Andrew Sullivan rips left-wing speech disruption

And it’s hard not to say he has a point:

Here’s the latest in the assault on liberal democracy. It happened more than a week ago, but I cannot get it out of my consciousness. A group of conservative students at Middlebury College in Vermont invited the highly controversial author Charles Murray to speak on campus about his latest book, Coming Apart. His talk was shut down by organized chanting in its original venue, and disrupted when it was shifted to a nearby room and livestreamed. When Murray and his faculty interlocutor, Allison Stanger, then left to go to their car, they were surrounded by a mob, which tried to stop them leaving the campus. Someone in the melee grabbed Stanger by the hair and twisted her neck so badly she had to go to the emergency room (she is still suffering from a concussion). After they escaped, their dinner at a local restaurant was crashed by the same mob, and they had to go out of town to eat.

Murray may never live down the controversy over his book, The Bell Curve, which included a few stats showing IQ differences between racial groups. And maybe he shouldn’t. Sullivan actually helped bring The Bell Curve to a wider audience at The New Republic, but he agrees that protests against Murray are “completely legitimate.” From what I recall reading TNR at the time, I thought Murray’s work was typical of social scientists who are so enamored of their statistical tools that they have no clue how to put them in context. Or they’re simply trying to make a few friends among the small but well-funded band of obnoxious right-wingnut academics.

But what Sullivan sees here is someone who has been labeled all sort of things he is not, particularly “anti-gay.” And Sullivan sees a stark raving mob (like the one in the Rush song Witch Hunt, which I recently posited as a warning against today’s anti-immigrant mobs but can also apply to this situation) that simply won’t let people speak.

And it gets worse. Faculty member Allison Stanger was assaulted and taken to the emergency room. She’s not exactly an ignorant hate-monger herself. She was a Democratic delegate in 1984. She has spent a good part of her academic life researching Eastern Europe, and she worked during the Obama administration as a consultant to the State Department.

Her crime? Participating in the forum with Murray.

I’ll let her say the rest:

I want you to know what it feels like to look out at a sea of students yelling obscenities at other members of my beloved community. There were students and faculty who wanted to hear the exchange but were unable to do so, either because of the screaming and chanting and chair pounding in the room, or because their seats were occupied by those who refused to listen and they were stranded outside the doors.

I saw some of my faculty colleagues who had publicly acknowledged that they had not read anything Dr. Murray had written join the effort to shut down the lecture. All of this was deeply unsettling to me. What alarmed me most, however, was what I saw in student eyes from up on that stage. Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. It was clear to me that they had effectively dehumanized me. They couldn’t look me in the eye, because if they had, they would have seen another human being. There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters.

Congratulations, Middlebury students and faculty. Now, whenever we point to the braying, fact-challenged mobs at Trump rallies (and yes, Sullivan spends the rest of his column summing up the week in Trump’s assault on reason and facts), they’ll be able to point to incidents like this, in which an intelligent, progressive woman was physically attacked for daring to listen.

Source: Liberal Democracy Is Suffering From a Concussion

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Getting started in data science: One journalist’s journey

Let me first say up front what you will not get in this blog post: A step-by-step guide to using whatever data tool you want. Using spreadsheets is beyond the scope of a blog post. Using R (and, I’d guess, using Python) is beyond the scope of the classes I’ve taken that purport to teach me how to use R.

What you will get is one person’s take on how to dip your toes into an ocean. I hope you’ll be able to get some advice on how to go from the occasional spreadsheet user to Data Journalism Deity and perhaps get some idea of where to go next. If this is the first thing you read about data science or data journalism, fine — I’m assuming no prior knowledge.

First: Reconsider what you mean by “education.” Seriously.

Remember back in college when you knew a bunch of annoying dudes who had figured they just needed to make a lot of great contacts in school, and the classes themselves were secondary? While you busted your butt studying and working, they were shaking hands and drinking beer?

I’m not going to say they were right. But they were on the right track. Here’s why:

Working with data is less about learning how to do it and more about learning where to ask.

