Archive for November, 2005

Propaganda detection

Strategy page has a column on The Most Successful Propaganda Techniques. 22 techniques are named and described with examples given. When you hear these in debate you know that getting to the bottom of things is going to be difficult. When you read the news, watch out else you might get caught.

# 1. Guilt By Association: This is used to damage someone’s reputation by associating them with an unattractive person or organization. It doesn’t matter if there is an actual association or not.

# 2. Backstroke: Systematically belittling the goals of the subject of the article as the goals are being listed. For every step forward for the subject, the propagandist pulls the reader back.

# 3. Misinformation: This is a subtle technique, it involves reporting information in such a way that the final message of the story is not true, it’s what the propagandist wants you to believe.

# 4. Over Humanization: It is a perfectly valid technique to tell a story by focusing on the real people who the story impacts. However, this is also an easy technique for manipulation when a propagandist tries to mask an issue by making anyone who has a valid disagreement look evil due to all the human suffering talked about in the story.

# 5. Name Calling

# 6. He Said, She Said

# 7. Unproven “Facts”

# 8. Lying Sometimes complete lies are told.

# 9. Telling the Truth, For a While To throw people off the track, biased news services will give good accurate reporting for a while, usually when it no longer matters, then they will stick it to you the next time your guard is down.

# 10. Not Talking at all about Something

# 11. Subtle Inaccuracies/Dismissive Tone Misstating a topic, often a serious one, and pretending any objecting or concerned view is silly, unrealistic, or just not necessary.

# 12. A One One Punch pretending to represent two sides, but one side gets a couple of great lines , the other side gets a lame line.

# 13. Volume This is related to Coordination, it is merely a deluge of the same story line everywhere, until it becomes dominant,

# 14. Coordination This occurs when a number of like minded journalists all report the same angle at about the same time.

# 15. Fogging an Issue/Total Nonsense

# 16. 2,3,4 Technique Mentioning only one side of an issue 2, 3, or 4 times in an article, each time pretending you are about to present the opposing side, but you never do.

# 17. Preemptive Strike This is when the writer “attacks” the reader viciously at the very outset of the article with the “acceptable” view of the topic.

# 18. Framing the Debate Setting an argument around two “alternatives” which you would prefer, rather than the true alternatives.
….
# 19. Token Equal Time

# 20. “Interpreting” A Statement

# 21. Withholding Information Is it the same as lying?

# 22. Distracting or Absurd Metrics

A bit of skepticism is always a good start to detecting when the message isn’t what it seems. Knowing what techniques are used to mislead can aid in detecting their presence.

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Mapes illustrates just how serious the problem is

Scott at Powerline offers his take on the Mapes strike back book.

It is a deeply dishonest book that takes advantage of the ignorance, gullibility, and derangement of its target audience. It depends on its readers complete ignorance of the record in general, and of the Thornburgh-Boccardi report on the 60 Minute broadcast segment in particular.

If eye witnesses don’t tell you the story you want to hear, you call them a “foulmouthted Bush loyalist” – or worse. Mapes knows, just knows without any doubt that her side of the story is absolutely correct. The problem is that the facts and eyewitness testimony have to be bent to fit. There are also doubts in the integrity of the base assumptions Mapes makes.

One of these is the “child of privilege” used much like the current class warfare arguments in the tax debate. But studies have shown that Vietnam didn’t have special impact on those less privileged. The national guard did serve on the front. There is always a need for the special skills, like fighter pilots, where few qualify. The ‘child of privilege’ mantra is shown to be hollow and corrupt.

That was then. What is now is the current delusion.

“but something bothered me about their comments.” She was apparently so bothered by the comments that she found no place for them in her script for the September 8 story.

What is it that drives a person, especially one schooled and practiced in journalism, to throw overboard intellectual integrity like this? What is it about people that puts strongly held belief above blatant reality?

