Archive for November, 2005

The ability to consider precision

But the problems still remain: the basic science has been politicised to the point where sensible discussion of genuine uncertainty is impossible; the capacity of human society to cope with change, climate or otherwise, is still denigrated; and development is still assumed to be a luxury that should take a backseat in favour of the environment.

Rob Lyons (Spiked Science 05nv04) presents his view about “Blair and others might be casting doubt on the Kyoto Protocol, but the broader consensus on global warming goes unchallenged.” Global warming treaty goes cold

While there is a shift going on in relation to the best method of dealing with climate change, there has been in many ways a closing of minds on the science.

How can we learn when we have already decided what we know? How can we make good decisions when our knowledge is fixed in this way?

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One of the keys in the discussion

It is individual people with their objective expressed behavior that we can discuss!

Captain Ed notes that

After the Washington Times exposed Maryland Democrats as willing participants in racist attacks on Michael Steele and other black conservatives, the embarrassment has caused a number of Democrats to publicly eschew such tactics. Unfortunately, they refuse to condemn the people in their party who practice such behavior on behalf of the party, putting them in the awkward position of condemning racism while excusing the racists:

Throwing Oreo cookies and treating Steele as a traitor to his ethnicity reinforces what Wynn describes perfectly as a herd mentality, and it’s one that Democrats have only been too happy to promote.

It is the specific things that specific people do that are we can condemn or we can praise as appropriate. In the Maryland case we have specific behaviors committed by specific people but a reluctance to hold those people to account for what they actually did.

A few days ago, Sen Reid illustrated the other side of the coin. This was to attempt to hold someone to account for unspecified or vaguely defined behaviors. These behaviors often fall into the category of character assessment rather than objective behavior description.

This is the difference between constructive criticism and judgment. If we can cite something specific and offer an alternative that we think is better, again specific, then we are contributing something that can be examined and evaluated. On the other hand, if we condem something that is more to a person’s character or other attributes and offer nothing that can be used to make things better, then we are casting judgment and not contributing anything of value.

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Battle Stress

In WW II battle stress more than likely came from fear in facing the enemy and its armaments. In Iraq, it appears the stress is at similar levels but it is from a different source. Times online reporter M Smith:

The two senior Royal Army Medical Corps officers, one of whom is a psychologist, have recently returned from Basra, where they said they counselled young soldiers who feared a military police investigation as much as they did the insurgents.

Yes, there is the uncertainty of IED’s and other survival important stress on the combat soldier, but it is the fifth column that is having its impact.

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Matters of bias

It is often the silence which says most.

Note how much coverage there was of the Libby indictment and compare that to the Berger case or the indictments of Cisneros and others of the Clinton Cabinet.

Note how much press coverage was given to rising gas prices and then compare to what you hear as these prices relax.

Then there is the solid economic growth for the last five years and the low unemployment rates and the control of inflation. What hits the news?

The theme of all of this is that you need a referent for what you hear. You may be hearing just part of the story. You are probably just hearing one part of the story unless you take initiative to seek out a diversity of sources.

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Theater sometimes disguises reality

Stephen Straus says The evidence is in: don’t believe CSI (CBC News Viewpoint 05oc31).

And I’m not the only one who’s riveted with the drama of evidentiary truth. The legal world has begun talking about the “CSI effect”: jurors who ask judges why the cigarette butt at the crime scene wasn’t tested for DNA, defence lawyers who pick jurors because they watch the show and thus will bring a more “expert” view to gaps in prosecution science.

Criminals, too, are learning their trade at the school of CSI; British police report a growing trend of tidying-up bad guys who wear gloves and condoms and clear away cigarette butts to throw the criminal scene investigators of the world off their tracks.

Only there’s a problem: however entertaining, it appears CSI science isn’t good, or even mostly trustworthy.

Forensics’ biggest problem appears to be the ego of its experts. What they don’t want to tell juries is how error-prone their supposedly liar-proof evidence is.

