Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cruising the Web

Holman Jenkins asks if we can now use "Big Data" to fight terrorism. He reminds us of planes that are thought to have been brought down by bombs set by runway workers at Egyptian airports and connects us to the fact that Omar Mateen worked for a security firm, G4S Security, that provides protection from terrorists at airports and ports around the world. He'd been vetted and trained for that job.
Which brings us to a question: What are we getting from government investment in big data? People in such lines of work presumably sacrifice some of their privacy in order to qualify for their jobs.

A former co-worker claims he complained repeatedly about Mateen’s violent threats and bigotry. The FBI interviewed Mateen twice, once in connection with co-worker complaints, once because a Florida acquaintance became a suicide bomber in Syria. The FBI even put him on a terrorist watch list for 10 months. Mateen’s father is a YouTube gadfly who likes to mix it up in the domestic politics of his native Afghanistan. Mateen’s first wife fled, complaining of violent and deranged behavior. Mateen himself was apparently a user of gay dating apps and frequenter of the club he later shot up. Then, a few days before the attack, he presented himself to a federally licensed firearms dealer to buy an assault rifle.

This week Microsoft bought LinkedIn so it could integrate the social media site’s biographical data on 433 million professionals and workers with Microsoft’s office products, presumably to cough up for the benefit of users information about the people they are collaborating and communicating with in their jobs. To some, this will seem creepy. But the information is voluntarily offered by people hoping to advance their careers and connections. The algorithm doesn’t have prurient motives.

And the information exists, whether you like it or not. A recent study found a non-negligible correlation between a person’s web-search history and whether he will later be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. So here’s the question: Why aren’t LinkedIn-style notifications dinging on the desktops and phones of security officials when somebody with Mateen’s professional history shows up for a background check to buy a weapon of mass murder with numerous ammo clips?

President Obama refrains from emphasizing the role of Islamic radicalism as Mateen’s professed motivation. The problem, of course, is that such sentiments are vital data. His father understood the relevance, insisting he is surprised to hear his son harbored such notions.
We can't rely on simply waiting for people to see something and report something. As shown with the Orlando shooter, the FBI doesn't have the resources or the ability to investigate every such report and then keep track of those suspected of a crime. Calls for people who are on terror watch lists to be denied the ability to buy a gun ignore the fact that the FBI had taken Mateen off that list.
Officials in the Defense Department after 9/11 tried to bring these techniques to bear, in a package called Total Information Awareness. But public discussion has been distorted by the image of pasty-faced bureaucrats trolling through your emails. In fact, there would be plenty of scope for legal protections in determining how flagged data would be presented to security officials (and a judge) for further action....

The problem is growing. By the count of David Inserra of the Heritage Foundation, there have been 22 successful or interrupted terrorist plots in the U.S. since 2015. Sadly, a few Orlando-style killing sprees would throw the country into turmoil. Big-data techniques are our best hope, even if it requires a new version of the federal 9/11 commission to clear the political ground for it.

Andrew McCarthy looks at the media's coverage of Omar Mateen and notes what is lacking. In reporting that Mateen may have been gay and may have been conflicted about "his true identity out of anger and shame," the NYT doesn't ask why he felt such self-loathing.
After all, if he was gay, Mateen would hardly have been the first person to experience great anguish over his sexual preference, despite the fact that American culture has dramatically normalized homosexuality. Yet, those people manage to control their psychological turmoil and depression without walking into a gay club and committing mass-murder.

Assuming that the “he was gay” angle pans out, what could cause such deep conflict in Mateen that he would carry out such an atrocity?

Part of the explanation -- probably the explanation -- has to be sharia supremacism.
The Times does review Mateen's connections to Islamic fundamentalism.
Yet the Times omits the possibility, reported by Fox News, that Mateen also enrolled in an online radical indoctrination course: the Islamic “seminary” run by Marcus Robertson (aka Abu Taubah), whose jihadist roots trace back to the early 1990s.

Robertson’s lectures are said to have been extremely hostile to homosexuals. In conjunction with other facts that have been developed, the “seminary” connection suggests that in recent years Mateen had immersed himself in sharia supremacism.

That is significant because of a point I stressed over the weekend -- a point the Times ignores: For over a millennium, classical sharia has endorsed the condemnation and brutal killing of homosexuals....

If Mateen was deeply conflicted over his alleged homosexual leanings, it had to be because they cut so deeply against the grain of his adherence to sharia supremacism. That ideology, not “inspiration by ISIS” (or by other jihadists Mateen invoked, like the Boston Marathon bombers), is far more likely the root of Mateen’s inner rage.
McCarthy also points out that the Times still clings to differentiating between Al Qaeda and Hezbollah despite all the evidence we have had of their working together.

