Archive for May, 2006

Haditha, What was really massacred?

The stories about civilian casualties in Haditha last November are causing some concern – and some early glee. Jeremy provides a good rundown on the concern angle in So, Haditha at Rantingprofs.

I’m not even talking about any charges of intentional attacks on civilians here, I’m talking about unintentional deaths. These claims are seized upon by both the anti-war left and enemy propagandists whenever they come up.

There are many who are promoting caution because the DOD investigations are not yet concluded. The residents of Hadatha are impressed by the thoroughness of the investigation. Iraqis do not seem to be terribly upset. Haditha in November was a hotbed of activity with UAV monitoring and many IED’s and attacks. But Time magazine highlights a “Haditha Massacre” with up to two dozen civilians, including women and children, dead.

For some, this is an opportunity to paint the entire US military as war criminals and horrific extensions of an evil Bush Administration. It fulfils their expectations and desires and provides an example to rationalize their view of the U.S.

There are others, such as a reporter who was imbedded with the Marines in question, who are puzzled. They know the values and the behavior and the nature of the accused and the alleged behavior and the experience just don’t seem to fit.

Then there are those seeking to excuse and minimize the alleged massacre all the while trying to hide under a “we don’t really know what happened, yet” blanket. The moralize with the idea that massacres of civilians is an established tactic of the opposition and other such ideas.

The fact is that, while the idea of mad marines going out of control and killing a couple dozen innocents is bad, what really causes discomfort is the Murtha (Alamo Nation) Syndrome (Winds of Change) where people will use even the allegations as a means to promote their hatred of the US and its leadership.

We recently had a bill passed because some psuedo Christians thought the best way to express their hatred was to disrupt military funerals. There is an $85M lawsuit against Moore by a double amputee who claims he was misused. There is a death watch in the MSM. Political speeches decry differences of opinions as mistakes and accuse the administration of all sorts of malfeasance.

Yet the whole story – economic growth, elections, development of governance, and so on, is not told. There is no referent. There does seem to be a massacre – of the truth of the matter. We do need to find out what happened at Haditha but we also need to find out what is going on with Murtha and his ilk and why the whole story of Iraq is missing so many important pieces.

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An economists view of immigration

Alex Tabarrok provides “an open letter on immigration reflecting the consensus opinion of economists on the major issues” addressed to the President.

The point is that “Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.” The US has not suffered to any measurable degree with the hordes of illegal immigrants and

While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses.

This is a contrast to those who claim that immigrants are expensive in the utilization of social welfare services.

The lesson is that it immigration has many facets. The political corruption in Mexico, organized crime, the terrorist threats, the libertarian ideal of free and open versus national identity and protection, taxes and social benefits and entitlements, language and culture, and on. Any ‘solution’ will have unintended consequence with so many factors interacting. That means care is needed in moving from desire to action.

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Detecting bogus science (and other assertions)

Robert Park identifies The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science which is needed because

There is, alas, no scientific claim so preposterous that a scientist cannot be found to vouch for it. And many such claims end up in a court of law after they have cost some gullible person or corporation a lot of money. How are juries to evaluate them?

What can be interesting is to compare these warning signs with some of the well known logical fallacies.

  • The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
  • The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
  • The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
  • Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
  • The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
  • The discoverer has worked in isolation.
  • The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
  • Scientists evaluate their work by discussing what they do with other scientists. When others can achieve the same results or cannot find flaws in the reasoning or help establish the proper precision and accuracy is when the value of a finding is understood.

    Supression by a conspiracy hits two points at once. One is the ‘poor little me’ and the other is the coverup. Many of the other warning signs involve rationalizing a poor credibility for the evidence.

    Keep your eyes open. Look for these warning signs to keep from wandering off into the twighlight zone.

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    Exageration rationalized

    Patrick J. Michaels makes a point about where a lack of intellectual integrity may lead in his Washing Times column Gore’s inconvenient lie.

    It’s a sad fact that some scientists, and scientist wannabes (like Mr. Gore) take this tack, because it will only weaken the public’s growing distrust in what they perceive is a scientific elite that leaves them out of the feedback loop. Presumably safe drugs develop unforeseen and fatal side effects. Engineers charged to protect a major city build levees that crash in what (in New Orleans) was a modest hurricane. Their hybrid cars don’t get the mileage EPA says they will.

    That’s “The Inconvenient Truth” about global warming. Prominent scientists feel it’s perfectly fine to exaggerate, and so does the former vice president.

    In other words, the ends justify the means.