Imagine mandating, in the interest of public education, that in a certain number of CSI programs the evidence would be contradictory, or no conclusive evidence of any kind would turn up. Imagine requiring the show’s experts to regularly screw up.

How do you tell how much to believe about what you are being told? How can you tell if you are being shown just selected highlights to tell a story? In terms of TV drama or big screen movies, the issue is just one of suspending the question until after the show. In terms of news and real life decisions, though, the issue can be much more important. It is up to you to make sure you know the context, the accuracy and precision of the measures, and the veracity of the story being told. How do you know what you know? How do you determine the quality of your information? Do you live in TV drama land or do you live in the real world?

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Contrasts and comparisons

When looking at events and reports and stories and opinions these days, the issues can be much clarified by comparisons and contrasts that measure the story, its importance, and its veracity.

As often used to rationalize assertions of dubious quality, there is indeed usually a gray area and things are not always black and white. There are concepts of accuracy and precision that are always necessary to consider when evaluating an observation, report, or opinion.

There is an accuracy involved in any observation that has to be considered so that you can determine if the observation is right in detail, right in context, a matter of a point of view, or whatever. Just how accurate is what is being said? How reliable is the source? Does it fit and make sense? Is it being presented for what it really is?

Precision is another factor to consider. You’d think a casualty count would be a simple counting but consider the debate over civilian deaths in Iraq. Things are not always as simple as they seem. And when it gets to more qualitative and subjective measures, like progress in Iraq or safety at home, it is much more difficult to be precise and objective in a measure or assessment.

One way to learn about the accuracy and precision of an argument is by comparison and contrast. This makes a ruler that can be used for measuring. Compare the argument to history, what was said before, or logical inference and see the measure.

For instance, How does the Plame and Wilson affair compare and contrast with Able Danger? What about the revealing of a covert operations agent name by a Senator in hearings not too long ago? Where do the other CIA leaks and stories fit into this? Why did the rogue prison story break just now? What is important and what is not? Why do some things get a lot of coverage and others not so much?

Another example is the current Democrat Party line that they were mislead into voting for a war in Iraq. How does this jive with their basic responsibilities? How does it compare to what their positions over the last ten or fifteen years? How does it contrast with the several independent investigations that have already released conclusions? What are the implications of their assertion? What would be the motivation?

The presentation of an argument can often be a clue as well. It is much easier to ‘attack’ or qualify a hard argument so those whose intent is not so honest will use softer arguments.

The caualty count in Iraq is one example. The number of soldiers killed is a hard argument. But it is also one that can easily be compared to accident and training death rates or large city crime rates or similar age group suicide rates. These comparisons tend to ameliorate the point of those who use the statistic improperly.

The ad hominem is another. Calling someone a “loser” or a “poor leader” does not address anything that can be easily observed and qualified. Your view of someone’s character is very likely flavored in ways that others may not find pertinent. So arguments that deal with the ad hominem are not likely to be constructive in any reasonable way.

Casting judgment in matters of opinion is another example. Whenever someone is asserting that something is “wrong” or “right” or flawed a comparison is being made. Be sure that you understand the ruler being used and that it is one that can be shared.

The ‘what if’ Socratic questions are one way to compare and contrast. There is always another question to ask, another impication to explore. As you dig, ask whether the questions and answers get bigger or smaller. If the digging gets into trivia, into technicalities, or into parsing minutia, then you have a clue to the true quality of the original issue. If, on the other hand, questioning gets into basic values, how things fit together, and a coherent and consistent big picture, you have a hint that the issue is worthy of discussion.

For example, here is a comparison and contrast from Victor Davis Hanson that illustrates questions that lead to values and a bigger picture of things.

Meanwhile, Westerners far too rarely publicly denounce radical Islam for its sick, anti-Semitic, anti-female, anti-American, and anti-modernist rhetoric. Just imagine the liberal response if across the globe Christians had beheaded schoolgirls, taken over schoolhouses to kill students, and shot school teachers as we have witnessed radical Muslims doing these past few months.

