Tag, You're It

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It was clear, after the first 20 or so letters, that The Bird hadn't touched a nerve among high-minded intellectuals so much as it had dared to question a conspiracy theory that's dear to a wide group of geekazoids who have lots of spare time now that George Lucas has stopped making Star Wars movies.

Would it help you conclusion-jumpers feel better if The Bird wrote: "You're right! President Bush is the guy behind the 9/11 attacks! Those buildings were secretly imploded, and that hole in the Pentagon was made by a specially designed missile left over from the set of Irwin Allen's Lost in Space!"?

This prying pigeon's got to admit, it would make a hell of a story -- one that the aforementioned Dubya-hating New York Times would've been all over by now.

The Bird thinks that Sacramento Eric said it best when he wrote, "I can go on and on but to not waste yours and my time anymore, I leave you with a plea for open-mindedness and God bless all."

Thank you, Eric. But this foul fowl is open-minded. It's just that, if you've studied the events of 9/11, most of what Loose Change proposes is fucking impossible. As in, it just doesn't compute. As in, sure, this caustic canary hates the Bush/Cheney gangsters as much as the next feather-brain, but it doesn't believe they're smart enough -- much less evil enough -- to instigate an attack on their own country and get away with it.

Oh, that's right, they haven't gotten away with it. The little kids who made Loose Change have figured it all out.

Bogus Remedy

What happens if you devote about $5 million to advertisements detailing the horror of crystal meth, only to see the drug's popularity increase among people who've seen the ads?

The Bird's got a few ideas. You could raise another $8 million to run more ads. You could lobby other people to start running them, too. And, for all that, you could get painted as a hero by the media.

As New Times reported two weeks ago ("Meth Madness," April 27), the Montana Meth Project, a daring experiment that blanketed the rural state with $5 million in anti-meth ads, released its first official report last month.

The Montana campaign matters in Arizona because state and county leaders hope to bring the ads here. And rather than have them financed by a wealthy resident like Montana did, they want to use our tax dollars.

So it's a real bummer, at least to this spaced-out sparrow, that the news from Montana wasn't good: The survey showed a 3 percent increase in teens who "strongly approved" of regular meth use. There was also a 5 percent drop in teens who associated "great or moderate" risk with regular use of the drug.

The report didn't exactly trumpet the bad news; the statistics were buried in the back in raw data sets, while the front of the report focused on good news (like that more parents are discussing meth use with their kids). The entire report is available online (; it's not like it's hard to get.

And yet the release of the statistics was met with . . . silence.

Never mind that everyone from the New York Times to CBS' Early Show had devoted considerable time to hyping the project. Never mind that the Arizona Republic, bizarrely and inexplicably, had credited the ad campaign with a 30 percent drop in meth use. (Per the project's own statistics, the percentage of those surveyed who fessed up to trying the drug actually increased.)

According to this pissed-off pelican's research, not a single media outlet in the country has bothered to report that the much-vaunted project's apparently a bust. The Montana Great Falls Tribune even noted that "now that the project has research to prove its effectiveness," it should attract even more donors.

The shoddy reporting didn't go unnoticed by STATS (which is a sort of sideways acronym for Statistical Assessment Service), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization at George Mason University. The group, which is devoted to exposing "the abuse of science and statistics," had previously criticized the New York Times for hyping the Montana campaign before any statistics showed that it worked. Last week, STATS issued a bulletin citing the newly released statistics.

The campaign, wrote staffer Maia Szalavitz, was a wash. "But the media coverage of the data largely spotlighted the positive spin of the researchers, which hid the negative results in the data section and did not mention them in the executive summary."

The Bird's lauding STATS, in part, because it bothered to give credit where it's due, singling out New Times' report as a "notable exception" to the Montana hype.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela