Archive for February, 2005

reinforcing bad behavior a la Ward Churchill

There are rumors that the University of Colorado are contemplating a buyout. By paying a controversial professor to retire they can sweep the scandal under the rug. At least this is the speculation. There are a lot of professors who seem to support this idea.

The Volokh Conspiracy (28fb05) detailed the components of the scandal.

One hundred and ninety-nine faculty members at the University of Colorado at Boulder disgraced themselves today by signing an advertisement in the Boulder Daily Camera in support of Professor Ward Churchill. Although the University of Colorado has many distinguished professors, the advertisement makes it clear that the University also has many professors who don’t know or don’t care about academic and personal integrity. The Denver Post article on the ad is here;

[ also cited: }A claim that the Sioux were subject to US Army biological warfare in 1837.

Matters of plagiarism and minority status. American Indian Quarterly and the Wicazo Sa Review,

art plagiarism

apparently false claims about Vietnam War service

resume inflating (source: Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman) and; Pirate Ballerina weblog,

Churchill called for the murder of anarchist writer Bob Black. He called for the death of a student newspaper cartoonist who had criticized a racist professor in Hawaii who wrote about her fantasy of mutilating and killing a white woman.

Although CU professors are required by state law to sign an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Colorado Constitution, Churchill has repeatedly called for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, and has urged his audiences to perpetrate 9/11 type terrorist attacks in the United States. In doing so, he has provided explicit instructions about where the attacks should take place, and how the attacker should dress so as to be able to get to the target.

Now perhaps Churchill has credible defenses to the above charges, but if so, we have not yet heard them.

The issue of free speech is a red herring in regards to these problems. Another web log cited Mencken in regard to the scopes trial as saying that, when a teacher or plumber or anyone else signs on to their job, they agree to certain standards and points of view. There are always responsibilities that accompany freedoms.

The question is whether or not a nice nest egg and golden parachute is the proper reward when substantive allegations such as this have been put on the table.

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assuming insult

Deacon of Powerline in “Call me stupid,” (22 Feb,) seems confused.

the fact that one of us doesn’t believe a piece of scientific orthodoxy demonstrates, what, that our attacks on liberal political orthodoxies, falsehoods, and forgeries shouldn’t be taken seriously? If a majority of scientists disagree with Rocket Man about Darwin, then he must be wrong not only about Darwin, but about Rather.[powerline]

The brouhaha also seems to have been noted by some others.

Via Instapundit, I note that Powerline is professing to have “enjoyed [an] attack” by Pharyngula, in which PZ Meyers writes that John Hinderaker’s criticism of evolution is simply a “stinking pile of baloney“.

Greeaaat. That’s gonna be a big help. And we wonder where critics ever got the idea that right-wingers are anti-scientific troglodytes.

Dismissing the theory of evolution as a “rather obvious fraud” — and mocking those who point out that such a view reveals a massive analytical deficiency — is as damaging to the credibility of the Right as the quasi-marxist illiterate economics of the Michael Moore’s, et al, is to the Left.
[Jon Henke, “E pur si muove”>. Q&O 23Fb05]

The first problem for Deacon is that the anti-evolution crowd is a premiere example of irrationality on the right, not the left.

Second, the word ‘orthodoxy’ describing the views of scientists regarding their theories says that something is awry. Evolution is not a matter of “Soundness of faith; a belief in the doctrines taught in the Scriptures, or in some established standard of faith;” (Webster’s 1913) but rather a measure of what is seen. The whole evolution/creation argument centers on just this definition of science as being something observed rather than something believed. Using the word ‘orthodoxy’ implies a view that the community of biologists is corrupt in terms of professional competency and such a view needs substantiation on a level with its seriousness (which is huge IMHO).

Bringing in Darwin and then complaining about ad hominem is also interesting. The use of Darwin as a substitute for evolution also does not indicate good knowledge of the subject under discussion either.

I think the suspicion about credibility in regards to Rather is a bit of a stretch, but there is a point that someone whose opinions are not in line with their understandings of issues does suffer credibility problems that go beyond any particular issue.

There are very many parallels between the creationists argument techniques against evolution and the leftist arguments against Bush. But, since these get into things neither the left or right cares to examine (potential flaws in self), it makes the Summers debate look tame.

