Frogs!

It's been a while since I've had an interesting (or at least I think
they are) animal posting.  Today's Post had a very intersting story on the highly endangered Golden Frog of Panama.  The story details how a hotel in Panama has basically become an endangered species sanctuary for this frog, which is beloved in Panama. 

“Thus is the lot of Panama's — and perhaps the world's — most unusual
hotel VIPs, the darling little Panamanian golden frogs of El Valle de
Anton. The frogs, considered so lucky in Panama that their images
appear on lottery tickets, are in big trouble. They're on the run from
a vicious fungus that has already wiped out as many as 120 species of
amphibians in Central America.”

Frogs all over the
Americas are dying out from a fungus that attacks their skin.  Amphibians breathe through their
skin, so the fungus basically causes them to suffocate.  Over 120 species of frogs in Central America have already gone extinct.  I've been following this story for a while, as red-eyed tree frogs are a big deal in our household (as can clearly be evidenced by David's 6th birthday cake). 

This past winter, Quirks and Quarks had a disturbing story on this growing problem.  Here's an NSF press release detailing the extent of the problem.  I recall that one scientist suggested that Amphibians could potentially be the first complete Class of animals to go extinct since the dinosaurs.

Final thoughts on Mark Warner

Thought I'd stick with the Democratic nomination campaign of 2008 and add in some final thoughts on Mark Warner (here's my earlier thoughts) based Ryan Lizza's recent article in The New Republic (subscription only).  I speculated that maybe Warner really did not want to run and really meant it when he said he wanted to spend time with his family.  After spending time with him on the campaign trail here are some of Lizza's comments on the matter:

But, no matter how well things seemed to
be going for Warner, privately he was filled with self-doubt. He had
built a machine that was hurling him forward toward a presidential race
that he actually didn't want to enter….

Up in the air flying home from his
successful but draining trip to New Hampshire, Warner turned around in
his seat to chat with me. It was his daughter's birthday, and, instead
of being with her, he had been buying garlic bread at a farmer's market
in Keene and answering hostile questions from TV reporters about why he
refused to denounce the Nevada caucuses as “reprehensible.” Even worse,
he was now trapped on a seven-seater airplane with a reporter who had
been shadowing him for an exhausting 48 hours. I pressed him on whether
he was really going to run. His response shocked me at the time. He
bent in close, looked me in the eye and asked, “Would you want to do this?”

Here's Lizza's conclusion (not all that different from mine):

Every governor or senator thinks about
running for president. Most do so because they are ambitious and see
the presidency as the next rung on America's political ladder. The big
question they often ask is strategic. How can I make it through the
process and get elected? In the end, that's not the question Warner
asked. His advisers swear that the nuances of the primaries and the
details of how to topple Hillary Clinton never came up in his final
deliberations. Warner asked not whether he could be president, but whether he should
be president. The irony of Warner's answer is that the kind of person
who dwells on that question is the kind of person you want to be
president.


My thoughts on Obama

A lot of political discussion this week has been over Illinois Senator Barak Obama's admission on Meet the Press that he is seriously considering a run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008.  The amount of attention this has generated says a lot about Obama and his potential chances.  Democrats are looking for an anti-Hillary and with Mark Warner dropping out there are not too many contendors for that role. 

Obama is a great political candidate who seems to have all the political intangibles that cannot be bought, i.e., charisma, instincts, great speaker, great intellect (though, that one unfortunately does not count for enough politically), etc.  But being a great political candidate is not the same as having a solid political resume.  I love all of Obama's intangibles but less than a full term in the U.S. Senate and time in the Illinois state Senate are far from the ideal credentials for a presidential candidate.  One of the reasons that Mark Warner seemed to have so much promise was that he was a very successful Democratic governor from a red state.  There's just not all that much Obama can do as a Senator to convince voters that he really has what it takes to be president.  If Obama would make a good president I think it is largely because of his intangibles and I don't think another term in the Senate would really make him all that much better prepared.  I personally have a strong bias for former governors– just not from Texas :-)– but I think it is better to have somebody with the right political skills and abilities from the Senate than to have a person lacking the essential political abilities coming from a governor's mansion.

The reason Obama is drawing so much political attention is because he truly has a rare (shall we say, “Clintonian” and I don't mean Hillary) set of political abilites.  Democrats are really hungry for a candidate with that potential superstar appeal that has not existed since Bill Clinton.  As a professional observer of politics, I think it would be fascinating to see how the conflict between his great skills but thin resume would play out in the primaries.  On the one hand, we already saw that to some degree with Edwards in 2004, but I suspect that Obama's tremendous abilities as a speaker give him a leg up on Edwards.  Here's hoping that we'll see. 

Duke Lacrosse and Confirmatory Bias

A very interesting and thorough commentary on the Duke Lacrosse case recently at the “Durham in Wonderland” blog extensively details the utter failings of the Durham PD in properly investigating the Duke Lacrosse case.  Some highlights:

First, what the police didn'?t investigate:

On
April 6, in her first and (as far as we know) only written statement to
police, the accuser described a crime in which Kim Roberts played a
central role. Roberts had already given her statement, on March 22, the
first time she met with police. So too did the captains. So too did the
accuser?s ?drivers.? So too, to my knowledge, did every witness in this
case?except for the accuser. For reasons never revealed, the police
waited 21 days after first interviewing the accuser to take her
statement.

In the event, the accuser claimed that:

  • Roberts was crying, in the house, after racial epithets occurred in the dance;
  • she
    was separated from Roberts at the bathroom door, with three other
    lacrosse players dragging Roberts off into parts unknown;
  • Roberts and one of the people who attacked her dressed the accuser after the attack.

