Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tell them to buy an ad

Q: What's the best way to get some free publicity for your business?*
A: Dangle a "study" in front of a local journalist!

DETROIT - Detroit is the best driving city in America, according to a new study.

QuoteWizard published a new study ranking the best and worst driving cities in America, ranking 75 cities.

The final rankings are sum of weighted means calculated from these parameters

  • Accidents
  • Speeding tickets
  • DUIs
  • Citations (running a red light, using a cellphone while driving, etc.) 
If you're wondering what that all means, you might be tempted to click through to the study itself:

After QuoteWizard compared the best and worst drivers by state, we wanted to know more about how drivers in America's 75 most populous city metro areas stack up against each other. Here's how we did it:

How do you statistically determine bad driving? We sampled incident stats from users of our website with over two million data points from 2016. To quantify over driver standards for comparison, we weighted incident counts for each city with its occurrence percentage. The final rankings are sum of weighted means** calculated from these parameters:

You don't know a lot more than you did before, but you do know one important thing: "Two million" is just a number with some zeroes until you know what it's two million of and how the two million were chosen. In this case, it's "data points" drawn in some undescribed fashion from "users of our website," though there's no indication of how those are related in turn to the "incident stats" that were apparently "sampled" in some undescribed way.

Should you draw any conclusions about whether Detroit is a good or bad "driving city" from the study? Given that the link from the anchor text complaining about Detroit's "oft-uninsured drivers" goes to a story about a fatal crash involving two unlicensed drivers at an intersection*** 50-plus miles from our snug little office in midtown, you make the call.

That's sort of the point. You don't need a course in statistics to ask what a crash in the wilds of Livingston County has to do with driver habits in Detroit. You just need to ask. And you don't need a course in statistics to ask what a writer means by "incident count," "city" and "occurrence percentage," not to mention why and how the means are weighted, or even why users of an insurance comparison website would be a good representation of a city where a huge proportion of drivers are uninsured. That's why we tell people in quant classes to write for their smart friends in the English department: Being able to explain your data is a good indication that you understand your data. Using numberish-sounding words that you don't explain is often strongly correlated with, well, bullshitting.

This isn't "fake news" in the 2016 sense; it's the old-school kind that has always gotten past enough gatekeepers to do its work. The traditional response is "tell them to buy an ad."

* Whose purpose seems to be summed up in this note: By clicking "Find Discounts & Check Rates" I provide my signature, expressly authorizing telemarketing calls from this website, our marketing and re-marketing partners, and up to eight insurance companies or their agents or partner companies at the phone number, including wireless numbers, and address provided, in order to deliver insurance quotes or to obtain additional information for such purpose, via live, pre-recorded or auto-dialed calls, text messages, or email for up to 180 days.** Yes, this would suggest that the TV station didn't read before copy-pasting.
*** One of the drivers was from Oakland County, which at least is in the three-county metro area, though it's not the county that contains Detroit.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

You provide the prose poems ...

What do you suppose was the top story for most of Friday at the Formerly Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

From siccing wild dogs on his own uncle to gunning down his enemies with artillery meant for taking out planes, North Korea's Kim Jong Un has built a reputation for dispatching with extreme prejudice all those who cross him.

While some of the terrifying methods of execution have never been confirmed, the mere mention of them is sure to keep his inner circle in line - and any potential rivals quiet, say experts. A confirmed favorite tactic, blowing people away with anti-aircraft guns, leave victims unrecognizable.

I'm not sure if the grammar is there to distract you from the admission that the story's bogus or the other way around. Anyway ...

"Because there are several guns bound together, it would be hard to find the body after firing it once," Hong Hyun-ik, chief researcher at the Sejong Institute, a security think tank based in Seoul, told local broadcaster YTN in 2015. "It's really gruesome."

In late February, South Korean officials revealed that five North Korean officials had been subjected to the particularly grisly form of overkill. Other methods trickle out of the secretive Hermit Kingdom, their unverified status only burnishing the legend of Kim's depravity.