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Kiddush cup

Wizbang describes several things he learned in his conversion from a Methodist to “born again agnostic” with a special interest in Judaism. His story about the Kiddush cup brings to mind the Indiana Jones story about the Holy Grail where the professor chooses the cup as if it were the everyday drinking cup of a carpenter. Apparently the professor should know better. The cup was a special ceremonial cup and not the everyday thing.

When we recite the kiddush on Friday night, and affirm that the world was completed on the seventh day, we are testifying that the world is a creation, which means it is meaningful, it is purposeful, it has a theme, it has direction. It means that we believe that the world is not simply the mechanistic outcome of natural laws but an expression of creativity. We believe that the world is not the product of nature at work but the creative masterpiece of G-d. [Rabbi David Aaron. Sabbath: The rest of your life. Jewish World Review. 25fb05]

The Passover meal was at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath and there was special meaning in the cup and in the sacrifice of the lamb. The last supper of Jesus was filled with meaning and parable. It seems the more we learn about the history and tradition of these things the more meaning they can have.

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Trying to understand the un-understandable

When you see behavior such as Rather exhibited in accepting fake memos at face value or Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) trying to explain Rather’s behavior, it should present a puzzle. How can reputable people do such things?

Cognitive dissonance (“CD”) is a discomfort or anguish which arises when a discrepancy exists between existing beliefs and new information. Our minds want to restore balance, and to accomplish that, either the existing belief has to be modified or discarded, or the new information has to be ignored or rationalized.

But when beliefs are strongly held, as is true for activists on the fringes, the level of daily CD is particularly strong (4 out of 5 voices in my head go, “Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!”). Against such strong beliefs, the mind instead recasts new incoming data in increasingly fanciful ways, in order to protect the non-reality-based core beliefs from causing anguish or dissonance. (It’s easier to distort facts, than overhaul an entire belief system.)
[ BummerDietz. Mo Hinchey, Meet Tommy Flanagan. Scylia & Charybdis. 21fb05 ]

The comments on this entry also so CD in that: “But what I object to is people like Charles who seem to think such lunacy is restricted to the Democratics.” (Brad R). This illustrates a significant desire to have everything balanced and even. The reality by any objective measure does not seem to support this. Whether it is an analysis of rhetoric on web logs, measures of bias in the MSM or academia, or the rhetoric of political leaders, there is a pattern that is not balanced nor even.

or, consider this example.

Aside from reliance on feelings, how else can one explain a person who believes, let alone proudly announces on a bumper sticker, that “War is not the answer”? I know of no comparable conservative bumper sticker that is so demonstrably false and morally ignorant. Almost every great evil has been solved by war — from slavery in America to the Holocaust in Europe. Auschwitz was liberated by soldiers making war, not by pacifists who would have allowed the Nazis to murder every Jew in Europe. [Dennis Prager. Liberal Feelings vs. Judeo-Christian Values 22fb05]

It is like a car going down the street plastered with “make love not war” and “peace not war” bumper stickers. Did this person ever think about the alternative? In Vietnam it was decades of repression and the murder of millions. In Iraq, it is yet more mass graves (current total is yet more than the victim count in the tsunami disaster) along with all of the other attrocities.

Another case of CD is in the MSM trying to come to grips with the accountability imposed by internet commentary (weblogs)

Keller [executive editor of the New York Times] appears to be getting to know bloggers. His chief complaint about us is that we’re “erod[ing] the middle ground and accelerat[ing] a general polarization of the nation into people, right and left, who are ardently convinced and not very interested in exposing themselves to facts or ideas that contradict their prejudices.” I don’t think I could charm someone who views the New York Times as a force for moderation and an engine for the presentation of facts and ideas that contradict one’s prejudices. But, then, I wouldn’t be invited to the meeting. [Deacon. The limits of charm, Part Two. Powerline. 23fb05]

Cognitive Dissonance is a step towards learning. It seems we have a lot of learnin’ going on!

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Are spies the answer?

How do you develop a prosperous, self sustaining society? Of course you borrow the best ideas from those you wish to emulate. Sometimes, though, what you think it is that you want is not what you need.

Russian modernizers reject the Western intellectual and ideological baggage (democracy, freedom, free market) in favor of practical imports, such as science, technology and management techniques. In doing so, they confuse the causes and consequences of the West’s success and are thus bound to be disappointed, but not without a lot of heartache and disruption. [Chrenkoff. Out of the East 23fb05]

What some people are beginning to find out is that the technology and other intellectual property that makes countries like the US wealthy is not what you need if you want to obtain that wealth. Instead you need to move those values and ideals that created the wealth into your culture.