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The civil military

The US military has always been ‘us’ and tradition has it with significant civilian control and participation. Michael O’Hanlon notes Our Dangerous, Growing Divide (WaPo 05NV28). The column is a good worry about a unity that has helped the US avoid devolving into a military dictatorship. Some of his opinions or judgments in arriving at this worry should raise questions. But the observation he notes stands as an important fact to consider and think about.

One problem is that both sides are presented as equally at fault; the military too optimistic and the civilians too fatalistic. This is a common rationalization of why people differ that avoids any consideration of right or wrong. By not looking into which side has the better argument, the source of the difference is easily overlooked.

Members of both camps have plenty of evidence to support their view. But the risk is that each group is starting to selectively ignore information that does not fit with its increasingly firm conceptions about how things are going.

What this means is that one side has a lot of good gross and aggregate measures and the other side can pick nits, find anomolies, or otherwise pull something out of the pile to impugn the aggregate measure.

Another problem is that of the presumption that top military leaders are deluded by their projects. A good reading of WW II military leadership shows that these generals don’t get to leadership positions by deluding themselves about the real scene on the battleground.

The military’s enthusiasm about the course of the war may be natural among those four-star officers in leadership positions, for it has largely become their war. Their careers have become so intertwined with the campaign in Iraq that truly independent analysis may be difficult. But it is striking that most lower-ranking officers seem to share the irrepressible optimism of their superiors. In talking with at least 50 officers this year, I have met no more than a handful expressing any real doubt about the basic course of the war.

What this says is that those close to the action have a common view. The investment in the outcome is not as O’Hanlon presumes it to be. Therefore it is “striking.”

The conclusion also demonstrates the presumed reality, a reality that may or may not exist. In doing so, O’Hanlon misses the real import of a military and civilian divide.

By contrast, if military officers see the good news more than the bad, they may feel increasingly cut off from the rest of the country. They may fail to understand why their recruiting efforts are not always appreciated by parents. They may be too reluctant to change tactics away from overly muscular combat operations that have accorded insufficient emphasis to protecting the Iraqi population. They may not feel enough urgency about advocating changes in policy that are needed there — like much better protection for Iraqi security forces, which remain badly under-armored, and a jobs program to directly target the high unemployment rate.

“reluctant to change tactics away from overly muscular” ?? Perhaps the stories about civil reconstruction, schools, kids, and the nature of special ops has yet been heard?

“insufficient emphasis to protecting the Iraqi population” ?? By what measure? Does this kind of protection come from within or can it really be provided externally? Can police prevent crime or do they just react to it? How is the proper emphasis to be determined?

The real question is why those at the battlefront have one view and those back home another. This implies that the true story of Iraq is not getting heard. If that is true, it means that politics back home is pushing poor decision making about what to do next.

The real worry is that of a military that is being distanced from the civilization it serves. That one has a lot of history to look at and worry about.

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Detecting differences to determine bias

There is this rationalization about the equivalence of rhetoric. Hanson notes the lack of intellectual integrity in trying to pretend that the rhetoric on both sides is equivalent in tone and manner.

The flood of the Hitler similes is also a sign of the extremism of the times. If there was an era when the extreme Right was more likely to slander a liberal as a communist than a leftist was to smear a conservative as a fascist, those days are long past. True, Bill Clinton brought the deductive haters out of the woodwork, but for all their cruel caricature, few compared him to a mass-murdering Mao or Stalin for his embrace of tax hikes and more government. “Slick Willie” was not quite “Adolf Hitler” or “Joseph Stalin.”

Is there a danger to all this? Plenty. The slander not only brings a president down to the level of an evil murderer, but — as worried Jewish leaders have pointed out — elevates the architect of genocide to the level of an American president.
[Victor Davis Hanson. “Little Eichmanns” and “Digital Brownshirts” Deconstructing the Hitlerian slur. NRO 18mr05]

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What typifies the tactics?

Baron Bodissey had an interesting analogy to something others have noticed as well.

We are arguing about serious issues, and not just calling each other names. It’s not so much that the sailors are all fighting to get their hands on the tiller; it’s more that they are standing around the charts with ruler and compass arguing about the best course to plot through the political shoals.