Dennis Prager wonders what the reaction would have been if the Orlando murderer had been a devout Christian.
So let’s imagine that it was a gay-hating Christian who had murdered nearly 50 gays and badly injured 50 more.

America would be inundated with attacks on Christians, Christianity, religion, and the Bible.

This is not theoretical speculation. For example, the mainstream media and other voices on the left regularly cite one family — literally one family, the Phelps family — in order to demonstrate how “homophobic” conservative Christians are. The family, the “Westboro Baptist Church,” has fewer than 40 members — nine of the late patriarch Fred Phelps’s 13 children, and some of his children and grandchildren. This gay-, Jew-, and Catholic-hating family represents no group, no ideology, and no religion, and is regularly denounced by every Christian denomination, including conservative Evangelicals.

Nevertheless, Westboro is frequently cited by the media and LGBT groups as if it were representative of conservative Christians.

Now, imagine if a Christian unaffiliated with the Phelps family had been the Orlando murderer. We would be inundated with commentary on the dangers posed by the religious Right, fundamentalist Christians, etc.

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Bernard Goldberg looks at the approach that the media have taken to the Orlando murders.
The story was still developing, but there were already indications that the shooter at the gay dance club in Orlando was an American-born Muslim who somehow, directly or indirectly, was connected to radical Islam.

The panelist on “Meet the Press” knew at least some of this. So Chuck Todd, after acknowledging to his panel that the actual motive for the murders wasn’t known with certainty yet, asked Tom Brokaw, “Should it matter,” what the motive was.

This is a remarkable question – one drenched in liberal PC. Chuck Todd, who is a serious journalist (and in my limited contact with him, a good guy) would never have asked if motive mattered if the gunman was a white supremacist skinhead who had just gunned down innocent African Americans in a church.

In fact, when a white bigot shot up a black church in South Carolina, everyone knew that motive mattered. But when it comes to radical Islamic terrorism, liberals get queasy. Tom Brokaw did. He didn’t think the motive mattered either. “It shouldn’t matter,” he told Chuck Todd. Take a guess what should matter to Mr. Brokaw. If you said guns …

Thomas Sowell wonders
if Orlando might change the unreasoning love affair that so many have had with the idea that "diversity is our strength."
Is diversity our strength? Or anybody's strength, anywhere in the world? Does Japan's homogeneous population cause the Japanese to suffer? Have the Balkans been blessed by their heterogeneity — or does the very word "Balkanization" remind us of centuries of strife, bloodshed and unspeakable atrocities, extending into our own times?

Has Europe become a safer place after importing vast numbers of people from the Middle East, with cultures hostile to the fundamental values of Western civilization?

"When in Rome do as the Romans do" was once a common saying. Today, after generations in the West have been indoctrinated with the rhetoric of multiculturalism, the borders of Western nations on both sides of the Atlantic have been thrown open to people who think it is their prerogative to come as refugees and tell the Romans what to do — and to assault those who don't knuckle under to foreign religious standards.

The recent wave of refugees flooding into Europe include Muslim men who have been haranguing European women on the streets for not dressing modestly enough, not to mention their sexual molestation of those women.

Smug elites in Europe, like their counterparts in America, are not nearly as concerned about such things as they are about preventing "Islamophobia." Legal restrictions on free speech in some European countries make it a crime to sound the alarm about the dangers to the culture and to the people.

In the lofty circles of those who see themselves as citizens of the world, it is considered unworthy, if not hateful, to insist on living according to your own Western values or to resist importing people who increase your chances of being killed.

But if you don't have the instinct for self-preservation, it will not matter much in the long run whatever else you may have.

America's great good fortune in the past has been that Americans have been able to unite as Americans against every enemy, despite our own internal differences and struggles. Black and white, Jew and Gentile, have fought and died for this country in every war.

It has not been our diversity, but our ability to overcome the problems inherent in diversity, and to act together as Americans, that has been our strength....

Today, that sense of American unity is being undermined by the reckless polarization of group identity politics. That affects not only how Americans see themselves, but how others in our midst see America.

Women can't seem to agree how excitingly historic
it is that Hillary Clinton has wrapped up the Democratic nomination.
The novelty of a female president is also not what it once was. The election of women as presidents and prime ministers in Britain, Germany, India and other countries decreases the impact of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy, and many younger American women were raised to believe that they could achieve anything and that a woman was sure to be president someday. And some supporters said there was fear that focusing on Mrs. Clinton’s gender could be politically dangerous, possibly alienating some men and handing a weapon to Mr. Trump.

