Archive for the ‘media’ Category

One thing, possibly the only thing, I like about the Oklahoman’s editorial board is that it has a long-term vision for the state. I can’t say I like that vision, but I have to respect that they appreciate their position as the oldest continuous newspaper in the state and the biggest soapbox for policy debate.

The Oklahoman sucks in so many ways. It has a reactionary, regressive political stance that holds this state back. It publishes editorials without requiring the authors to sign them (I recognize the pot calling the kettle black of complaining about this on here, but Odd Oklahoma isn’t the largest newspaper in the state). It let Mary Fallin push it around and forced a blog to sue her over emails she is legally obligated to make public.

That’s why I was so surprised to see the Oklahoma publish a three genuinely good, if still anonymous, editorials so far in the month of April.

The first two both came out on April 1. One was about the need for the Oklahoma legislature to tackle the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Mind you, this is the same editorial page that is pushing for the state to cut the income tax rate. Don’t expect them to be consistent or logical. I’m planning on writing something soon looking at the argument that cutting the state’s income tax rate would actually increase revenue. It’s bogus, but why is pretty interesting.

The second April 1 editorial was going after the anti-Common Core Curriculum crowd. The editors rightly referenced “black helicopters” when talking about these people. I’ve written about them on here before. Those get crazy about Common Core are the same type of people that throw around the term RINO and try to blackmail state senators.

From the editorial:

Instead, Common Core standards have been embraced because the idea makes sense. The standards will allow an apples-to-apples comparison of Oklahoma students’ performance with that of other states. That’s a goal policymakers should embrace, particularly if high standards are maintained.

Common Core is not an attempt by the federal government to take over education. It is organized and opted into or out of by the participating states. It allows them to fairly compare the effectiveness of their systems. The biggest opponents of Common Core are the same crowd that home school their children because they can’t have the government indoctrinating them with ideas like evolution and climate change while failing to teach the nation’s true Christian history as articulated by David Barton.

The third editorial that shows the Oklahoman hasn’t entirely lost its mind is from April 14. It is a piece arguing that the Republican super majority in the legislature is actually a problem for the state. I said as much on election night, though my diagnosis was that it would come by way of corruption. The Oklahoman pointed out that when there is no real fear of an elected official losing office, then there is no incentive to do much of anything at all.

Ironically, that legislative inertia may be the result of the GOP’s one-party dominance. Today Republicans don’t fear losing control and Democrats don’t honestly think they can regain it. In a competitive system, both parties strive to generate policy results that boost their electoral appeal. But in a system where wins are automatic based on party affiliation, two things occur: complacency, and the dominant party becomes dominated by people simply seeking power instead of pursuing policy goals.

That’s detrimental to Oklahoma’s future. It also explains why legislative Republicans are now often the impediment to enacting conservative reforms their party once embraced.

The editorial also points out that the House has become radicalized, something else I’ve pointed out here.

Compare the current state of affairs with the achievements of the Republican House majority of 2005-2006. That group approved the largest tax cuts in state history. Funding reforms put in place in 2005 have since pumped an additional $1 billion into transportation infrastructure. High school graduation standards were adopted. Lawmakers even took a serious stab at workers’ comp reform (later thwarted by court rulings, leading to today’s overhaul effort).

Since then, Republicans have enacted important policy changes such as lawsuit reform and education improvements, but given the GOP’s current dominance, shouldn’t Oklahomans expect more? And some Republicans are even backing away from those achievements, bowing to pressure from status-quo forces. Under House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, the House has become a fount of bad legislation, ranging from the unconstitutional to the simply ridiculous, even as they’ve gummed up workers’ comp.

The Oklahoman is optimistic that this will change when Obama gets out of office, which is still a number of years away. I’m not so certain things will be any better. If things keep going like they are in state politics, and the Republicans don’t fix their demographics problem on the national level, President Hillary Clinton will be swearing in to the Oval Office and a whole new wave of Tea Party whackaloons will be swearing in to the Oklahoma House.

Back in early December, I had a post called My visit to a hate group, where I recounted visiting Artisan Publishers, a place in Muskogee registered on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map.

