Archive for February, 2005

Is it really Tocqueville’s insight?

Nancy Pelosi and George Stephanopoulos on ABC and expecting honest and rational discourse?

Again, everything’s on the table, except things we don’t agree with. So anything the president proposes that does not fit within our suggested approach to the problem, is off the table. Liberal marvel sometimes at how President Bush was able to garner a majority of the votes. Conversely, to me it is amazing that Democrats are able to get even 40% of the vote. But as Tocqueville and others predicted as to the American republic– and I paraphrase — once the public figures out it can vote itself money from the public trough, the republic will be in jeopardy. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. [David Limbaugh. Nancy Pelosi on “This Week” 7Fb05]

Now consider Robert Novak’s observation.

This is confirmation politics, an especially noxious form of partisanship emerging during the current Bush presidency. Unlike the parallel Democratic campaign to block confirmation of conservative judges, there is no effort to prevent non-judicial nominees from taking office. Rather, it spotlights negative Bush issues … When I first covered the Senate 45 years ago, confirmation battles were rare. It was considered a stain on the Senate in 1959 when President Eisenhower’s nominee for secretary of commerce was rejected because of one powerful Democratic senator’s personal animus. Today, nothing is personal. President Bush’s 2001 nominees were attacked because of their opinions and his 2005 nominees because of administration policies. The decline of the Senate continues. [Robert Novak. Confirmation politics. Townhall. 7fb07]

Tocqueville doesn’t seem to be appropriate here. Too many issues exhibit the same phenomena. It isn’t a gimme attitude that is present but rather a get ’em approach. There is something more ominous and more deep seated. It is indeed amazing that 40% of the vote supports the decline.

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body bag obsession

The body bag counting became popular during the Vietnam war. It was not a means of honoring the dead but rather a means to use the dead to blame one’s political enemies. The idea was that war was bad and that peace was good (no if, ands, or buts and no gray areas) and then any death was only bad and could represent nothing good. Therefore, counting the dead on ‘our’ side was a means to tally up badness in our political opponents who caused the death by their polcies. Extrapolating this view also mean the political opponents were bad people and, hence, evil incarnate.

But, while using the dead as a tool to malign political opponents, it was not good (or ‘cool’) to malign the institution of which they were a part. So began a dance of using the dead on one end to malign to politicians on the other while leaving the military institutions in the middle as honored.

PAD (he often goes by his initials) said, as many others have, that he supports the troops, but opposes the war. He used the phrase “sending them off to die,” and it finally clicked.

The liberals who talk like that are showing their disrespect for our troops when they use phrases like that. We are not “sending them off to die.” We’re sending them off to SERVE. That service may put them in danger, and might even cost them their lives, but they are not going off to die. They’re too good for that.

What finally gelled it all for me was re-watching “Patton.” In the incredible speech delivered in the opening, he makes the following point:

Now, I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

It’s the OTHER SIDE that “sends their forces off to die,” often with bombs strapped to their bodies. Our forces are heavily invested in avoiding death, both their own and those of their adversaries. The United States has put more money, time, and effort into developing less-than-lethal weaponry than any other nation in history — quite possibly more than all others combined.

So the next time you hear someone spout off about “sending our troops off to die,” ask them just why they think that our troops are so stupid and incompetent that they would do that. There’s a difference between being sent off on a risky mission and on a suicide mission, and to confuse the two is the grossest insult I can imagine. [Jay Tea General Patton and opposing the war on terror. whizbanglog]

The recent heart rending moment of the SOTU (state of the union) address brought this concept to front and center.

It had become common for many on the Left to cry crocodile tears for the dead and injured, to use those deaths and injuries as an ideological weapon against the merits and justifications for the war.

But the tears we saw shed on Wednesday night, and the tears we shed ourselves while watching, were the real thing. Sgt. Norwood and all those who have served and are still serving in Iraq have made the world a better place. All glory properly goes to them at a moment of genuine triumph. [J Podhertz. About that hug... New York Post. 4fb05]

Bodies are concrete things you can line up and count. The meanings of the lives represented by those bodies is something else altogether. You can use the visible symbols to assuage your hate and personal guilt or you can honor the sacrifice made in the service of such ideals as patriotism, honor, duty, loyalty, country, and family. The fact that those who hold themselves as morally superior tend to the former rather than the latter is something to behold.

UPDATE: to get a perspective on deaths and rates and time, see the American Thinker column.

They don’t give a damn about our troops, no matter what phony sympathy they express about the deaths of our heroes. If they did, they would have had Carter’s head on a pike. In reality, they’re just scared they’ll be asked to help join the effort to protect our freedom, because they simply don’t want to have their nice, safe cocoons punctured. [Douglas Hanson. Counting the cost. American Thinker. 7fb05]

NOTE: until I get an automated way to dispense with automated comment crap, please use the link at right to email comment that I can post. Tnx. brl

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Implications of anonymity

Is it the situation or is it the person? Dr. Zimbardo, who made an excellent TV series on basic psychology, studies the situation. One of his most famous experiments was a 1971 prison simulation that had to be terminated less than halfway through the planned 2 week run. There were many parallels between the behaviors that terminated the prison simulation the the famous Abu Ghraib scandal. He even provided expert testimony for the defense in an Abu Ghraib case.