It looks like a ‘hare and tortoise’ fable example with Russia. What appears to be the quick solution may not win the race.

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The specks in the foam

Its hard to tell who is in the foam at the top of the cesspool right now. “Congressman Maurice Hinchey has broken his silence on his bizarre conspiracy rant—and in the tradition of the pugnacious, logic-deprived modern Democratic party, he refuses to apologize and digs the hole even deeper: Hinchey: Rove may be behind fake documents. (Hat tip: Confederate Yankee.)” [LGF Hinchey: I Have No Proof, But I'm Right. 22fb05]

Another candidate is JHS 51 teacher Alex Kunhardt and school principal Xavier Costello whose students sent a packet of letters to Pfc. Rob Jacobs of New Jersey, who is stationed in Korea. The letters took on the theme of ‘I support the troops but why do you kill babies and rape women and kill people?’ [LGF Outrage of the Day 22fb07]

Or, regarding “Betsy Newmark extensively quotes a story by Andrea Levin in the Jerusalem Post:” “More than an outrage, this is part of disturbing trend. Like Dan Rather, this reporter believed it was okay to run with a bogus story as long as the image conveyed to the viewer fit what the reporter believed to be the truth – fake, but accurate.” [Polipundit. An Outrage And A Disturbing Trend. 21fb05]. The story was about one of the faked outrages setup for the news so that the MSM could handle the propaganda for a terrorist group.

Other stuff in the foam include DNC Chair Dean’s comment “Republicans would need the hotel wait staff in order to fill a room with blacks shows that both he and his party are stuck in a time warp. Star Parker has more.‘ [HT Boortz] or the startup on the Negroponte smear camapiagn.

Oh, and don’t forget the Amensty International Report as described by Reuter’s. It seems women in Iraq are now worse off than they were under the Hussein family due to predation by US soldiers, or something.

Then you have the British ban on hunting with dogs – racial envy towards fox hunters? Or there is the ongoing MSM scratching the blog itch with occasional interesting descriptions of something they have never really seen (or perhaps cannot see).

And Whizbang points out another British bit of foam. “Winston Churchill once allegedly stated that the Royal Navy’s greatest traditions were rum, sodomy, and the lash. According to this story, all they’re missing now is the lash. You may commence with the seamen” jokes, the “going down with the ship” jokes, the “dive! dive! dive!” jokes, and the like.’

Thankfully the Eason Jordan and Jeff Gannon/James Guckert and Ward Churchill cases are sinking back into the muck at the bottom of the pool. Churchill may rise yet again, though.

And, down bubbling in the pool –

in the history of civilization no culture based on freedom and economic liberty has survived without recognizing the individual’s right to property and zealously protecting those rights. For many years now property rights have been under a clear assault from politicians seeking to solidify their positions of privilege and power through the misuse of eminent domain. Unfortunately, as has been documented numerous times in this space and on the air, a new national epidemic has emerged.  Politicians, hungry for tax revenues at all costs, have started to see private property rights as a small inconvenience. So if you’re a farmer who doesn’t want to sell his land to build a new Wal-Mart: look out. Government agents could confiscate your land under eminent domain, give it to Wal-Mart and oh by the way- they get to decide how much to pay you for it. It’s happening all too often across this country.” [Neil Boortz Eminent domain case before high court. 22fb07]

Maybe Pfc. Rob Jacobs needs to pass those letters he received to some middle school students in Iraq and see if he can get some pen-pal action going. It might be a real eye opener for Alex Kunhardt’s students and they might, in the process get a social studies lesson Teacher Kunhardt seems incapable of providing.

Lot’s of muck to examine. Maybe it’s time to look up and imagine creatures in the nighttime stars.

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Squeal when caught

The Eason Jordan, now ex-CNN News Chief, case provided a great deal of information about such issues as accountability and the hubris of many folks in the MSM. There were some delicious quotes from otherwise respected journalists of good repute who seem to completely miss the whole idea of peer review. The professor noted this.

