Archive for December, 2004

playing with definitions

Words mean things and without a common understanding of the meanings of words we are going to have a problem understanding each other.

What Americans need to realize is that there really is no such thing as terrorism; there are revolutions you support (freedom fighters) and those that you don’t (terrorists). But to label a person or a group “terrorist” is to say nothing more than that you disagree with their claims and their cause. For Alam to eschew the terrorist label when dealing with al Qaeda is quite accurate in actually quite helpful. [Leopold Stotch. Hysteria over Shahid Alam. Outside the beltway. 31 December 2004]

A terrorist is one who governs by terrorism or intimidation. A revolutionist is one engaged in effecting a change of government. Terror is a process while revolution is an end. Confusing these two concepts can only lead to misunderstanding.

We have in front of us people whose goal is religious more than governmental. They seek not to overturn a government but to keep certain governments. The methods they use include and emphasise those of terror and not those of structured combat. It only takes the correlation between those whose tactics include kidnapping, intentional bombing and targeting of civilians, and beheadings with opposition to established forms of self determination to see that the issue is not one of revolution nor of freedom fighters.

When people argue that those who fought the US Revolutionary War were the same as terrorists, they insult the honor and the mission of the combatants. It is a glorification of ideologies, the ideology of terror, that is anathema to civilization. This is why outrage about such comment is deserved. It is necessary to take a stand for basic values. Are you for peaceful self expression in government or are you for terrorist control of populations?

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politics of tragedy

Paul touched a nerve when he noticed a pattern in pleas for Tsunami victim support.

Well, the lefty blogs finally caught up to my post “A Partisan Tsunami?”. … In it, I compare the coverage of the tsunami on left and right blogs. I must have touched a few nerves by outing them and the libs have gone mad. I’ve been called “The Worst of the Worst.” And some guy stated publicly that ““Kevin Aylward Should Be Ashamed” even though it was me who wrote it. The comments lit up with outraged liberals…[Paul. I love being effective. Whizbang. 31 December 2004]]

The legacy media (WaPo et al) have made a big deal to the point that Bush didn’t do a Clinton and come out immediately after the Tsunami tragedy to proclaim ‘I feel your pain’ while biting a lip. Scarborough on Thursday had to play the foil (because his leftist guest couldn’t make it) by continually asking why Bush didn’t do anything for 72 hours. The UN is also in the brouhaha with its “stingy” remarks and complaints about the US bypassing subjugation to UN beauracracy in relief efforts.

What people are missing is what was mentioned somewhere as an “aluminum cloud.” The U.S. is the source of this cloud. No other country on the planet is as well prepared to deliver massive immediate assistance. And it is the military might often impugned by the crowd of the contemptuous that is the source of this preparedness. And the US is rather unique in that much of its relief effort does not go through the government but rather through individuals and associations.

What was Bush doing in that 72 hours before his public pronouncement? As usual, he was doing, not talking. You have to have eyes and mind open to see and realize that the US was putting a massive machine in motion to relieve the suffering. But, as has also been clearly defined and stated, the US is not imposing itself but rather putting its resources at the disposal of the governments of the countries that got hit.

The truth is, the New York Times and Mr. Egeland are political opportunists of the highest order. They gleefully seized upon tragedy to promote a political agenda. They’re not alone: Global-warming theorists, debt-relief enthusiasts and others have been doing the same. It’s a disservice to the truth and a shameful commentary on their attitude towards the dead. [Odious tsunami politics. Washington Times. 31 December 2004]

There is a question to ponder carefully: who is making politics of the tragedy? Is it those who notice patterns such as Paul or is it those who expose a political agenda by attacking the President?

Amazon.com has placed a link for donations to the American Red Cross relief effort (the ARC is not to be confused with the International Red Cross of Gitmo complaint fame). If you are able to support relief efforts, please be careful to make sure you do so through established and known organizations of good provenance. The scammers have surfaced and are out to grab your dough so do be careful.

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legacy media satire to read

Rand Simberg has a takeoff on the war casualty story in Media Casualties Mount As War Success Continues (Transterrestrial Musings. 31 December 2004). If your impression of legacy reporting during 2004 is somewhat jaded and you enjoy satire, this piece is a definite must read.

