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Archive: May 2004


A week ago, I published an entry that was two parts exploration and one part experimentation.  The experiment was to see how readers commented on a post of that nature, one that was potentially very inflammatory even though was not at all its intent.  The commenting ability is still new for me, and I’m working out how open I want to be about comments.  When I was writing the entry, I had in mind to not permit comments, realizing that it could easily draw a metric ton of flames, accusations, and other sundry ickiness.  At the last minute, I decided that it would be better to open comments and see what happened.  I’m well satisfied with the results, but have now closed comments on the entry (you can still ping it if you want).

I do want to follow up just a bit on some of the comments that were posted.  A few people said or implied that I should have picked a less volatile subject than intimate partner violence (IPV).  That’s just it, though: I didn’t pick the subject with an intent to post.  I was doing my own research, for my own information, and at the end of the process decided I’d share the results rather than just sit on what I’d learned.  Why?  I’ll quote myself:

…I was able to do some in-depth fact checking of my own in less than an hour, using nothing but Google and some well-chosen search terms, and obtain a more accurate picture of the world than I’d had before. I believe that this ability to self-inform is one of the most important and often underappreciated benefits of the Web. If nothing else, I’m glad I went on this particular search because it reminded me that the Web really is something worth fighting for, and that improving the Web is always an effort worth undertaking.

It was an aspect of the Web I’d rediscovered, and thought it was also important to share.  I’ve been doing this stuff for more than a decade now, and when I started my whole goal was to help put information online.  That’s why I wrote the HTML tutorials at CWRU—to make it easier for people to share information about whatever they knew best.  I’ve seen a resurgence of that impulse recently, with people blogging obscure fixes or problems they’ve encountered so Google will pick it up, and it will be there for the next person who needs it.  (See, for example,”Writing For Google” over at Daring Fireball.)  So if I can forget that the Web is an astonishing source of information, and need a reminder, maybe others could use the same reminder.

And why did I share so much detailed information on such a potentially sensitive subject?  I don’t think my points would have had the impact without the details.  That probably sounds like I was trying to use a touchy subject to raise my exposure, but that’s not it at all.  If I’d just posted to say, “I was curious about something and dug up a lot of information about it, and that’s what’s cool about the Web” it wouldn’t have had the same resonance.  Walking through the process and pointing to the sources I quoted established a context for my final points.  It was also the case that I believe I found some useful information about a very important subject, and was able to disseminate it further.

My thanks to everyone who contributed comments, especially those of you who pushed back a bit.  I’ll close with a favorite David Byrne lyric; make of it what you will.

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
—”Crosseyed and Painless”

My Dinner With Brian

I was back in the training groove this week, and on Monday morning one of the attendees had to duck out at one of the breaks.  “I have to talk with Brian, who’s consulting for us.”  I must’ve looked blank, because he said, “Brian Foy.  Do you know him?  Works with Randall Schwartz.”

I’ve been reading Brian‘s missives from Iraq on the O’Reilly Network for a year now, and was really psyched to meet him.  As it turned out, we both were planless on Monday night, so I picked him up at his hotel and blundered around the neighborhood until we found a Thai restuarant.  Over appetizers, Brian told me his wife (an opera singer) has been doing her own Web design for a while now, and was getting into CSS.  Then he mentioned buying the O’Reilly CSS book for her, and as he talked about why he’d bought it, I quickly realized that he’d picked it up because it was an O’Reilly book, and recommended.  He literally didn’t know he was having dinner with its author.

After a couple of minutes, I finally told him who’d written the book.  I should probably feel bad about not admitting it right away.  I wasn’t going to say anything here either, but he already blogged it, so… what the heck.

It was very interesting to talk about Iraq with someone who’d been there.  I was able to ask him the question I’ve wanted to have answered for a while: “How does the news coverage compare to what’s really going on over there?”

