Saturday, September 28, 2013

Those Bogus Pro-Assad Polls

Listening to NPR's Diane Rehm show on Friday, I heard a caller claim that a poll has shown that 70 percent of Syrians support Bashar Assad. Regrettably, none of the experts on the show had enough knowledge or guts to refute this claim which has gotten wide circulation on Facebook and the internet. After all,  Syria, like most police states doesn't allow independent polls.

The 70 percent figure has been pushed hard by the official Iranian Press TV.

An opinion poll, conducted by the US daily news service World Tribune, shows that 70 percent of Syrians support President Bashar al-Assad, 20 percent say they do not support either side involved in the ongoing unrest in the country, and only 10 percent back the opposition. 
Big problem. Not only is the World Tribune a shadowy, obscure, web publication, but it clearly states it did not conduct a poll.

The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts. (emphasis added)
The World Tribune report is nearly totally unsourced.  It says "a Western source familiar with the data," but it headlines misleadingly says "NATO Data"  It describes "data, relayed to NATO" and a "report to NATO," but gives no real reason to think that NATO took the report seriously.

 Should World Tribune be taken seriously?  Look at their ties.
The following World content partners have both contributed articles and columns and have helped alert the worldwide web to its exclusive reports: Middle East Newsline The Washington Times Hoover Institution Hudson Institute Int. Strat. Studies Assoc.
 Moreover, as recently as July 2013, World Tribune reported that "Forensic findings on Obama’s birth certificate: ‘A 100 percent forgery, no doubt about it." A crazy, birther site isn't one that should believed by anyone, particularly by anyone on the left.

The Flawed 55 Percent Poll 

It is more modestly claimed that 55 percent of Syrians support Assad by Ed Hussain in the New York Times, Jonathon Steele in the Guardian,  Al Jazeera (in Arabic), Iranian owned Press TV, and Syrian news sites.  In this case, the number does come from a real poll,but the poll cannot bear the weight of showing that Assad has the support of most Syrians that has been placed on it.

Charlotte McDonald of the BBC points out that while YouGov poll interviewed 1000 people in 18 Middle Eastern countries, only 98 were from Syria.
This is a very low sample according to the managing director of survey company ORB, Johnny Heald, who has been carrying out polls in the Middle East for many years.

"When we poll and we want to find out what Libyans think, or what Syrians think, we would rarely do anything less than 1,000 interviews," he says.
"One thousand is the generally accepted industry minimum to be able to speak confidently about what people from a particular country think about an issue.

"If you say that this poll covers people from 18 countries, then that's fine. But you need to be very careful when you interpret the findings.

"It is not good to say that 55% of Syrians, for example, think that Assad should stay when only 97 people were asked that question."
YouGov's Sept 2013 Poll

YouGov, the British based internet polling, recently  released the results of a poll of 835 Syrians and found
 248 supporters of the Assad regime, 152 opponents and a larger number who support neither side or prefer not to tell us
In percentages, just under 30 percent support Assad and 18 percent oppose.

YouGuv notes
This is not a representative sample: three-quarters are male, over half are under 30 years old, and just under 50 percent say they have a university degree.
So, when we finally get to a poll that has some, limited validity, support for Assad is about half of the claimed 70 percent.

Pepperdine's Secret Survey of Syrian Public Opinion

Next up is a poll that has polar opposite results to the non-existent 70 percent pro-Assad poll, but not without its own problems.

Pepperdine University conducted secret surveys in Syria in 2010 and 2011. Here is an article which describes how their guerrilla polling was done.  The results of the 2011 survey were summarized this way.
Eight out of ten Syrians surveyed want to see regime change and won't be satisfied with mere reform, according to analysis by Angela Hawken, associate professor of economics and policy analysis at the School of Public Policy (SPP), of interviews done for the Democracy Council of California.

That latest "secret survey" results reflect face-to-face interviews with 551 Syrians collected between August 24 and September 2, 2011, despite an official ban on public opinion gathering. An earlier effort took place in January and February of 2010. "The most surprising thing about these results is that they could be collected in the first place," explains Hawken.

James Prince, President of the Democracy Council and a leading expert on Arab civil society, says, "This survey further illustrates the deep-seated angst felt by most Syrians. The Syrian people do not have confidence in the Assad regime. They no longer want to live in the Baath security state. As in other regional countries, the Syrians are fed up with the corruption, nepotism, and lack of opportunity in Syria. The people are searching for alternatives to Assad."
Elizabeth Buckner, a PhD Candidate at Stanford University, however,  raises serious questions about the scientific flaws and political biases of the Pepperdine study here and here.

In sum, there is a flawed poll to go with whatever your position on Syria. 

Country Club 18: I Fell in Love

Carlene Carter had a number 3 country hit with "Every Little Thing," in 1993 from her album Little Love Letters. It's an excellent "concept" album. For those who don't know, Carlene is the daughter of June Carter Cash and Cal Smith.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Books from the library sale

As if I didn't have enough books on my to-read shelf, last week the Friends of the Wichita public library had their book sale. Saturday was bargain day, a bag of books for $5.00.  I couldn't resist.