Don’t believe me? Ask Vik Paruchuri, who made the liberal arts-to-data leap himself and has this to say about it:

data-problem

Check out his whole video. It’s 32 minutes, but you can skip the first couple of minutes because he took it from a Google Hangout and spent the first bit of it waiting around. (Expert on data science but doesn’t edit video in YouTube? Knowledge is specialized.)

He devoted a year or so to learning data science. But he also just jumped in. He started doing projects (because you learn by doing in this field) and going to meetups, all before he knew much code.

On the other hand, here’s how *I* did it:

I signed up at Coursera, an online-learning hub, for a nine-course series offered by Johns Hopkins University. I figured I would plow through the courses and get a spiffy certificate at the end, proving to myself and everyone else that I know my way around R (the en-vogue data programming language today) and everything else in the world of data.

Around the 13:30 mark of Paruchuri’s video, he says MOOCs (like Coursera’s content) are not the best way to learn. But by the time I watched his video, I had already gone past the “no refund” part of the Hopkins specialization. Oops.

That’s not to say I’ve wasted my time and money. Check that: I do think I’ve wasted quite a bit of time trying to pass quizzes that I really didn’t need to pass.

In retrospect, I wish I knew there are two ways to approach the Hopkins specialization:

  1. Make this your life, as if you were a full-time student, particularly if you don’t have a ton of prior programming experience or stats background. (The Pascal I learned in college and the JavaScript I learned 20 years ago weren’t enough. In stats, I’m comfortable talking about medians, means and even standard deviations, but I have little idea what a “linear regression” even means.) You’ll finish up with a certificate that might get you employed somewhere.
  2. Browse. Learn what you want. Attempt a few quizzes, but feel free to bail.

The seductive part of data science is that it seems so accessible. It seems like everyone’s doing it, from political bloggers breaking down government data to 14-year-old fantasy football wizards. But in reality, they’re just doing a small part of data science. When you start digging around and finding powerful data applications, you’ll find they’ve been developed by people with “PhD” in their LinkedIn profiles, not “BA in philosophy and music.”

Consider a music analogy. As Radiohead sang, anyone can play guitar. It might be a high school kid figuring out Rush songs (like me, many years ago) or your friend’s dad who suddenly whips out an old acoustic and plays Classical Gas. But how many people do you know who can sight-read just about anything on piano? Or teach band in an elementary school, helping kids learn every woodwind and brass instrument?

You don’t go to Berklee for four years to learn how to play Purple Haze or even to write your own guitar riffs. So why would you work your way through everything in the Hopkins data specialization to learn a few tools to use in journalism?

The funny thing here: The quizzes in the Hopkins sequence helped teach me that lesson and the importance of knowing where to look for the answers. Those quizzes — at least, once you get past the simple multiple-choice stuff in the intro class — are programming assignments. And the classes don’t teach you how to do them.

Kind of a weird way to approach teaching, isn’t it? And very frustrating if you, like me, don’t know what you’re getting into.

To pass the quizzes, you have to look around the Web for help. You may quickly find that the regulars at StackOverflow, an impressive online forum for sharing programming tips, are getting sick of answering questions from people who are stuck on the Hopkins programming assignments. But you can often find a couple of things that help.

The course itself has an online forum that substitutes for the interaction you’d have the teacher if you were taking this class in person. But they can only give you general tips, not answers. You click an honor-code pledge with every submission, just like we did at Athens Academy. (All together now: “I have neither given nor received any aid on this work, nor have I observed any infraction of our Honor System.” One kid made a rubber stamp with all those words to speed along his test-taking.)

The forum is manned by mentors who have survived the class already. And the general message is to get used to “hacking.” Get out on StackOverflow and other sites, then figure it out. Because that’s what you’ll be doing in the real world.

“Sure,” you may say, “but what am I paying for?” You’re really paying for the lectures, a nifty set of online tutorials, and a basic intro to some of the tools you need, like RStudio (a bit like Notepad with a whole lot of tools to help with your code) and Github (a sharing site). And if you have hours upon hours — other students have reported spending months on quizzes with an estimated time of “30 minutes” or so — you may be able to plow your way through and get the specialization.