Philip Bump of the Washington Post does a deep dive investigating whether Hillary Clinton is, as the President said, "the most experienced" and "most qualified" presidential candidate in history. They have a chart measuring political and military experience of presidents prior to taking office. They give Hillary credit for government experience including being First Lady of both Arkansas and the United States and leave it up to the reader to decide how to count that experience. If you're going to count her as most experienced and most qualified, the only way you can get there is if you count her stint as First Lady as a qualification for the job. I just think it's funny to see feminists now count the experience that a wife gains by married to a man in power gives her experience at that job that qualifies her to hold that job herself. That certainly wasn't that attitude when Barbara Bush was invited to speak at Wellesley. And traditional feminists would have resented the absorption of a wife into her husband's professional identity.

Rather than debating just looking at the jobs people held, I would prefer to judge based on how well they performed those particular jobs. For example, the Washington Post gives Martin Van Buren credit for a resume including being Secretary of State, ambassador, and vice president as well as being a senator and governor of New York. Well, he was governor for all of two months before being made Secretary of State for two years and not having done anything of significance in that role except solidifying his friendship his Andrew Jackson. He was made ambassador to Britain, but the Senate rejected his nomination so he only held that title for a few months. Depending on your view of Jackson's second term, you can decide how impressed you are with his time as Jackson's vice president and designated successor. He was not a successful president and that's why the Whigs, singing "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" in the campaign against him in 1840 sang "Van is a used-up man." Having that long resume didn't help him that much. John Quincy Adams was the Secretary of State I admire the most, but his presidency was a failure. Lincoln had the least political experience of any president, just having served one two-year term as Congressman, was our most important and successful president. So perhaps having a long resume is not all that important.

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Now that the Trump campaign is refusing press credentials to the Washington Post, we can see that there is quite a list of media that has been banned by the Trump campaign. I'm not sure how much it hurts a media outlet to be banned from the campaign. They can still go hear his speeches and watch his interviews and tweets. That is what most of them base their reports on anyway. Granted that they can't ask him questions, but there are enough outlets to see what he thinks that I'm not sure that, in this day and age it really matters. It might be a stupid response to his anger at their characterization of his Obama's reaction to the Orlando murders, but it isn't, as some have asserted, a denial of Freedom of the Press.

Timothy Carney notes
that, while Democrats are criticizing Trump's banning of journalists whom he dislikes and his desire of banning Muslims from immigrating to the country, they are quite happy to discuss limiting rights that they are not as fond of.
Gun control efforts are basically culture-war efforts. MSNBC hosts tell us gun owners aren't "normal people." Democratic congressmen say gun control is about battling "Southern areas [that] have cultures that we have to overcome." Washington Post writers call the Second Amendment "the refuge of bumpkins and yeehaws who like to think they are protecting their homes against imagined swarthy marauders desperate to steal their flea-bitten sofas from their rotting front porches."

Beyond banning some guns, most Democrats and liberal commentators these days want to take away the Second Amendment rights of those on a secret federal terror watch-list. There is no due process for getting on this list, and no way to get yourself off it.

Why are liberals being so cavalier about stripping away basic rights, without due process, from a group of people where Muslims are overrepresented? Probably because they don't consider gun ownership a basic right. "The whole idea that bearing arms is a 'civil liberty' is demented," one liberal writer told me last year. This is a theme.

If you wonder why some cultural liberals — both among Democrats and libertarians — wave off concerns about religious liberty, it's because they see opponents of gay marriage as, per se, bad people. That's the same reason some Trump supporters don't value the civil liberties of many Muslims, or at least of Muslims not yet in this country.

Some of us think it's important for all groups, not just media outlets, to be free to criticize the powerful. Hillary Clinton and other opponents of the Citizens United ruling don't like that freedom.

So when Trump goes after the Washington Post, it's correct for the Post, Norm Ornstein and all good people to oppose Trump. But those freedoms less popular among the elite — gun ownership, grassroots criticism of politicians, free exercise of both Christianity and Islam — need defense as well.

Hillary and Donald aren't the same. Clinton has far more experience and qualifications, and a less unsuitable temperament for the job. Here's another difference: Trump tramples on the liberties valued by the elites, whereas Clinton tramples on the liberties despised by the elites.

Jay Nordlinger notes how weasly Trump's remarks about Obama and Islam have been.
Trump said of Obama, “We’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind.” He said that Obama “doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands.”

