Archive for December, 2005

Do you still believe what you read in the newspaper?

Setting the record straight on the year’s biggest science reporting flubs at George Mason University.

STATS is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to improving public understanding of science and statistics . Each December STATS issues a list of scientific studies that were mishandled by the media during the preceding year. This year’s “Dubious Data Awards” detailing the worst examples of shoddy science reporting go to:

The topics include obesity, toothpaste chemicals, french fry acrylamide, dazed and confused teens, phthalates amd deformities in male infants, poison popcorn, and methamphetamine.

It is interesting that most of these involve contaminants in the food supply but that may be because that is where a relative safety, as measured by statistics, meets FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) factors. People want to know, for sure, with absolute certainty, about safety. Things we ingest through the mouth, such as food, don’t work that way. Whether it is allergens (peanut allergies, anyone?) or contaminants or spoilage or the chemicals used to prevent spoilage and improve flavor and nutrition, it is a statistical measure that measures risk and benefit.

It is numbers and algebra and mathematical literacy needed to properly understand the measure. This requires effort and education. Then, too, playing the odds is not what people want to do when it comes to life. Those looking to get attention know this and don’t seem to know math much so a result is FUD mongering in the MSM such as highlighted by STATS.

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Response to the ID decision

William Murchison provides a typical response to the decision that ID doesn’t belong in biology class in For the Science Room, No Free Speech (Human Events 05dc27). The title of this piece itself is indicative of the fact that the sides of the debate are not arguing to the same issue.

Neither will U.S. Dist. Judge John Jones’ anti-intelligent-design ruling in Dover, Pa., just before Christmas choke off challenges to the public schools’ Darwinian monopoly.

monopoly? just before Christmas? Is this argument loaded, or what?

Jones’ contempt for the “breathtaking inanity” of school-board members who wanted ninth-grade biology students to hear a brief statement regarding Darwinism’s “gaps/problems” is unlikely to intimidate the millions who find evolution only partly persuasive — at best.

Is science a matter of public opinion? Like Ohio that tried to pass legislation defining the value of pi?

This accounts for the widespread desire that children be able to factor in some alternatives to the notion that “natural selection” has brought us, humanly speaking, where we are. Well, maybe it has. But what if it hasn’t? The science classroom can’t take cognizance of such a possibility?

What factors should that classroom use to discriminate between appropriate and innapropriate subject matter in order to be honest with its definition of subject?

Ah. We see now: Federal judges are the final word on good science. Who gave them the power to exclude even whispers of divinity from the classroom? Supposedly, the First Amendment to the Constitution: the odd part here being the assumption that the “free speech” amendment shuts down discussion of alternatives to an establishment-approved concept of Truth.

Is divinity what a science class is about? Does free speech include promulgation of dishonesty?

With energy and undisguised contempt for the critics of Darwinism, … the direction in which Darwinian dogmatists point. Thanks to them and other such foes of free speech in the science classroom

These perceptions and conclusions about the ‘opposition’ indicate that reason and understanding are not a part of the argument being presented.

What seems to have been added recently is the free speech argument. Is there free speech in the classroom for either the student or the teacher? Isn’t this the big issue in the matter of professors and teachers promulgating political points of view in nonpolitical classes? Indoctrination?

The issue is what should be taught in the guise of biological science and who should decide what topics are appropriate. The judge in PA made a ruling on this. ID advocates don’t like that ruling. Murchison provides an example of how the ID advocates respond to the ruling and in so doing discredit their own point of view.

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Here’s an argument for you

Bruce Fein offers this argument in . . . or outside the law? (Washington Times Commentary 05dc28)

Volumes of war powers nonsense have been assembled to defend Mr. Bush’s defiance of the legislative branch and claim of wartime omnipotence so long as terrorism persists, i.e., in perpetuity.