There are a number of media types who are trying to compare the Plame outing to Watergate or Iran Contra with the implication being support for the recent Democrat talking point about ‘culture of corruption’ or ‘come clean’ or malfeasance in the White House. Take the comparison apart and see what stands. Find the measure being used and determine if it is reliable.

France is also providing a comparison and contrast. Some might consider the Paris riots to be a French civil war. Some have called it an intefada. Some have used the Rodney King riots as a measure. Others have placed it into the war on terror and the growing recongition that this has something to do with Islam. This one is still in progress. The issues hit very close to home on the ‘victims riot’ versus the social integration and mixing and racism by victims realizations. It may take a while before various ideological camps make clear their choice of reference. As such, the development of the references for understanding the French civil war will be able to provide a good case study of how comparison and contrast can be useful in understanding what is really going on – both in the world itself and in the perceptions of that world.

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Rosa Parks

Did you know that Rosa Parks was the willing stooge of an evil corporation? In this case it was the municipal transit systems who were looking for a case to use to get rid of burdensome regulations. Thomas Sowell describes the rest of the story at Townhall

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How to read a ‘sky is falling’ story

SF Gate flags Climate study augurs centuries of warming by Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times (05nv02). It predicts doom and gloom and the end of the Artic Tundra all caused by evil humans. Here are some items in the article that should be of particular note when trying to understand how credible it is.

“The question is no longer whether we will need to address this problem, but when we will need to address the problem,” said Kenneth Caldeira, an author of the study and a climate expert at the Carnegie Institution’s department of global ecology, based at Stanford University.

Science has been moved to the realm of politics. This presumes nothing is being done when the fact is that quite a lot is being done. It indicates a bias towards the ‘never enough’ approach to environmental issues and the politicisation of science.

The researchers ran a computer model that simulates the climate system and the flow of heat-trapping carbon into the air in the form of carbon dioxide, then back into soils and the ocean.

These ‘computer models’ are notorious for their inability to model existing known history. They are mathematical equations that are tweaked to obtain desired results. In global warming cases, these tweaks are make to get some correlation with current trends. Then the model is extrapolated to all sorts of interesting conclusions. In other words, you have a measure with great precision but whose accuracy is highly questionable.

The authors stressed that uncertainties are high over such a time span and said the study was intended to illustrate broad consequences rather than to project specific ones.

This is what should be the lead instead of a buried qualifier. It essentially says that all the rest is specualtion and should be taken with a grain of salt.

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There is a smell. Perjury. Obstruction of Justice.

The Opinion Journal asks Obstruction for What? Libby is charged with lying about a crime that wasn’t committed. (05oc29)

Mr. Fitzgerald has been dogged in pursuing his investigation, and he gave every appearance of being a reasonable and tough prosecutor in laying out the charges yesterday. But he has thrust himself into what was, at bottom, a policy dispute between an elected Administration and critics of the President’s approach to the war on terror, who included parts of the permanent bureaucracy of the State Department and CIA. Unless Mr. Fitzgerald can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Libby was lying, and doing so for some nefarious purpose, this indictment looks like a case of criminalizing politics.

There are, of course, those trying to make parallels to the perjury problem of the late nineties. There are at least three fundamental differences that need to be considered. One is that Clinton’s perjury had a motive. This was to escape consequences of misbehavior with an intern. Another difference is that the word parsing was on the part of the defense. In the Libby case the parsing is the substance of the prosecution. A third difference is that the Clinton case involved personal behavior while the Libby case involves politics. These politics are often expressed as matters of national security but Fitzgerald did not find anything to hang a hat on in that area so it is reasonable to assume the politics were primarily matters of policy dispute.