“It’s horrible,” he said.  “We got CNN and Fox on the Armed Forces Network and they were both just terrible.”  He said that he’d literally been present for things that were being covered on TV by the time he got back to the barracks, and nobody ever accurately represented what had happened.  Not even close, apparently.  Brian made the observation that images are so overwhelming, so powerful, that the story was always driven by whatever footage had been shot.  Not by the actual event in its totality, nor the context.  Just the visual.

It wasn’t surprising to hear that, but it left me saddened and frustrated.

Earning A Spot

Through a winding chain of links—it was, of all things, the result of an extended surf on the Web, and who does that any more?—I came across Cameron Moll‘s “80/20 and the design blogosphere“, where he listed the 20 people from whom he feels 80% of vital new media design information flows.  I was deeply flattered to be on the list, although I again feel weird about it.  I don’t give out design information, and meyerweb is certainly nowhere near as well-designed as many sites (including Cameron’s).  Heck, I don’t even talk about CSS all that much any more, despite numerous vows (public and personal) to do otherwise.  I suppose all the books and other writings allow me to coast into these lists, and that’s a nice feeling, but I’m starting to seriously ask myself what I’ve done for everyone else lately.

So I’ll throw it open to the crowd: what kind of information, new media design or otherwise, would you like to see from me?  What do you feel would earn me the right to stay in Cameron’s 80/20 list?  Post and ping, or contribute a comment.  Your choice!

(I have to shoot down one potential request now: I’m not going back to browser support charting.  Westciv does a decent job already, and as I wrote a while back on www-style, going any further is a massive undertaking.  And, to be honest, it’s mind-shatteringly dull and incredibly time-consuming.)

Stormy Weather

Wow.  The weather this afternoon was, in a word, wild.  The same storm front that hit us around 4:00pm is moving into the Baltimore/DC area as I write this.  That’s faster than I could drive there (without serious risk of a seriously expensive speeding ticket, anyway).  We hadn’t checked the news, so our first warning of severe weather was a sharp crack of thunder and a sudden burst of wind thrashing the trees as the western sky darkened.  Then the rain hit—hard.  Less than a minute later, the hail came.  Carolyn had been napping, but the sound of the wind and hail woke her.  As I went up the stairs to her room, I glanced out our north windows and saw that the sky had shifted to a pale green.

That’s never a good sign.

As Kat soothed Carolyn, I went to shut the back door before it let even more rain into the house, and as I shut it the hail suddenly started coming down so hard that I couldn’t see the house behind ours.  The noise of the hail slamming into the back of the house, driven by winds more fierce than I’ve seen in quite some time, was almost deafening.  I shouted for Kat and we headed into the basement, just in case; it felt silly to be doing it when I was pretty sure there was no real danger, but millenia-old instincts to hunker down and protect the family took over.  Ten minutes later, the storm had abated, but the hail was left thick on the ground.  On the back walk, rainwater carved channels through the hailstones, and the flower beds in the front were coated in ice pellets, each one slightly bigger than a BB pellet.

Even after the winds had calmed and the hail stopped, we had rain and frequent, furious lightning.  The rain came down so hard and fast that our street became a minor river, as I’m sure happened to every other street in our area.  Chilly mist wafted off of the hail on the ground as the ice sublimated, making the world seem a little more dreamlike and uncertain.  Across the street, a small group of befuddled gulls[1] sat on a neighbor’s lawn, running away from the spray when a car drove past, the same way I’ve seen gulls run away from waves on an ocean shore.  To end up on our street, they’d been blown several miles from their starting point, most likely the mouth of the Cuyhoga River in downtown Cleveland.

We’re expected to get more strong thunderstorms overnight, thanks to the same system that’s pushing into the Chicago area right now.  Hopefully they won’t be so violent as to necessitate another trip to the basement.

[1] No, it was not a flock of seagulls.  There weren’t enough of them to make a proper flock, if you ask me, and there’s no such thing as seagulls.  They’re gulls, period.

