Archive for January, 2006

Connecting the dots

Business Week talks about how Math Will Rock Your World

This industrial metamorphosis also has a dark side. The power of mathematicians to make sense of personal data and to model the behavior of individuals will inevitably continue to erode privacy. Merchants will be in a position to track many of our most intimate purchases, and employers will be able to rank us not only by productivity, but by wasted minutes. What’s more, the rise of math can contribute to a sense that individuals are powerless, a foreboding that mathematics, from our credit rating to our genomic map, spells out our destiny.

This is not a new story. It is, as usual with a lot of technofud, an old story in new clothes.

There are those that pine for the good ol’ days with close knit neighborhoods. This was when the few merchants available knew their customers in much the same way that is the worry about privacy. Even worse, your neighbors often had an even more intimate knowledge about you and your family.

As in the story about the King’s new clothes, the invasion of privacy, in this case noticing that the new clothes were no clothes, didn’t make much of a difference until someone acted on the knowledge gained in the privacy invasion.

In criminal matters, prosecutors who invade privacy improperly loose the opportunity to gain evidence from that invasion. In civil matters, privacy invasion becomes grist for a lawsuit when secret knowledge is divulged or used in some innapropriate manner.

What technology is doing is making the knowledge more accurate and less expensive. It changes the flavor but not the underlying issues related to how that knowledge is used.

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May you live in interesting times, indeed.

There is so much going on so near that it is breathtaking trying to get a handle on things much less trying to describe them. Senator Byrd has heard from his constituents, loud and clear. Yet his colleagues in Massachusetts continue their charade of turning a judicial appointment into a politcal campaign. Then you look at Venezuela, the new Mexican border wars, the Canadian elections and their stimulus.

The Winds of Change HateWatch Briefing 27 January 2006 was cited by RantingProf as thorough and well done, depressingly well done.

This briefing will be looking hard at the dark places the mainstream media sometimes seem determined to look away from, to better understand our declared enemies on their own terms and without illusions. Our goal is to bring you some of the top jihadi rants, idiotarian seething, and old-school Jew-hatred from around the world, leaving you more informed, more aware, and pretty disgusted every month.

There are examples of religious hate, idiotarian seething, race and culture conflict, and perhaps even a hopeful note. Mass murder, anti semitism, beheadings, church burning, kidnappers, psuedo martyrs, advocating violence in the name of peace, race baiting, race riots, Holocaust denial, and on. And that is only taking samples of recent events.

Is it that we can communicate better and see more or is it the times we live in? Why such differing views of reality? Why such passion to the point of being a blinding passion?

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Figuring what’s important

Matt thinks Democrats Don’t Need More Time For Questioning and cites statistics from the Alito nomination hearings. The breakdown provides an interesting measure of what is considered important in the current political debate.

Abortion: 101
Executive Power: 94
Judicial Philosophy/Role of Courts: 71
Concerned Alumni of Princeton: 49
Vanguard/Ethics: 49
Commerce Clause, Federalism, Congressional Power: 42
Other: 28
Race: 23
National Security/Wiretapping: 20
Religion: 16
Habeas/Death Penalty: 15
Criminal Procedure/4th Ammendment: 11
Plaintiffs’ and Consumers’ Rights: 8
Gener: 7
Reapportionment: 6
Disability: 6

TOTAL: 546

Abortion is the long standing issue. Executive power is also an ancient issue that has been resurrected in an effort to smear and impugn by a minority party that cannot get the votes it wants. The role of the courts is the highest in this list that has a recent trend of change. The Concerned Alumni issue sets a boundary between issues of major significance and those where the debate has devolved into political gamesmanship.

The fact that less than 50% of the questions were on the three most significant issues and better than 18% were about manufactured attempts to generate scandal is a measure of just how much reasoned debate has succumbed to power politics.

The issue at hand is third in the list. It is the question that boils down to whether or not a reasonable person can anticipate the outcome of court rulings. When the courts are plagued by split decisions, either the law is not clear or the court is finding ambiguity that doesn’t really exist. This is the realm of legislation by the judiciary.

The importance of this is seen in that it is related to issues 2, 3, 6, and 12 comprising 40% of the questions asked. The issue is how the citizen is protected and represented by the three branches of government. The fact that it is so popular in the Alito hearings is testimony to significant discomforts about how the balance between these entities has been changing in recent times. In this light, even the most popular topic, abortion, can be seen not as a matter of health and welfare but rather of the balance between the citizen and the government and between a state and the federal government.