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The problem

The Senate minority party leaders are rationalizing their behavior with a number of established themes that have already been discredited via independent reports and other investigations. This, and the fact that there is a mismatch between their tactics and their expressed goals should cause every US citizen concern. There are ways to do things in Congress. Throwing a tantrum is an extreme measure and there is no reason to believe that more appropriate tactics have been tried or that the allegations used to rationale extreme behavior even exist.

This from Sen Reid’s weblog

Instead of uniting the country around a consensus nominee, the White House has chosen a potentially divisive candidate to distract from its current problems. A Supreme Court nomination is too important to be scripted from the Karl Rove playbook of distract, deceive, and divide.

Here we see two assertions that should raise skepticism. Complete responsibility for cooperation is being placed on only one party and the straw man is introduced as an evil foil.

And while George Bush attempts to distract the country, he knows CIA leak case is bigger than the indictment of Scooter Libby or Karl Rove.

This is a denial of the findings of the special prosecutor’s two year investigation. The assertion about “distract the country” is an absurdity as the President has no control over the MSM and if he was indeed able somehow to exercise this control, Sen Reid’s own ability to express himself contradicts his thesis.

It is about how the Administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions. Now it’s time for President Bush to come clean with the American people.

The war was sold as far back as 1998. We elect representatives such as Senator Reid with an expectation of the exercise of due dilligence. Here is an admission that such due dilligence was not taken. The “come clean” assertion is also problematic in that significant effort and expense to find something dirty has failed. There is no evidence to support that there is anything to “come clean” from.

Now we know there were no WMDs in Iraq and no connection to the terrorists who attacked America on September 11. Yet Republicans, led by George Bush continue to peddle a disingenuous tale: Claiming we attacked Iraq because of September 11th. Every day that these myths continue to be perpetrated by the White House our country becomes less and less safe.

These assertions are refuted by the evidence gathered by several investigations. The “less and less safe” should be noted as FUD mongering because there is no referent for the fearful assertion.

George Bush needs to know this failure of leadership cannot continue. He needs to lay out the facts about Iraq and his strategy to achieve military, political and economic success to bring our troops home.

Here again, unfounded allegation with no decent referent and no measure by which to place it. This is the “failure of leadership.” There is also the “needs to lay out the facts” which is empty because the facts are readily available to anyone who can search the web.

Join me and tell George Bush: You can no longer mislead Congress and the American people. It’s time for an Iraq success strategy that will bring our troops home by clicking here.

Again, an unfounded allegation without referent or measure: “mislead Congress” and that is absurd on its face as it completely ignores the role, function, and scope of authority of Congress. Then there is the “bring our troops home” meme which leaves aside any consideration for the achievement of the goals of the effort or the successes in that effort to date.

Sadly, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Republican leaders have never admitted any of their mistakes to either Congress or the American people. According to the National Journal, in a story that was overshadowed last week: “Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby . . . decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence that erroneously concluded Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction”

Another meme: that of demanding apologies and admission of mistakes for issues of disagreement. Again, an allegation with no reference and no measure.

As far as the Libby allegations, again, extensive investigation has yielded no support for what Sen Reid asserts.

A cloud also hangs over this Republican-controlled Congress for its unwillingness to hold this Republican Administration accountable for its misdeeds on these issues. What has been the response of this Republican-controlled Congress to the Administration’s manipulation of intelligence that led to this protracted war in Iraq? Basically nothing. Did the Republican-controlled Congress carry out its constitutional obligations to conduct oversight? No. Did it support our troops and their families by providing them the answers to many important questions? No. Did it even attempt to force this Administration to answer the most basic questions about its behavior? No.

The cloud is constructed out of whole cloth by Sen Reid. Misdeeds have not been identified in any reasonable manner. The manipulation and obstruction has been lead by Sen Reid in tactics such as fillibuster of nominees, refusal to participate in investigations, and the invocation of rule 21.

What are these “most basic questions” that Sen Reid wants answered? Any that have been raised have been answered time and again and in many different ways. The only factor that seems to bother Sen Reid is that the answers keep coming up with results he does not like and is unwilling to accept.