Of course, unedited presumes that there are no standards, no metrics for quality whatsoever. I don’t think that’s true. If you aren’t making reasonable arguments, if you aren’t backing up your claims with links, I just don’t think you’ll ultimately be able to hold an audience or have an impact. [ What a Difference a Word Makes Ranting Profs 14fb05]

Perhaps what is really missing is a trust and respect for the end audience by the MSM? Could it be that all those voices out there, outside the established channels, have something to say? Could it be that those who read many different views and sound out many different rationales can choose which ones have merit and which don’t?

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input and process speeds make a difference

There is a difference between listening and ingesting ideas.

When you speak on a sensitive topic, listeners are going to pick out certain phrases and then magnify and distort your meaning as they swirl the part they heard around in their heads with their own fears about what they think you might be saying.

I think if I had been there and heard the “daddy truck/baby truck” part, I would have missed the whole next section because I would have become wrapped up in my own thoughts. This is one reason why I’d prefer to read a speech than listen to one. Who can sit through a long, overcomplicated speech with a passive mind? Assuming you can resist thinking about something else altogether — what’s for dinner? — you hear bits of the speech and think about it, criticize it, relate it to something in your own experience.

[Ann Althouse. Summers releases the transcript. 18fb05

People react to ideas and often seem to misplace ideas with words. This may be because words are visibile and something you can easily see and read. Ideas are another thing altogether. They are abstract, have no visible formation, and can be seen as completely different by different people. Words are intended to express ideas. But many speakers have such a high word to idea ratio that their speeches are often droning dull affairs. There aren’t enough ideas to shake the mind enough to keep it actively working. But when the ideas come in flocks and herds and they are big ones, the mind can get distracted trying to get one stashed before the next comes along. That can be uncomfortable – and confusing.

If you are speaking, keep in mind your words to ideas ratio and make sure the ideas are spaced out well enough so that your audience has time to get a handle on them. Make sure you don’t have so many words and so few ideas so you can keep them on your ideas and not on your words. Paint your pictures carefully without too many flourishes!

If you are listening, pick up the words first and only mull over the ideas when you have time. Ideas will sink in whether you work on them or not so, if the speech is too idea rich for you, just plan to take some quiet time later to let them surface.

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Flagpole and building syndrome

Remember the ‘if you build it they will come’ ? ‘Rally around the flag’ ? ‘sucker born every minute’ ?

I believe the lesson was that with a catchy name, a strong policy position and an aggressive media campaign, nobody will dare to criticize the science, and in short order, a terminally weak thesis will be established as fact. After that, any criticism becomes beside the point. The war is already over without a shot being fired.

Of course, any scientist can be charged as Galileo was charged. I just never thought I’d see the Scientific American in the role of mother church.
[Michael Crichton. Aliens Cause Global Warming 17Ja03]

Its like getting a building on campus. Forget about the scientists to occupy it or budget to pay for the research, build the building and the rest will come. A nice chunk of concrete provides tangible evidence of worthiness whether or not there is anything in (or to) it. A good flag to rally the troops and an aggressive attack against the skeptics and cynics will help build a winning image.

Science doesn’t work that way but people do. And people do science. So there is a conflict, an ongoing need for accountability. Don’t be fooled by the appearance of substance with an army of fools behind it. Look for the quality of the concrete and the merits of its foundation.

Whether you are trying to figure out if Galileo was right or whether the popular view of the moment is valid, keep a skeptical eye on what is presented and be open to learning new things.

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cyberphobia, the beginnings

It used to be readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmatic – the 3 r’s of eductation. Things have changed and only a part of that change is in the subject.

But I do think there is an imbalance here, and it bothers me. If a student were to come in and say “You know, I just can’t handle literature classes. I’m no good at reading, and I’m not comfortable with it, so I don’t want to take any English classes,” most faculty would think that there’s something wrong with that person. And yet, I hear functionally equivalent statements about math every time I bring this subject up. Bright people will say “I think science is really neat, but I just can’t handle math,” and see nothing wrong with that.[ Chad Orzel. Poetry for Physicists . Uncertain Principles. 7fb05]

This is a case of setting expectations which are the limits within which goals are set. Making excuses for weakness or for a lack of willingness does not engender growth. Its like telling the coach you are too tired for the calesthenics and warm up exercises but are anxious to play the game anyway.

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corruption is a key

One of the biggest issues facing security in Iraq and elsewhere is the matter of corruption. Seeing Bullit on the TV the other day was a reminder that police and government corruption is, and has been, a theme even in the US for a long time. The real question is not whether or not it exists but rather the structures and values that minimize it.