It is a matter of definition and the identity of self as a part of a greater society. Lofty philosophy meets the street and the issues are hashed out and beat to submission for a real expression that defines the country.

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Plenary Powers

Carol asked Why So Hard to Understand? of Senator Feinstein, who harangued the President about plenary powers.

This thing about plenary powers of the executive has been a long standing talking point. It shows in the allegations that the President is a facist dictator. It shows as one of the dead horses being beaten by the minority party in the Alito nomination hearings.

But what doesn’t show is evidence. The evidence points elsewhere.

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What is all this about a unitary executive?

One of the topics that appeared very much a concern to the opposition in the Alito hearings was about a unitary executive. In light of all the allegations about a boot stomping, facist dictator running roughshod over the rights of citizens and such, it is easy to miss what this one is really all about.

The unitary executive idea is that the President has complete control over the executive branch of the government and all of its components. This is an issue because of the entrenched bureaucracy in many government agencies that does not see things the way the President does. The leaks about sensitive affairs and tell-all books are inidcations of the friction that results.

Bruce Fein describes the concept and its history in Presidential powers defended (Washington Times 06ja17)

The Founding Fathers understood that a plural executive would confound accountability and the identification of officials responsible for wrongdoing. Alexander Hamilton amplified in Federalist 70: “[T]he plurality of the executive tends to deprive the people of the two greatest securities they can have for the faithful execution of any delegated power, first, the restraints of public opinion, which lose their efficacy, as well on account of the division of the censure attendant on bad measures among a number as on account of the uncertainty on whom it ought to fall; and, second, the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness the misconduct of persons they trust, in order either to their removal from office or to their actual punishment in cases which admit of it.” Article II, section 3 of the Constitution thus entrusts the faithful execution of the laws to the president alone. James Madison further explained in the First Congress: “Vest the power in the Senate jointly with the President and you abolish at once that great principle of unity and responsibility in the executive department, which was intended for the security of liberty and the public good. If the President should possess alone the power of removal from office, those who are employed in the execution of the law will be in their proper situation, and the chain of dependence shall be preserved; the lowest officers, the middle grade, and the highest will depend, as they ought, on the President, and the President on the community.”

In other words, the opposition sees the dilution and sharing of the executive authority as a means of control and limitation that they want to enhance and protect and continue – at the same time that they are complaining loudly about the lack of any such limitation and control. Their efforts to dillute the unitary concept of the executive are attempts to obfuscate accountability and do their own boot stomping, roughshod running over of a branch of government that exists to balance their power.

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Oh, another thing about Maryland’s Wal Mart thing.

There is a big brouhaha about money in politics and how evil greedy megacorporations buy politicians and run roughshod over the people.

How does Maryland passing a law mandating its largest corporation spend many millions fit into this? Shouldn’t that corporation have been able to prevent such a law being passed because of its power and influence?

This particular paradox is raised now and again. What should be noted is how it is refuted or dismissed. Often the tactics used in the debate can say more than the topic of the debate.

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Just why is a corporation, anyhow?

Dean takes off on quite a rant about Maryland’s requiring Wal Mart, and only Wal Mart, to contribute towards employee health care. The rant and many of the comments that follow seem to have a leftist view of one of the chief accountability methods of modern capitalism. The debate on forcing employers to spend money on employee benefits is one thing. The problems with understanding the nature and reasons for corporations, especially in the obfuscation of size of organization and structure of organization, should warrant concern.

Wal-Mart isn’t a person, it’s a paper beast that can only exist because the state wills it to exist.

The fact is that a publicly-traded Chapter C corporation is not an individual. It is a creation of, a fiction sustained by, the government. Without government, few if any corporations would be able to exist–period.

Furthermore, large corporations like Wal-Mart, due to the artificial advantages that they have over the everyday businessman–you know, an actual PERSON who runs a business, who has a face, who has to answer to people, who has the limitations of a human being–gets squeezed out by these giant collectivist enterprises we call corporations.