Any situation that makes you anonymous and gives permission for aggression will bring out the beast in most people. That was the start of my interest in showing how easy it is to get good people to do things they say they would never do.

A sense of community means people are as concerned about any property or people on their turf because there’s a sense of reciprocal concern. The assumption is that I am concerned because you will be concerned about me and my property. In an anonymous environment nobody knows who I am and nobody cares, and I don’t care to know about anyone else. The environment can convey anonymity externally, or it can be put on like a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

These are exact parallels between what happened in this basement at Stanford 30 years ago and at Abu Ghraib

And then there is the hidden factor of boredom. One of the main contributors to evil, violence, and hostility in all prisons that we underplay is the boredom factor.

I’ve been teaching bright college students for nearly 50 years, and it’s hard to get them to appreciate the situationist’s analysis of evil, prejudice, or any kind of pathological behavior because our whole society is so wedded to the dispositional perspective: Good people do good deeds, and bad people do bad deeds. It’s part of our institutional thinking
[A Talk with Philip Zimbardo. You can’t be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel. Edge]

There is a bias, part probably professional in the emphasis on situation but it also appears part in line with conventional leftist academic leanings. For instance, he cites the removal of uniforms as a means for guards to gain anonimity in prisons, then cites this tactic by cops attending protests and demonstrations. Two entirely different situations whose lumping together should probably not be done so cavalierly. The bias also shows in that he escalates incidents such as the Abu Ghraib scandal into something much larger and more significant than others do and as more of a norm than an exception.

With that in mind, he presents good insight into possible causes of the abuse of prisoners that can be used to reduce the risk of future cases and can also be used to evaluate leadership and management in prisons. Zimbardo does describe what he calls “heroes” who do not succumb to situation but leaves these anomolies outside of his concern for situation rather than the “dispositional perspective.” Such a pattern of anomolies is usually a pointer to significant insight.

Both the Stanford prison simulation and Abu Ghraib involved young adults – maybe maturity has something to do with being a Zimbardo hero? But his client lost in the trial because our society does not except ‘devil made me do it’ rationales, even in young soldiers (Abu Ghraib was essentially a 21st birthday celebration for a girlfriend of one of the guards). It is the individual who is responsible for his or her behavior first and foremost. The creation or control of a situation, which may include improper selection of individuals, is a matter of leadership and management which is probably more important yet less well defined and so secondary in the accountability regime.

The kinds of behaviors stimulated by immaturity, anonimity, implicit social acceptance, and the other factors noted by Zimbardo can be seen in more common situations. The Sarbanes-Oxley legislation and the Exon scandal brought up the whole issue of removing anonimity in corporate accountability. Even the flame wars and abusive behavior seen in electronic communications may stem from these factors.

The recent story of an effort to raise money for military snipers fits in here as well. A college banned the effort because of the motto “One shot, one kill, no remorse, I decide.” The opposition was in part due to a knee jerk ‘snipers kill people.’ But the motto for the snipers is really an affirmation that the “dispositional perspective” and not the situation is to control the sniper. The sniper is inherenlty anonymous; is in a volatile situation; is confronted with the significant implications of his decisions. He needs every assistance he can get to reinforce his maturity and ability to make good decions to save life and limb by taking life and limb. These considerations are why military and police snipers are selected not only for sharpshooting skills but for emotional stability and maturity and other capabilities that sets them somewhat apart from their peers.

The message is that we need to be aware of the pressures of the situations in which we find ourselves. If these pressures lead us towards improper behavior, it is up to us to become a responsible individual, to take control of our behavior, and to become a Zimbardo hero.

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Is this any way to argue a point?

Althouse noted a pattern in that those from the right tended to quote her most to support their points of view while those on the left picked out quotes to oppose. It seems that this is part of a broader phenomena.

Dean and his followers demonstrate the illness that has infected the American Left since the 1960s. They don’t just oppose — they hate. They hate Republicans, they hate suburbia, they hate just about everything America has done. They also hate it when people point out this rather obvious fact, claiming that their critics engage in censorship and McCarthyism. However, it’s pretty damned difficult to maintain that facade when Dean gets up on a stump and says, “I hate Republicans and everything they stand for.” [Captain Ed. Faith-Based Hate From Howard Dean 1fb05]

This also seems related to the latest Eason Jordan scandal where he was heard making the claim that the U.S. military deliberately targeted journalists in Iraq. Janeane Garofalo’s assertion that the display of an Iraqi purple finger is the same as a Nazi salute is another example.

