Satire Is Officially Broken

Here are two items from recent media:

Sean Spicer Walking Around White House In Sunglasses And Baseball Cap To Avoid Press

“After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged. ‘Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,’ he ordered.

Quiz time: which of these is from the Washington Post, and which is from the Onion?

Answers: the first is from The Onion. The second piece is from The Washington Post.

Vatican Values

From AP and the Washington Post, the latest on the Vatileaks story (that I mentioned earlier)

MILAN — A Vatican judge on Saturday indicted five people, including two journalists and a high-ranking Vatican monsignor, in a scandal involving leaked documents that informed two books alleging financial malfeasance in the Roman Catholic church bureaucracy.

I’m surprised at how quickly the Catholic church is moving in this case. I mean, the alleged crimes occurred less than twenty years ago!

I guess the lesson here is that it’s okay to rape kids; it’s okay to be a Nazi. But don’t you dare talk about the Vatican’s finances.

Is ISIS’s popularity low? Hard to Tell

The Washington Post reported on a Pew survey of countries with a significant Muslim population, asking whether people there have a positive or negative view of ISIS:

Pew survey of countries with a significant Muslim population, spring 2015.

As the graph shows, in every country, ISIS is unpopular, by huge margins (and I find it interesting that according to the same survey, attitudes vary more from country to country and between religions; but I’m not sure that’s important right now).

But there’s low, and then there’s low. I wouldn’t drink water that was “only” 1% arsenic (the EPA limit is a million times smaller than that), and if there were “only” a 1% chance of crashing every time I got on the Beltway, I’d likely be dead within a year. So there’s small and then there’s small.

If the KKK enjoyed the same level of popularity in Alabama as ISIS does in Turkey, above, it wouldn’t be reported as “KKK only has minority support”. It would be reported as “One in 13 Alabamans still supports KKK”.

So I’d like to see some figures for comparison: how popular is ISIS compared to, say, the Lord’s Resistance Army, or Nazis, or the Tutsi army? Maybe they have comparable levels of popularity, and the double-digit favorability numbers are statistical artifacts. And in fact, it seems that the fact that its popularity varies more from country to country, than from religion to religion within the same country, points at this explanation.

But my fear is that ISIS really does enjoy insufficiently-low popularity.

Both Parties Lie, Right?

So I made some comment about the Republican convention being based on a lie or something, and my interlocutor made a comment about how, well, both parties lie. Well, sure. But the Republicans are worse than the Democrats. And she said no, they both lie about the same.

And thus, me being the type of person I am (and that type is “anal retentive”. Or “obsessive-compulsive”. Or something along those lines. Supply your own wild-ass psychoanalysis in the comments), I went looking for data. is good, but they have an annoying tendency to provide nuance and context, rather than just boiling a statement down to a single icon.

WaPo’s Fact Checker is better, with its Pinocchio-based truth scale, but when I checked, there wan’t a lot of easily-accessible data.

Which brings us to PolitiFact. They have both a cutesy-icon-based measurement, but also a lot of data. Although they allegedly have an API, I wasn’t able to find details on how to use it, so I just scraped a bunch of their web pages and grepped out the information I wanted.

And since you’ve been patiently waiting for, like, four or five paragraphs for a chart or something, here it is:

Comparison of Politifact rulings for major US parties. Each bar represents the percentage of statements by that party that fall into a given category.

The data I used is here. There are separate sheets for Democrats and Republicans, with a count of how many statements each person or organization has made in each truth bucket (BTW, in case the phrase “truth bucket” becomes useful during this or any other campaign season, remember that you read it here first).

The first thing that jumps out is that, well, Republicans have fewer “True” and “Mostly True” statements than Democrats, and more “Mostly False”, “False”, and “Pants on Fire”. Which is kind of what I figured anyway, but it’s nice to see my opinion confirmed in chart form.

Anyway, often a person’s or organization’s page has a field that gives their political affiliation, e.g., Barack Obama is listed as “Democrat from Illinois”, while Concerned Taxpayers of America is listed as “Republican from Oregon”. I took the people and organizations listed as “Democrat from” or “Republican from” wherever, and discarded the rest.

Then it was just a matter of spreadsheetizing the data, and totting up the total number of statements by each party, counting up how many statements fall into each category, and, of course, endless fiddling about with fonts and column layouts.

The result is as objective as I could make it. You could argue that PolitiFact is biased for or against the party of your choice, but if there’s bias in the above, I don’t want to come from me.

Numbers Mean Things

So I saw this headline in The Washington Post:

UN envoy says $5 billion malaria fight has saved several thousand lives in recent years

My first thought was, “$5 billion divided by, let’s say 5000 people, that comes out to a million bucks per person saved. A noble result, to be sure, but isn’t there a more cost-effective way of achieving the same result?”

Then I read the first paragraph:

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief’s envoy for malaria says a $5 billion campaign has saved several hundred thousand lives in recent years, keeping international efforts on track to virtually end deaths from the mosquito-borne disease by 2015.

(emphasis added) and now the cost per person drops two orders of magnitude, from $1 million to $10,000. Much more reasonable (though it’d still be nice if it were even cheaper).

But I suspect that either the reporter, or someone at AP or WaPo decided that the word “hundred” didn’t change the meaning enough to make it worth taking up valuable headline space. I’m sorry, but it does.

Then again, what’s two orders of magnitude among friends?

(Cross-posted at UMDSI.)

Fourth of July Party Write-Up

Cool! We got a write-up in the Post.

So here we are in Lorton, at the year’s largest social assembly of Washington area atheist groups, the fourth annual Independence Day Celebration — or, as the e-mailed news release read, “Ungodly Leaders to Gather at Potomac Picnic.”

If there were any major factual errors in the article, I missed them.

Reality Catches Up to The Onion. Again.

Today’s Washington Post:

There are changes in how parents nag. In what they nag about. In frequency. Parents know more about flubbed tests and skipped homework because of online grading systems. They know more about social lives because of Facebook and MySpace pages.

The Onion Video, five days ago: Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids.
Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids

Taxon Bingo

Okay, so I’m a geek. When I saw a story in the
Washington Post Maryland
RSS feed with the headline
“Chesapeake Beach Can’t Raise Taxon Bingo Machines”

RSS Headline

I wondered what
Bingo would look like, and had to whip this up:

Taxon bingo card

(The headline has been fixed in
the full article,
but remains in the RSS feed.

Original image from
Wikimedia Commons.)

Atheism-Friendly Editorial in the Post

In the wake of Mitt Romney’s speech, the Washington Post has an editorial that makes some of the same points that I did.

Where Mr. Romney most fell short, though, was in his failure to recognize that America is composed of citizens not only of different faiths but of no faith at all and that the genius of America is to treat them all with equal dignity. “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom,” Mr. Romney said. But societies can be both secular and free. The magnificent cathedrals of Europe may be empty, as Mr. Romney said, but the democracies of Europe are thriving.

Churches Dig In, Refuse to Be Dragged Into 20th Century

Today’s Washington Post has an
about three Christian groups who’ve come out and taken a courageous stand against equality, tolerance, and understanding:

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, meeting in Baltimore, declared Tuesday that Catholics who minister to gays must firmly adhere to the church’s teaching that same-sex attractions are "disordered." Catholics with "a homosexual inclination" should be encouraged to live in chastity and discouraged from making "general public announcements" about their sexual orientation, the bishops said.

The largest Baptist group in North Carolina, meanwhile, moved to expel any congregation that condones homosexuality, adopting a policy that allows the Baptist State Convention to investigate complaints that member churches are too "gay-friendly."

And on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a mainline Protestant denomination with about 3 million members, will put a minister on trial for conducting a marriage ceremony for two women.

Continue reading “Churches Dig In, Refuse to Be Dragged Into 20th Century”