Roberts?
statement contained nothing even resembling these items. Moreover, if
true, the accuser?s statement meant that no fewer than six people at
the party committed a crime that evening?the three people who attacked
her, and their three accomplices who dragged Roberts away from her at
the bathroom door….

If Roberts was never re-interviewed, how did
Nifong determine that the accuser?s version of events was more credible
than that of Roberts? And on what basis did Nifong?as he did in
May?clear the other 43 white members of the lacrosse team of all
suspicion, since according to the accuser, at least three more of them
committed a crime?

It would seem as if Nifong employed the following investigative technique:

  • He believed only the elements of the accuser?s story that aided his desire to get indictments before the election;
  • He
    disbelieved the elements of the accuser?s story that he hadn?t
    described as elements of the crime in his March 27-April 3 publicity
    barrage (i.e., that three players tore Roberts away from the accuser at
    the bathroom door, an allegation the accuser first made on April 6);
  • He
    declined to re-interview Roberts so he could avoid basing arrests on an
    accuser?s tale that a police investigation had proven false.

Basically, the police and Nifong were quite guilty of what psychologists refer to as “confirmatory bias.”  As defined nicely at wikipedia, “Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been
shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that
confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could
disconfirm their hypothesis. As such, it can be thought of as a form of
selection bias in collecting evidence.” 

What strikes me is that time after time when I read about the wrong people being arrested, this is exactly what happened.  The police “find their man,” stop investigating, and discount all further evidence that does not support their original (and premature) conclusion.  The destructive power of this bias in policework is made no more clear than in one of the most brilliant documentaries I have ever seen, “Murder on a Sunday Morning,” about the mis-arrest and police abuse of a teenage Black male in Florida.  You really, really should watch it. And as for the Duke Lacrosse case, this is just further evidence of a miscarriage of justice.

“Stay the Course”

One thing that amazes me about the Bush administration is their willingness to make outright, bald-faced lies that can be easily refuted.  The latest example, as nicely summarized at Think Progress, was Bush disavowing “Stay the Course,” now that Republicans have realized this slogan is a failure…

STEPHANOPOULOS: James Baker says that he?s looking for something between ?cut and run? and ?stay the course.?

BUSH: Well, hey, listen, we?ve never been ?stay the course,? George.
We have been ? we will complete the mission, we will do our job, and
help achieve the goal, but we?re constantly adjusting to tactics.
Constantly.

The reality:

BUSH: We will stay the course. [8/30/06]

BUSH: We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. [8/4/05]

BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the
temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a
timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We?re just going
to stay the course. [12/15/03]

BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is: We?ll stay the course. [4/13/04]

BUSH: And that?s why we?re going to stay the course in Iraq. And
that?s why when we say something in Iraq, we?re going to do it. [4/16/04]

BUSH: And so we?ve got tough action in Iraq. But we will stay the course. [4/5/04]

Dan Froomkin's latest column nicely summarizes what this all really boils down to:

But as I wrote in Friday's column , even the best and most flexible tactics, in pursuit of an ill-chosen strategy, will not achieve the desired goals.

Cutting
through the rhetoric, it's quite clear what Bush's Iraq strategy has
been up until now. In short: American troops will be there to provide
security as long as it takes for a democratic central government to
take hold. But there will be no clearly defined metrics against which
to measure success, no ultimatums to the Iraqi government, and no
timetables — because those would embolden the enemy.

Thus far,
Bush has remained steadfast in this strategy — even as American
casualties spike, as the country descends into a state of civil war,
and as the central government has yet to provide any evidence
whatsoever of its ability to take real control over anything.

The administration does this because they count on the so-called liberal media not calling them on their outright lies.  It will be interesting to see what happens in this case.

How the Republican party entices voters

Looks like the Republican Senatorial committee has been taking lessons from Vernon Robinson.  Thanks to my friend Rich for passing on this series of websites they are using to attack Michigan Senator, Debbie Stabenow.  As Rich put it, these would be pretty funny, “if they weren't blatant appeals to xenophobes.”  There's three versions, check them all out. 

If the Senatiorial committee is not bad enough, the Republican Congressional Committee is absolutely and appallingly shameless in their lies.  From the Carpetbagger Report:

Both major-party candidates for a congressional seat are
decrying an ad sponsored by a national Republican committee that
accuses the Democrat of billing taxpayers for a call to a phone-sex
line.

The ad, which began airing Friday, shows Michael Arcuri leering at
the silhouette of a dancing woman who says, “Hi, sexy. You've reached
the live, one-on-one fantasy line.”

Arcuri's campaign said an associate mistakenly dialed an 800-number
sex line two years ago from Arcuri's New York City hotel room, and
released records supporting the claim. The number shares the same last
seven digits with the number for the state Department of Criminal
Justice Services, which was dialed the minute after the first call was
made.

The worst part, is that the RCCC says there is nothing wrong with this ad and continues to run it.  Is there nothing Republicans won't do in trying to hold onto control of Congress?

Observations from the NC State Fair Part II: Politics

One of my favorite activities at the fair (in addition to eating the aforementioned fried dough) is checking out all the political stickers people wear that are given out by the state parties.  When I commented on the stickers to one Democrat, he replied that this was the first time in his memory he had seen Democratic stickers outnumber Republican ones– and by a good margin, too.  I would definitely agree with that observation.  The best part about these stickers was that they borrowed the terrific slogan actually coined by Newt Gingrich, “Had Enough?”  Apparently, this has become quite the popular slogan in Democratic circles.  Say what you will about Newt, but he sure seems to get political marketing. 

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