But since the state provides all these special powers and privileges to corporations, then Wal-Mart can continue for centuries. “Lassez-Faire” my butt: Wal-Mart and other corporations like them are not examples of free markets in action, they’re examples of what happens when the state allows businessmen to set up fake paper “persons” with state-sanctioned “rights” and requires the courts and everyday people to recognize all that.

The paper entity known as Wal-Mart–a golem that can only exist because the government lets it–destroys small businesses, and a lot of jobs that go with those small businesses.

And more in this vein.

The question that comes out of this is why a state would do this? If incorporation was such an awful thing, why do states have extensive law on the books for forming and operating these things? And that doesn’t even begin to address the law regarding publicly traded corporations. Think Enron. Think Sarbanes-Oxley. Then think of the private corporations, the small ones, the nonprofit ones, and so on. Is there something special in being a large one that makes it different from being a small one in regards to the points of the rant? How big is big? Where is the line? What defines it?

Liability is one thing that shows in the rant. But then, what about LLC’s and other such forms of business that also provide liability protections for individuals in business? What is the trade-off that makes such laws a reasonable contract?

The question from another point of view is to wonder what would happen of there were no definition in law for corporations. Here, the history can be a source of learning. Dean does mention it:

the government began to declare that individuals could set up their own corporations if they followed certain rules, and that courts must grant these fictional state creations certain rights.

What seems to go right by the board is this “if they followed certain rules.” Why would an organization trade its freedom, subject itself to “certain rules” if it didn’t have some inducement to do so?

The fact is that we do have very large and well financed business entitites existing in many states that are not incorporated. These are organizations who don’t want to be bound by any rules. They are also organizations that can provide an example of what the state gains by its corporate laws. What organizations are these? Think drug cartels for one.

Wal Mart doesn’t exist because the State of Maryland wills it to exist. It isn’t faceless, either. Without government, there would be no need for incorporation and any agreements between financial entities and social groups would be much like what we see in the mid-east, for example, and are trying to change in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Wal Mart will not continue for centuries just because it enters into a contractual agreement with Maryland called incorporation. It, like all other business entities must compete successfully else it will fail as many other incorporated entities, large and small, have in the past.

Wal Mart does not go around destroying other businesses like a mean ogre and destroying jobs and economies. It must stay within the law regarding appropriate business practice and, because of its size, is often under a scrutiny many other businesses can avoid. The whole issue in Maryland is due to the very large number of employees it has. Saying it destroys jobs seems rather conflicted in this light.

There are many good issues that get buried when basic business law gets lost in such animosity as this. Many have been hashed out in making the laws that exist today. The corporate liability shield will only go so far as Enron executives found out. Size has its efficiencies but also its problems as anyone trying to grow a business finds out. Incorporation ads a level of taxation and regulation that should influence anyone looking to use this form of business. Going public and seeking outside venture capital is a completely different game. The stress of competition and its impact on efficiency and focus and business knowhow is also tied up in this.

But how can any constructive learning occur when rants like Dean’s cloud the issues?

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Been there, done that. Remember the Articles of Confederation?

William R. Hawkins presents a history lesson in Democrats vs. the Constitution ( 06ja11)

Antiwar leftists have returned to another theme from the Vietnam era: claiming that President George W. Bush is violating the Constitution in his vigorous prosecution of the war against terrorists.

The Bush administration has cited a number of laws and legal precedents to support its powers, as well as the actions of previous administrations from both parties. But President Bush has also cited inherent powers under the Constitution, so it is important to understand what the Founding Fathers were trying to do when they wrote it.

The principal failing of the Articles of Confederation was the lack of a strong central authority in defense and foreign policy.

As the world’s leading power, trying to defend its security and interests in a time of global turbulence, terrorist threats, and foreign wars, the United States cannot tolerate the kind of partisan politics that create “impotence, perplexity and disorder.” Whether motivated by a ideology of defeatism or mere self-interest, opponents of effective national leadership cannot be allowed to prevail by the American public. The Framers of the Constitution did not want their country to be weak, vulnerable, or a failed state.

The issues are many and deep. It is in the balance between the very weak power of the individual and the very great power of a state, or a union of states. It is about effective command and control. It is about checks and balances and accountability. It is about the proper role of a civilized society in managing its competing interests to both respect and protect its individual members.

We see in Venezuela an example of when the process fails. The founders of the US form of government also had their examples and their first attempt erred too far towards the individual and leaving the society at risk.