This is like the recent debate on the House resolution to pull out from Iraq. Republicans were talking about Iraq. Democrats were talking about Republicans.

But, like bias in the MSM, there are those who deny its existance and find any variation from the mean they can to support their view.

It is up to you. Look at the words people are using. No, not the ones you think they are using like those who are convinced that the Bush administration argued about an immediate threat from Iraq. Use the actual words as they were intended in context. Don’t make generalizations from anomolies. You shouldn’t have to work at it, just listen with attention.

Who is arguing about who is best to take the tiller? Who is arguing about the best route through the shoals and reefs? You can figure it out. Really. If you want to.

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Populism arguments may also need integrity to be complete

Glen Greenwald takes on the international populist argument in regards to the American image being destroyed by the Bush Administration. As he notes, being popular isn’t always the right thing. But even more interesting is this.

There are ample grounds to criticize, and even be horrified by, America’s actions under the Bush Administration. One can quite rationally argue that the U.S.’s systematic polices of torture, or its abducting and detaining people and holding them in secret prisons, or its decision to wage war based on claims concerning the Iraqi threat which were false and inaccurate, are destructive and indefensible. But this is the case not because these actions are unpopular in other countries, but because these actions are harmful to America, because they are contrary to America’s values, and because they undermine the liberties and securities of its citizens. In short, those actions are good or bad on their merits, regardless of what the citizens of other countries think of them.

It is presented as absolute fact. The question is “is it?” The litany sound terrible. But it only backed by anecdotal stories where the terrible things are treated as crimes of an exceptional nature. There have been investigations but none have shown what Greenwald passes off as an accepted truth. He re-writes history.

It may indeed be that the US is not popular around the world because of actions it must necessarily take to face threats the others do not have. But it may also be that this anti-US hysteria is being driven by a propaganda campaign – one fostered by folks who just take as given what might not be true.

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interference for political gain

The talk of withdrawal from Iraq is interference. The ten year Bosnian governance intervention still remains out of the discussion but can be a useful referent. In Bosnia, there was no ‘plan’ for the integration of three factions into a functioning government. It has been a festering sore and only recently have there been US efforts towards resolving the governance issues in Bosnia.

In Iraq, and despited the many strident claims to the contrary, there has been a plan and its execution has shown evidence of success.

As General Dempsey says, we want the process to go 75 mph, but the limit on Iraqis’ ability to absorb, balanced with a sincere effort to avoid the Iraqi’s becoming dependent on Americans, means we need to go forward at 35 mph. Dempsey says any further rush would be like giving Iraqis a bass boat with a fancy fish finder, when what they really need is to be taught how to fish. Not only is the magnitude of the training program impressive, led in part by NATO, but efforts to help develop their logistics and Defense Ministry function will increasingly allow Iraqis to defend Iraq with, assuming continued progress on the political and training fronts, as General Dempsey described, a “progressive and gradual reduction in American forces over time.” [Minnesota Congressman Mark Kennedy at powerline 05nv23]

There are those who assert that this successful accomplishment on plan is noticed and that the hue and cry for pullout is an attempt to take the credit away from those who created and executed the plan. This may or may not be. What is true, however, is the example of micro-management. Rather than debate standards and goals, the effort is towards mandating specific actions.

The current administration delegates appropriately. It has set standards and goals for the military and avoided micro-management. It has kept an appropriate distinction between strategic and tactical. But the Murtha ethos for cut and run or the McCain ethos for more troops both interefere in that they attempt to override and limit the judgment of those in the field.

This was a lesson learned from Vietnam where bombing targets were decided upon in Washington. Before that was the lesson from the Battle of Britain where the distraction from destroying the British Air Corps may have saved the country. That kind of micro-management did not produce desired results.

The US has the most educated and best trained and responsible military in the world. The quality of its personnel and leadership are what set it head and shoulders above any other. The way to gain maximum advantage of this quality is to use it effectively and not second guess its judgment or capability.