Asked about these remarks, he said, “I’ll let people figure that out for themselves.”

Well, maybe the Washington Post took him up on that? And figured it out for themselves?

Trump folk are always saying that their man “tells it like it is.” John McCain rode a bus called “the Straight Talk Express.” Trump is said to be a straight-talker extraordinaire. But he is more like the King of Innuendo. He is a weasel-talker extraordinaire. He is the master of “insinnuendo.” (Remember that one? It was an accidental coinage of Mayor Daley — the first Mayor Daley. Who combined “insinuation” and “innuendo.”)

Look, if you want to say that Obama is in cahoots with the Jihad, just say it. (Lord knows I have gone full McCarthy on Obama from time to time.) Trump is the type to say things like, “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great — I think that’s fine …” Cripe. If you’re going to call a judge who was born in Indiana, went to Indiana U, went to IU Law School, prosecuted a Mexican drug cartel, lived with his family in hiding for a year as a result, etc., a Mexican, call him a Mexican, and drop the “which is great” and “I think that’s fine” crap. You know?

Earlier, Trump said this of Ted Cruz’s dad: “I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible.”

It’s horrible, all right — these weaselly performances by the Republican presidential nominee.

He has a reputation as a big fearsome orange truth-teller, but he often talks like a bratty schoolgirl — “I’ll let people figure that out for themselves.” Man up, DJT. You too, Trump folk.

Could a Trump presidency provide, as Jim Geraghty wonders, a "jolt" to our system that might be just what we need.
For starters, Democrats might suddenly remember the idea of separation of powers. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Democrats in Congress started drafting executive orders for him to sign — an open proclamation that passing legislation under constitutional rules had become too difficult, and it was time for America to be ruled by royal fiat.

The media might start remembering how laws are supposed to be passed again, too.

President Obama ignored the Constitution when he felt like it and a large portion of the media went along because they believed in the goal: If he wants to stop enforcing immigration law, well, then it’s a compassionate idea, and besides, it’ll add a lot of Democratic voters along the way. If he wants to appoint whomever he wants without confirmation votes by stretching the definition of recess appointments beyond all forms of recognition, well, it’s just because those Republicans are being so darned unreasonable. Under President Trump, the media would instantly become adversarial again; the threat of runaway executive power would no longer be merely a partisan concern.
Well, that might all happen, but it wouldn't be a permanent change. As soon as a Democrat were elected, Democrats and the media would revert to their passive endorsement of the same behaviors that would horrify them in a Trump presidency. We have seen this time and again in their quiescence to Obama's presidency to actions that angered them when George W. Bush were president.

Michael Barone looks
at reports on problems with the exit polls in this year's elections and concludes that we really have no idea how to calibrate polls to predict the general election. Part of Barone's conclusions are based on Nate Cohn's analysis of election data that might indicate that there are actually more white voters than analysts have previously thought and that this might benefit Trump. Cohn casts doubt on the reliability of exit polls.
The exit polls have a series of subtle biases that depict a younger, better-educated and more diverse electorate. Mr. McDonald tentatively reached this conclusion in 2005, and the pattern has been seen in a broader set of data.

The evidence for a whiter, less-educated and older electorate comes from two main sources.

The first — and longest-standing — source of alternative data is the Current Population Survey, known as the C.P.S. Conducted by the Census Bureau, it is the same monthly survey that yields the unemployment report. After elections, it includes a question about whether people voted.

A second source is the so-called voter file: a compilation of local records on every American who has registered to vote, including address, age and whether the person voted in a given election. The voter file data used for analysis here comes from Catalist, a Democratic data firm that offers an academic subscription. Researchers have found that the data is unbiased and more accurate than public voting records.

These sources show a 2012 electorate that was far whiter, older and less educated than the exit polls indicated.

Over all, the exit polls suggest that 23 percent of voters in 2012 were white, over age 45 and without a college degree. Catalist puts this group at 29 percent, and the census at 30 percent — implying 10 million more voters than the 23 percent figure.
Cohn's deep dive into the data is fascinating if you like that kind of thing. His conclusion is that Obama got more support from white voters than the exit polls indicated, but those voters might be more receptive to Trump's message. He also concludes that the Hispanic vote was much less determinative than previously thought. Cohn concludes that Hispanic voters only changed the result in Florida in 2012. He also looks at the "missing white voter" theory that some Republicans have been hugging to themselves thinking that there were voters who just didn't come out to vote for Romney in 2012, but might come out in 2016. If Cohn is right, those missing white voters were more likely to be Democrats. And Trump is going to have really mobilize those white working class voters if he can compensate for the disadvantage he has among well-educated white voters.