Let us speak truth to ourselves. Our double-entry bookkeeping, our self-government, our rule of law, and our limited-liability companies are more than mere wonders of the world. They are more than innocent inventions; they are the terrifying force multipliers that made us into world conquerors and world benefactors. [Christopher Chantrill. Ward Churchill is right. Partly. 16fb05]

Corruption is one of those areas where people build their situation that we described in the entry about Zimbardo. Situations do no just happen. Corruption is not anything more than the expression of a weakness. A free society must develop structures and values that destroy situations that can promote corruption.

Without trust, freedom does not exist. But trust does not generate itself. It too, is the result of a situation carefully crafted by a society and jealously guarded in criminal and civil prosecution as well as values of the group norms illustrated in the manner of respect and recognition. A freedom from corruption and a trustable ethos are critical matters for a country that truly wants the benefits of individual freedom, growth, and happiness.

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What is education good for?

When we see professors using their status as a pulpit, it does stimulate a bit of thinking about the proper role of education.

Education is the science of reasoning, drawing lines, perceiving matters of degree, distinguishing between fact and fantasy, and assigning moral responsibility for actions and events. If college students are denied a proper education, democracy will degenerate into trial by battle, and civilization will descend into barbarism. Liberty and tyranny will become synonyms. That is why the University of Colorado should discharge Professor Churchill, and examine why he was ever hired. [Bruce Fein. Professorship not a license. Washington Times. 15fb05]

There is a need for accountability and a first step is to determine the purpose and mission that set the standards for measuring performance.

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Word Warp

There is a political persuasion that seems obsessed in calling anyone who does not see it their way, or perhaps anyone who they think is opposed to them, a liar. It seems to be a reflexive response to a champion of this persuasion being found guilty of perjury.

Really, I think it would be a great service to the universe if people would read the definition of “lie” and ruminate upon it for a while. And this applies to all sides of the debate. To wit: if Bush thought that there were WMDs in Iraq and said so, that wouldn’t be a lie. Further, if Ward Churchill actually believes that the US army gave smallpox-infected blankets to Indians in an attempt to kill then, that wouldn’t be a lie either. Being wrong is not the same thing as lying. If it is, I perpetrated a lot of lies over the years in various math classes that I took. For that matter, I lied back when I thought Dean would be the Democrat’s nominee. For Goodness Sake, could we please get a grip on what the language means? [Steven Taylor. Haven’t We Been Down this Road Before?, Poliblog. 05fb13]

There are other words whose meaning is warped as well. The case of debating the meaning of the word “is” is one example. Another comes from the ‘hate America’ crowd in the misaplication of labels as a means to cast aspersions. In this case it is warping hegemony meaning a coalition of independent states with one vastly more powerful than the others to mean something like imperial where the vastly more powerful uses that power to subjugate.

Noam Chomsky, has perversely chosen to conflate the two words as if they were merely synonyms for the same underlying concept. Thus, Grote’s precise and accurate revival of the original Greek concept has been skunked forever by Chomsky’s substitution of the word hegemony for the word empire, so that nowadays the two are used interchangeably, except for the fact, already noticed, that hegemony sounds so much more sophisticated than empire. Why use a word that ordinary people can understand, when there is a word, meaning exactly the same thing, that only the initiated can comprehend?[Lee Harris, The Greeks Had a Word for It: Hegemony vs. Empire, TCS, 14fb05

Harris goes on to illustrate why this inability to accept the authority of a dictionary is both a known tactic and an important one to track.

George Orwell in his novel 1984 envisioned a world in which the most basic concepts, such as freedom and slavery, had been conflated by an intellectual elite intent on making ordinary people unaware that there was any real difference between them. ... the difference between empire and hegemony is precisely analogous to the difference between freedom and slavery. ... To permit linguistic sleight of hand to blur this vital difference would be bad enough if it came from a vulgar demagogue; but when it comes from one of America's most respected intellectuals, it is, frankly, disgraceful.
...
For him [Grote], it made a difference that things should be called by their proper name. For our intellectual elite [Chomsky], on the other hand, words mean whatever they want them to mean — just like in Alice in Wonderland. [Lee Harris, The Greeks Had a Word for It: Hegemony vs. Empire, TCS, 14fb05

And that, of course, makes the link to the obfuscation between opinion and fact in rationalizing “free speech” to academic malfeasance such as the Churchill case and to the whole issue of appropriate speech diversity in academia. For it is there, where rigor is supposed to be a paramount virtue illustrating intellectual integrity, where the word warping is used to deny, obfuscate, rationalize, and propagandize viewpoints.