The ranks of print, web and broadcast pundits and journalists continue to be decimated by enemy action as the war progresses. The total number of casualties are becoming almost uncountable, and are overwhelming the limited field emergency facilities. This reporter got a first-hand view of the devastation and tragedy in a visit to a typical field hospital.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the infirmary is the smell. The stench assaults the nose–it’s a pungent blend of moldering printer’s ink and decaying sanctimony.

Many will require relearning, or even unlearning, many things they’ve always taken for granted. They will have to start at the very beginning, with Logic 101. After months of painful mental exercises and thought, they will be gradually eased into actual history, rhetoric, and economics courses, as their minds grow stronger.

Go. Read. End your year with a laugh remembering the Limbaugh dictum that good humor is always based on a kernel of truth.

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the censorship excuse

When there is worry about science education in the US, reasons for that worry are not hard to find.

Polls show that the vast majority of Americans reject the theory of evolution, as have great scientists such as William Thomas Kelvin and Louis Pasteur. But that does not stop an intolerant minority from trying to impose a belief in the ape-to-man theory on everyone else. [Phyllis Schlafly. Darwinists Top the Censorship Food Chain. Human Events. 29 December 2004]

Uh, science is not a popularity contest. The merit and value of ideas in science is not determined by popularity but rather by measures such as usefullness, intelllectual integrity, testibility, and aesthetic criteria such as Occam’s razor.

It is long past time for parents to realize they have the right and duty to protect their children from the intolerant evolutionists. Hooray for courageous school boards that are finally rejecting censorship and allowing debate. [ibid]

Protect? Censorship? Debate? It is difficult to have a debate of any value unless there is a common ground in reality. As a contrast to Schlafly, Simberg identifies the subject and its issues but still misses the critical question.

I understand that this is not a science discussion, but a science (and philosophy) metadiscussion. That is, a discussion about how to discuss it.

I (unlike many scientists and evolutionists) recognize that science is a philosophy in itself, and one that is faith based. I don’t know if anyone followed my link to my previous discussions on this topic, but it would have been helpful if they had. Particularly if they continued to follow the links back to this post and this one.

My own gripe about science education in this country is that it’s not taught as a philosophy of how to attain knowledge, but rather it’s simply taught as a compendium of “facts” that must be learned. Given that it starts out with this fundamental misunderstanding (promulgated, unfortunately, by many incompetent science teachers), it’s not surprising that many take umbrage at the teaching of “facts” that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

[Rand Simberg. More on ID. Transterrestrial Musings. 29 December 2004]

I’d take issue that the teaching of facts stems from “incompetent science teachers” and rather place the blame on parental pressure, but that is a quibble. The fact is that science is taught in schools because of the fruits of its philosophy and value system and this seems to be Simberg’s primary point. It contrasts with the skills development mantra so often found in schools and suffers in measurability. The fundamental reason for teaching science also diverts the issue from the immediate question about the curricula for a biology class.

The problem is that the school boards must be accountable to their mission. Teaching biology must provide the student with concepts and ideas that are held in high esteem by those who “do” and use biology. By doing otherwise, they cheat their students and deceive them about the proper identification of their studies.

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crying wolf

The fable is about raising the alarm unnecessarily so often that when real reason to raise an alarm came about, the alarm was ignored. An example where not wanting to take the risk of a false alarm was that of the Thailand meteorologists who did not want to raise a tsunami alarm. But such fears of false alarm do not hinder those who make a continual effort to find reason to impugn or castigate the administration.

The liberal media are doing some hand-wringing over Goss’s changes at the CIA, but there’s not much they can say in view of their own relentless (and often unfair) criticisms of the agency over the last several years. Thus, the New York Times is reduced to writing that Goss’s changes “have prompted unease within the C.I.A.” Yes, I’ll bet they have. The Washington Post goes a bit further, citing “concerns among some lawmakers and others that Goss was purging intelligence professionals and replacing them with political appointees.” Those “others” presumably include the career CIA Democrats who constantly leak anti-administration tidbits to the Post. For the moment, at least, the leakers seem to be unusually quiet. I wonder why. [Hindrocket CIA housecleaning continues . 29 December 2004]

When the news media gets into prognostication rather than news, skepticism is warranted. ‘Concerns’ and similar ilk are clues that perhaps what is being read is an alarm whose substance is more in the mind of the writer than in reality.

