone. It is true that you are competing against that other person, and that you must beat them to win. However, you can’t do anything to directly influence their performance. You are not allowed to touch them, there’s no way to slow them down, no way to affect their time. The only reason you are simultaneously on the trackat all is so that no one gets an unfair advantage of knowing a time to beat. And even that is pretty weak, there are plenty of sports (downhill skiing, for example) where going first or last is a definite advantage and you aren’t even on the course at the same time as the other competitor(s).

Team: Team sports are better than individual sports. The level of complexity and interest is much higher. Even a lousy relay race in swimming is better than an individual event. Sports where a player can be great but their team terrible are more interesting. Sports where a player must not only be individually great, but work within a framework of tactics and strategies, and bring out the best and cover the worst skills of their teammates are a higher level. Sports that score high are football, soccer, rugby, lacross, volleyball.

Different tactics and strategies are encouraged under the rules: All great bowlers are the same. All great darts players are the same. It’s just one stupid muscular motion repeated over and over. There’s no tactics, there’s not strategies, there’s no testing, the goal is always to aim the object as precisely as possible in the exact same motion and minimize variance. Even baseball scores highly here. You can be a singles hitter, an RBI specialist, a homerun slugger. You can steal bases. You can sacrifice for other players. The rules of the game encourage this. If you look at basketball (one of my top 4 sports), it’s unreal how many styles of play there are. Just look at the players bodies and you wouldn’t know that Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Nash play the same sport. They almost don’t, they represent two completely different skill sets, two completely different ways of succeeding at basketball.

Update: While doing some reading on game theory, I came across this distinction. “The essence of a game of strategy is the dependence of each person’s proper choice of action on what he expects the other to do.” Exactly. Darts and Whirlyball both have elements of strategy, but in Darts it is almost nothing. Even in a weak game like Whirlyball you must constantly be evaluating your opponent and revising your actions based on what they do and what you predict they will do.

Different athletic components tested: Competitive weightlifting is incredibly boring. It’s the same motion over and over. But the World’s Strongest Man contest is interesting. A football player has to have upper body strength, lower body strength, incredible speed, toughness, flexibility, quick reaction times, and just about everything else that goes under the heading “athletics”. Decathaletes (who for centuries were considered the best athletes in the world) need to master many disciplines.

Athletic effort: If you never have to dig down, battle against pain and fatigue, you aren’t playing sports. I love chess and strategy games, but they ain’t a sport. When Kevin McHale played the ’86 playoffs with broken bones (essentially ending his career in the process) — that, my friend is sports. Walking along green grass is not.

So what sports score highly? Here are my top 4, not in order:

Boxing (which came in #1 on ESPN): Incredible amounts of athletic skill and toughness needed. It couldn’t be more directly against another human. It couldn’t be tougher.

Basketball: My favorite sport. Loads of strategies, just about every athletic component tested, a team sport played against other sports

Football (American): The most complex, orchestrated sport out there. It is easy to see the fat on the lineman and think they are just lumbering rhinos, but they are some of the best athletes on the planet. Every player plays hurt all the time.

Soccer: Running non-stop for 90 minutes, requires the most complex foot work of any sport, intricate strategies, bonus points for being truly international.

Now let’s step back and see why I hate golf so much.
Defense: Zero points. You don’t play other people.
Team: Zero points. Purely individual.
Tactics/Strategies: Negligible. Your goal is always to get to the hole, the tactics are pretty much the same all the time.
Athletic components: Weak. There is some small element of strength. There is some fine motor skill needed for putting. Aside from that… well, you don’t even need to be able to walk!
Athletic Effort: Huge. I remember the time Nick Faldo passed out on the 17th hole of the Masters. It took 30 minutes to revive him. He barely knew his own name, and blood was streaming down his leg, but he shook off his caddie and proceeded to sink a miracle eagle on the 18th for the victory. No wait, that never happened did it. Have you ever seen a golf player sweat? From exertion, not from pressure or being fat. Never.
Clothing: Extra point against golf for requiring ridiculous clothing that is self-evidently antithetical to any athletic endeavor.

Next post: The funnel theory — empirically testing sports