Words mean things. It is up to all of us to hold people accountable for clear meaning in what they say. As in the Eason Jordan case, what you say should have consequences.

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What is the mission of a school?

Freedman noticed an NRO column by Goldblatt that highlighted the basic reason why the Churchill fracas is such big news and, in passing, also noted a few other patterns.

When put that way, it is pretty shocking isn’t it? That I, and I assume a fair portion of you, don’t really think it’s a big deal that a fair percentage of our society’s “teachers” believe things that are demonstrably false?[Moe Freedman, A Symptom, Not The Disease, Dean's World, 10fb05]

And the point is that there are many well paid professors and teachers whose conclusions need a lot of help in order to avoid concluding they are delusional.

To make sense of Churchill’s clarification, a reader has to accept the following premises: … Each of these premises is false based on a preponderance of evidence. But that understates the point; all three are so utterly false that failure to recognize their falsehood, in effect, betrays a cognitive disability. … These are credentialed adults who are initially hired to instruct, and who are eventually tenured to profess…yet they’re professionally, stupendously, tenaciously, defiantly, demonstrably wrong. [Mark Goldblatt, W. Churchill, A sad look at a sick academic bubble. NRO 9Fb05]

Goldblatt also uses the referential standards in mathematics, chemistry, physics as a contrast to those in social studies to suggest a reason why the professors he describes tend to be from the ‘softer’ academic areas. There are those who would put sociology and then education on the far fringes of that continuum.

He also discusses the implications of various consequences and concludes that “his notoriety should stand as an ongoing monument to the decay of intellectual standards in higher education, and his professorship as an ongoing monument to the intellectual cowardice of the school which hired and tenured him.” In other words, if there is no clear damage caused then the solution is the matter of developing public opinion to impugn and repudiate such intellectual fraud.

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chickens … roost

There are glimmers of hope that the chickens may be coming home to roost. Accountability in both the signal and the noise may be on the rise. There is a transparency that makes it easier to find out what is really going on outside the window.

OK, enough with the allegories and confusing analogy. How does it all fit together?

The Northeast Dilemma set a message to the New England Republican posted under The Tragedy of Dan Rather. The message described how Rathergate coupled with observations about media response to the many Clinton scandals has created a skepticism or even cynicism about the credibity of what used to be thought of as reliable sources of information. This, in turn, lead to “question[s about] the reality of events that forced Nixon’s resignation and the US withdrawl from Vietnam.”

What we know and understand is always flavored by the windows through which we see and perceive events. There is a signal or truth of the matter and there is noise which makes it difficult to make a good picture out of what we see. It is like trying to catch everything on a TV show when something is disrupting the signal and causing dropouts, interference, and a snowy picture. It used to be that such poor quality pictures were accepted as the norm but now, when cable has taken over for the rabbit ear antenna and high definition TV with stunning picture quality is becoming the norm, we begin to see just how noisy our previous view actually was.

The internet is doing to news what better signals have done to TV. They have increased the transparency of the window through which we see things. This transparency means that we can hold those presenting the view more accountable for truth and accuracy in their presentation.

The internet is also a source of noise, too. Anyone can easily put their own perceptions out as ‘truth.’ The matters of accountability no longer belong in the realm of credible sources but rather in each individual’s own measures.

Contrasting the Jordan and Gannon stories illustrates this. Both are news professionals who resigned because of revelations by people on the internet. One was the Executive Vice President of a major news network and the other an independent reporter for a small network funded by partisan sources. One suffered due to revelations about US military bashing and the other for being soft in interview questions presented to the administration. One showed a long history of similar behavior culminated by a significant event and the other suffered a smear machine of allegation and innuendo. In one case, the internet effort was to get the truth on the table and in the other it was to reveal a perceived dirty trick.

Are the chickens coming home to roost? Maybe. There are signs that people are being held to account for their words and deeds. Whether it is a college professor or a news executive, what they say is being made transparent and the implications revealed.