At some point — and I’m writing this so you’ll do it before you take the course rather than partway into it like I did — you have to stop and ask what you really want to accomplish. Even if you want a full-time data job, there are so many different ones. Data scientist? Data engineer? Data journalist?

panther

You’re probably better off playing around with online data tools first, and then signing up for a course. That’s true whether you’re just looking to supplement your knowledge and skillset (like me) or going become a Full-Time Data Science Person (like Paruchuri).

One example: Paruchuri says 90 percent of the work is data “cleaning” (if you’ve ever seen a spreadsheet in which some entries say “Miscellaneous” and some say “Misc,” you get the idea). You could use R for that. It’s powerful. Or you could use a former Google tool called OpenRefine. Knowing a bit of programming logic may help with that, but it’s not as intense as learning complex operations in R.

So now that I’ve spent four months learning what I can, I’ve managed to define my goals.

First, what do I want to do? 

  1. Find an efficient way to do Olympic medal projections. I’ve used spreadsheets to track past results and use a few formulas to do them in the past, but it’s safe to say I spent far too much time gathering and processing data.
  2. Learn enough to try other projects on my own, perhaps a survey of North American curling clubs, for example.
  3. Learn enough to tell a potential part-time or full-time employer that I might not be a full-fledged data scientist, but I know the tools and have a good sense of what’s feasible.

Now bear in mind everything else I want to do in the next 2-3 years:

  1. Continue writing epic soccer pieces and other content for The Guardian.
  2. Finish retooling parts of my unpublished MMA book into a series of posts at Bloody Elbow.
  3. Finish retooling the other parts of that book into a small self-published book.
  4. Write another book on youth soccer.
  5. Write a bit more for FourFourTwo and OZY.
  6. Maybe find a steady outlet for Olympic-sports content (which could include a lot of data work).
  7. Maybe start working for a nonprofit (maybe even with data).
  8. Maybe even start the definitive book (or multimedia project) on creativity.

I’m not including high priorities like “be a good parent” or even low but unavoidable priorities like “mow the danged lawn.”

So from a data perspective, here’s what I should be able to do:

  1. Understand what I’m looking at when I check Kaggle, which turns data-science sharing into fun things like a March Madness contest.
  2. Navigate github.
  3. Use OpenRefine and any other good web tools I can find.
  4. Scrape data from reputable sources.
  5. Present the output in some coherent and engaging form.

I’ll pick my way through the rest of the Hopkins courses. I’ve also enrolled in a cost-friendly course at Udemy, which I started taking so I could figure out enough to pass the R programming course at Hopkins. (I passed two. The rest? You may consider me an auditor.)

And then I’ll just explore, like I did when I was figuring out Rush songs on my guitar. (Hmmm … can I process songs in R?)

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Forty days to contemplate how to talk without anger or bull—-

I’m giving up Twitter for Lent. You’ll still see automated notices every time I post something at Duresport (on @duresport feed) or here (on @duretalk — and anything I post here will be about music or how The Blacklist fell off a cliff), but that’s it. Please don’t think I’m ignoring people … though, technically, I suppose I am. I’m also not going to talk about anything “political” on Facebook or elsewhere, and I’m going to use an expansive definition of “political” rather than my usual cop-out “Oh, it’s not political, it’s about journalism or philosophy or science or what not.”

It’s not just that Lent is supposed to be about self-denial. It’s also about reflection. And I do plan to spend some time contemplating how we represent ourselves in our words.

So before I go, here’s a bit of me indulging in a Mardi Gras of the mind and dumping everything off my chest. No … wait … I mean … here’s how I got to this point and what I’ll be contemplating.

And you’ll see that I really am contemplating. I haven’t made up my mind on things in advance of spending 40 days in contemplation of just how brilliantly correct I am.

A few weeks ago, I saw a rare Kate McKinnon sketch I did not like. My overriding opinion of SNL these days is that it’s terrific, and I think McKinnon is making a strong case to be considered one of the best cast members of all time.