That is why yesterday I motioned to put the Senate into a special closed session of Congress to force Republicans to discus these important issues of national security. If Republicans will not do their constitutional oversight duty, Democrats will force them to discuss these issues.

Supporting the troops means providing them a strategy for success. We cannot continue to stay the course in Iraq – we must change the course. America can do better and our brave men and women deserve better.

Supporting the troops means providing constructive and reality based criticm. It means that once you have voted you accept the results of that vote.

Saying something does not make it so. Sen Reid is obligated to support his many allegations and accusations. He is also obligated to accept the facts and the situation as it actually exists. Vague, unspecified allegations with no substance or any means to evaluate them are irresponsible. Personal attacks on the President are irresponsible. To cast such irresponsible rhetoric as quoted here is to feed the propaganda machine of those who seek to destroy us.

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More on locked doors

Captain Ed

The press should take careful note of this. In all of the debate over the intelligence and diplomacy leading up to the Iraq War, the Republicans never even entertained locking the doors on the Senate or Congress for the debate. Not once. They offered full public hearings on the issues, and only in committee — and only when appropriate — closed hearings on specifically classified issues. Rule 21 should have been reserved for only the most dire circumstances; instead, Reid has abused it for his petulant tantrums.

The rationale offered for using rule 21 to conduct secret business is that the Bush Lies about Iraq WMD are intelligence matters and should not be revealed in public. This rationale does not hold water. Closed doors and secret debate should be constrained to only those particular matters that require it and even then in the smallest group that can handle the inquiry – as the Senate Intelligence Committee has done to date.

Max Boot’s comments in the LA Times (Plamegate’s real liar 05nv02) about the outcome of the two year independent investigation of the ‘outing’ of Valerie Plame.

Making the best of a weak hand, Democrats argued that the case was not about petty-ante perjury but, as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid put it, “about how the Bush White House manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to bolster its case for the war in Iraq and to discredit anyone who dared to challenge the president.” The problem here is that the one undisputed liar in this whole sordid affair doesn’t work for the administration. In his attempts to turn his wife into an antiwar martyr, Joseph C. Wilson IV has retailed more whoppers than Burger King.

This is not an isolated example. Pretty much all of the claims that the administration doctored evidence about Iraq have been euthanized, not only by the Senate committee but also by the equally bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission. The latest proof that intelligence was not “politicized” comes from an unlikely source — Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, who has been denouncing the hawkish “cabal” supposedly leading us toward “disaster.” Yet, in between bouts of trashing the administration, Wilkerson said on Oct. 19 that “the consensus of the intelligence community was overwhelming” that Hussein was building illicit weapons. This view was endorsed by “the French, the Germans, the Brits.” The French, of all people, even offered “proof positive” that Hussein was buying aluminum tubes “for centrifuges.” Wilkerson also recalled seeing satellite photos “that would lead me to believe that Saddam Hussein, at least on occasion, was … giving us disinformation.”

So much for the lies that led to war. What we’re left with is the lies that led to the antiwar movement. Good thing for Wilson and his pals that deceiving the press and the public isn’t a crime.

Allegations of coverup, conspiracy, and other malfeasance such as those Sen Reid used as a reason for invoking rule 21 have been on the table for more than two years. Congress has oversight and its committee members, even the minority party committee members, have access to as much intelligence or more than the administration does.

It does not take much research to find items such as the 1998 establishment of US policy to overthrow the Iraqi government or to learn about the oversight role of the Senate in intelligence matters. For distinguished leaders such as Reid, Kennedy, Pelosi, and others in their circle to continue to promulgate baseless allegations after repeated investigation fails to support them should raise questions about the intent, purpose, and goals of these leaders. Going to secret session and removing considerations from public view should be treated skeptically. One of the easiest conclusions is that this latest is a stunt for the purpose of destruction of the administration.