Seeking In Seattle

A heads-up for readers in the Seattle area: FASA Studios is looking to hire an “HTML / CSS Specialist (Strong in Usability)” contractor.  FASA—man, that name takes me back to the old Star Trek tabletop games.  They also published two Xbox games I particularly enjoy, Crimson Skies: High Road To Revenge and MechAssault.  (The teaser tagline for MechAssault was great: “Machines have evolved. Man hasn’t.”)  Anyway, the posting says that “This individual should be passionate about games and any experience working with game related websites will be a plus…”  Let’s see, being able to work with a game studio and create standards-oriented designs.  It almost makes me wish I lived out there.

Ordinarily I’d have let this slide, as I don’t intend to make this an employment board, except the combination of CSS skills and the name FASA really caught my eye and my inner geek forced me to post.

We Need Some References, STATS!

During a recent (somewhat contentious) debate, a friend tossed out the statistic that every nine seconds, a woman is beaten in the United States.  Later on, I did some math, and determined even if we assume that every one of those beatings is suffered by a different woman—that is, no woman is beaten more than once in a given year, which is most certainly not the case, but we’ll take it as a premise anyway—that means just over 3.5 million women are beaten every year.  That’s fairly shocking, if it’s true, since that’s about 2.5% of all females in the country (of all ages; there were approximately 144 million females in the U.S. as of March 2002, according to the Census Bureau document Women and Men in the United States: March 2002).

But is it true; or more appropriately, is it an accurate reflection of what’s really happening?  I started to wonder about this, because I have a tendency to question premises pretty closely.  What’s meant by “beaten”—does it include incidents where a single punch is thrown in anger, and instantly regretted?  Does it refer only to reported incidents, or is it based on both reported and estimates of unreported incidents?  Does medical attention have to be sought?  Does it include beatings of women by women, or is it only concerned with times when a man beats a woman?

So I turned to Google to do a little basic research.  The search “woman beaten every seconds” immediately turned up claims that varied from every nine seconds to every fifteen seconds.  That latter interval would mean that about 2.1 million women are beaten every year, again assuming every incident involves a newly beaten woman, which is quite a drop from 3.5 million.  I also found, a site that claims to “check out the facts and figures behind the news.”  They claim, in a list of what they term “commonly accepted fallacious statistics,” that the actual interval is every two minutes twenty seconds, based on a figure of “220,000 serious violent incidents” for calendar year 1999.  Which works out to every two minutes 23.34 seconds—if it’s true.

But is it?  Our friends at STATS aren’t much help, because they provide no direct reference for the figure, so there’s no easy way to check up on their methodology either.  Further obscuring the picture is that they don’t define a “serious violent incident.”  To reiterate some earlier questions, does it refer only to reported incidents, or is it based on both reported and estimates of unreported incidents?  Does medical attention have to be sought in order to count as a “serious” incident?  They aren’t saying, nor do they provide any links to more detailed information.

So I started digging a little more deeply, again through Google.  Eventually I found a document on “Intimate Partner Violence” (and more on that in a moment) at the Department of Justice that reports:

  • The number of female victims of intimate violence declined from 1993 to 1998.  In 1998 women experienced about 900,000 violent offenses at the hands of an intimate, down from 1.1 million in 1993.
  • In both 1993 and 1998, men were victims of about 160,000 violent crimes by an intimate partner.
  • Considered by age category, 1993-98, women ages 16 to 24 experienced the highest per capita rates of intimate violence (19.6 per 1,000 women).
  • About half the intimate partner violence against women, 1993-98, was reported to the police; black women were more likely than other women to report such violence.
  • About 4 of 10 female victims of intimate partner violence lived in households with children under age 12.  Population estimates suggest that 27% of U.S. households were home to children under 12.
  • Half of female victims of intimate partner violence reported a physical injury.  About 4 in 10 of these victims sought professional medical treatment.

So that gives us some actual numbers into which we can sink our calculators.  I’ll take one million as an average for the period 1993-1998, which is a crude but convenient measure.  That works out to a beating every 31.536 seconds; we’ll round down to every 31 seconds.

