Friday, November 26, 2004

Dear Gov. Riley

Gov. Bob Riley
State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130

Fax: 334-353-0004

Dear Gov. Riley,

I am writing to protest the cutoff of Medicaid funding for Lauren Rainey, the disabled thirteen year old profiled by Bruce Mildwurf on WMPI. Lauren breathes through an artificial airway which needs to be suctioned clean several times an hour, 24 hours a day. Her family currently receives 10 hours of professional nursing care courtesy of Alabama Medicaid. If that care is taken away, Lauren could die.

One would think that helping disabled children would be a no-brainer for a politician, the sort of thing that comes as naturally as shaking hands, kissing babies, and ostentatious displays of patriotism. Your statement to WMPI shows otherwise. I was horrified to see you blame the people who are fighting for Lauren for frightening a child, when it is obvious that it is the Medicaid cutoff, and not the fight to stop it, that is scary. I was genuinely embarrassed for you when you insisted that there were other programs to help Lauren, but were unable to name any. Did you not expect a follow-up question? Don’t you prepare for encounters with the press?

Thanks to activists like Michael More, Duncan Black, and Nick Dupree, this case has received worldwide coverage. You could seriously embarrass your administration by allowing this young girl to die.


Rob Loftis

Friday, November 19, 2004

More academic work on voting irregularities

Again via the goddess echine.

Statisticians at UC Berkeley have found a correlation between use of electronic voting machines and an increase in the Bush vote from 2000 to 2004, which cannot be explained by a variety of factors typically used to explain changes in voting patterns, like median income.

Echine thinks that the case for a problem with the voting machines is now as strong as the case that cigarettes cause cancer. As I say in her comment forum, I wouldn't go that far. The argument is of the same form: a correlation with other causes screened out. However I think there are other causes that we would need to screen out before we cinch the case, including patterns of spending in Republican get out the vote drives. (Are their laws about the release of such information?)

Like, a skidillion Indians voted using touch screen machines in an election that was a surprise victory for the congress party. Does anyone know anything about how they handled these issues?

Lauren Rainey Follow up story

WPMI, the Mobile area news team that first publicized the Lauren Rainey case have a follow up.
The good news is the amount of attention Lauren has been getting on worldwide. Michael Moore picked up the story following atrios. Letters have been pouring in.

The bad news is that the state government is stonewalling. Bob Riley, twit, and governor of Alabama had this to say

"Because I think to a large extent what you've done is frighten a child, sent the wrong message to the community that the state is not being as responsive as it can be because there are a variety of different programs and I think if we all had taken the opportunity to sit down and explore all the other options we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

When asked if he knew what those other programs are, the Governor responded, "No, but I can find out and let you know."

As it turns out, Lauren's family is not eligible for any other nursing care, only some housekeeping help that they don't need.

Lauren's airway needs to be suctioned several times an hour. Right now a professional nurse is on duty 10 hours a day to help with that. Without Medicaid, she will not receive the medical attention she needs.

One of Riley's predecessors said that the job of the governor of Alabama is to keep his state off the front page of the New York Times. If this keeps up, Riley will fail at that.

PS: I did a quick Google search for the quote about the governor of Alabama, but couldn't find its source. All I remember is that it was posted in the phil dept office at Auburn University, where I used to work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I'm off to zen meditation after this update. My goal is to sit quietly and think about nothing for an hour. I'll let you, the internet, know how I fared. I'm not real good at sitting quietly and thinking about nothing. For starters, the group I've been sitting with reads a sutra first. The sutra always gets my mind going. What does this text mean? Is it true? All the questions I ask my students. All the questions I've been trained to ask and answer. But these days I'm trying to believe fewer things. I want to be less of a Humean skeptic and more of a Pyrrhonian. Alas, the monkey mind, he is so strong.