What is the lesson from the heyday of the sixties is that accountability is a two way street. Those in power must be held accountable but those in power are not only those who are given the position to operate the government, it is also those who report on government activity and also those who desire to change the government.

The lesson of the sixties is also that of just how important an issue is at stake. Because the true story was not reported and because of the dishonesty of the government opposition, millions were killed and a country was left to oppression and repression for decades.

Let us hope that these are lessons learned.

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History is prologue

J. R. Dunn thinks that

It was with Tet ‘68 that the American media first knew sin. Anyone seeking to understand the character of consistently negative media coverage of the Global War on Terror must understand Tet. [American Thinker 05dc20]

Giap expected to stimulate a South Vietnamese uprising in support of his efforts. The result was different. The Viet Cong were ruined as a military force, their rural infrastructure left in tatters. “But that’s not how the U.S. public saw it. … It was the first time in history that the news media overturned a victory won by forces on the ground.”

Dunn cites Peter Braestrup, chief of the Washington Post’s Saigon bureau, in his book Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington, an analysis of every major news report concerning the Tet Offensive, along with the military, political, and social results that ensued. He considers it a good start towards understanding the propaganda effect of the modern MSM and why stories are so often at odds with the reality on the ground.

Another recent story noted that historians are beginning to realize that Iraq will leave a very unusual and rich historical legacy if they can grab it. It is in the email messages and pictures that soldiers are sending home to family. This source and many other direct sources will not only provide material for historical research, they may also start to end the MSM flavoring of the public’s understanding of what is really happening in the world.

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The Hypothesis a Troubling Idea?

Dean thinks he sees a Problem With Single Hypotheses. The worry ignores two concepts fundamental to the hypothesis model of scientific inquiry.

when you only accept one hypothesis as valid to explain certain phenomena, that hypothesis tends to lose value, for it ceases to make predictions. Rather, you start finding ways to fit every observed phenomenon into the hypothesis–since you’re only accepting one, you wind up having little choice but to do so.

Dean cites a Scientist opinion by Don L Jewett: What’s Wrong With Single Hypotheses.

The temptation to misinterpret results that contradict the desired hypothesis is probably irresistible. This mistake occurs repeatedly in the history of science.

Any human process must take into account the falability of human endeavor. Yes there are perception distortions, hidden agendas, incomplete knowledge, and other culpabilities that distort outcomes. The goal of a good process is to ameliorate these factors so that, especially in the longer term, they have only a minor influence. The US system of government is this way. So is the manner of scientific inquiry based on an hypothesis.

The issue Jewett touches is that of publicly funded research where scientific investigation is made subject to the whims of politics. This is a corrupting influence that imposes human whims on the process of investigation and research. Dissonance here can be seen in the abuse of the current administration in some research circles as the researchers don’t like changing politcal environments influencing their pet projects.

The first thing a hypothesis does is to define a target. It is a specific statement of a testable condition. If there is not excessively strong social pressure, this becomes a challenge, especially if the hypothesis has a history of support. It is a part of human nature, especially of the young, to want to challenge and defeat authority. By proving an hypothesis, especially an established hypothesis, wrong or flawed, the scientists ‘wins’ over the establishment and proves himself. This is an egocentric accountability upon which science depends. The human desire for comfort and conformity are balanced by other human needs for distinction, recognition, and identity.

A second facet of the hypothesis model is that its definition creates a building block. The value of any hypothesis will be determined in the end by how strong it is in contributing to theories, other hypotheses, and technologies and inventions. It the hypothesis is tainted as Dean and Jewett worry, it will have limited value as a building block in science and engineering. It will become a political thesis and not a scientific one. As Dean notes, “it tends to lose value” but it’s not a troubling problem with science, it is a troubling problem in politics. Science has a means to assure that intellectual integrity will be the ultimate outcome, politics doesn’t.

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Disinformation and propaganda

The Washington Times has been publishing reminders from past stories to help put modern allegations in an appropriate perspective and correct some of the FUD mongering that is going on. Now they are starting with a few Op-Eds, such as Myth and error in the war, that quote Richard Miniter’s book “Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror.”