The issue in Congress should be that of defining desired outcomes and delegating the path to those outcomes to those institutions it has built to execute its intent. It does need to provide oversight and supervision to make sure that those institutions are held to account for their behavior. But, if it undertakes to mandate and control direct action it becomes directly responsible and must be held to account for that interference by those who delegate to it – the US voter.

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Conspiracy

Frank Furedi (Christian Science Monitor 05Nv16) On the hunt for a conspiracy theory describes a model for this behavior and why it might occur.

People always search for meaning. But in our confused and ever changing world we feel particularly perplexed when it comes to making sense of the problems that confront us. One of the most important ways in which an absence of meaning is experienced is the feeling that the individual is manipulated and influenced by hidden powerful forces – not just by spin-doctors, subliminal advertising, and the media, but also by powers that have no name. That is why we frequently attribute unexplained physical and psychological symptoms to unspecific forces caused by the food we eat, the water we drink, an extending variety of pollutants and substances transmitted by new technologies and other invisible processes. As a result, global warming is not simply a climatic phenomenon but an all-purpose evil that can account for a bewildering variety of destructive events.

The simplistic worldview of conspiracy thinking helps fuel suspicion and mistrust toward the domain of politics. It displaces a critical engagement with public life with a destructive search for the hidden agenda. It distracts from the clarification of genuine differences and helps turn public life into a theater where what matters are the private lives and personal interests of mistrusted politicians. A constant search for the story behind the story distracts us from really listening to each other and seeing the world as it really is.

This makes conspiracy theory mongering just a modern day analog to the Greek and Roman gods. There are some distinctions to be made, though. The western civilization science ethos eschews the idea that we have to leave control of specific circumstances to some larger power. There is also the difference between conspiracies to explain the world when we don’t feel up to the work to find a better explanation and the use of conspiracies to impugn and malign.

This misuse of conspiracies is theater. It obfuscates. It lacks intellectual integrity. Many such theories often won’t even withstand an internal consistency check. But they create a world that is attractive to their target. This is where responsible citizenship requires that care be taken to make sure what one understands at least makes sense.

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A thought about returning vets

Those who returned from Vietnam were caught by surprise. They didn’t really know the depth of the propaganda war against them. They remembered their fathers from WWII and framed their own return from battle in that context. The trusted their country and had faith in its media and its politicians. They were not prepared to do battle on their return to the homeland.

Those who return from Iraq seem to be ready for a new fight. They are more aware that the enemy they fought with fire only represent one front. They see the news being reported back home. They wonder at how it misrepresents their efforts and the progress they see first hand. They begin to see an enemy behind as well as in front. These soldiers may indeed be prepared to fight the battle on the homefront. It will be a different kind of battle. They will have to learn new tactics and methods. They are doing so.

It appears that they are not going to take getting spit upon sitting down, even if they are confined to a wheelchair. Not this time. The debate is being argued as we saw last week with Murtha et al. The battle of those soldiers is being joined. It is one where we can all be soldiers and must if the values that lead us are to be preserved.

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Who is the enemy?

Go see a Female Soldier’s Story and see what she thinks. The terrorists whose bombs tear apart markets and mosques and public places – the dictator with rape rooms and people shredders and mass graves – or the fourth fifth columns?

There are those whose response to criticism is “how dare you question my patriotism.” The fact is that it is their own behavior that questions their patriotism. It was not questioned by their critics. It does appear, though, that there is a growing recognition that those who are outraged at the implications of their own behavior may soon be facing their critics recognition of its name.

Whether it is the individual who tears and smears and disrupts the speech of others or the representative who parades under false colors to add prestige to his call for his country to abandon its basic principles or the opposition leaders who persist in false and malicious charges to destroy and impugn, the proper name for the behavior will, and must, be known. Courtesies to avoid offending become less of a desirable thing when they make no difference and offense is found anyway.

The real enemy, the first enemy, is not the one we can attack with military might. It is one of our own intellectual integrity and respect for our civilization.

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A vote of no confidence?