This one, I found annoying:

I didn’t like it because I thought it plays to a stereotype of East Coast elitism. SNL’s best humor translates broadly. Wayne’s World could be anywhere. We all know a Church Lady. We’ve all had a Lazy Sunday, even if we prefer Twizzlers and Dr. Pepper to Red Vines and Mr. Pibb. This struck me as something for Broadway geeks only.

Then I second-guessed myself.

Why should SNL not do a Broadway sendup from time to time? Just because we all need to cater to the alleged whims of Middle America? Isn’t that just another twist on political correctness?

I thought of that again today when I read the story on Trump ordering an expensive steak — well-done, with ketchup. The Washington Post‘s snooty food critic had a bit of fun with it, and someone at Eater went into full-bore psychoanalysis:

A person who won’t eat his steak any doneness but well is a person who won’t entertain the notion that there could be a better way; a person who blankets the whole thing in ketchup (a condiment that adds back much of the moisture, sweetness, and flavor that the overcooking removed in the first place) is always going to fix his problems by making them worse. A person who refuses to try something better is a person who will never make things good.

As with the Conway sketch on SNL, I’m of two minds on this. As a picky eater myself (I’m not a fan of raw or stewed tomatoes, I’m generally averse to mushrooms, and I find raw sushi and all types of shellfish to be the rough equivalent to eating a softened hockey puck — and, ironically, I don’t like ketchup), I think these folks should lay off a bit.

That said … if you saw some dude on TV touting the superiority of his steaks, and then you saw him prepare and eat them like they’re McDonald’s hamburgers, you’d be inclined to laugh a bit, wouldn’t you?

Well …

So do we give him a free pass just because he managed to win an election?

From an ethical point of view, I don’t think so. But politically? How politically correct do we have to be about this guy and his followers? Do we need to tone down our sense of humor just to avoid triggering a backlash against Trumpist snowflakes? (Yes, I chose “trigger” and “snowflake” quite deliberately because those accusations reek of hypocrisy.)

I’ve obviously been thinking about this sort of thing a lot. Actually, I’ve spent several years wrestling with the idea of how much I should engage people. In some cases, I mean those people I respect and with whom I simply disagree. In other cases, I mean those who think global warming is a conspiracy of Chinese communists and Northeast academics. Or those who gripe about government spending when their states and their outdated economic engines are the primary beneficiaries. Or those who shut down a conversation by accusing others of “white privilege.”

Because I’ve spent too much time over the years dealing with this sort of crap …

(Yes, that’s the guy who regularly accuses me of being paid by MLS to argue against promotion and relegation. Which, among other problems with his argument, I do the opposite of.)

(Apologies if you’re a fan of David Sirota’s journalism. A lot of it looks pretty good. But he clearly has a blind spot when it comes to pot. Which is funny, because I’ve heard people touting pot as a cure-all for glaucoma.)

In fairness, I’ve also had a lot of positive interaction on Twitter. Probably a 5-1 or even 10-1 ratio in my favor, if you don’t include the Alex Morgan incident …

Yes, 972 “likes.” And 344 retweets. Read more about how that went — the occasional death threat, but also a lot of words of support — in this search if you’re so inclined.

And no, it’s not just Twitter. Way back before Twitter, a soccer fan had a web feature called “Turd of the Week,” which I won at least once, along with the insinuation that I was doing sexual favors for whoever I failed to sufficiently criticize.

And none of this even remotely compares to what female journalists, especially in sports, have to deal with on a daily basis.

Clearly, there are some dark alleys that simply aren’t worth exploring.

But we can’t afford to disengage entirely. We have to find the people who offer constructive feedback and interesting ideas, as difficult as it may be at times.

And we — as journalists and as citizens — have a responsibility to call out bullshit. We can’t just leave it to John Oliver, even if he does it remarkably well:

With that in mind, I’d invite people from all political walks of life to ask themselves this:

How much of the world’s bullshit is my responsibility?

