Man, People Are So Gullible…

…as long as the things they are gullible about confirm their prejudices.

I’ve got a newfound – interest – in military welfare these days. So I pay particular attention to news items that cross my computer screen that touch on issues about the welfare of our military.

A few weeks ago, I saw the release about rising suicide rates in the military, and to be honest I was concerned.

Army soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new military report.

It just made the Washington Post, and was picked up by lefty blogs TalkLeft and Greatscat!, who say – respectively – “This war was not worth the price. We have a President who is unable or unwilling to acknowledge his mistakes. Experts agree the war in Iraq cannot be won militarily. So why are the troops still there? Let’s stop the funding and bring them home now.” and “Um, I wonder if Rove left spin instructions for this report’s release?

Gosh, guys. It is a damn serious issue – because the rate is rising, and because one suicide is unknowably painful to the circle of the person who kills themselves.

But you know, the first question I asked was “Gosh, I wonder how that compares to normal rates of suicide in the US?

So I spent a whopping ten minutes looking up stats and building a small spreadsheet.

So in 2004, there were a total of 14,328 suicides in the US in the age group 20 – 44 (the group that I think pretty well covers the population in Iraq – some are younger, some are older). the total population in 2004 in that age group was 104,259,000 – so the rate/100,000 population was 15.25.

And since the rate in the military is higher – significantly higher at 17.3/100,000 overall and 19.9 for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – I was darn concerned.

And then I asked one more question.

Well, the suicide rates by sex are pretty different, I recalled. I wonder what happens if I sex-norm the suicide rates in the military?

Here’s an approximation (because the %of women in reserves is slightly higher, and I didn’t find the % serving in Iraq).

According to the DoD, approximately 17% of US active-duty forces are women.

According to the CDC, the 20 – 44 population had 14,328 suicides in 2004. Of those, 11,460 were men, and 2,868 were women. The census gives an estimate for 2005 population from 20 – 44 as 52,513,000 men and 51,746,000 women.

By my math, this gives a suicide rate of 21.82/100,000 for men, and 5.54/100,000 for women.

If I norm the suicide rates by multiplying the sexes rate by the population in the military, I get (21.82*83%)+(5.54*17%)=19.06/100,000.

So the suicide rate among all active-duty troops is lower than the 2004 norm – even at the current high point – and the rate among combat troops is slightly above the norm.

Does this mean it isn’t serious and that we shouldn’t put resources into PTSD treatment or that each suicide isn’t itself a tragedy? What do you think I believe…come on, of course.

But is this a symptom of a military so brutalized by the horrors of service that they are killing themselves at an incredible rate?

What do you believe I think? Why can’t people do some freaking homework before the leap to the Isle of Conclusion – that’s what I think.

Technorati Continues To Blow Chunks

So I’m interested in what you folks’ experience has been with Technorati. Mine is best summed up in the headline.

It seems to be that as they build a richer, more finished site, it becomes less and less functional – both because of what appears to be sheer incompetence, and worse – by design.

Some cases in point:

I use a Treo 650. Technorati Mobile – – brings up a search box, a list of top searches this hour, and a “what’s happening on the web right now in:” and a list of stories that are highly linked.

If I fill in the search block, and click on “Search”:, you’d expect to get a set of Technorati search results. Go try it and see what happens. Nothing. Nothing has happened for weeks, if not months. Has anyone at Technorati even bothered to look?And the technical geniuses at Technorati decided to redo their UI to a level of desigm matching their technical acumen.

There’s a basic rule of good Information Architecture that I swear by:

1) The same control always does the same thing.

2) I ought to be able to get to the underlying data without a PhD is user interface design.

Take a look at this:


Technorati breaks Rule 1 on the most commonly-used controls on their site; and worse, when they do break the rule, there is flatly no way to get to the targeted post, and the primary control doesn’t take me to the blog, but to the Technorati page about the blog.

Anyone out there want to fund a small startup? Is there a startup out there I can invest in? I’m just effing tired of this and if we have to build something better to have a tool that works, that’s what we need to do.