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Trying to understand the species (of behavior)

LGF referenced an interesting essay observing the behavior of the Bush protestors on his latest visit to Canada. Whether or not you think Warren’s observations are accurate, he does define situations that deserve consideration.

There you have our post-modernity in a nutshell: an unthinking elision of the moral into the psychological, creating a “nuance” where no nuance exists.

[they] can’t explain why without using parrot-like slogans, and referring knowingly to non-existent “facts”. Who, moreover, would not even dream of formulating a coherent alternative …

their conclusions having long preceded their premises.

What we see on the streets of Ottawa, instead, is an almost pure fanaticism — that radical spirit of alienation that ultimately motivates the Jihadis, too. This nihilism is the splinter in the heart of our modernity; it rejects everything; it proposes, finally, nothing in its place. It is the devil himself speaking out of his void, leading finally to the silence of Iago.

[David Warren. The Demons. 1 December 2004]

and what happens when these people are in the media and begin to be held accountable in public?

Now add to Tim Rutten’s condescension towards his audience, Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman’s irrational, spittle-filled fury towards the Powerline bloggers who own him the way the Red Sox owned the Astros this year. Coleman’s become a whipping boy for the Northern Alliance of Bloggers, and it is clear that in his rage at being continually embarrassed he has lost control, and that editors don’t exist at the Strib. This is certain to be a repeating drama as old media untouchables discover the brave new world of new media accountability. Coleman’s just the first to lose control –and dignity– but watch for others as the pressure of instant accountability wears on folks unused to scrutiny and ridicule. As Jim Geraghty writes at KerrySpot this morning, the Coleman piece is the equivalent of the Mike Tyson ear biting. The analogy will last for a day or so, or until the next old media meltdown occurs. [Hugh Hewitt. 29 December 2004]

Times are changing and ideas and expression is being called to account. It may cause discomfort for some but it is an encouraging trend towards better public decision making.

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ID nitpicking – the evolution (vs) creation fracas

The WaPo published an article that started another round of buzz on the evolution problem. It seems that the simplest way to resolve the problem is often the one most missed.

Karl Popper & Intelligent Design.– Rand Simberg has a good post on Intelligent Design (ID) (tip to Instapundit) … One thing that strikes me about Intelligent Design is that it must have been much more intuitively appealing before the failure of socialism. Socialism in the 1920s–1940s was in part based on the idea that the world had become so complex that central planning was necessary to deal with this complexity. Yet Von Mises was arguing just the opposite, that as the world became more elaborate, no one could plan it. ID seems to be based on an assumption that most conservatives reject in the economic sphere–that as the economy gets more elaborate, to work well it must be the product of the intelligent design of a master planner.
[ Jim Lindgren December 27, 2004 at 10:23pm]

Interesting idea and possibly a good point, but also besides the point.

The point is that ID isn’t science–it’s a copout on science and the scientific method, and as I said in my post a couple years ago, creationists attempting to get their views into science class, whether explicitly as the 6000-year-old solution or dressed up as science, as in ID, is a failure of their own personal faith in their own beliefs. They seem to think that if science doesn’t validate their faith, then their faith is somehow thereby weakened, and that they must fight for its acceptance in that realm. [Rand Simberg. The IDers Rear Their Heads Again. Transterrestrial Musings. 27 December 2004]

Getting closer, but getting a bit personal in trying to understand the attacks on Darwin’s theories.