That in itself should be enough for any reasoned reader to dismiss his contribution. He has labeled anyone who disagrees with him as spouting nonsense. In the same breath, he has gone to the binary argument with assertions of “omnipotence.” He has also slipped in a questionable assumption as axiom in the “perpetuity” slam. With such a point of view, there is no room for reason and the issue at hand isn’t one that is anywhere near that cut and dried. But Fein doesn’t even allow for any consideration that it isn’t cut and dried, either.

Other examples of this form of debate:

“other than an unelaborated assertion he is not a dictator”

“President Bush preposterously argues”

“Congress should insist the president cease the spying unless or until a proper statute is enacted or face possible impeachment. The Constitution’s separation of powers is too important to be discarded in the name of expediency. ”

The concluding opinion about separation of powers is one of the central issues in the debate. It warrants a serious debate about the proper balance in various conditions and circumstances. Such a debate is not furthered when it is put on the table with assertions such as Fein makes that completely dismiss any point of view competing with his considerations.

The contrast to this is Michael Barone’s Within …. He offers such “nonsense” as

Indeed, it would be a very weird interpretation of the Constitution to say the commander in chief could order U.S. forces to kill America’s enemies but not to wiretap — or, more likely these days, electronically intercept — their communications. Presidents have asserted and exercised this power repeatedly and consistently over the last quarter-century.

and otherwise provides points that illustrate his view rather than labeling his opposition. He provides examples that one can disagree with and can refute by offering counter example or rationale. This means that Barone offers a means to clarify and expand understanding of issues while Fein closes and hides issues.

What you can learn from this is that you can’t learn much from someone whose viewpoint is established by simple ad hominem labels, dismissal of issues at hand, innapropriate use of binary logic and standards and other such dishonest forms of debate and discussion. How people present their views can often be used as a basis to qualify the quality of those views.

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faux outrage

Outrage after outrage! Impeach the President! Oh my how the President, that Chimpy McBushHitler greedy powergrabber is stomping on the rights of the world’s citizens and wantonly killing everyone and spying on the rest!

The power-mad Bushies have done this in a diabolical attempt to get early warning of terrorists preparing to use a nuclear or dirty bomb against an American city. According to the story, this program is fraught with all sorts of subtle privacy issues.

Mac Johnson talks about how Bush Violates Terrorists’ Nuclear Privacy (Human Events 05dc26). This is another story about how the US is pulling information from the ether to find terrorists and prevent attacks that is being taken as an assault on civil rights and liberties.

The reason many searches are regulated by constitutional law is they can impose a significant burden upon the searched, and the search can reveal much more than its target. For example, having a policeman search your body cavities or rifle through your personal possessions is potentially unpleasant and demeaning and could lead to the revelation of personal information unrelated to any legal investigation. But what can measuring roadside radiation levels reveal — other than your possession of materials causing unusual roadside radiation levels?

The 4th ammendment says “unreasonable searches and seizures.” There is a legitimate need for an honest debate about what is reasonable. This honest debate must be based on a real world reference of the needs of society as a whole balanced against the conveniences of the individual. The baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater.

The degree to which the mainstream media’s hatred of President Bush has pushed it into a state of logical incoherence is simply amazing. But even more amazing is that this incoherence is not lessened even by the basic human desire to protect innocent people’s lives. “Exposing” the government’s radiation monitoring program in such detail will not help the public fend off any real assault on our liberties. Neither does it contribute to any significant political debate. It won’t even harm Bush politically. All it does is inform our terrorist enemies what measures we have taken to catch them before they can harm us, and allow them to attempt more effective countermeasures.

The picture of Elian Gonzales was famous because it touched on an image of the invasion of the home by jack booted thugs. That episode didn’t get much MSM outrage. The case of the heat sensors looking for hidden marijuana gardens is another where looking inside the home was considered innapropriate. Then there was the taping of the Gingrich cell phone conversation where the outrage wasn’t on violtation of law but on the content of the conversation.

Now we have usage of information or evidence placed outside the home – intercepted communications or radiation – being used as instigations for outrage. Issues of war versus criminality and succeeding utilization of information gathered is being ignored. The degree of perturbation of the individuals or their defined property during a search is being ignored. Prior debate in court is ignored.