Congressman Murtha capped the inanities started by the Senate that were put to the fire November 18 in the House. Are we going to abandon the Iraqis?

The ‘Bush Lied’ mantra has been exposed in “Setting the Record Straight” responses that simply quote the words of the accusers from past years. See, for example, Mark Alexander’s Call them what they are — TRAITORS (Townhall 05nv19)

The ‘culture of corruption’ meme has been falling apart with Woodwards’s revelations to the point that Libby wasn’t as accused and the DeLay prosecution circus and other failed attempts to pin the tail on the elephant.

Now, Kerry “won’t stand for the swift boating of Jack Murtha” and his colleagues are in an outrage of rightous indignation. They can call the President all sorts of things but when it is pointed out that their allegations are rather poorly founded they claim that their patriotism is being questioned and that they have the solemn obligation to criticize.

The major media sources have also been something to observe in this brouhaha as well. It is exceedingly difficult to get the full story. Correction of basic fundamental facts are needed on nearly every report. Anyone paying attention over time will likely be irritated at the selective amnesia and the patterns of misrepresentation.

But faux or ignorant outrage does not remove the taint of historical occurance. The Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth have never been refuted nor their challenges met. The attempts to smear the Bush Administration have yet to produce even a smell despite many assorted and serious allegations and much investigation. Indeed, the smell appears to be coming from the accusors. The words of Kerry, Reid, Kennedy, Pelosi and other leading members in their party are on record and will stand no matter how much they attempt to minimize or excuse them. The words of the President are also on the table and available for anyone to compare with what his opposition says he said.

With Murtha, the anti-US ethos is on the table. It matters not whether he had a distinguished military career or other ad hominem attributes. What matters are his words and positions and behavior. Are his arguments solidly based and cogent? Are his values for his country or has he been swayed by individual tragedy? Will the US stand for its principles? Will the US stand with its obligations? Will the US honor those who made the sacrifice for its obligations and principles?

Fred Barns puts a context on the latest assault in Vietnam Flashbacks where history is illustrating just how much the US disgraced itself and its own efforts in abandoning South Vietnam in a time of great need.

By themselves, the events are small. A normally hawkish Democratic congressman, John Murtha calls for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The Republican-controlled Senate passes a resolution that says 2006 is the year to begin a “phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq.” Democrats continue their attacks on President Bush for allegedly hyping or falsifying the prewar intelligence on Iraq.

And on top of all that, former President Bill Clinton changes his mind about the liberation of Iraq by military force. Clinton was a strong supporter of the war–but no longer. “Saddam is gone,” he said at the American University in Dubai. “It’s a good thing. But I don’t agree with what was done. It was a big mistake.” By “it,” Clinton meant the invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.

Taken together, these events are ominous. They may not represent an irreversible new consensus among the political class toward America’s intervention in Iraq. But at a minimum, they suggest that troop removal has superseded victory as the primary American concern. The current shift in attitude is reminiscent of the one that followed the Tet Offensive in 1968, which consisted of Democratic defections, Republican anxiety, and a general loss of confidence in America’s ability to prevail in Vietnam. And we know where all that led: directly to the 1975 collapse.

Mel Laird, it turns out, isn’t the only person who’s been thinking about the parallel between Iraq and Vietnam. So has Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy. In his intercepted email to al Qaeda’s man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he said, “Things may develop faster than we imagine.” He wrote that “the aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam–and how they ran and left their agents–is noteworthy.” Indeed, and it is relevant.

The House vote is a vote of confidence tainted. It did not use the exact wording Murtha proposed so his party is hiding behind that as an excuse for their vote. The rationalized their vote against their own statements on a technicality. Which is worse, the dishonesty or the technical shenanigans, is hard to tell. There is a lot here and much is subtle politics intended to say one thing and do another. Will the people be fooled?

Meanwhile, this latest assault is occurring while the President is overseas. This becomes an attempt by the Democrats to make true their allegations about a Presidential failure of diplomacy by cutting him off at the knees and providing domestic distrations when the entire country and all of its citizens should be behind him in supporting his overseas diplomacy. It does lead one to wonder – whose side are they on, anyway?