Getting Close On Beauchamp

OK, someone is going to go to bed with no dinner.

From the Weekly Standard:

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned from a military source close to the investigation that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp–author of the much-disputed “Shock Troops” article in the New Republic’s July 23 issue as well as two previous “Baghdad Diarist” columns–signed a sworn statement admitting that all three articles he published in the New Republic were exaggerations and falsehoods–fabrications containing only “a smidgen of truth,” in the words of our source.

Separately, we received this statement from Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad:

An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.

According to the military source, Beauchamp’s recantation was volunteered on the first day of the military’s investigation. So as Beauchamp was in Iraq signing an affidavit denying the truth of his stories, the New Republic was publishing a statement from him on its website on July 26, in which Beauchamp said, “I’m willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name.”

This seems pretty definitive, and unless someone who is accountable by name is flat-out lying – which in this era seems pretty darn risky – I’d say that we’re one step away (public comment from Beauchamp and/or release of his sworn statement) from putting a wooden stake into the heart of this story.

On the other side, I’ll raise a simple proof that would go a long way toward establishing some veracity on Beauchamp’s part. Find someone who recalls a burn-disfigured woman who served at Camp Buehring, in Kuwait during the time that Beauchamp might have been there. I can’t believe that’s not something people would remember.

For me, I think this issue is close to closed. Sadly, it’s also closed for people who want to believe the worst of our troops – that the kind of soulless cruelty that Beauchamp wrapped himself in is close to the norm, rather than the exception – the truth or falsity of Beauchamp’s ‘facts’ are irrelevant – his stories, like all good literature speak to a deeper truth that they embrace tightly.

The Calcanis Challenge

Yeah, I know I have other more “serious” stuff to blog about, but this piqued my interest. And since it touched, in part, what I do for a living, I thought it’d be fun to do a blog post out of left field and see what happens.

Tomorrow – ‘Perilous Times’, ‘TNR’, and more on voting machines, I promise…

Jason Calcanis has a blog post up on “social network fatigue,” in which he asks:

OK, now that we’ve got that on the table why else are we here? Putting aside the need for humans to procreate, I can’t help but wonder: are we creating a social system to communicate with each other at a distance because the reality of creating and maintaining that social networking face-to-face is, well, scary? Do we not want to pick up the phone and tell five friends we want them to come over for dinner and a movie, so we instead throw food at them and tell them to watch something we previously watched and liked? Intimacy, deep friendships, and love can be scary, clicking your mouse is not.

Is Facebook a more efficient, rejection-free, surrogate for the real world? Is that what we want?

There’s obviously a certain amount of limerance in using social networks. But, I’ll argue that there’s some beef there, and that once the companies and tools shake out, tools to facilitate social networking will continue to be among the most important tools on the Internet.


Well, I’ll suggest that the real value of social networks for someone like me – who does manage to have friends over enough to annoy my wife – is in dealing with the big groups of people outside one’s social ‘core’. Because that social core is shrinking

The new study, based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative group of 1,467 adults, provides the most comprehensive look yet at Americans’ degree of social connectedness. The 20-minute questionnaire was done by pollsters at the University of Chicago as part of their General Social Survey, one of the longest-running national surveys of social, cultural, and political issues.

In the survey, respondents were asked to identify people with whom they had discussed important personal issues in the past six months. On average, they named 2.08 people in 2004 compared with 2.94 in 1985. Almost half of those surveyed could name only one or no confidants, while the portion with at least six close friends has dwindled to 4.9 percent of the population.

The researchers said that over the 20 years, Americans were most likely to turn away from friendships outside of their families. Four out of five people surveyed in 2004 said they only talk to family members about important personal matters, compared with 57 percent in 1985. The percentage of people who confide only in their spouse increased from 5 percent to 9 percent.

Now this was done in 2004, before the bump in social networking, and measures the change from 1985 – 2004 – a period that overlaps the Internet explosion, but I wonder how much of this is Internet-based, and how much is the simple Robert Putnam “Bowling Alone” collapse of intermediate social institutions as work and parenting consume our lives.