Has accountability improved? Both the stimulating event and the reporting of that event are being examined by many sources. It is more difficult to let important stories drop through the cracks as illustrated by the Jourdan case. It is more difficult to prop up straw men as in the Gannon case.

The transparency is in the many who seek out information, compile data from many sources, and critique each other. Serious ideas and challenges become important by the weight of their intellectual integrity. Trivial ideas and challenges are punctured, deflated, and humiliated. It is easier than ever before for anyone who really wants to know to get up close to the window and see more the world with less distortion than ever before.

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free delusion

There is a tendency to believe what one reads, especially if it is presented by an authoritative source. This can lead one astray.

The moral of the story is that news sources that are considered reliable by many people, like the Washington Post, in fact make a great many errors–some innocent, others not. If an assertion sounds outlandish, like the claim that roving bands of 18th century Catholic priests went about hanging people, realize that it may very well be a fabrication. (Or, to take another example, the claim that a Secretary of the Interior expressed the view that environmental preservation is unnecessary in view of the imminent end of the world.) And bear in mind that false statements seem to be made more frequently about some people–Catholics, say, or Republicans–than about others. [Hindrocket. Not Even Voltaire Believed This One. Powerline. 11Fb05]

The fact is that words are written by humans and humans can make mistakes. These mistakes can be intentional or not. One source of such mistakes is related to concepts such as hubris or arrogance where people think they know truth better than others. The case of the lawyer convicted for helping her terrorist client communicate from prison appears to be an example of this.

Stewart referred several times to 9/11 as providing the “pretext” or “excuse” for snuffing out idealistic “activists” such as she. Her indictment, she acknowledged, was not brought under the PATRIOT Act but, according to Stewart, it resulted from the same “aura” of hatred directed at Islam in the wake of 9/11. Stewart never once acknowledged the reality of the war against the United States or the peril that those such as her client the blind sheik pose to it. Stewart’s conclusion articulated her theme in the old Guild tradition, accusing the Bush administration of accomplishing the “usurpation [of civil liberties] by voracious corporate government.” [Big Trunk. "Face to face with Lynne Stewart. FPM ]

The lesson is that we need to be careful about what we believe and what we accept as fact. We also need to allow room for error, even our own error, and compare new information to old information to try to make sense of it all.

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gotcha equalizing, continued

Two reporters bit the dust this week in response to blogstorms. Jeff Gannon was outed because he was suspected of being a White House plant at press conferences. Eason Jordan decided the fallout from his remarks at the World Economic Forum, which just highlighted an historic trend, were too much for his employer, CNN.

But this respondent raises one more important point: There is a rhetorical trick in the air with people taking one perceived sin from one side and putting it against a perceived sin from the other side and thinking that is both equivalent and balanced. Are Gannon and Jordan equivalent and does reporting both of them make the reporter balanced? Ditto Bush’s and Kerry’s service records? It not only makes for fake column-a/column-b cable-news balance, it even motivates the press to go after somebody from one side when they start reporting on a scandal from the other side so it can seem balanced. [Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine, 11Fb05]

It doesn’t look like it is going to end there, either.

Nancy Rabinowitz, director of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture at Hamilton College, who invited Ward “Little Eichmanns” Churchill to speak and ignited a media firestorm, has resigned. (Hat tip: mommydoc.) [2/11/2005: Night of the Resignations. Little Green Footballs. 11Fb05]

I wonder what is going to be created to ‘balance’ the Churchill fallout? Perhaps silence? That tactic doesn’t seem to go very far these days.

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Gotcha Equalizing

One of the techniques used to rationalize a position and ameliorate guilt is that of gotcha equalizing. This technique is that of matching faults. When someone finds a problem on your side, you seek out some problem on his side you can rationalize as equivalent. You got me, I got you, we are equalized – Gotcha equalization.

The problems with this approach are several. One is that is a cycle of destruction. Another is that it is dishonest. A third is that the motivations change from finding fault to fix a problem to finding fault to dimish the opposition.

Let’s compare: taking down a hack for a little-known website vs. challenging the head of a global news network. I’ll let you decide which story is more important.

Pure objectivity in humans doesn’t exist. We all have opinions and agendas that intentionally or not seep into what we write and create. The best we can hope for is intellectual honesty. Openness would hold more people accountable.
[Sean Hackbarth. Gannon/Jordan. The American Mind. 10Fb05]

The Gingrich episode is another example. He brought down opposition through a post office scandal so his opponents filed 80 allegations and accusations against him. None of these allegations or accusations were found to have any substance. But they got their equalization.