It took nearly four months, but someone claiming to work at Artisan Publishers commented on the article.

Firstly, the lightning bolt on my ’99 F150 is most assuredly not Native. It’s the logo for a Christian rock band whose name was underneath. Secondly, directed at the comment below, there is no ‘obelisk’ in the Artisan logo. It’s the words ‘Artisan Publishers’ over the top of the planet earth. I’m not sure how the nutjobs at Southern got wind of us or what book was cited as hate material, but I do know that the book in question was offered to them for review and they rejected it like the ignorant blowhards they are and they refused to remove us from their site, even though they have no reason for us to be there.

In a later post, he pointed out that the band is The Wedding. As you can see from their symbol, what I thought from a distance was a lightning bolt was not. I’ll admit I screwed up on that one.

As for there being an obelisk on the Artisan logo, that is in response to a comment by @zeroanaphora.

You be brave!
If anyone’s wondering what the stone obelisk is on Artisan’s logo, it’s the Taylor or Sennacherib prism, an Assyrian text that describes the siege of Jerusalem (thus proving that all the Bible is historically accurate, I guess!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taylor_prism

Nutters.

You can see the obelisk she is talking about in the Artisan banner here. It is clearly the Sennacherib prism.

Finally, I explained in my post that I suspect they are listed due to their promotion of British-Israelism, which is a major theme in the Christian Identity movement.

I contacted the SPLC on email and Twitter asking about why Artisan Publishers is listed, and if they have a procedure for getting a group removed from the Hate Map. As for press time, I hadn’t heard back from them. I’ll let you know if I find anything out.

The guy from Artisan also said this:

Also, one thing that needs to be pointed out is that we do not publish all the books that we sell. We resell about half the books on the website. So whether or not the book is accurate isn’t our doing, we are just meeting a demand for the books.

That’s a pretty flimsy defense. I don’t care if they publish a book or just feature it on their site. It would be one thing if they were Amazon, where they sell everything. That’s not what they are doing.

News 9 has a story on parents of students in Asher upset about Narconon being allowed to present an anti-drug program at school.

Last week, Narconon made the anti-drug presentation in Asher. But parents across Oklahoma have contacted News 9 upset about this very thing.

The Asher parents say they have no issues with the school or its administration, but are concerned about Narconon’s ties with the Church of Scientology.

News 9 points out here that they’ve been contacted by people from around that state, and Narconon admits to having given over 100 presentations. You can’t trust Narconon’s numbers on anything, but it is pretty clear they are trying to get into public schools.

I had an hour’s worth of writing put together looking at Narconon’s elementary and high school anti-drug curriculum, but I lost it due to WordPress deciding to be an asshole. I’ll put up a more detailed analysis tomorrow.

In the mean time, I’ll point out that even mainstream anti-drug programs like DARE have huge problems with efficacy. DARE has been shown in study after study to be either useless, or actually harmful. There is every reason to believe that a program like Narconon, which is not based on sound scientific principles or the latest in social psychology, has any chance of being effective. My guess is that Narconon’s school programs, like DARE, actually produce the ‘boomerang effect.’

Come back tomorrow for a detailed analysis of all of the problems with Narconon’s drug education programs.

I’ve written on here about the University of Central Oklahoma professor Caleb Lack, who blogs over at Great Plains Skeptic. Caleb is a psychology professor who teaches a course on critical thinking, where his students make videos examining the veracity of various Oklahoma legends.

Here is a great one on the John Wilkes Booth legend I wrote about recently:

I can’t speak highly enough of this kind of work. A class on critical thinking and evaluating the merits of claims should be required coursework for any undergraduate program, but especially for any media and journalism major. I’ve complained before about the lazy false balance epidemic in modern media, and programs that teach future journalists how to evaluate evidence would be one step in the right direction (among many) toward addressing that problem.

UCO seems to be getting it right. For example, the “Logic and Critical Thinking Course” is one of several available courses on “Critical Inquiry” that are part of the core classes required for all majors. That is why it was so depressing when I came across this…

The UCO student media group has a show called Conspiracy Weekly. While not actually a weekly show, the conspiracy part is entirely accurate. Basically, it is a chance for three completely uninformed people to get together and debate about a topic. It reminds me of the debate between Hobbes and Roseau about the state of nature. It isn’t a matter of which one is right, because neither was in a position to actually have an informed opinion. Unlike Hobbes and Roseau, though, these students don’t really have an excuse. They live in the age of Google, Wikipedia and Snopes.