Instapundit and Jim Lindgren are wading in on Intelligent Design; apparently Hugh Hewitt has been commenting on it lately. Lindgren references a Rand Simberg post which states, among other things, the following (with which Lindgren agrees) …

When people are levying accusations that Intelligent Design is not falsifiable, I’d like to also hear them explain how evolution IS falsifiable. And not microevolution, which we all know happens — otherwise we’d only need one flu shot ever. How could one falsify the idea that we’ve all evolved from something like a fish, or a bacteria, etc.? I think this is even less falsifiable than Intelligent Design, as it’s rather difficult to prove that something cannot happen and it’s somewhat easier to prove that something CAN happen. [David Mobly. Intelligent design again. A Physicist's Perspective. 28 December 2004]

This one shows an effort to deal with the dissonance between mind and heart. You can always tell when picayune detail starts to weigh in and the issue gets lost in the forest.

What constitutes science? At the very least I’d say that the scientist should have a model that makes some sort of prediction about the future. That is the scientist has a construct that is positive in that it actually gives us and indea of what to expect to see. Now, this is the basic requirement of science, IMO, and in this regard Intelligent Design (ID) fails utterly. [ Deinonychus 28 December 2004]

Another one that identifies the crucial question but does not really get into who it is that should be considered the final arbiter of the answer.

- – -
The fundamental question in not whether evolution is flawed or whether the ideas of others should be installed in a biology curriculum, it is the question of who should define the science of biology in terms of what is to be taught under that label. What does a student ‘buy’ when he or she enrolls in a biology class? Who is going to going to put the kind of value on that student’s result of a biology ‘purchase’ that schools exist to provide? i.e. What does the market for biology students say?

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Historical roots of the modern anti war movement

The letter written by U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern to editors of various legacy media prompted one of his ex-sympathizers to reminisce about the history of such view in the US and the results of taking heed of such views.

This campaign [McGovern 1972] was the seed of the antiwar movement of Vietnam, and thus of the political Left’s influence over the post-Vietnam foreign policy of the Democratic Party. The Wallace campaign marked an exodus of the anti-American Left from the Democratic Party; the movement that opposed America’s war in Vietnam marked its return. … The Left that wants America to throw in the towel in Iraq is hypersensitive to questions about its loyalties but at the same time can casually refer to our presence in Iraq as an “invasion and occupation.” It wants to use the language of morality, but it only wants the standard to apply in one direction. There is no one-dimensional standard, and a politics of surrender is not a politics of peace. [David Horowitz. The McGovern Syndrome. FrontPageMagazine.com. 27 December 2004]

We have seen what happens when we do not stand for the values that made the US a power that has become a target for the envy of others. Maybe it is time that the US does stand forth with its vision and does not withdraw as it did in Vietnam.

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culture clash in the military

The US military is undergoing many changes. The change from conscript to volunteer is perhaps one of the biggest. Another set of changes are those needed to adapt to new innovation and technology. Structure modifications to prepare a force for envision conflict, such as the broad front European type war to a war on terror make for another change. The issues of gender and homosexuality also make for potential change.

And then there is the change in the active tiering of personnel.

Most of the complaints about inadequate security come from army reservists. Many of these folks don’t really want to be there, and want to maximize their chances of getting back in one piece. The regulars, however, see it as, “the only war we’ve got” and a way to prove that they can do what they have chosen to do as a profession. For career troops, combat experience is a big plus careerwise. The regulars also have a more balanced view of the situation, and realize being alert has more to do with survival than some ceramic inserts or additional armor for your hummer. It’s a culture clash in the military, and the media is making the most of it. [Strategy Page. INFANTRY: Most Sought After Headgear. 27 December 2004]

Logistics, police function, and other roles are no longer behind the front. There is no longer time to build combat support infrastructure in the way it has worked in the past. Finding the most effective roles for civilian, reserve, or active in a military effort requires a new paradigm for why we have a military and how it should function.

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situational awareness

We have a natural disaster of historic proportions in the earthquake and the tsunami waves it generated in the Indian Ocean. It provides the opportunity for all of us to put our experiences in an appropriate perspective, to consider what we can do to help and aid the survivors, to pray for the victims, and to think about what might be done to ameliorate the impact of any future such disaster.

Wretchard quoted several readers of the Sydney Morning Herald who illustrated just how small minded some people can be. He also discussed the concepts of early warning systems and the matter of relative risks. His argument emphasises perhaps one of the more critical concepts.