Many Clinton episodes were similar with threats as well as character assasination and other techniques used against anyone who raised a question or allegation. This technique shows even in the Presidential Library displays which impugn the special investigor as part of a vast right wing conspiracy.

The obstruction to judicial nominations also shows this technique. The ‘you stopped ours so we are stopping yours’ argument is often used as a rationale for obstructionism. The techniques being used to obstruct are, in themselves, rationalized by trying to make comparisons to the past that conveniently ignore unpleasant factors.

Gotcha equalizing depends upon people not engaging in critical listening. It is up to the listener to hold people using this technique accountable. Don’t let yourself get swindled. Listen critically, be skeptical, and learn to detect intellectual dishonesty.

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Implications and responsibilities

There has been a lot of talk about freedom of speech and trepidation at even thinking about imposing consequences on a tenured professor, for instance. The fact is that there are consequenses to speech and these consequences should be a regulatory mechanism to assure that free speech is not irresponsible or fraudulent.

The recent stories have included news leaders with egregious problems, university professors, and even an occasional ‘entertainer’ or two. But an occasional Rathergate or Eason’s Fables is only a part of the story.

In the three years and change that N2P has been operational, I’ve come across quite a few stories about American “educators” who care less about imparting knowledge and skills than about making sure their charges come parroting the “correct” political statements. Rarely, though, will those “educators” openly admit to caring more about ideology than about the specifics of their chosen field [Kimberly Swaggert at Number 2 Pencil 9fb05]

This may be an indication of the kind of support that elected leaders are thinking about when they engage in behavior noted by Card:

When Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation as secretary of state was opposed … It meant that the Democrats ["these weren't thirteen obscure senators. They included some of the most influential or at least well-known"] in Congress were determined to be brutally partisan … at a time when our country is at war, and we need to show our enemies a unified and relentless determination to defeat them.

Once the decision to go to war is made, then the actions of members of Congress must be undertaken with consideration of how our enemies will interpret them. [emph added]

The message is clear: The Democratic Party puts politics ahead of unity, victory, and the safety of our troops. And that makes a Democrat like me furious with my own party’s childish, selfish, dangerous behavior. It’s time for Democrats who are sick of such shenanigans to speak up and repudiate these clowns.
[Orson Scott Card. Rice, Iraq, and Saudi Subversion. World Watch 30JA05. First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC]

This is called the duty of loyalty in corporate governance. It is rarely enforced or even noticed in corporate governence except as a part of something else, such as a conflict of interest or intentional fraud. In politics, the consequences of malfeasance in the duty of loyalty is usually encountered in the ballot box. While ballot box notice has been more and more apparent, those referred to in Card’s comment have explicitly rejected that notice by asserting it was flawed or subject to interpretation. This is that same stance that Professor Churchill recently illustrated. The only problem with a blind stance is that the ground underneath wears away and makes the fall much more traumatic and disasterous.

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Free Speech Cases

Eason Jordan, CNN News Chief – let’s pretend he didn’t say what he said alleging that the US military targets journalists. Now that Kurtz has weighed in with a whitewash, it is beginning to appear that we have another one of those ‘conservatives made me do it’ efforts to pretend what happened didn’t really. After all, claiming that the US military targets journalists is just something everyone knows is true, right? But it appears that this one may have legs and may have significant analogies to Rathergate.

General Mattis, USMC – likes to kill bad guys – my how insensitive.

Summers, Harvard President – what? a difference between men and women? surely you jest! Even the mere thought of such a think was enough to make a feminist and biology professor sick.

Ward Churchill, Colorado professor, native American, maybe. Victims of 9/11 are “little Eichmans.” Should a tenured professor be fired for abuse of free speech, for fraudulent claims about who he is, or just let alone to spew his venom on Colorado students?

Janeane Garofalo and Nazi salutes, but what do you expect from that source? She justs illustrates the small side.

Oh, and don’t forget the big game advertising. There was a spoof in there about the FCC that was supposed to air twice but the NFL saw is once and decided that was risque enough.

And let’s not forget Reid, Pelosi, Kennedy, and the rest of the ‘get Bush at any cost to our integrity’ crowd. Some of the propositions and assertions being made are really wild.

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