I do have a mantra which I manage to amuse myself with:

hari rama krishna rama john paul ringo krishna krishna rama rama george paul ringo

ad infinitum.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

more on Lauren Rainey

Waveflux has compiled a list of Alabama media outlets to contact about the young girl who is having her medicaid cut off. <Link>.

Of course, none of this would be happening if we had a sensible health care system. We could be upfront about the fact that health care is a limited resourse, and spend more money on people like Lauren and less on whole body MRI's for the perfectly healthy.

Just a thought.

Children's Music

For a while now I've been daydreaming about the effusive praise I was going to heap on the musicians now listed in the sidebar, but I've wasted the afternoon trying to get my new DVD burner to work, and I'm feeling spent. At the moment I think all I can do is spew a few random complements.

When I was a young man with an embarassing haircut, Dan Zanes fronted an alternative roots rock band called the Del Fuegos. He now makes folkie music for children using an eclectic cast of regular musicians and some pretty spectacular guest stars. Perhaps the most amazing thing I've heard on one of his disks is a duet version of "What a Wonderful World" with Lou Reed, whom one rarely expects to find on a children's album. Reed is amazing, inflecting his usual monotone voice with some jazz phrasings that suddenly make a kitchy, maudlin song into a piece of brilliance. The track ends with a bedtime rap in English and Spanish by regulars the Rubi Theatre Company. Incredible. Also outstanding on the same album: a duet with John Doe doing Woodie Guthrie's "So Long, Its Been Good to Know Ya." Zanes is also one of the best folk/roots/blues guitar players I've heard in a while.

For about the first year of her life, Caroline's bedtime song was "Night Owl" of the Dan Zanes CD. More recently, she has been going to bed with the They Might Be Giants kid's book and album "Bed Bed Bed Bed Bed." She calls it her "la la book" becuase of the chorus of the third track. She seems to be wearing of the la la book, though. More recently she has been requesting "Horses" which is the version of "All the Pretty Horses" by ex-throwing muse Kristin Hersh. She has also been requesting "Cows" which is the first track on Philadelphia Chickens by greeting card lady Sandra Boynton, whom I forgot to list at the right, but who is quite fantastic. The Cows song is about a bovine chorus line: "If you thought that all we could do was go moo/then you ought to know that before us/there's not been a chorus line so fine." She's big on the clever rhymes.

Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton are better known as the band Ida. Their children's music has the same hearbreaking softness and simplicity to it. (None of which sounds like Dan's older band The Hated.)

ok, enough for now.

Monday, November 15, 2004

undercover with the evangelicals

Kos has a diary up from someone who went "undercover" in an evangelical community in Navada. It is a fasinating read, but I'm not sure how much to believe its conclusions. As with any such personal anthropology, the individuals he spoke with could have been unusual and his observaitons biased. More significantly, his observations seem to be all confirmations of a liberals worst fears (secret book burnings, cultures built entirely out of shame, etc.).

If there were an extra hour in the day, I would spend time reading the empirical sociological literature on fundementalism/evangelicalism/conservative christianity.

Again via majikthise

Sunday, November 14, 2004

majikthise on reaching out to evangelicals

Like a good analytic philosopher, Lindsay at majikthise distinguishes three strategies for reaching out to evangelicals, rules out two, and endorses the third. I like clean reasoning. Also, I think she is right.


Saturday, November 13, 2004

Election Fraud, Scientific Objectivity and Conspiracy Theories

I've been thinking more about the way the media is covering the possibility of election fraud and with it question of how to identify paranoid conspiracy theories. As a philosopher of science, this is actually a part of what I do professionally.

A standard move in genuine pseudo science is to point to an anomaly for the existing theory and then shift the burden of proof. "Existing theories can't explain the similarities between Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, so they must have both been made by space aliens." "Darwinian theory can't explain the development of the cell wall, so intelligent design must be true." Very often the anomalies that are pointed to are genuine anomalies. This should not be surprising--all theories are awash in anomalies. The illegitimacy of the move comes when the burden of proof is shifted.