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Medicare Drug Plan Questions

It seems one side of the debate about the Medicare Drug plan is missing. Two sides are being pounded, but yet another is missing.

the liberal counterassault is already underway. These critics oppose competition, empowering consumers, and want a larger role for the federal government. … the pace of enrollment is too slow … or it’s too confusing …

Conservatives, unfortunately, have focused almost exclusively on the potential cost of the program

[Gary J. Andres. Medicare drug plan. Washington Times 05nv17]

The side you don’t here is that “early evidence suggests the market-oriented reforms Congress passed nearly two years ago are having a better than expected effect.” There is very little discussion about the idea that “paying for prescription medicines can save the overall program money in the long run. Why should Medicare pay $100,000 to treat the effects of a stroke, when it can pay $1,000 for blood thinning medication to avoid one?”

The Medicare Drug Plan is providing yet another example of the difficulty in getting the whole story. Opinions are not informed if major issues and concepts are not put on the table.

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Fisk: The White House responds

The White House News and Policies Page has started to include fiskings of those editorials and stories in major media that are grossly in error or misleading about the Iraq war issues.

The term fisking honors journalist Robert Fisk who was a frequent target of point by point deconstruction of his writings done in a highly critical manner. Some of the recent Whitehouse fisking efforts include Setting the Record Straight: The Washington Post On Pre-War Intelligence and Setting the Record Straight: The New York Times Editorial on Pre-War Intelligence. These articles are citation and reference quotations in a point counterpoint format. ‘Here is what was asserted’ is followed by ‘here is the real story.’ There is no nuance. Everything can easily be checked and verified. The contrast between the media story and reality is stark.

What has been amazing is the utter mendacity of the assertions about malfeasance. This is shown by the ease with which the White House can garner conclusions from reports or statements made by those in Congress that contradict the assertions and allegations. Compounding the amazement is the response to the revelation of the mendacity. This seems to have the underlying principle that a lie told strongly enough and with sufficient assertiveness coupled with a ‘who me? lie?’ response is sufficient to carry the day. It is a ‘pot calling kettle black’ with punch and verve tactic.

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Goalposts, where are they now?

It seems that the hand is being called and the goalposts are being moved.

First it was “Bush Lied!” and that was changed to ‘we were misled and deceived.’

Now the Administration is responding to the allegations of twisting intelligence by posting PSA’s fisking a WaPo assertion that White House intelligence was different that that available to Congress and another on remarks by Senator Levin. There has also been a couple of speeches making note of the historical revisionism evident in some of the accusations and allegations.

The talking heads have also been circling the wagons or asking questions, depending upon how attached they are to the issue.

Of course, there are those in the media who see this response to personal attack as something suspicious, perhaps illegal somehow. Others are going through the available material to find quotes and other materials that expose flip flopping or outright misstatements. The idea that maybe anyone trying to get to the bottom of the matter do an internet search for “Iraq, Clinton, 1998″ is another of these revelations that is causing the goalposts to move again.

Since the ‘Bush Lied” doesn’t withstand scrutiny, then the vote on lack of due dilligence didn’t come across very well, something else was needed. This appears to be the “Clinton didn’t go to war” idea. There are problems with that goal post as well. So it appears the goal post movers are getting a lot of exercise.

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“What’s a lie?’ seems to be the new game in town

The “Bush Lied” mole and the ongoing ‘whack-a-mole’ investigations and commentary it stimulates seem to have created some thoughts about how the allegations and accusations of lying are playing games with the concept of deceit and dishonesty. Was it a lie in the first place? Is it a lie to lie about a lie? What was the motivation for the lie and the allegation about a lie? Was it actual deceit or was it ignorance? Was the subject of the alleged lie important or was it the act of lying that was important? Or maybe it is not the alleged lie or the act of lying but rather the allegation? Whack that mole!