There are three things to note here.  One, this is “intimate partner violence,” which includes spouses, ex-spouses, boy/girlfriends, and ex-boy/-girlfriends.  It therefore doesn’t count random attacks like violent muggings, rapes by strangers, and so on.  Two, there were a million violent offenses, which does not necessarily mean a million different women, but there’s no way to measure that so we’ll continue to assume that every incident involves a different woman.  Three, it’s stated that about half of such violent incidents are actually reported to the police, which means there’s potential uncertainty in the data set.  The description of methodology restores some confidence; in the period 1993-1998, they interviewed “approximately 293,400 households.”  That’s a pretty good data set.

The report also states:

Women were more likely to be victimized by a nonstranger, which includes a friend, family member, or intimate partner, while men were more likely to be victimized by a stranger.

“More likely” doesn’t give us much of a handle on the proportion of intimate-to-stranger violence, unfortunately.  If intimate partner violence constitutes 55% of all violent crimes against women, that’s a much different story than if it’s 90%.  Furthermore:

Sixty-five percent of all intimate partner violence against women and 68% of intimate partner violence against men involved a simple assault, the least serious form of violence studied.

“Least serious” is a bit of a misnomer, in my opinion, since “simple assault” is later defined as:

Simple assault is an attack without a weapon resulting either in no injury, minor injury (such as bruises, black eyes, cuts, scratches, or swelling) or an undetermined injury requiring less than 2 days of hospitalization.  Simple assaults also include attempted assaults without a weapon. 

So a slap in the face is lumped in with a beating that leaves marks or requires up to two days in the hospital.  We’re also including incidents where a person (male or female) tried to attack a woman without making use of a weapon, but failed.  Or succeeded.  That’s a very, very wide range of incidents and types of violence.

Since the next step up in assault severity is aggravated assault, which includes incidents in which “the victim is seriously injured,” we could decide to count all non-simple assaults as serious violent incidents.  That would mean around 350,000 such incidents in a year, which is obviously higher than STATS’ figure of 220,000 for 1999.  Now, I suppose it’s possible that the figure dropped that much between 1998 and 1999, but I give such an occurence a probability somewhere around that of my being made the first astronaut to Mars.  So we’re still left wondering what “actual figure as estimated by the Justice Department” they’re using, since the actual figures I got from the Justice Department seem to have nothing to do with their figures.  (But at least I pointed you to my source, so you can check up on my assertions; see the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ main page on Intimate Partner Violence to get links to PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, the document I’ve been referencing, and more.)

At the end of all this, we seem to have arrived at an answer between the commonly-repeated figure of “every nine seconds” and STATS’ claim of every two-and-a-third minutes (which in turn leads me to harbor deep skepticism about their other claims, since their domestic violence number seems to be, well, fallacious).  As noted, the numbers I’ve been using all cover intimate partner violence.  I didn’t find similar information on other kinds of violence, although I’m sure it exists somewhere.  Once those incidents were added in, they would lower the average interval between beatings, although they couldn’t lower the interval all the way to nine seconds, or even fifteen.  To do that, there would have to be more stranger-perpetrated violence than intimate partner violence, which the report says isn’t the case.

So what’s my point?  I have three, as it happens.

My first point is that obtaining an accurate picture of the world is a messy, complicated business, and simple unattributed figures don’t help at all.  I’m not trying to say that violence against women isn’t a big deal: it is.  I personally think violence of any kind, no matter who is the victim and whom the attacker, is a big deal, and we should work to lessen such incidents.  I am saying that it may or may not be as bad as we think—and, in fact, the document I used states that intimate partner violence and homicides dropped over the covered period, despite the fact the national population was rising.  That says to me that we should work harder to figure out the causes driving that decrease, and exert more efforts along the same lines.  I’m not so naïve as to think we can ever totally eliminate violence, but we can and should do our best to get as close to that goal as we can.

My second point is that the news media don’t help at all in clarifying this stuff—no great shock there, I suppose, but it’s something that been bothering me more and more of late (as I wrote yesterday).  I previously linked to an article about the gross inaccuracies in reporting about the cost of the proposed missions to the Moon and Mars, and this is another example of how convenient, unexamined “facts” become common conversational currency.  I know I’ve heard the “every nine seconds” figure on the news, or at least a figure very much like it.