Without constructive purpose, an attack on the institutions of the US is an attack on the US. The seriousness of the charge must be matched by a seriousness of the evidence. Baseless charges must be considered for what they are and they must be put in light of the kind of international struggle and conflict faced by the US.

There is not an honest opposition to the duly established policy of the US. And that opposition is engaging in behaviors that appear to feed and nourish the enemies of the US. That is what needs to be put on the table for serious dissection and inspection.

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Senate Rule 21 Invoked

The Democrats have invoked Rule 21 in the Senate, which closes the session to all but senators. It’s the first time in 25 years the Senate has been locked down unilaterally by members of one party. The Democrats are confronting Republicans regarding the war in Iraq, apparently to make it look as though the Republicans are covering up pre-war intelligence hype. But it’s the Democrats who are instigating the lock-up. And it’s the same Democrats who voted for the war resolution, and who voted for the 1998 act that made regime change in Iraq national policy. It was a Democrat administration that generated most of the intelligence data upon which the Iraq war justifications were based. But none of that seems to matter.

It’s all part of a long-standing plan the Democrats have been following to politicize the war in Iraq by any means at their disposal.

Preston goes on to quote a DNC memo of 2003 that describes this tactic in a strategy outline.

The trigger to this event seems to be the failure to find wrongdoing on the administration side in the Plame/Wilson affair. The indictments of Libby regarding his inconsistent testimony did nothing to support the Bush Lied meme.

This is on the same day that an inspection of the meta data in a MS Word document that was circulated to smear Judge Alito revealed that it was created by DNC staff. And it also the day that the Texas smear of DeLay had a judge removed because of leftist activism.

Invoking rule 21 was symbolic as was the failure to provide the usual courtesy to the leaders of the other party that it was in play. The action essentially insulted the chair of the intelligence committee and the majority leaders and slandered the investigative process that has been ongoing into Iraq intelligence matters. It should be taken as a ‘we insist you keep investigating until you get the answers we want’ ploy.

The importance of the action was in its unusual nature, fraudulent foundation, and partisan politics. It is very clear that the minority is trying to insist ‘my way or the highway’ to the majority. To date that majority has been accomodating despite significant abuse. Raising the abuse to this level, especially in conjunction with the judicial nominee brouhaha, is likely to change that level of accomodation. There are many on the right who have been pleading for the majority to act like a majority. This may assist them in their efforts.

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Inflation and the fed

The retirement of Greenspan and the nomination of a successor has caused some introspection about inflation and the role of the federal government. Steve Chapman does this in Unexpected Fed lessons (Washington Times 05oc29) starting with a recollection of the rampant inflation experienced in the 70’s.

When the history of the Federal Reserve is written, one of its most important chapters will cover the period from 1979 to 2006, when the Fed was under the stewardship of Paul Volcker and then Alan Greenspan. That chapter will have a simple title: The Conquest of Inflation.

For those who have grown up in an era of price stability, this may sound like an achievement on the order of kicking sand in the face of a 98-pound weakling. Those who recall the overheated environment of the 1970s know it was more akin to pinning Godzilla. In 1980, inflation hit the blood-curdling level of 14.8 percent. Last year, it rose by 3.3 percent.

Chapman touches on the idea that this change was one of political ideology.

What Messrs. Volcker and Greenspan did about chronically soaring prices, however, may be the least of their accomplishments. Their bigger one was slaying some of the most destructive myths about the economy, thus helping to restore government to a smaller, better role in the nation’s productive sector.

“Slaying the myth…” Sometimes it is difficult to remember just how much of our understanding is very recently acquired, especially in subjects like economics and management. There are a lot of myths built over eons and generations, the common sense, the customary solutions, that are being qualified, honed, and better understood. We tend to take what is the situation today as if it has always been. But this is a world of great change and we can use what we have seen in our lifetime to realize just how much somethings have advanced – and others haven’t, yet.

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