If you watched nothing else in this post, please watch this (and pardon the vulgarity). It sums up how I feel not specifically about guns but about a lot of political discourse today:

By avoiding Twitter and political discussions for the next 40 days, I hope to cut down the amount of bullshit I encounter. I also hope to reduce my contributions — my “bullshit footprint,” if you will. Or my “anger footprint,” or my “‘I’m just trying to find the right words to make you come to terms with how wrong you are’ footprint.”

The conversations are important. Well, some of them. I don’t need to hear from Alex Morgan fangirls and fanboys ever again. There are other conversations we need to have. We need to elevate facts and the search for truth, and that takes patience.

But we should spend more time thinking before we speak. I’m going to take it to an extreme.

Forty days.

You’ll still see me on Facebook and in The Guardian and in Bloody Elbow and maybe Mostly Modern Media. But I’ll be sticking to sports, music, parenting humor and griping about yard work.

Then on Easter, all hell might break loose. But I pray it’ll have some thought behind it.

 

 

 

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Old-guard GOP offers to fix problem GOP thinks doesn’t exist: climate change

Ted Halstead of the Climate Leadership Council says the political left and right have stalled on climate action in part because they disagreed about the means to fixing the problem.

I’d argue it’s because the right has convinced its followers that climate change doesn’t exist. Nice of ExxonMobil to sign on to this and to do all those ads touting their search for climate change solutions, but how can you offer to fix the sky if you don’t first admit it’s broken?

And the logic is puzzling. If you think there’s a 1 percent chance that someone will break into your house, you buy a deadbolt or maybe even a security system. If there was a 5 percent chance of a giant meteor hurtling toward Earth, we’d demand that the government do everything it possibly could to research it and then either stop it or mitigate the damage.

Well, the odds that we’re going to suffer the impact of our neglect of the climate is a hell of a lot greater than 5 percent. And we have people in government — at several levels — who want to silence scientists from even talking about it.

So Godspeed, old-guard GOP. Maybe they’ll listen to you, because they sure as hell aren’t listening to anyone else.

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A new category of lies

These are not ordinary lies. These are meta-lies, second-order lies, lies about the very institutions vouchsafed with testing and examining the truthfulness of political statements.This reckless disregard of reality reveals an unusual quality to Trump’s lying. Other presidents lied to deceive their opponents. Not so Trump. Trump does not even make the pretense of trying to hoodwink his opponents. Instead, he deceives his supporters. By lying about the neutrality and integrity of our truth-defending institutions, he consolidates his power by depriving his supporters of tools that might authorize an informed, critical assessment of his performance.

Source: Why Trump wants to disempower institutions that protect the truth | Lawrence Douglas | Opinion | The Guardian

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No, terrorists are not racing through U.S. airports

Let’s talk about deliberate misinformation for a minute.

Here’s the myth du jour: The travel ban / Muslim ban / airport advisory is the only bulwark between the good old USA and tons of terrorists disguised as refugees.

The facts: The people being turned away now are people we’ve already vetted.

For months. Maybe years.

And that’s all countries. Not just the ones that are vaguely Muslim-ish but don’t have Trump business properties. (Note the absence of Saudi Arabia, the homeland of a plurality of 9/11 hijackers.)

A former immigration officer described the process for The Washington Post last week. It’s a long read.

So is this, from a brilliant friend of mine on Facebook:

