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John Kerry, Nate Silver’s International Man of Mystery



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For reasons perhaps best understood by his fellow Kiddie Korps bloggers, Nate Silver of the New York Times enjoys something of a reputation for sagacity among my lefty buddies. Personally, I find this impossible to discern in his work, which has the same I-was-born-yesterday quality about the analysis as does JournoList founder Ezra “the Constitution is confusing, plus it’s, like, old” Klein in the Washington Post.

How else to explain this prize howler in the course of a piece about the current Republican presidential field:

Several other candidates, like Mr. Thune and Mr. Pawlenty, are not yet terribly well-known — which means that they have plenty of room to grow. Nevertheless, their numbers were worse than someone like John Kerry, who was also not all that well-known, but who elicited favorable (rather than ambivalent) reactions from those voters that did know him.

“Not all that well-known” if you’re born in 1978, maybe. But to the grownups in the audience — you know, the Baby Boomers, who make up the largest generation in American history — Mr. Sixteen Weeks has been widely known and, by all right-thinking folks, widely loathed since he came back from Vietnam with more medals-per-week-served than Audie Murphy and promptly denounced his band of brothers as war criminals in his testimony before Congress

Let’s refresh young master Nate’s memory since, after all, this happened seven years before he was born. Here’s the War Hero, in his own words:

I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. . . .

They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

As if testifying before Congress weren’t obscure enough, Kerry also went on a media blitz at the time, including this infamous appearance on Meet the Press:

I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50 calibre machine guns, which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. 

Oh yes, and the Fake Irishman was elected senator from Massachusetts in 1984.

As if his sense of history weren’t bad enough, Silver also recently wrote:

No, The Huffington Post — like virtually every other Web site — does not release page view counts for individual articles. We do, however, have a reasonable proxy: the number of comments that each post receives. Articles on the site receive prodigious numbers of comments, and it is safe to assume that they are fairly strongly correlated with page views.

Which brought this methodological rebuke from a reader:

Nate, I’m surprised that you’d correlate comments with page views. That’s just not so. You can easily have 100 comments from 2-3 wingnuts who are content to yell at each other. No one else would read it.

“Safe to assume they are fairly strongly correlated . . .” If this is an example of how Silver approaches his number-crunching, it’s a wonder he’s ever right about anything.



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