For example, one of the girls in the video linked above takes a position against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) because of the earthquakes that are associated with it. She is worried about Oklahoma being wracked by massive tremors. While there are reasonable concerns about fracking, large devastating earthquakes probably isn’t one of them. It frustrates me to no end when people with whom I nominally agree make bad arguments.

This was just the first video I came across, but they go back to fall of last year. They are rife with bad (or lazy) research. For example, the first episode is just the hosts reading from a top 10 list and commenting on it, and the Halloween 2012 episode gets the origin of one of the two main topics completely wrong.

I understand that this is just a bunch of undergrads learning how to make a slick show and speak on a microphone, but can’t we also have some basic journalistic standards when making the work publicly available? I don’t expect student-led entertainment to be particularly informative, but let’s try not to misinform.

This week has been awash with stupid headlines. First we had the silly spontaneous combustion story from News 9, and now KFOR is reporting that a Chupacabra is running wild in Deer Creek.

“Chupacabra? Yeah! There ya go,” one man said.

Others agree. “It does look like one to me. It does. It really does,” Carmen Himes said.

A chupacabra is a legendary animal rumored to feed on the blood of goats.

Believers said it’s making its way into Oklahoma from Mexico.

Chupacabra, coyote what ever you think this animal is, it’s in the Deer Creek area at Hwy. 74 and Waterloo Rd.

Craig Martin snapped pictures of the animal when he spotted it in the field.

The avid outdoorsman said it looks just like a chupacabra.

“That’s immediately what we thought and it looks exactly the same,” he said. “There’s not much difference at all.”

He said it looks much different than a coyote.

Sigh. No.

Later on in the piece, a biologist from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife says exactly what it is.

“What we’re dealing with here is just a coyote with a bad case of mange,” Department of Wildlife Spokesperson Michael Bergin said.

There is a lot wrong with this story.

First, the writing is terrible. I don’t usually critique people for their writing. It feels too pot kettle black, but in this case I’m going to make an exception. The way the story is written, it isn’t clear who is saying what. It sounds like a spokesman for the Wildlife Department is saying that it is not a regular coyote. I’m almost certain that the section claiming it might be a hybrid should be attributed to Craig Martin, the photographer.

Second, a little time looking into the background of the Chupacabra story would be helpful in explaining why this is almost certainly a coyote with mange, and not some mythical creature. One of the podcasts I listen to is Monster Talk, a show about legendary monsters and cryptids hosted by people who don’t actually believe those cryptids likely exist. One of the hosts, Ben Radford, wrote a book recently looking into the development of the myth called Tracking the Chupacabra.

One of the things Radford documents is how much the description of the creature has changed over the years from its origin in Puerto Rico in the 1990s. What is considered the standard description in the southern United States (namely a weird hairless canid) took years to become the common narrative. Every purported Chupacabra carcass that has been tested turned out to be a dog or coyote.

The Lost Ogle covered this story as well, and the picture they used actually fits the early Puerto Rico descriptions of the creature fairly well. It is alleged to have spines on its back and look vaguely kangarooish.

Via The Lost Ogle

Here is what more recent descriptions of the look like.

Bad dog!

As you can see, these are clearly not the same thing. Radford actually has an account of how the early Puerto Rico case got started, and I won’t ruin it for you. Go read the book.

As a general rule, I don’t watch the local news. I have an app on my phone that gives me weather, and I can check sports headlines on Twitter and Google faster than it takes for the segment to just tell me the damn score already. Twitter, the local blogs and NewOK (when I’m desperate) give me all of the relevant state news without all of the insipid stories that aren’t really news but filler.

The downside of this is that sometimes I miss out on stories created with this blog in mind. Fortunately, someone I follow on Twitter, had the presence of mind to re-tweet this gem on Monday night.

News9

Yes, that’s the actual headline from the story.