The real challenge is not so much to create a new dedicated network of staring systems against known threats but to tie current sensors to systems which are capable of cognition. The most valuable survival asset is situational awareness — the ability to recognize threats you have never seen before and respond in an evolving manner — and that capability has not yet come to the world as a whole. … The realization of its necessity has come, at least in some small measure, to institutions which are scorned by some the sneering readers of the Sydney Morning Herald.[wretchard. The first drops of rain. Belmont Club. 27 December 2004]

Situational awareness rings a bell because that has been posited as the primary defence a military unit has in regards to such events as the recent mess hall bombing. The concept was also a part of the success of the 9/11 attack as the concept, while dreamed of as a fiction, was never really seriously considered as remotely possible – until after it happened.

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arguing about who is worse

When the topic of media bias comes up, there always seem to be those like Bill Moyers who claims it is a conservative bias to those who claim it is ‘fair and balanced’ to those who develop measures they can apply to demonstrate thier point.

[referring to ] Steven Taylor, aka Poliblogger dealing with intellectual rivals … Taylor wrote his piece after reading this post by blogger Barbara O’Brien of MahaBlog.

And, above all, realize that political passions can — and do — get out of hand equally, on both sides. [Joe Gandelman. BLOGGING: Which Show More Hate? The Left Or The Right Blogs?. The Moderate Voice. 24 December 2004]

Anyone who offers a measure should provide the referent and the criteria for that measure, subjective or no. Matters of ‘but Momma, everyone does it!” may make one feel good but do not necessarily reflect the actual situation. When it comes to this ‘who is worse?’ measure, the problems become one of weighing the merits of the voice as well as its expression.

There have been numerous studies about political expression in both academia and in the MSM. They are often interesting not only in the conclusions determined but in the measures used. But doing such studies is so much trouble. It is much easier to just conclude that everybody is the same and that differences of opinion are nearly always honest and everyone is equally competent in their views, especially if you have doubts about your side.

The problem is that such assumptions about the equivalence of bias, manner of expression, and integrity of conclusion are measurably false. By asserting such a falsehood to start with, such as Gandleman does, means that learning about the issues is burdened by the need to first dispose of preconceived notions about the preconceived notions that he suggests need to be disposed of to learn about the ‘other side!’

What has to happen first is that people must adopt a defensible means to measure the quality of arguments and the information used to support them. We can then use this measure to determine how we can learn from arguments that are made available to us. When someone delves into generalizations, invokes the ad hominem, uses celebrity endorsements, selects context and particulars with care, or performs other such tactics we should apply an appropriate measure of skepticism.

Surely we can all still recognize the difference between the kind of history that presents the facts according to its own lights, bright or dim, and the kind of propaganda that completely ignores inconvenient facts, or tries to write around them. [Paul Greenberg. The Clinton Library historians. Washington Times. 26 December 2004]

And when someone tries to tell us it is all the same when we can see otherwise, we should also consider it good cause us to be skeptical!

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This is what we are up against

Wolcott lists quotes from Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today; Jack Beatty, journalist, biographer, and Atlantic Monthly senior editor; Father Andrew Greeley, columnist and novelist and considers them three wise men because they support his view:

This time of the year we celebrate ”peace on Earth to men of good will.” Americans must face the fact that they can no longer claim to be men and women of good will, not as long as they support an unnecessary, foolish, ill-conceived, badly executed and, finally, unwinnable war. [James Wolcott. Three Wise Men. 25 December 2004]

There are many things to consider here. One is that his opinion about the merits of the war in Iraq are just that – opinions. However he elevates them to truths and then condemns (judges) those who disagree with him as unworthy. Another is his populist argument using celebrities to support his view rather than the merit of their arguments. These methods should raise skepticism in anyone trying to make sense of Wolcott’s position.

Then there is the point brought up by a religious leader on Fox News Sunday this morning about the golden rule. What does it mean to your neighbor when you do nothing about his suffering? What does it mean when you turn a blind eye towards the suffering of others? What does it mean when you not only not do anything but condemn those who act to attempt to relieve the suffering?