Any wonder why an impression of faux outrage is a reasonable perception?

UPDATE: also see Dr. Sanity’s Hostile Beyond Reason for a view about what this might mean.

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Eavesdropping, trust, and delegation

Rick Moran discusses Liberty, privacy, and survival in the age of terror (American Thinker ofdc21) and notes several points beyond the usual big brother FUD mongering.

The above is speculation, of course, because no one really knows and, unless the we’ve all completely lost our senses, no one should know. For if our enemies ever learned how the system actually worked, they could take steps to neutralize it. Even the pitifully small amount of information that has come to light could have damaged our ability to track and thwart the designs of our enemies. And herein lies the great conundrum involving our liberty and our survival.

This compact of trust between government and its citizens has been mangled almost beyond repair both by the actions of overzealous intelligence agencies as well as a cynicism born of nearly 4 decades of Presidential misconduct. It is one thing to have a healthy skepticism involving those in power. It is quite another to automatically assume that the occupant of the White House is an evil, power-mad Big Brother who would use the capabilities of government snooping for nefarious purposes.

At bottom, the trust we placed in Mr. Bush by re-electing him must have at its core a belief that he is doing his best to protect us while not violating our cherished rights. This is essentially what living in a democracy means. Anything else, and we might as well crown a king or anoint a dictator to protect us. That way, we would simply do as we’re told and not have to worry about trusting anyone.

There is, and must be, a limit to oversight. We delegate certain tasks and, like effective managers, we should avoid micro-managing. Yes we need accountability. But we also need to realize that those who are doing the job have an acquaintance with the situation, an expertise, and an environment that we do not. We ‘hire’ them to get the job done and it is unreasonable for us to demand or expect that we know every last detail of its doing. We delegate that and must trust, with oversight and accountability at an appropriate level, that the job will be done properly. We have out own jobs to do that require our attention.

An election is where we choose persons with the values and other attributes we desire in those we want to get the job done. What seems to have happened is that those whose candidate did not win the election have decided that cynicism and not skepticism is the appropriate approach. The effort is no longer a matter of appropriate supervision but rather that of an effort to find fault to condemn and malign. – ever had a boss or a spouse like that? It is a famous stereotype.

Stephen Spruiell provides an example of where a cynical effort can lead in Media-Manufactured Controversies: 2005 Year in Review. Remember the tale about crying wolf? That illustrates just how old the advice is to warn the cynic and FUD mongerer about the seriousness of his efforts. If you spend all of your credibility raising questions that do not have the import originally asserted for them, you will have no credibility left if you raise a question that actually has significance.

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The ID decision

Steve Verdon describes Waterloo in Dover (Outside the Beltway 05dc21) and provides a link to the decision about Intelligent Design in the science classroom.

So, we have a decision that debunks the “academic freedom” argument, the “teach the controversy argument”, that “ID is science” argument, and leaves proponents of ID, creationism and their supporters with very little left to stand on.

The argument regarding ID presents the false view that evolution and the Bible are mutually exclusionary. There is also the misdirection involved in the definition and meaning of science education. This decision seems to describe these fallacies in argument but the continued tenure of the effort bespeaks a dellusion that will likely not rest with this trial decision.

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Behind the NSA leak worries

The NYT leaking a story about NSA tapping into communications has surfaced a number of issues and concerns.

Some have made the a priori assumption that the surveilance is illegal. period. This assumption has the conspiracy problem in that a whole squad of government lawyers as well as number of Congressional leaders would have to be a part of the effort to commit the crime.

There are those who are aghast at the invasion of privacy by anyone who could or would eavesdrop on any private conversation in any way whatsoever.

There are people like Sen Reid who now demand an investigation while admitting that they new of the program months ago – but don’t explain why they didn’t demand the investigation then.

There is the knowing revelation of classified information by the NYT which is clearly a criminal matter. And there is also the timing related to book publishing and partisan issues.