Spontaneous human combustion, at least the kind described in this story, doesn’t actually exist. Well, it does exist in that people really do burn up without taking out the surrounding area, but it isn’t mysterious and isn’t ‘spontaneous’. It is well understood and fully explainable. There is no mystery and no need for a wild headline.

I can tell you what happened here, with a fairly high degree of probability. The victim, who is described in the story as elderly, an alcoholic and a smoker found in the kitchen, lit himself on fire. Due to some combination of his age and alcohol, he was unable to react properly. Instead, his body fat and clothing acted as a candle.

For a good account of how this happens, check out the great Skeptoid post and podcast episode on spontaneous human combustion. Spontaneous human combustion is a misnomer. It should properly be called the human wick effect.

In response to this, I tried to come up with some equally silly headlines. Here are a few of them:

Oklahoma Woman Disappears, Sheriff Not Ruling Out Alien Abduction

Hair Found in Woods, Sheriff Not Ruling Out Bigfoot

Child Vomits, Doctor Not Ruling Out Demon Possession

We should make a game of it. List yours in the comments below.

The John Wilkes Booth in Enid legend

Posted: February 14, 2020 in media

It must have been a slow news day over at Channel 4 last week, because they picked up on an old Oklahoma urban legend that has been around since before statehood. It probably wasn’t true then either.

The legend is that John Wilkes Booth, the guy that shot President Lincoln, didn’t actually die in a barn in Virginia. Instead, he faked his death and escaped, eventually committing suicide in an Enid hotel room in 1903. The body of, David E. George, the man claiming to be booth was mummified and put on public display.

Other than the dying man’s alleged claim that he was Booth, there is no good supporting evidence. In fact, some of the evidence purported to support the claim, actually helps refute it. For example, proponents of the theory always mention that George’s body, upon being x-rayed, showed that he had survived an ankle fracture like Booth’s. What they don’t mention is that the fracture is on the wrong leg.

Galen Culver over at Channel 4 would have known that if he’d done a cursory Google search on this story before running with it. But that would be basic due diligence by local media. We can’t expect that.

In fact, the Enid News ran an editorial debunking all of this years ago. Here is the relevant portion:

When the real John Booth died on the front porch of the Garrett farmhouse, he had some interesting items on his body. From the pockets of the mystery man in Virginia, the troops removed the following items: Five pictures given to him by female admirers, four were actresses and one was Lucy Hale, the daughter of a former New Hampshire senator; a signal whistle; a compass and leather case; a war map of the southern states; and a pocket diary.

All of these items were turned over to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. The diary was subpoenaed by Mary Surratt’s attorney at the trial of the conspirators. Stanton refused to turn the diary over to the court. It should be remembered these conspirators were tried before a military tribunal. When John Surratt was returned to the United States after being arrested in Italy, his attorney refused to allow him to be tried in a military court. The diary was subpoenaed. Now Stanton gave it to the court. When it appeared in court there were 18 pages missing.

Imagine that! Is it possible something was missing that might have cleared Mary Surratt? Just asking! John Surratt never went to prison. The government eventually dropped the charges. Oh, yes! The diary is on display in Washington, D.C. The big question is if George really was Booth, how did he get all of these items to the mystery man who died in Virginia? Did they make a swift exchange at the old Navy yard bridge? Remember, he was running from the authorities.

I understand George often quoted Shakespeare in bars. Wow! I don’t do bars, but I can quote a little Shakespeare. In fact, I can teach the stuff. I promise you I’m not John Booth. It seems we Americans are enchanted by conspiracies. If there is no conspiracy, we’ll create one. How many people swore they saw Hitler after World War II? I’m surprised I didn’t see him.

Something the editorial doesn’t mention is that what George did isn’t even that uncommon. People claiming to be supposedly-deceased famous folks happens all the time. Multiple people claimed to be Billy the Kid. There was also a man who claimed to be Jesse James. Tons of people have claimed to be dead members of the Russian aristocracy. All of these imposters come from around the same era, when newspapers enjoyed a good story over the truth and before the development of good forensic evidence made them easy to disprove.

The Enid Booth legend makes for a good story, but it isn’t true and doesn’t make for real news.