There are so many issues to examine. “Badly executed” does not seem to correlate very well with unprecedented measures of combat effectiveness demonstrated by the US in its Iraq campaign. “Ill conceived” seems to deny more than ten years of UN resolution violations and a 1998 act of the US congress among other factors. “Unnecessary” implies that the filling of mass graves, the oil for food scandal and many other attrocities should have been ignored and allowed to continue. “Unwinnable” will only occur if we become loosers ourselves in our attitude and in our caring for others. These opinions have plenty of room for honest disagreement without casting aspersions and judgments on those who disagree.

We saw what this kind of thinking did in Vietnam: the killing fields of Cambodia, the boat people, thirty years of oppression. Do we want it to happen again? Do we really want to accept such misery as inevitable? Or do we think it is possible to do better – can we accept that the benefits of our own liberty and freedom can be exercised by others?

What is it we should stand for?

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It’s Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

The folks in Texas are getting a Christmas with snow, some for the first time in a hundred years. That has got to be quite a treat for the kids.

Enjoy your Christmas and may the upcoming year be good to you and yours.

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Sir, how do we win the war in the media?

The battle that worries the warriors is indeed seen.

Via Instapundit: Here’s the CNN transcript, which has the passage as follows:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, how do we win the war in the media? It seems like that is the place where we’re getting beat up more than anybody else. I’ve been here — this is my third tour over here, and we have done some amazing things. And it seems like the enemy’s Web sites and everything else are all over the media, and they love it. But the thing is, is everything we do good, no matter if it’s helping a little kid or building a new school, the public affairs sends out the message, but the media doesn’t pick up on it. How do we win the propaganda war?

RUMSFELD: That does not sound like a question that was planted by the press. [LAUGHTER] That happens sometimes. It’s one of the hardest things we do in our country. We have freedom of the press. We believe in that. We believe that democracy can take that massive misinformation and differing of views, and that free people can synthesize all of that and find their way to right decisions. . . . I was talking to a group of congressmen and senators the other day, and there were a couple of them who had negative things to say, and they were in the press in five minutes. There were 15 or 20 that had positive things to say about what’s going on in Iraq, and they couldn’t get on television. Television just said we’re not interested. That’s just sorry.

This is just an example of the worries of our troops regarding the necessary intangible support for their efforts. They should take heart that others have engaged the war of the fifth column in order that they can engage their front line as well.

Warriors in this battle include:

  • Ranting Profs Distribution network indeed. December 25, 2004
  • Powerline. Big Trunk. On the AP and the murders. 24 December 2004.
  • Belmont Club. Wretchard. “Insurgents want their stories told” — Associated Press. 24 December 2004.
  • Q&O. McQ. You call this journalism?
  • The battle has been joined and new technologies are being applied to the propagandists as well as to the terrorists. It is going to be a long and ugly fight. It is not one where anyone can stand back and let someone else engage the enemy. All of us must step forward.

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    Why is religion practiced childishly?

    There is a comfort in rote practice, in being able to touch with our hands rather than with our minds only, in receiving rather than in giving, in giving something other than ourselves, in having things done to us rather than making our own change.

    It seems that the practice of religion often succumbs to such comforts. We try to put our understanding of belief into a science fiction or deus ex machina mold. We want to make our beliefs concrete. We want to follow a formula to salvation and glory. We want the religion we could understand as children to be the religion of our adulthood.

    L’hispallel is a unique experience, but as with most Jewish things today, this holy word has been changed into an English word with a western connotation. The word “prayer” actually comes from the Latin word meaning “to beg” — exactly what most people feel prayer is. They imagine a big king in the sky who is getting a big ego boost from watching his subjects beg. This is a terrible image of our selves and of G-d. … L’hispallel has nothing to do with begging G-d to change His mind. L’hitpallel is a reflexive verb and it means to do something to your self, not to G-d. When you are praying, your question should not be, “Is G-d listening to my prayers?” Rather, you should ask yourself, “Am I listening to my prayers? Does what I say impact me? Have I changed?” … Therefore, when we l’hispallel, we are actively, intentionally trying to fill our hearts, to think the thoughts, to dream the dreams of what it is that we want to see and do in this world and then change ourselves in order to make these things happen. It is not G-d whom we are trying to change. It is ourselves and our relationship to G-d we are trying to change through prayer. If we change ourselves, we change our whole situation. [Rabbi David Aaron. Jews don't pray. Jewish World Review 24 December 2004]

    The conflict of the world right now is very much about what we think of our God and what we think He wants of us. Does He want us to live in poverty and dispair as is the case in much of the middle east? Or does He want a healthy and comfortable people who can devote much of their lives and their wealth in the betterment of others – as is the case in the US today?