A report that one official was killed by a mortar round has been treated with skepticism. But the tale sent a strong message when coupled with his alleged crime: drinking and carousing during the official mourning period following the death of Kim's father, the equally brutal Kim Jong Il.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Thufferin' thuccotash

How's it going with your decision to cut out those pesky layers of editors, Nation's Newspaper of Record?

A report last Sunday about the wedding of Spouse I and Spouse II Jr. misstated the name of the town in Maine where the groom’s parents worked. It is Bath,* not Bass. The report also misstated the name of the company where the groom’s father worked. It is Bath Iron Works, not Bass Iron Works.

Now close your eyes and imagine an age in which Jane's Fighting Ships was as easy to find in the newsroom as a guide to the "Star Wars" canon. On second thought, don't.

* As your paper appears to have noted on 10 other occasions in the past year.


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Saturday, June 03, 2017

Editing: Ur doin it wrong

In the wake of the Times's decision to sue for armistice in the War on Editing, the above presentation from the Washington Post's Friday afternoon e-newsletter is worth a moment's reflection.

Granted,* a straight-up-the-middle fact check of the Orange Peril's random babbling on Thursday about the Paris climate accord is a laudable journalistic mission, even if it overlooks the really entertaining stuff. For instance, the Orange Peril's decision to begin his remarks by addressing a terrorist attack that even his pet news outlet doesn't think is a terrorist attack:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila. We’re closely monitoring the situation, and I will continue to give updates if anything happens during this period of time. But it is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Simon Says

What's the latest on the current fake news scandal, Fair 'n' Balanced Network?

A December meeting between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of the senior advisers in the Trump administration, and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at Trump Tower focused on Syria, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News Monday.

Now, now, now! You heard what Massster said when he got back from vacation: 

During the meeting the Russians broached the idea of using a secure line between the Trump administration and Russia, not Kushner, a source familiar with the matter told Fox News. That follows a recent report from The Washington Post alleging that Kushner wanted to develop a secure, private line with Russia.

Well, that's a relief. This one says "source says," not "sources say," so it must be all right. But aside from moving the narrative from "it wouldn't have been a bad idea" to "it wasn't our idea in the first place," what else can this source tell us?

The idea of a permanent back channel was never discussed, according to the source. Instead, only a one-off for a call about Syria was raised in the conversation.

So -- nothing to impede the investigation, right?

... The source has told Fox News that Kushner is eager to tell Congress about the meeting and any others of interest.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

No school is an island

Any correction diminishes me, but some diminish me less than others:

The Living In column last Sunday, about East Hills, N.Y., referred imprecisely to one of the high schools that East Hills students attend. The Wheatley School is a secondary school in the East Williston Union Free School District; Wheatley is not a district unto itself.

Thank you, Nation's Newspaper of Record.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

A red, white and blue streamers

What a long day it's been for the Fair 'n' Balanced Network! Let's just enjoy the evening ledeall on Massster's foreign adventures. Text is verbatim, with occasional highlighting for the curious.

President Trump on Saturday began his first overseas trip as president with a stop in Saudi Arabia, calling the visit a “tremendous day” and pledging to work with leader King Salman to bring peace to the Gulf region and forge stronger economic ties, in large part through a roughly $10 billion arms deal.*

“That was a tremendous day,” Trump said shortly after signing the arm deal. “Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs."

The arms deal is part of large, $350 billion economic packages between the ally nations.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump were greeting in Saudi Arabia at the airport by 81-year King Salman, in a red carpet ceremony that also included a military flyover in which several jets left a red, white and blue streamers.

Trump called his visit to Saudi Arabia "a great honor" joined the king in a brief coffee ceremony at the airport terminal before heading to his hotel and the official events of the day.

After signing the deal in Riyadh and talking with top Saudi leaders, Trump and the first lady are scheduled to participate in a royal banquet dinner and a museum tour at the Murabba Palace in Riyadh.

Trump is also scheduled to make a major speech Sunday in which he’s expected to show support for America’s Persian Gulf allies, a likely reset after months of talk about Muslim extremism.**

The next stop in the president’s nine-day trip will be Israel, where he will have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican,*** then meet with allies at a NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 wealthy nations in Sicily.

“Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” Trump tweeted upon landing in Saudi Arabia aboard Air Force One. “Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead.”

The first lady wore a black pantsuit with a golden belt and did not cover her head for the arrival, consistent with custom for foreign dignitaries visiting Saudi Arabia.

Trump shook hands with the king, compared to**** then-President Barack Obama in 2009 appearing to bow before then King Abdullah, a move some viewed as a sign of American weakness.

Trump, during his winning presidential campaign and in the first several months of his presidency, has argued that the United States can no longer be the world’s police officer and that other nations must become more self-sufficient in efforts to combat such terror networks as al Qaeda and the Islamic State and in protecting themselves against rogue nations like Iran and North Korea.

After two days of meetings in Riyadh, Trump will travel to Israel where he’ll have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican,***** then meet with allies at a NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 wealthy nations in Sicily.

The multi-billion dollar arms deal “in the clearest terms possible” shows the United States’ commitment to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners and expands economic opportunities, the White House said.

The deal will include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications and cybersecurity technology. And it will support tens-of-thousands of new jobs in the U.S. defense industrial base, the White House said.

Trump did not address the cameras. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al Jubeir held a joint press conference.

Jubeir said Trump "certainly has the vision and, we believe, strength to bring about Middle East peace.”

He also called the Trump’s trip a “truly historic visit.”

Said Tillerson: “We’re very proud of this relationship we're embarking on.”
He also took a question about a recent news report about somebody within the White House being a person of interest amid ongoing investigations into whether Trump and his associates colluded with Russia to help Trump win the 2016 presidential race.

Tillerson said he had “no knowledge” about such a person of interest.******

White House officials hope the trip gives Trump the opportunity to recalibrate after one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency. The White House badly bungled the president's stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the federal government’s investigation into possible Russia collusion. 

Trump on Sunday will also hold meetings with more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders converging on Riyadh for a regional summit focused largely on combating the Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Still, the centerpiece of Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia will likely be the speech Sunday at the Arab-Islamic-American summit.

White House aides view the address as a counter to Obama's 2009 speech to the Muslim world, which Trump criticized as too apologetic for U.S. actions in the region.

Trump will call for unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a "battle between good and evil" and urging Arab leaders to "drive out the terrorists from your places of worship," according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. The draft notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights — topics Arab leaders often view as U.S. moralizing — in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.

It also abandons some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric that defined Trump's presidential campaign and does not contain the words "radical Islamic terror," a phrase Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for not using during last year's campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

* $110 billion elsewhere at Fox, but who's counting?
** "Likely"
*** Are we leading with the earthquake? 
**** "Compared to" 
***** It actually doesn't get better when you leave out the comma 
****** Stop press! 

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Nice Massster!

They really know how to write a lede over at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, don't they?

President Trump tweeted soon after arriving to Saudi Arabia Saturday morning to kick off a nine-day international tour that will also take him to Israel and Europe.

“Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” he tweeted, his first on international soil as president. “Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead.”

Enough drama. Let's have some historical context:

Trump is the only American president to visit Saudi Arabia, or any Muslim-majority country. The decision comes as he looks to show respect to the region after months of harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric that has surrounded his administration.

Weird, isn't it? Even if no one covering the Most Awesomest State Visit in History had ever heard of FDR* or any president (except Truman) since, you'd think someone might have read ahead:

... Melania Trump wore a black pantsuit with a golden belt and did not cover her head for the arrival, consistent with custom for foreign dignitaries visiting Saudi Arabia. In 2015, her husband had, in a tweet, criticized former first lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf during a visit to the kingdom.

Hold that thought, because there's a lot more Obama in the works, and admire the rest of a nearly perfect Fox front page. George Soros is funding treason again! North Korea GAAAAAAAAH! Liberals have no respect for Massster! Could it possibly get any better? Fortunately, Fox was hard at work helping you understand the day's events:
"No Bending Over" is pretty easy to follow, though the deck -- "Unlike Obama, Trump shakes Saudi king's hand" -- is a little bizarre, given that the picture actually shows Obama shaking the king's hand. But the point is clear: America is great again!

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