Ok, so the rumors on the internets are full of claims of possible anomalies in the voting. These are not just discrepancies in voting patterns, but anomalies for the theory that the elections were free and fair. Even if many of these anomalies are genuine, it would be paranoid to infer from this that the election must have been stolen. This does not mean, however, that that the anomalies should be left unexamined.

I use Ron Giere’s textbook on scientific reasoning in my intro level course--in fact I’m using it next semester. One of the things I like about it is the way it handles fringe science. Rather than attempting to come up with a rigorous line between science and pseudo science, it simply puts all fringe science into the category “unconfirmed hypothesis.” (This is easy if you accept the semantic view of theories [Rutledge, subscription required]) Of course, the world is full of unconfirmed hypotheses, and most can simply be ignored. If a hypothesis posits an ontology radically incompatible with what is currently accepted (e.g. parapsychology) or is incompatible with a coherent research methodology (intelligent design) there really isn’t any reason to think about it anymore.

The possibility of vote fraud is not like this. We know that vote fraud occurs, and yes it occurs even in the U.S. (I lived in Chicago for eight years.) Vote fraud in a national election would be surprising, but it is only different from past US history in scale. Furthermore, the issue we are dealing with is obviously important.

So here’s my conclusion: the possibility of a rigged presidential election is an unconfirmed hypothesis worth investigating. This means resolving as many of the anomalies out there as we possibly can, especially the gap between the exit polls and the vote tally.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dear Dr. McIntyre (public questioning of medical decisions)

Dr. Mary McIntyre
Alabama Medicaid Agency
501 Dexter Avenue
P.O. Box 5624
Montgomery, AL 36103-5624
fax (334) 242-5097

November 12, 2004

Dear Dr. McIntyre

You have probably already received a large number of calls, faxes, and emails regarding the case of Lauren Rainey, which has been publicized on local news and the internet. I would like to add my voice to theirs. Revoking Medicaid coverage for a little girl who needs twenty-four hour nursing care is heartless and life-threatening. I can’t imagine how you can do this. Please rethink your decision.

You are probably asking, “what right do random people on the internet, whose only source of information is a sensationalist local news story, have to question my medical decisions.” As my grandfather would have said, this looks like “Monday morning quarterbacking.”

Actually, though, the public does have a right, indeed a duty, to question the decisions of public officials, even when we lack the relevant expertise. We have this duty in part because you are acting in our name. Mostly, though, we have this duty because we provide a different perspective, which can provide a check on the power of experts. Although you have more training than the public, you are also hampered by the biases that come from institutional cultures. The case of Lauren Rainey looks like such a situation. The distance between you and the case, created by institutional relationships, has blocked ordinary human sympathy. Hopefully the voices of the public will rekindle that emotion in you.


Rob Loftis

The Exit Poll Issue

Steven Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania has posted a paper arguing that the exit poll results that favored Kerry should be taken seriously. This is not an accusation of fraud, merely a call for someone to provide a rigorous explanation of the discrepancy between the exit polls and the precinct returns.

While the internets have been all over this issue, the big media outlets have dismissed it as conspiracy mongering. The problem is that no one has given us a reason to dismiss this issue. We are just being assured, over and over, that the exit polls must have been wrong, because they were merely exit polls.

Freeman’s paper begins a serious investigation of this issue by showing that the likelihood that the discrepancy between the exit polls and the tallied results is due to the margin of error of the polls is vanishingly small. The odds that random variation could have caused the differences we saw are 250 million to one. If the exit polls were wrong, something must have been systematically biasing them. If so, we are entitled to know what it is.

Prof. Freeman’s paper is not peer reviewed. While it would be nice if it were peer reviewed, waiting for peer review would mean that the legitimacy of this election will only be determined by future historians. We need an explanation now.