There are those whose suspicions are so high that they just can’t accept a ‘terrorists only’ assertion by the administration and figure any surveilance is just a start down a slippery slope that has probably already occurred but we just don’t know it yet. This seems to approach the cynic versus skeptic problem.

There is the collection of amateur lawyers who are parsing the FISA law and its history word by word and then constitutional privilege and the separation of powers.

There are those who note that such activity has a long history and is just a continuation of established practice.

There are those, and it seems this is a very small group, who realize they don’t know the full story. They don’t know for sure exactly what was done. They don’t know the technologies used. They only have a sketch of the process used for accountability.

What does stand as evidence is that there is no evidence. If there was surveilance there was no persecution of a US citizen to demonstrate an unreasonable search or seizure as cited by the 4th ammendment. Like the allegations about the PATRIOT act, those who are making the most fuss do not have anything that shows any substance to their assertions. The presumption of guilt without any evidence is perhaps the most troubling aspect of this episode.

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Wondering why – and why the media doesn’t

David Limbaugh makes a list of questions that, themselves, raise questions.

If the MSM were indeed objective and animated by an investigative impulse and a nonpartisan, government-watchdog instinct, they might thoroughly cover and inquire into the following:

Limbaugh’s list includes seventeen items that wonder about position reversals, conundrums, unsupported allegation and accusation, and other such things. These would normally be the kinds of things the media would be investigating in order to present a clear picture of events and happenings.

But the questions remain and are often compounded by what the media actually reports.


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Defense behavior review

Dr. Sanity provides a quick review of defense mechanisms categorized by level of psychological pathology: psychotic, immature, neurotic, or mature. Examples are provided for each technique.

These behaviors should be considered when evaluating arguments. You might find them in unexpected places and being able to place them might help you understand the debate better.

But, of course, one needs to be careful because perceptions that lead to conclusions can also be defensive. Objective observation and analysis of behavior is something that seems very easy but turns out to be extremely difficult.

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Suspicious of the NSA

The New York Times, after careful consideration for a year or so, broke a story just after the Iraq election and also at just the time the PATRIOT act was being fillibustered and McCain’s ‘Al-Quaida bill of rights’ accepted that implies illegal invasion of privacy by the administration. Captain Ed discusses this in NSA Snoops And PATRIOT Acts = 4 Years Of No Attacks?

the core of the issue is this: the NSA and the administration defined international communications as including those where one end — and one end only — occurs in the US. Anything else still requires a warrant, as the Times acknowledges. Moreover, this effort did not take place in darkness. The FISA court did get informed of the issue, and the leaders of the oversight committees in both houses of Congress from both parties took part in the decision. It does not appear that the Bush administration sought to hide this from the other two branches of government, but sought to include them in the oversight of the new process as much as possible within the secrecy needed to conduct the program during wartime.

He thinks that this is a good time to have a debate because a bit of time has elapsed since 9/11 to calm things down and yet the issue is pressing and important.

let’s be clear about the stakes involved in this debate: does the Constitution allow the United States to take the necessary actions to defend itself against asymmetrical warfare without unduly curtailing individual liberties? Does the Constitution require us to sacrifice thousands, perhaps millions, of our citizens to murderers and infiltrators simply because we might not like the idea of international communications being subject to random monitoring?

Captain Ed also suggests additional reading:

Please see postings at various blogs such as Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, the threads on The Corner, and numerous links and excellent original commentary at Instapundit as well.

There are many corners to this one. It is a ‘big brother’ allegation FUD mongering about the government invasion into our ‘private’ lives. There is suspicion that the story is politically driven both by the NYT and by inside bureaucrats who despise the current administration. One should also not forget the “it takes a village” ethos which derives community from shared intimate knowledge. This is also linked to the Able Danger project as a ‘data mining’ effort to cull out suspicious activity. A creative person could also tie in the secret prisons scandal and other leaks of privileged information about war on terror conduct.