And then there is social security …

As Rush Limbaugh was telling a caller today, you can’t expect to change the mind of these folks even using a non-emotional and fact based approach. The real issue for you and for Dean, Jordan, Garofalo, and others is to educate those who haven’t become entrenched in their ideas. But just which approach is likely to be most effective? “I hate … and everything they do” or “here are problems and why I see them as problems and here is what I think can be done to solve them” ?

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Social Security 101

It is amazing to see that the idea that Social Security may be in need of fixing to be such a hot argument. Those who are claiming that there is no crisis or whatever were hot to trot on the opposite position just a few years ago. The President has been fairly careful to avoid use of language such as “crisis” but what he says and what his opponents say he says has a long history of disagreement, anyway. Here is a bit of what is in general agreement.

1) 15.3% of each paycheck is sent to the government, usually split half and half between employer and employee. This purchases a promise from the government which is something like an annuity with conditions and whose risk is that of trusting the government. It is a non transferable annuity so it has no value to anyone except the employee. It is intended only as a means to assure society that older citizens will not be left penniless.

2) The government currently collects more in the 15.3% taxes than it spends supporting its promises to retired employees. Projections are that this state of affairs will only last for maybe fifteen years because the population of retired employees is growing faster than the population of tax paying employees. The excess currently collected is spent on government programs and is listed as a part of the government debt, depending upon which kind of debt is being talked about. There is no trust fund, only the promise of the government.

3) Starting at about this fifteen year from now point, the government is going to have to borrow for its programs from somewhere other than the social security collections. At about 35 years from now, the government will only collect about 3/4 of what it has promised to pay for social security from payroll taxes. The remainder will need to either not be paid as promised or developed from some other source.

These three points seem to have general agreement. The disagreement is about whether it is a problem worth worrying about now and what should be done, if anything, to assure the probability that the government will be able to keep its promises. There are several issues that create problems.

1) Shrinking government so it spends less on programs would require an historical turnaround in the trend towards growth of government. Trying to get money to pay promises by shrinking other government expenses therefore doesn’t seem likely.

2) The relationship between taxes and income is not as simple as it may seem. Raising taxes does not necessarily increase revenue. As has been illustrated just recently, sometimes the best way to increase revenue is to decrease taxation. But finding the sweet spot for all the different kinds of taxes where the amount of taxation will generate the most revenue is not an exact science and subject to all sorts of influences.

So, now what? Do we join the Democrats and just hope it will turn out somehow? Or do we start looking for how to balance the social security budget now as the President recommends? Do we want to maintain a system where we have to trust the government and not own any of our retirement or do we want a system where we get a bit of discipline from the government to build and maintain something we own?

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strange linkages

Every now and then strange commonalities provide clues to important things. Joanne Jacobs referenced The New Criterion on the Ward Churchill case and that lead to a discovery of an example of a phenomena just described here a few days ago.

As a specimen piece of intellectual mendacity, this gets, oh, about 9 out of 10 points: note the specious disjunction between “what we hold most dear, the right to speak, think and study freely” and the “But . . .,” as if cancelling Ward Churchill’s appearance were some an infringement of “the right to speak, think and study freely.” [Roger Kimball. Hamilton College and Ward Churchill. The New Criterion, 1Fb05]

Remember the Yeahbuts?

And another, the original Jacobs reference, that is a bit more obtuse but quite relevant:

Because the truth is often hard to establish and only imperfectly grasped, encouraging real intellectual diversity on important issues is a salutary part of the business of liberal education. But that does not mean that anyone can say anything he likes and have it accepted as a legitimate point of view. The case of Ward Churchill dramatizes the issue. It is, I believe, analogous to the case of the Holocaust deniers. …. And this brings us to one of the gravest legacies of relativism. What we are witnessing is the transformation of facts into opinion. This process is not only destructive of facts–when facts are downgraded to opinions they no longer have the authority of facts–but, curiously, it is also destructive of opinion. As Hannah Arendt observed in an essay called “Truth and Politics,” opinion remains opinion only so long as it is grounded in, and can be corrected by, fact. “Facts,” she wrote, “inform opinions, and opinions, inspired by different interests and passions, can differ widely and still be legitimate as long as they respect factual truth. Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.” What is at stake, Arendt concluded, is nothing less than the common world of factual reality and historical truth. [Roger Kimball. Hamilton College and ‘free speech’. The New Criterion, 28Ja05]

This goes back to David Mobley’s idea that “if schools start teaching alternatives to evolution, the caliber of our science might actually improve” in What is evolution, anyway? The issue is that we cannot be flippant about “alternative” ideas as a matter of excellence in pedagogy. Matters of intellectual integrity are paramount. And that links to the broader issue of the many problems in debate and argument that seem to abound in current politics and other public areas.

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