On Face the Nation, Powerline notes a question and answer

“Schieffer’s question–“Do you believe it is unpatriotic to criticize the Iraq policy?”–is an outrageous mischaracterization of what Bush actually said.” [John] Senator John McCain replied:

No, I think it’s a very legitimate aspect of American life to criticize and to disagree and to debate. But I want to say I think it’s a lie to say that the president lied to the American people. I sat on the Robb-Silverman Commission. I saw many, many analysts that came before that committee. I asked every one of them–I said, `Did–were you ever pressured politically or any other way to change your analysis of the situation as you saw?’ Every one of them said no.

Rand Simburg has the ‘but’

But the Senator goes too far. In turn, he is in fact guilty of the same thing of which he accuses the Democrats (and the same thing of which many of them falsely accuse the president).

It is not sufficient to make a false statement and be a liar. It has to be made in the knowledge that the statement is false, with the deliberate intent to deceive.

Then Senator Rockefeller in a Chris Wallace interview on Fox News Sunday while trying to create a plausible story about how he was not really responsible for his votes, his statements, and his oversight came up with this revelation in the process of trying to assert he wasn’t lying about an allegation of a lie:

I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq – that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.

It has Logan Act implications and may be connected to extending the time frame Saddam had for clearing his weapons stash before the Iraqi war.

Then there is the problem of Muslim youth seeking Sharia law in French reservations that is getting attention mainly because the MSM acts as if the Muslim part is difficult to get out of its throat.

The plight of the suicide bomber whose equipment malfunctioned is also getting some attention. Her husband’s bomb belt did work as did those of two other ‘colleagues’ but she survived and was captured. The hotel bombing didn’t go over very well and its planners are having a bit of a PR problem.

PR Problem is a code word for a propaganda problem and propaganda is the name for trying to create a perception that may be deceptive.

This is why it is necessary to be appropriately skeptical and to apply some due dilligence in trying to figure out what is really going on.

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Feel good utopia

Dr. Sanity and Wretchard have some thoughts stimulated by the McCain “feel good” effort to ammend some legislation, any legislation, to prohibit what is already prohibited.

In short, war itself has become the object of utopian fantasies. In those utopian fantasies, a perfect country never goes to war in the first place; but if they did, then they would do it perfectly, with perfect human beings behaving in perfectly preordained fashion. The enemy, of course is free to behave in any way they wish.

The goal of the utopian war is not to win, but to demonstate moral superiority.

Sacrifice; thinking; choosing among difficult alternatives; and accepting responsibility for one’s actions–none of these behaviors are appropriate for a utopian war.

The question is about whether one is looking for utopia or living in the real world.

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It doesn’t make sense. It requires faith.

Mark Noonan (05nv10) referring to a Norman Podhoretz commentary Who Is Lying About Iraq?

We’re in a very surreal world. A world in which a part of our own population believes our President is evil and our war against genuinely evil people is wrong. There is, unfortunately, no fix for this – the people opposed to the war long ago left any semblance of rationality behind; they can’t retreat from their positions without admitting supreme idiocy. So, we’ll have to go on like this – fighting a war we must win while an albatross of hate-filled zealots is hung ’round our necks. As I’ve said before, life isn’t fair…but if there is Justice in this world (and I believe there is) then these people who are lying about what went before the war will pay a high price in the by and by.

The question is: ‘what does it take to bring the argument back to reality?’ It is usually not possible to do this by trying to educate those who are adamant in the debate. Instead, the public at large must be provided the information needed to see the difference between the zealots and reality. Only they can call the zealots to account. In the meantime the concern is the price that will be paid.

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Means, motive, opportunity

In the criminal court a large part of a prosecution case is that of establishing that the defendant had the means to commit the crime, some reason for committing the crime, and the opportunity to actually do it. These fundamental criteria establish both necessary conditions as well as a scale for the seriousness of the crime.

Opportunity: was the crime a matter of taking advantage of a situation or was the situation carefully created to facilitate the crime?

Means: was some situation just given a bit of a push over the edge? Was the crime committed with whatever was handy? Or was there careful planning and construction required to carry out the crime?