What often gets left out of the dialog about privacy is the protections in the system and the distinction between having information and using information (remember all the talk about connecting the dots after 9/11?). The fundamental protection of a US citizen is that information not properly obtained cannot be used in a trial. In addition to this are the civil remedies for distribution of private information. And, on top of that, are those reasons that are being circulated as to why the report of the last independent investigator is being suppressed by Democrats, which again seems linked to the Able Danger project.

The problem with the idea for debate, though, is that all sides need to enter such a debate with intellectual integrity. The response of Reid to Bush’s presumption of innocence – in line with American tradition and law – or the response of Pelosi to a House resolution about victory in Iraq tend to cast doubt on whether or not the debate could indeed be engaged honestly.

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What’s no quite so in the education argument

Education Myths by Jay P. Greene. collects the latest research on education policy and uses it to debunk and take down the myths and mistaken beliefs that seem to permeate the education policy debate. (ht Kevin Holtsber, RedState 05dc16)

1. The Money Myth — “Schools perform poorly because they need more money.”
2. The Special Ed Myth — “Special education programs burden public schools, hindering their academic performance.”
3. The Myth of Helplessness — “Social problems like poverty cause students to fail; schools are helpless to prevent it.”
4. The Class Size Myth — “Schools should reduce class sizes; small classes would produce big improvements.”
5. The Certification Myth — “Certified or more experienced teachers are substantially more effective.”
6. The Teacher Pay Myth — “Teachers are badly underpaid.”
7. The Myth of Decline — “Schools are performing much worse than they used to.”
8. The Graduation Myth — “Nearly all students graduate from high school.”
9. The College Access Myth — “Nonacademic barriers prevent a lot of minority students from attending college.”
10. The High Stakes Myth — “The results of high-stakes tests are not credible because they’re distorted by cheating and teaching to the test.”
11. The Push-Out Myth — “Exit exams cause more students to drop out of high school.”
12. The Accountability Burden Myth —”Accountability systems impose large financial burdens on schools.”
13. The Inconclusive Research Myth — “The evidence on the effectiveness of vouchers is mixed and inconclusive.”
14. The Exeter Myth — “Private schools have higher test scores because they have more money and recruit high-performing students while expelling low-performing students.”
15. The Draining Myth — “School choice harms public schools.”
16. The Disabled Need Not Apply Myth — “Private schools won’t serve disabled students.”
17. The Democratic Values Myth — “Private schools are less effective at promoting tolerance and civic participation.”
18. The Segregation Myth — “Private schools are more racially segregated than public schools.”

In any debate, framing the question often determines the quality of the dialog. Greene’s list does a good job of framing some of the more commonly argued questions in public education. For one measure of the myth, read his book and evaluate his arguments. This would be especially valuable if you don’t think one of these myths is really a myth. Then you’d know what you are arguing against.

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Confused presentation and tortured logic

Tony Blankley discusses Bad faith (Washington Times 05dc14) by political leaders whose words seem to be rather confused. What they are saying doesn’t make sense when compared to what they say they are saying.

Once upon a time, the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre shrewdly and stingingly criticized self deceivers with the charge of bad faith (mauvaise foi): the self-deceptive motives by which people often try to elude responsibility for what they do.

Now would be a good time to review the applicability of such bad faith to the politicians who claim to have our national security at heart even as they call for surrender and retreat.

There are two approaches one can take when someone is confused about what you say. One of them is to attack the listener for being ignorant and stupid and unable to understand the plain truth of what you say. The other is to accept the confusion as feedback telling you that your message needs a bit of work. In the self help market, this is the difference between the ‘you’ message and the ‘I’ message. It is whether or not one accepts responsibility for one’s own views and expression.

In this case of bad faith, Blankley points out that the collection of assertions being made in some quarters does not have consistency of meaning. The effort to reconcile one statement with another becomes an exercise in tortured logic. Lots of explanations are offered and the meanings of words are carefully parsed. These are indications that the views and opinions being expressed lack intellectual integrity and need a bit more self understanding to avoid a confused presentation.

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What did Spain do with the Aztec gold?

You know, all that gold taken from the Aztecs and Incas during the days after Columbus started the rape of the new world?