Link via echidne

Note added:

This NYT article is the sort of big media coverage I was talking about. It raises the issue of the discrepancy, but then simply changes the subject, pointing out that there is no direct evidence of vote fraud. This is all well and good. But it still doesn't explain where the discrepancy came from.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Adventures Close to Home

Hey look, I'm getting traffic!

ok, here's some parenting bloggage.

Tiny Caroline has reset her internal clock, and we can't seem to set it back. Right now "morning" is ~4 AM, and "night" is ~6PM. When she pops up at ~4, she announces "all done!" It is difficult to convince her that she is not, in fact, all done. This is no good. We have given birth to a defective, insistent, alarm clock.

For a while it looked like she had given up on napping, but then yesterday, she took a 4 hour nap, which moved "night" up to 9:30, but had no impact on "morning" at all. We've been trying to keep her up later, so she will sleep in, but short of hiring a brass band, there seems to be no way of doing it.

Thusfar we have wound up doing exactly the thing we probably shouldn't be doing. We've been taking turns getting up with her at ~4, feeding her, reading to her, etc. We can't continue like this. We aren't "cry it out" parents, or even "Ferberize" parents. We are tired parents, though.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Dear Senator Clinton

The Honorable Hillary Rodham ClintonUnited States Senate476 Russell Senate Office BuildingWashington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 228-0282
Voice: (202) 224-4451

November 10, 2004

Dear Senator Clinton,

The Associated Press is reporting that President Bush is going to nominate Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General. I urge you to fight this nomination. Although the move was widely expected, it is not a conciliatory gesture by a president attempting to unite a divided nation. The two words most closely associated with Mr. Gonzales are “torture memo.” His nomination is an announcement that the administration intents to continue with its worst practices in the war on terror. I realize that the Democratic Party does not have as much political capital as the President going into this legislative session, but now would be a good time to spend some by thoroughly scrutinizing the nominee and perhaps even voting against him.

Sadly, it appears necessary in today’s political climate to review the reasons why the Gonzales’ February 2002 memo suspending anti-torture laws in the war on terrorism, and the horrible acts of violence it precipitated in Abu Ghraib and around the world, was a terrible mistake for the United States.

The simple, pragmatic reason not to torture enemy combatants is so that our own citizens will not be tortured in retaliation. We are now paying the price for not remembering this. The ghastly beheadings of hostages we have seen on the internet are expressly a response to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. One of the most prominent demands of the Iraqi kidnappers has been the release of female prisoners at Abu Ghraib, prisoners which even the Taguba report acknowledges have been raped by American guards. The most obvious reason to fight the Gonzales nomination, and the one that will command the most attention in the media, is that he has caused irreparable harm to our men and women in Iraq.

There are other pragmatic reasons to see the torture memo as a mistake (it has clearly hurt our standing around the world) but I want to emphasize a more fundamental one: torture is wrong. The talking heads on cable news are saying that this last election was about “moral values.” I’d like to see the government act on a real value for once, one that doesn’t involve prying into others’ sex lives. Here’s a value: It is wrong to completely debase, abuse, and defile a human being, even if you think you are doing it for a higher good. Don’t give me hypothetical scenarios about ticking bombs here. Such clear-cut situations never happen. Abu Ghraib did happen.

Please be a voice for the 49% of the country that opposed the way the administration is pursuing the war on terror. Please fight the Gonzales nomination


Rob Loftis

inaugural post

Ok, one of the reasons I wanted to do a blog was actually to chide myself into writing more letters to public officials, newspapers, overseas dictators listed by Amnesty International, etc. My thought was that I would make them all open letters, and publish them on a blog, as a small way of building an activism base. More importantly, if I actually had readers, I would feel pressure to actually write letters.

There's other things I want to do here, but the letter thing is what put me over the top. More specifically, what did it was the word that Bush was nominating Alberto "torture memo" Gonzales to the Attorney General. My letter will be the next post. I'll probably wait to actually fax it until Bush makes an official announcement.