Our so-called President is now saying that people are “pouring in” to the United States following Friday’s injunction against his unlawful executive order — and that “If something happens” while that order is enjoined pending appeal, we should “blame” the federal judge who issued the TRO, along with the “court system.” I honestly do not know WHERE TO EVEN START with this crap, but if we ignore — or even worse, get inured to — this moron’s relentless and astonishing lies, he wins, and we will all lose in the end. So, here goes.
1. The idea that we should “blame” the Republican-appointed judge, and the “court system,” for DOING THEIR JOB is equal parts terrifying and stupid. (This comment may, however, have the silver lining of driving home the point to Neil Gorsuch, who is a good, smart judge, that he must not be, and must never be, Trump’s little bag-carrier.) This is the sort of dreck that a tin-pot dictator spouts.
2. The idea that terrorists are “pouring in” to the United States is A LIE. It is A LIE. It is A LIE. It is A LIE. This is the current vetting process for refugees, as sourced from government agencies and reported by the NYT:
The current screening process for all refugees involves many layers of security checks before entry into the country, and Syrians were subject to an additional layer of checks. Sometimes, the process, shown below, takes up to two years:
1. Registration with the United Nations.
2. Interview with the United Nations.
3. Refugee status granted by the United Nations.
4. Referral for resettlement in the United States.
The United Nations decides if the person fits the definition of a refugee and whether to refer the person to the United States or to another country for resettlement. Only the most vulnerable are referred, accounting for less than than 1 percent of refugees worldwide. Some people spend years waiting in refugee camps.
5. Interview with State Department contractors.
6. First background check.
7. Higher-level background check for some.
8. Another background check.
The refugee’s name is run through law enforcement and intelligence databases for terrorist or criminal history. Some go through a higher-level clearance before they can continue. A third background check was introduced in 2008 for Iraqis but has since been expanded to all refugees ages 14 to 65.
9. First fingerprint screening; photo taken.
10. Second fingerprint screening.
11. Third fingerprint screening.
The refugee’s fingerprints are screened against F.B.I. and Homeland Security databases, which contain watch list information and past immigration encounters, including if the refugee previously applied for a visa at a United States embassy. Fingerprints are also checked against those collected by the Defense Department during operations in Iraq.
12. Case reviewed at United States immigration headquarters.
13. Some cases referred for additional review.
Syrian applicants must undergo these two additional steps. Each is reviewed by a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services refugee specialist. Cases with “national security indicators” are given to the Homeland Security Department’s fraud detection unit.
14. Extensive, in-person interview with Homeland Security officer.
Most of the interviews with Syrians have been done in Jordan and Turkey.
15. Homeland Security approval is required.
16. Screening for contagious diseases.
17. Cultural orientation class.
18. Matched with an American resettlement agency.
19. Multi-agency security check before leaving for the United States.
Because of the long amount of time between the initial screening and departure, officials conduct a final check before the refugee leaves for the United States.
20. Final security check at an American airport.
Sources: State Department; Department of Homeland Security; Center for American Progress; U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants; Refugee Council USA

So, no, “bad people” are not suddenly dressing up like refugees and racing into the USA unimpeded.

It’s pretty easy to see that what you’re being told on Twitter by the president is simply not true.

And no, it’s not the same as what Obama did.

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What SHOULD be the lead Trump story today …

The stories about Trump and Spicer embellishing the inauguration crowd are important because they show how brazen these folks are willing to be about lying. Sure, plenty of politicians have lied — it’s the big black mark on the Clinton legacy — but they’ve paid a price for it. These people think they can lie about things in plain sight, and it’s OK.

The stories about Trump’s spat with Australia are important because they raise questions about his fitness to handle diplomacy.

The stories about the GOP feeling emboldened to push anti-union legislation are important because that’ll be a test of Trump’s promises to protect Rust Belt workers who tipped the electoral scales in his favor.

I had the misfortune of glancing at a TV with Fox News running today, and I’d like to see how reaction changes if they started calling “Obamacare” by its actual name — the Affordable Care Act. Some people still don’t realize they’re the same damn thing. And many people haven’t seen any analysis of what happens if the GOP strikes it down like Darth Vader swinging through Obi Wan’s empty robe.

But there’s one story that needs to be the lead today. And more importantly, we need to follow up on it:

U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.

The raid led to the death of one U.S. Navy SEAL, along with several civilians. Granted, the line between “civilian” and “combatant” in cases like these is difficult to draw.

So today’s stories from Reuters and The New York Times are not the last word. Nor do they pretend to be. They’re calm, reasoned snapshots of what we know now and what we don’t.

But if Congress can spend years investigating and re-investigating Benghazi, shouldn’t they at least ask a few questions about this?

And if they won’t, the media sure as hell should.

 

 

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