A column (reference lost) raised the question and provided an answer. This provided an interesting contrast to current economic conditions as described by Charles Bird. What is comes down to is that the gold from the new world was analogous to printed money. It did not reflect real wealth like that the US is developing in the productivity growth described by Charles. Printed money is more like what happened to the German mark in the thirties. It causes inflation.

Real wealth, such as the US economy is currently producing, raises the standard of living. Real wealth means more things are available at less cost. Fewer farmers and fewer acres provide more food. New things (and technologies) that are invented cure disease, improve communications, facilitate manufacturing, enable ideas to become even more things.

The concept to ponder is the difference between gold mined to be put on the market and gold obtained by whatever means to be used as money to purchase other things.

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Can’t hear? Or don’t want to acknowledge the message?

Matt notes another one of those hearing problems like the WMD causation or yellowcake issues. In this one, an ex president is bashing a current president, which is a rather recent phenomena in itself.

Clinton, in an applause-filled appearance at the Montreal meeting, said President Bush was “flat wrong” to claim that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to fight global warming would damage the U.S. economy.

As Matt notes,

Early in Bush’s presidency, he explained his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. He said he opposed it “because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the U.S. economy.”

It was the Senate in 1997 that voted 95-0 against the Kyoto treaty stating that harm to economy was a concern. Nothing happened until the new administration took office. What has happened since is a lesson in Media Bias as well as a lesson in rational action. But you have to really have a sharp eye on the news to note the agreements – with those major population centers – and other actions to reduce greenhouse gases.

The current administration does more than talk. But there seems to be little listening and even less notice of action – except to complain about it.

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In The Panic Over Iraq by Norman Podhoretz, the subject of mistakes is discussed (among many other things). There has been a continuing harangue for the President to apologize for these mistakes. The lack of apologies and the absence of even admitting mistakes is then taken as a grievous indication of malfeasance and incompetence. Take a look at these “mistakes” starting with a qualification.

at the risk of exposing myself as another highly educated fool, I must confess that I too think we need to be reminded that mistakes happen in all wars,

the main one is based on an outright falsification of the facts. This is the accusation that no thought was given to what would happen once we got to Baghdad and no plans were therefore made for dealing with the aftermath of the combat phase. Yet the plain truth is that much thought was given to, and many plans were made for dealing with, horrors that everyone expected to happen and then, mercifully, did not. Among these were: house-to-house fighting to take Baghdad; the flight of a million or more refugees; the setting of the oil fields afire; and the outbreak of a major civil war.

A related group of alleged “mistakes” turn out on closer inspection to be judgment calls, concerning which it is possible for reasonable men to differ. The most widely circulated of these—especially among supporters of the war on the Right—is that there were too few American “boots on the ground” to mount an effective campaign against the insurgency.

Finally, there are “mistakes” that were actually choices between two evils—choices that had to be made when it was by no means obvious which was the lesser of the two. The best example here is the policy of “de-Baathification.”

It is one thing to have an opinion and another to cast judgment. Allegations of mistakes are matters of casting judgment. They imply that the accuser is better informed and otherwise superior to be able to decide what is a mistake and define what is a matter of truth rather than opinion. This is called hubris when taken to extreme.

Podhoretz’s classification of Bush ‘mistakes’ can also be called the dishonest, the differing opinions, and the political hay categories. Those who take umbrage in casting judgment do so by distorting reality, misrepresenting their opinions as truth, or picking out circumstances to demogogue those they do not like.

The first step in getting to the bottom of things is to recognize that the presumption of mistakes is a given so that raising the point must have a reason to discover. If the allegation of mistakes is accompanied by pleas for admission of guilt and apology, then it can be considered a request for submission and surrender.

In regards to Iraq, it is particularly of note that those asking the President to submit and surrender to his political opponents are also demanding that the country retreat in defeat from Iraq.

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Is treason going out of fashion?

J.B. Williams talks about Committing Treason: Providing Aid and Comfort Adhering and Abetting (Canada Free Press 05dc08). Starting with the definition and the court established criteria, he then looks at the statements of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) on November 14, 2005.