    The Christians among us celebrate the birth of Christ at this time. It is a time of celebration, of giving, and a reminder of what was given to us at such horrific cost. It may be the Churches of the Christians who took the concept of L’hispallel and called it prayer. But it is also the people of these churches that created the western cultures that so much added to the lives of the people of the world. The conundrums are not those of children.

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    This is not a battle of ideas but of ideals.

    We have the Russian leader proclaiming that the US elections are flawed to excuse or ameliorate those in which he is involved. We have Democrats in King County (WA) scrounging up ever new batches of ballots in order to move the successive recounts to a desired outcome. We have the assault on the Ohio election, even though that one was not so close as to invoke Hewit’s book title (if its not close they can’t cheat).

    And then we see rationalizations and allegations and aspersions that have no solid foundation or even defy the evidence.

    What drives such behavior?

    We cannot convince the terrorists not to be terrorists, or attempt to place a stamp of approval on our preferred religious sects. We have to fight the battle of ideas on ground of our own choosing. Our engagement begins with certainty about what we believe, and its moral correctness. Western liberalism is tolerant, but need not be diffident. We are accepting, but not indiscriminant. We are open-minded, but our minds are not empty. Our beliefs represent a complete and coherent challenge to the terrorist ideology. Everything we idealize (democracy, free markets, individual choice, free expression, gender equality) they despise. Our cherished principles are their worst fears. … Our mission, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, is to “place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.” We seek not to convince but to inspire. This is not a battle of ideas but of ideals. [James S. Robbins. You Have to Believe, The battle of ideas. NRO. 24 December 2004]

    The war within is related to the war without. The GWOT is perhaps a bit easier to accept but it is the war within, the one whose battleground was firmly established during the Vietnam war, that is the important one. If the US is not resolute on its basic values and firm in its underlying principles it will suffer in its other engagements.

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    math teaching in elementary schools

    Much of teaching is not teaching what you are teaching.

    When you plant seeds you are not just putting bits of organic matter in a hole in the ground. You hope that a process of your continued attention, a good environment, and basic nature will yield a desired outcome after time.

    The education of our children is much a matter of establishing habits and starting a process of learning. Some skills, such as phonics or arithmetic, may have immediate application. But they are also just a start towards a continual development of skills and talents.

    Mathematicians and math educators attended a “peace summit” to settle the math wars, reports the Washington Post. Participants were surprised to discover a wide area of agreement:

    • Heavy reliance on calculators in the early elementary grades is a bad idea.
    • Elementary school children must have automatic recall of number facts, meaning that, yes, they have to memorize multiplication tables.
    • Children must master basic algorithms. The meeting participants spent time defining the word “algorithm,” which means a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps.

    [Joannejacobs 23 December 2004]

    When a calculator is used as a crutch, rather than as a tool to implement an algorithm, then its operator becomes just another tool and not a human. Technology is often seen this way as a crutch and not as an enabler. This resolution seems to acknowledge this problem by putting away the technology and placing the emphasis on the human.

    It may just be an appropriate recognition that we want our children to become humans and not machines and that it is the humanity that yields us the benefits of technological innovation, an understanding of the world around us, and a better understanding of ourselves.

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    Data Lessons from the Patriot Act

    David M. Raab (DM Review Dec 2004) described lessons from the USA PATRIOT Act gleaned from a document that describes banking rules and also how they were formed.