Motive: Was there an obvious reason for the crime? Was it the result of an emotional outburst? How base is the motivation?

All of these factors work together to convey how important the criminal action was as an assault and afront on civilized society. This, in turn, determines how the criminal is treated by society. It is why there is an insanity defense and why there are degrees for various crimes and why sentencing is complex and subject to judgment.

These factors should also be a part of any rational person’s consideration of allegations and accusations in non-criminal arenas. If someone is accused of some act, it is reasonable to ask why the person would commit that act, whether they really had the means to commit it, and the opportunities they had to get it done.

Consider the idea that some in Congress were mislead and deceived into supporting a war resolution by the President. What reason would the President have for war that Congress would not have? Is this difference significant and appropriate to the scale of action? How does this square with the ‘facts will out’ probability for the longer term?

What was the means the President had to deceive the body whose job was oversight and who had access to the same information? What leverage did he have over those in Congress to sway them to his view? How could he present a case that was not in line with history and the international understanding?

What was the opportunity? How did it differ from previous opportunities? How did the President take advantage of this opportunity to misuse it?

These considerations of means, motivation, and opportunity can be a useful tool in figuring out how seriously to consider the mud slinging that goes on in politics and elsewhere. But to use these considerations it means you need to be informed and you need to think. That takes work. That work is the responsibility of a contributing citizen.

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Why is it a problem?

Kansas recently succumbed to the ID fad. New Scientist reports that the official Kansas policy is that

Intelligent design suggests that living creatures are too complex to have evolved without the influence of an intelligent designer.

The new standards will come into effect in 2007. The board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

What’s the problem?

1) the pessimistic outlook – ‘its too complicated for us to get a handle on it.’

2) redefining concepts to suit one’s proclivities.

The first is in stark contrast to a basic teaching adage that students will rise or sink to meet expectations. The same applies for leaders that the first part of any job is that of internalizing the potential for successful completion.

The second implies a dishonesty. To make a lie a truth all you have to do is to change the meaning of the words. Think about it.

Kansas has gone back and forth on this in the last few years. This just says the anti-science proponents are persistent. Pensylvania has a lawsuit going and the school board members who went for ID were all defeated.

But all of this misses the point. What are public schools for and how does this fit within that mission?

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The fundamental conundrum

J. M. Tyree takes on a bash of ID Malevolent Design: ID in Intelligent Design isn’t just bad science, it’s bad religion (The Revealer 05nv03) that brings in the age old problem of understanding evil.

Self-defeating and incoherent, Intelligent Design is worse than useless, not only as science but also, one imagines, for religious folks who might be attempting to understand God by working backwards from the world as their body of evidence. Inevitably, one begins to wonder more about cluster munitions than bombardier beetles, and the old problem of evil slips in. If He exists, why does God allow evil? Even if you can explain why God designed cancer and HIV, which is no easy task, you are still left with His role in world events from Darfur to Baghdad and New Orleans. Far from being examples of Intelligent Design that reinforce the Christian message, aren’t these kinds of meditations precisely the reasons that many people lose their faith?

While this diverges from the current point of the ID debate (does ID belong in public school science teaching?), it does show how debate can spread and how the destruction of ideas can be a tactic of debate.

The key to this argument, a reduction to the absurd, is that of how people try to understand religion. Tyree points out that teleological arguments have been around for thousands of years. These are the ‘why are we here?’ and ‘who am I?’ questioning being answered with logic and reason. The results of the effort don’t work well.

There are some religions that, essentially, do not have a supreme being because of this logical problem of finding a reason for evil. Other religions have many superior beings acting like super chieftans to try to gain an understanding for evil. The Judeo-Christian based religions, especially Christians with their Holy Trinity, have their own struggle in understanding an omnipotent yet limited supreme being.

We want things we can get a handle on, that we can see and experience directly. Intangibles can make us uncomfortable. Yet, as we can see in the charismatic power of some leaders or in the faith of the truly born again Christian, it is the intangibles that move mountains.

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