According to the definition of treason spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, and Senator Rockefeller’s own account, there has not been a more clear-cut case of treason in modern history. Yet the so-called American press has been completely silent on the subject, which is of course, a form of “aiding and abetting” in and of itself.

and the conclusion?

No American politician has the nerve to publicly accuse another American politician of treason today. The old media are complicit in the effort and nearly half of the American population sees nothing wrong with undermining their country, its principles, its security or its troops, especially if it somehow serves their political agenda.

Where does that leave real Americans truly concerned about our national security, the American way of life and our children’s future?

The words treason and sedition are beginning to surface in whispers. The concern about such behavior can be seen in complaints about questioning patriotism even though no such questioning has occurred. People are worried that their political attacks may be perceived as treason rather than as appropriate criticism. But rather than reforming their attacks, they accuse anyone who doesn’t go along with their false reality of accusing them – in a preemptive manner.

When political leaders, such as Senator Rockefeller, make statements that are near confessions of treason, they should not be surprised to hear themselves described in such terms. When political leaders bash and trash rather than critique and suggest, they too should not be surprised to have it noted that they are engaged in destruction and not construction.

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Truth in media and personal responsibilities

Tom Smith at Information week notes some recent cases of libel in public media.

John Seigenthaler–who was assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the 1960s–was incorrectly identified on Wikipedia as having been viewed as potentially involved in the assassinations of John F. and Robert Kennedy. In his own words, Seigenthaler provided a wrenching account of the pain this caused him. …

Much as I feel for Seigenthaler and others who’ve been burned by malicious individuals or factual inaccuracies through wikis, I also recognize and clearly see the power of reader-submitted content on Web sites. It’s a trend that’s not going to go away, any more than blogs will go away, despite the best efforts of Forbes magazine. The trend is somewhat problematic for the publishing business, given our training in fact checking and taking extensive measures to make sure content is bulletproof. Wikis today have no analogous methodology for prepublication review and analysis.

One problem, of course, is the hubris in claiming “our training in fact checking and taking extensive measures to make sure content is bulletproof” in light of the many recent examples to the contrary in major media. At least the major media is not anonymous and this is key to accountability.

In personal electronic media, such as the wiki cited or weblogs or email, it is possible to cast libel and remain anonymous. In some egregious cases, this anonimity has been broken but in many cases irresponsible rhetoric has been promulgated without any accountability.

In the past, psuedonyms have been used to protect authors. The need for such protection can be seen in the situations faced by authors who have dared criticize certain aspects of the Muslim religion.

But there is also a need to refute and reveal slander and libel. Part of this is in the reader being held to account for his source of information and proper qualification of his sources. Another part is that of holding those who claim a profession of reporting to intellectual integrity. A third part is that of holding representatives and political leaders to account for their assertions and statements.

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Perusing the net

Here are some stories and ideas that might be of interest.

Feds not first in line for blame – Hurricane damage, an editorial. – McCain: Senate aiding and abetting enemy – questioning patriotism? A view on the Senate resolution votes.

Mudville Gazette – a bit about casualties in Iraq and modern miracles.

Opinion – Gerard Baker US Editor Times Online

PERHAPS THE biggest weapon in the arsenal of America’s critics is carefully selective amnesia. Conveniently forgetting important historical facts enables tactical amnesiacs to make claims about US policy that seem to support their contention that the country’s government is uniquely evil.

House Joint Resolution Authorizing Use of Force Against Iraq, October 10, 2002 – Why we are in Iraq and how it was authorized.

Science Musings by Chet Raymo

One need not accept Sigrid Undset’s theology to learn important truths about human nature from her medieval tales. By taking us back to a time when love, family, childbirth, sexual passion, bloodlust, greed and death were more starkly rendered by the mere struggle to survive, she forces us to reflect upon our own reasons for being faithful and good.

The Iraq story: how troops see it | – What a soldier sees on the front and what many see in their newspapers are often in conlfict.

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