But the unquestionable truth is that we have narrowed our social focus to just a few people, and that most of the people we deal with are acquaintances.

And keeping track of that big cloud of acquaintances is, to me, what social networking tools are primarily about. there are maybe a dozen or dozen and a half people I know who I keep track of personally and professionally because I talk to them often enough and we have a strong enough sense of mutual obligation that we would call each other and talk about any personal change.

How do I keep track of the other 1100 people in my Outlook database? How do I keep ‘freshening’ those acquaintances so that they stay alive, and so that some of them have a chance to become real friends?

Because what happens as we increasngly become nomads at work and recluses at home is that we need to reach out – for a contact, for some advice, for help with something or another – and our narrow slice of close friends doesn’t have anyone in it who can get it done for us.

So we reach into the cloud. And, to make the metaphor really icky, if we want the clouds to produce, we need to seed them. We used to do that at Rotary meetings, or playing softball on the company team.

Now we do it on Myspace or Facebook.

There are other things there as well…it’s in the queue, it’s in the queue.

It’s Not Just About California

Kevin Drum says re Jonathan Alter’s Newsweek piece on electoral fiddling:

I see that the latest crackpot initiative from the Golden State has now gotten national attention.

Alter says – accurately:

Our way of electing presidents has always been fertile ground for mischief. But there’s sensible mischief – toying with existing laws and the Constitution to reflect popular will – and then there’s the other kind, which tries to rig admission to the Electoral College for strictly partisan purposes. Mischief-makers in California (Republicans) and North Carolina (Democrats) are at work on changes that would subvert the system for momentary advantage and – in ways the political world is only beginning to understand – dramatically increase the odds that a Republican will be elected president in 2008.

Kevin doesn’t see fit to mention North Carolina’s plan to grab some electoral votes for Team Blue. But Jerome Armstrong at MyDD did:

Great news for the Dem candidate in ’08:

North Carolina appears headed to becoming the third state in the nation to abandon the winner-take-all method for awarding its electoral votes as the House tentatively agreed Thursday to shelve the method.

In its place, according to the measure approved on a largely party-line vote, would be a more proportional method that would reward the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each of the state’s congressional districts.

The Senate already has passed the meaure, which would take effect in 2008. A final House vote could come Friday, then the bill would go to Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, just like the majority in the Legislature, which has backed the change. The state Democratic Party also supports it.

The Democratic candidate would be sure to receive at least 3 EV’s from NC, and probably as high as 7-8, depending on the nominee. Eye on ’08 points out that Dems have the trifecta in Arkansas and Louisiana as well, where they could possibly also make this change. At the least, it ensures that candidates are going to be coming to NC during the 2008 contest. If this had been in effect during 2000, Gore would have been President.

I know it’s impossible to read everything. But it’s not hard to realize that rules that benefit the GOP in California are likely – if applied elsewhere – to benefit the Dems elsewhere.

I’ve got a basic position; fairness matters more than partisan advantage. I have no problem fighting hard for what I believe in. But partisan issues – while important – are fleeting. A fair political system that everyone can look to as legitimate needs to last us a long time.

(fixed dumb misspelling of Alter’s name)

Voting Machines Banned!!

CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen has done the right thing and decertified Sequoia, Hart, ES & S and Diebold e-Voting machines. In fact she’s decertified all of them, with strong (and reachable) conditions for using the Hart and Diebold machines for this election cycle only.she did not approve the Sequoia or ES & S machines because of the massive security flaws in them.

Go read the Red Team reports and Source code reviews; if you know anything about technology – and I do – the only thing to do is scrap them and start over.

Huge compliments to Secretary Bowen for doing the right thing.

As I’ve said before it’s pretty damn cool to be able to delineate the exact moment when a tide changed; it’s my belief that one leg of our political system – confidence in voting – is as bad tonight as it is going to be in my lifetime, and we’re watching tonight as one brave woman managed to do the hard work to stop the tide and reverse it.

We’re not done yet…