Why do the myths persist? Part of the reason must be how elusive the real facts of the war on terrorism are. Who really knows the true state of bin Laden’s health? Who can count casualties accurately across a massive, war-torn country? Another answer, as Mr. Miniter writes, is disinformation: Falsehoods planted in the media by political operatives, self-promoters or sometimes even agents of foreign powers. The Internet has tended to enable agents of disinformation to spread their message far and wide. Another explanation must be sloppy, biased or otherwise inadequate reporting, which Mr. Miniter calls for a much-needed improvement.

We recommend that our readers survey Mr. Miniter’s edifying book; surely there is a need for clarity and myth-debunking in the public sphere over the war on terror. Anyone who doubts that errors are alive and well — even proliferating — should survey the confusion over President Bush’s warrantless domestic wiretaps, which could fill a sequel to Mr. Miniter’s book. Every court to address the wiretap issue and every president since and including Jimmy Carter have agreed that a president has inherent constitutional authority to order wiretaps without a court order — even the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court itself agrees — but the myth has persisted in spite of it all.

Three of the 22 myths selected by Miniter are that “Osama bin Laden is on dialysis; that U.S. forces killed 100,000 civilians in Iraq; and that Halliburton is a war profiteer.” That leaves 19 others and there is plenty of material from which to choose. The sad part is that this amount of material continues to grow.

The mention of the NSA “domestic spying” as an example is well founded. As the story unfolds, it is becoming very clear that it was not domestic but rather international; it was quite limited; it was conducted with strict adherence to protocols for oversight by both administration officials and Congress; it was not a case of wiretapping but rather one of broadband monitoring; and it was well established by Executive Order and precedent in practice.

As in many of these attacks on Executive action in the war on terror, the substance turns out to be different from that portrayed. A contrast exists, a partisan contrast, that illustrates a lack of consistent standards in the accusers. Mythmongering becomes exposed. Again.

Miniter’s book is a counterweight to those of people such as Clark et at but the final outcome will result from each of us applying basic tests for intellectual integrity, an appropriate degree of skepticism, and a full realization of our own perceptions to put reality in front and to dismiss the myths.

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Bear baiting at the NYT

Trolls are what they are called in the online discussion community. They bait the bears by tossing out ‘red meat’ to see if they can get a reaction and start a flame war. They depend upon anonymity and social and legal restraints to keep them safe from reprisal. Shrinkwrapped has dealt with such self destructive behavior in his clients and notes similarities to media behavior.

The Times imagines the government is constrained by the chain of laws and cultural protections built up over the years for the protection of the press. They do not realize that most Americans recognize the greater threat to be from terrorists who want to kill us rather than from the NSA trying to protect us. They also do not recognize that by going too far they endanger all of our freedoms; the risk of an angry government over-reacting to the treasonous behavior of our major news organizations would endanger freedom of the press for all (including bloggers, whose freedoms have been under attack under the guise of the exceptionally misguided McCain-Feingold for some time now.) The New York Times in their zeal to harm George Bush are threatening to destroy themselves, harm our country and its citizens and destroy the structure of freedom of the press that has been such a vital part of our social contract. Their “bear baiting” has gone much too far and the best hope for the future is a vigorous, but limited, investigation by the DOJ and appropriate jail sentences for those who treat our security so lightly. Their is honor and dignity in taking real risks for your principles; their is only dishonor and shame in teasing a chained up, helpless bear. Let us allow the national press the opportunity of regaining their honor and dignity by exacting some real costs for their efforts, even if inadvertent, to endanger all of us.

As with any right, there is a responsibility. Terrorists make irresponsible use of their rights to privacy and access in order to carry out their campaign. They hope to limit the rights of all by expressing the irresponsibility of a very few. Criminals also impinge on our rights by their activity causing us all to have to lock doors and watch out for each other.

A politcal party has picked up on this theme by shifting from a ‘culture of corruption’ meme to a ‘invasion of privacy by big brother’ as the theme of attack. (they seem to miss the fact that Orwell’s big brother used dishonest communication as a major feature and they also miss that there has been no established abusive outcome to any supposed invasion of privacy established).

The media, with a large mouth, has a responsibility to exercise to maintain its rights of free expression. These are responsibilities for intellectual integrity in their product. It is becoming clearly evident that many in the MSM have abrogated any sense of responsibility in this area and, by Shrinkwrapped’s analysis have gone so far as to bait the bear. They troll for a response that is not constructive, does not help social cohesion, does not lead to understanding, and attacks the very foundation upon which their right to express is based.

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