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The Peltzman effect strikes again, this time in a study of the effect of giving out free condoms in high schools.
"Access to condoms for the entire high-school-aged population in a county would lead to about five extra births per 1,000 teenage women, or a 10 percent increase relative to the mean," researchers wrote. "Since the average program covered about one-third of the teenage women in the county, the typical program led to an additional two births per 1,000 teenage women."

The study also shows that gonorrhea rates for women rose after free condoms were provided. Approximately 2.43 additional cases of gonorrhea per 1,000 women were the result of the free condoms.
The authors of the study give two caveats to their study saying that it only looked at the effect of giving out free condoms and also that their study was among large urban school districts in the early 1990s and that the results might be different if they did the study were done today and in different sorts of districts. They hypothesize that many students didn't get counseling before they got the condoms. But it could also have been, as Peltzman might have argued that, once they got the free condoms, the teens engaged in more sex. Given that condoms aren't 100% effective, increased sexual experiences might have led to increased pregnancies and sexual diseases.

Russian hackers have gotten
into DNC computers and accessed their opposition research on Donald Trump.
Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach.

The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts.

The intrusion into the DNC was one of several targeting American political organizations. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, as were the computers of some Republican political action committees, U.S. officials said. But details on those cases were not available....

The intrusions are an example of Russia’s interest in the U.S. political system and its desire to understand the policies, strengths and weaknesses of a potential future president — much as American spies gather similar information on foreign candidates and leaders.

The depth of the penetration reflects the skill and determination of the United States’ top cyber adversary as Russia goes after strategic targets, from the White House and State Department to political campaign organizations.
Does anyone doubt that they also got into Hillary's private server? We seem to be so behind the Russians and Chinese when it comes to cybersecurity. Sometimes I wonder if we have any hope of catching up. I would like to believe in American ingenuity, but we seem to have one of these major hacking stories every couple of months

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Here's an interesting essay about Ty Cobb by his biographer Charles Leerhsen, built on his book, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, that refutes the image that so many of us have about the baseball superstar. He is thought to be one surly SOB attacking his opponents and spouting racist insults. Leerhsen found lots of evidence to counter his image as a racist. In fact he came from a long line of abolitionists. It's a fascinating look at one of the greatest players of all time and a study in how historians buy into rumors and myths without doing the research on their own to find the real story. It seems like a lot of those myths originated with a dishonest writer whose work became the basis of the movie Cobb and the part of the Ken Burns documentary on baseball.
As he grew older and less healthy he became obsessed with setting the record straight, and he started to shop around an autobiography. Doubleday & Co. agreed to publish it and assigned a ghostwriter, Cobb being too ill to write it himself. For this job they picked a man who was known for quantity over quality, a hard-drinking hack newspaperman named Al Stump.

Stump, who had never met Cobb, spent only a few days with him before setting off to write. For several months he refused to show Cobb the work in progress, and when Cobb finally prevailed upon the publisher to give him a look, he was angry. Stump was filling in the gaps by making up stories out of whole cloth, and Cobb’s voice in the book sounded suspiciously like Stump’s own. Cobb wrote letters threatening a lawsuit if the book wasn’t cancelled or rewritten. But he died soon thereafter, and the book—entitled My Life in Baseball: The True Record—came out a few months later.

Stump also struck a deal with a sensationalist barber shop magazine called, ironically, True. For $4,000, a tidy sum in 1961, he would write a seamy tell-all about what it was like to live and work with Cobb in his final days. Stump had negotiated the fee by pitching the tale of a wild man drinking to excess and driving around the Lake Tahoe area waving a gun at (unnamed) people, cursing at (unnamed) emergency room doctors, flinging drinks at (unnamed) bartenders, and waking up an (unnamed) bank president in the middle of the night—in person, with a gun—to stop a $5 check. All the women in Cobb’s family feared him, Stump wrote, again without naming names. Furthermore, he may have killed some unnamed person, though he was never prosecuted and the story never made the newspapers. Everyone in baseball had hated him, Stump claimed, adding meanly and dishonestly that only three people went to Cobb’s funeral.
It turns out that all of that was false, but the damage had been done. I love seeing myths of history being refuted.

This is a cool app from the History Channel that tells you all (or most of) the historic sites in a given area. As I plan some trips this summer involving driving around the country, this might be a neat way to find something interesting to investigate when I find myself with some time in various areas around the country.