The photo above is what I found--16 books, two not pictured.  They included three of four that I already have and can now freely loan out. From the top.

Frank Tannenbaum, Ten Keys to Latin America  (a classic from the early 1960s, but well worth reading--I'm wondering if I actually read it.)

Michael Harrington Socialism (one of my favorite Harrington books, which I can now loan out more freely)

Melvin Kranzberg and Joseph Gies, By the Sweat of Thy Brow: Work in the Western World (1986, looked interesting)

Margaret Fuller: From Transcendentalism to Revolution (biography of one of the first American feminists, associated with the Transcentendalists, but with a social, rather than individualistic, bent. I didn't know anything about her, but now I do.)

Pam McAllister (editor), Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence (I'll learn some new things from this I'm sure.)

Cornell West, Race Matters  (another duplicate to loan)

Michael Cloud, Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion (I'm wondering if this can be reverse-engineered, so to speak.)

Joe Conason Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth  (not sure whether I have this one or not)

Sepehr Zabih, The Communist Movement in Iran Hardcover  (This is from 1966, so it is dated in its treatment of the 1953 coup, but it's treatment of the Tudeh party as both a tool of Stalinist Russia and a complex movement with internal pressures to revolution and democracy and the presence of a non-Communist socialist left is well worth reading.)

David Caute, The Great Fear (a classic on McCarthyism and a duplicate)

David Brock, Blinded by the Right

Noreena Hertz, The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy 

John W. Dean, Conservatives without Consciences

Not pictured

Richard Kirk, The Conservative Constitution (I think the conservative view of the constitution is mainly bunk. In skimming through this, that view was mainly confirmed, but I found a few surprises akin to Hayek's support for a minimum wage, etc in Roads to Serfdom.)

Theodore H. Von Laue, Why Lenin? Why Stalin? (I know I read this one a long time ago.  There was a later version that added Why Gorbachev to the title.  Would have been cool to have found that one.  Oh well.)

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Country Club 17: redneck woman

John Ruhlman writes on

In late May 2004, Gretchen Wilson's debut single, "Redneck Woman," became the first by a solo female singer to top the Billboard country singles chart in over two years; it also reached number one faster than any single in the previous decade. At the same time, her debut album, Here for the Party, entered the country album chart at number one and the pop album chart at number two with sales of 227,000 copies, the biggest opening week for a new country artist on record. Given the overtly country style of her music at a time when much country had been leaning toward pop, Wilson was immediately hailed as the latest in a long line of country artists leading the music back to its roots.

Her own roots went back to the tiny town of Pocahontas, Illinois (36 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri), where she began singing as a child. Her mother was 16 when she was born on June 26, 1973; her father left when she was two. She grew up poor, living in a succession of trailer parks. She went to school only through the eighth grade, and at 14 was working as a cook and bartender in the same club where her mother worked. By the age of 20, she was singing in two different bands in the area. She moved to Nashville in 1996 and tended bar while singing on demos and in clubs for the next seven years. During this period, she became part of an informal group of singers and songwriters known as the Muzik Mafia who met once a week to try out new material. She and John Rich, another member of the group (and a former member of Lonestar), wrote "Redneck Woman," an autobiographical song in which she unabashedly celebrated her redneck, white-trash background.
Wilson went through a dispute with her label Sony after several hit albums and now records on her own label.  Her albums have continued to get high marks, so if you haven't followed her closely since her early mega-hits, you might want to check out  I Got Your Country Right Here,Right on Time, and Under the Covers .

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Country Club 16: the perfect Country and Western song

It probably comes as no surprise that there aren't a lot of Jews in country music--Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel is probably the most important. But the "perfect" country song was written by a Jew from Chicago, Steve Goodman, in a room in the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City. Goodman was mainly a folk singer, but he also wrote another classic county song. "The City of  New Orleans"  which won Goodman a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Country Song

The perfect country song,of course,  is "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," which was co-written by John Prine, who declined to take writer's credit and royalties. In Goodman and Prine's versions the added verse is a little different than Coe's.

Here's Coe's version

Doug Supernaw version includes cameo vocals from Waylon Jennings and Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, and David Allan Coe.
John Prine shares the background of the song

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Great Moments in Leftism pokes fun at DSA

Great Moments in Leftism is a cool new cartoon blog that pokes fun at, mainly, the American left. It is pretty damn funny. Here's one the takes aim at DSA, Democratic Socialists  of America. (Here is the link to the cartoon  on the GMIL site)

I particularly liked United Front, Meanwhile in Pyongyang (which shows a profound understanding of the real North Korean ideology), and Mother Jones  reads Mother Jones.  Browse the site.  You may find your own favorites.

You can also like GMIL on Facebook and follow on Twitter @gmilcomic