The third and perhaps most important point, and the one I found most personally fascinating, is that I was able to do some in-depth fact checking of my own in less than an hour, using nothing but Google and some well-chosen search terms, and obtain a more accurate picture of the world than I’d had before.  I believe that this ability to self-inform is one of the most important and often underappreciated benefits of the Web.  If nothing else, I’m glad I went on this particular search because it reminded me that the Web really is something worth fighting for, and that improving the Web is always an effort worth undertaking.

WMDs In The Wild

Thinking conservative Keith Burgin points out that the presence of a sarin-containing shell means far more than a single incident on an Iraqi road side.  What it would mean is that there is very likely more such material out there, and the media is effectively teaching future attackers how to better use that material.  I agree.  I thought that was understood, but upon reflection I was negligent to leave it implicit.

We could always hope that this is an isolated incident, a freak use of a single forgotten shell left over from the first Gulf War period, but that doesn’t seem very likely, I’m afraid.  And I mean that literally.

WMDs on the QT?

“WMDs Found in Iraq” ran the headline across the top of last night.  I flipped over to, where the headline was “Busy hurricane season ahead”.  What?  A coverup by the vast left-wing media conspiracy?  Um, no.

Even this morning, where the top Fox News headline is “Bremer: June 30 deadline stands” there’s a sidelink to “Sarin, Mustard Gas Discovered Separately in Iraq“.  When you go to that article, it starts off with:

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent (search) recently exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said Monday.

Bush administration officials told Fox News that mustard gas (search) was also recently discovered.

Then, just a few paragraphs later, the very same article says:

…Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the [sarin] results were from a field test, which can be imperfect, and said more analysis was needed. If confirmed, it would be the first finding of a banned weapon upon which the United States based its case for war.

So at best, there is strong suspicion that a sarin round has been discovered, which kind of belies the top-of-article claim.  I’m not saying there is no sarin, mind you; there may well be.  I’m saying that the article (and headline) are at best misleading.

As of this writing, you do have to dig a bit into the CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and MSNBC sites to find information about the possible sarin incident, and none of them mention mustard gas at all.  Interesting that Bush adminsitration officials would tell Fox News about a possible mustard gas find but not share that with anyone else, but never mind that now.  By looking at various sites’ information about the possible sarin-laced round, it appears that the current thinking is that even if it was a sarin round, the person who used it to create an improvised explosive device probably had no idea it contained sarin.  I’d tend to agree with that assessment, since if I were fighting an occupation  force and knew I had such a weapon, I wouldn’t use it in an attempt to blow up a convoy; instead, I’d detonate it upwind of the occupying force’s headquarters.  (If you don’t like my word choices in the previous sentence, then if I were a terrorist trying to strike at U.S. forces… same result, different motives.)

These kinds of inconsistency are bothering me more and more as we approach the serious phase of the Presidential campaign, to which I intend to pay attention once the party conventions are over.  It seems like one has to do more work than should be necessary just to try to figure out what’s really going on—a subject to which I’ll be returning in a near-future post, as it happens.  To paraphrase a signature file often seen in a newsgroup where I hang out, I must be getting annoyed because I’m starting to pay attention.

Oh, one other thing.  While I was wandering around through various articles, I found something interesting, if unsurprising.  Most every time I mention Fox News and how I think they tilt right, I get e-mail from folks who say that actually, Fox News is fair and balanced and they just look right-wing compared to the Liberal Media, like CNN.  Bad news, guys: given the advertising links I came across, the free market seems to have reached a different conclusion.

A set of nine advertising links, of which four are clearly to the right of the political spectrum, and another two could be considered to be so.  The four are: 'Republican singles', 'Hannity Book Free', 'USS Reagan Cap Free', and 'Mel Gibson Book Free'.  The two are 'Meet military singles' and 'Retire Overseas!'. A portion of an ad for the 'Conservative Book Club' taken from a Fox News article.
May 2004
April June