    1) definitions matter and are more difficult than you might think
    2) processes, not systems, truly drive an organization
    3) Good data is hard to find
    4) Data errors are like weeds: they spread quickly and put down deep roots.
    5) Identification and authorization are different things.
    6) Anti-terrorism efforts have a long way to go.
    7) Everything costs more than you think it will.

    These insights are well know in the information technology sector. What the discussion forming rules for the Patriot Act demonstrate is that competent people considered implications and side effects of various actions in developing how the goals of the act were to be implemented. It provides an interesting case study as well as some degree of confidence in the outcome.

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    damage from perspective

    It seems there is a common thread topic today on being blinded by paradigm. From Chrenkoff it is the inability to see the forest because of concentrating on one tree. From Boortz it is an observation about fault finding. And from the ranting professor it is a matter of ignoring context.

    The self-loathing “blame America/the West” crowd does a huge disservice to the cause of human rights around the world by maintaining that abuses are systemic in our own societies because it diverts the attention from those parts of the globe where such abuses are truly endemic and it downplays the suffering of all those who have to live without the benefit of all the self-correcting mechanisms we in the West take for granted. … It’s a moral vanity that’s insulting to anyone with an ounce of moral sense, and barely comprehensible to the millions of oppressed and the suffering in dark corners of the world barely illuminated by the angry glow of the left’s self-righteousness. [Chrenkoff. Of violins and violations. 23 December 2004]

    Consider the obsession about prisoner abuse and “tantamount to torture” while ignoring genocide and beheadings and rape rooms and on and on. But this becomes a vilification that displays its own illness.

    We also didn’t foresee the degree to which the left in this country would continue, day after day, to criticize and condemn virtually every step taken by George Bush and coalition leaders in first liberating and then attempting to secure Iraq. Virtually every action taken by the American military in Iraq has been criticized by the left. First coalition forces didn’t move on Fallujah soon enough, then it was too soon. Too many troops, not enough troops, too bold, too timid. Wrong war. Wrong place. Wrong time. [Neil Boortz. How much has the left hurt us. 23 December 2004]

    And the bias can be illustrated by story selection and isolation.

    The press covers one story at a time, with no sense of memory, no attempt to look at balance, no effort to consider the way policy makers have to make choices by trading off competing risks.[Tradeoffs. Ranting Profs. 23 December 2004]

    This phenomena illustrates the need for a solid referent – a defined set of values such as the ten commandments given to Moses – and the need to apply these values to an appropriate context, to see the forest as well as the trees, in choosing what is worthy of note and where to start in evaluating action. Are we talking about nations or sub national organizations or syndicates or tribes or families or individuals? Are we looking at anomolies, exceptions, or habits?

    What is missing in the primary paths of information disbursement is just such discriminations and contexts. Fortunately other paths are becoming ever more feasible.

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    How deep is learn by doing?

    The press seems infatuated about learn by doing. Today it is another small grant supporting college student education for ‘real world’ laboratory research.

    Students learn more from doing than they do from listening … Observing animal interactions with the robots helps the students deduce the meaning of various communication signals. … “Robots are sexy,” Cassill said. “We are in a century where there will be a real serious interface between organic and inorganic technology.” … And undergraduates will be increasingly involved in the work. ” [Ryan Meehan, Associated Press. Robotic squirrel part of trend to improve undergrad research USA Today 21 December 2004.]

    This is fine. It must be fun to play with Legos or other ‘make a robot’ kits and go out and watch squirrels. The results of the observations probably do contribute to an understanding of behavior. The question is the manner in which such activities contribute to the student’s learning.

    In many respects, this problem has been a big issue in software development since the arrival of the personal computer. It is represented in the haggling about who could call themselves a software engineer. Anyone can code a software program and some ‘high school henry’ types have even made good money at it. What makes them different from a PhD in computer science?

    What makes the offering of an institute of education special is its curricula and in the depth of its offering. A proper ‘formal’ education defines a specific goal (the degree) by setting standards for both the breadth and depth of activities that must be successfully accomplished to achieve it. It is a comprehensive and guided effort that has to make sense in its entirety to be effective for the student.

    The MSM could do much better for showing how these ‘learn by doing’ grants fit into the broader scheme of a degreed education program.

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