    If indeed the evidence was as conclusive as Mr. Gore wishes it were then the histrionics would not be necessary. There would be no need to exagerate or mislead. There would be no need to accuse conspiracy to censor.

    Instead the issues could be discussed rationally with evidence and logic used as talking points and issues of accuracy and precision properly considered. Sadly, getting to this level looks to be a rather long row to hoe.

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    Substitute for thinking

    The billboard on I80 going west into Reno claims that “Peace is Patriotic” and serves to illustrate Dennis Prager’s point in Harry Reid & The End of Liberal Thought. It sounds real nice, but did anyone paying for the billboard really think it through?

    Welcome to the thoughtless world of contemporary liberalism. Beginning in the 1960s, liberalism, once the home of many deep thinkers, began to substitute feeling for thought and descended into superficiality.

    One-word put-downs of opponents’ ideas and motives were substituted for thoughtful rebuttal. Though liberals regard themselves as intellectual — their views, after all, are those of nearly all university professors — liberal thought has almost died. Instead of feeling the need to thoughtfully consider an idea, most liberal minds today work on automatic. One-word reactions to most issues are the liberal norm.

    There is a steep price paid for the liberal one-wording of complex ideas — the decline of liberal thought. … Every car that has a bumper sticker declaring “War is not the answer” powerfully testifies to the intellectual decline of the well educated and to the devolution of “liberal thought” into an oxymoron.

    One of the prices paid is that effective debate becomes extremely difficult and that means that learning is also exceedingly difficult. Thoughtful consideration of ideas is gone. It is replaced by a simplistic and defensive knee jerk response. Liberal or progressive as labels become misnomers as the philosophy is one of resisting new ideas and life’s changes.

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    There is a reason for the scientific method

    Dr. Ford in TCS uses a recent work by Seth Roberts, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, as an example of a weakness of intellectual integrity. In this case it is looking for the quick fix to a vexing problem.

    His hypothesis is clearly testable with a controlled trial by a careful scientist willing to be proven wrong if necessary. That hasn’t happened. Presenting a highly speculative idea as proven science to an audience unlikely to appreciate the difference between an academic psychologist dabbling in this field and seasoned experts who have devoted their careers to it is misleading at best and disingenuous at worse.

    My objection to Roberts is not that his ideas are implausible but that he should have subjected them to review by his peers before widely popularizing them to a public desperate for a simple, effortless way to lose weight. Rather, he published a book that as of this writing is number 2 on amazon.com.

    A psychologist is, by definition, a scientist. And this one is also an academic. There are expectations that a person with such a position would exemplify those characteristics that established the prestige of recognized scientists and academies. In this case, it appears that such charactersistics have been abandoned in favor of preying upon the desires of the public to make a quick buck.

    Whether the motive is greed or a zeal to share an amazing personal experience, it is still expected that a trained and educated person will realize why a process has been developed for qualifying ideas. A discipline is needed to not go off half cocked but rather to use the lessons of history and experience and develop the quality of the idea through proper testing and evaluation. Roberts failure to use the methodologies in his profession should create significant skepticism about his ideas and his motivation.

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    In the news: Amnesty, Churchill, Espionage

    The report on Colorado professor Churchill is out. There is no question of his serious academic malfeasance but there is a split about whether it warrants dismissal or just suspension. One of the primary factors that seems to bother people is the Churchill was singled out, subject to a jihad of the wacko right, and therefore shouldn’t be considered harshly. Perhaps those with this view should instead start to demand that professors who have been found to deliberately engage in plagarism and poor scholarship should all be dismissed?

    The Mexican problem continues to broil. A question for those who think any accomodation for the illegal immigrants currently in the US is amnesty is what they think the punishment should be. Apparently fines and assimilation demonstration are not punishment enough for them.

    Powerline references an important paper regarding the legal issues in the Iraq war but its findings and analysis are, of course, out of hand by those who have already decided what must be. Winds of Change has a pretty good rundown on the company these folks keep and the positions they take. Mark Steyn highlights the two templates for terrorism in use by the media that contradict each other. And now the domestic spying number mining story is beginning to loose legs anyway as its perpetrators deny any involvement.

    Can’t anyone think straight?

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    Imagine if we’d reported and opined on WWII the way we do now.

    Victor Davis Hanson has one to read, and think about, at NRO: In the Eye of the Beholder

    I think Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry Stimson, and George Marshall conducted the Second World War brilliantly, despite “thousands of mistakes.” But I can also envision how our present intelligentsia and punditocracy would have sized up their sometimes less than perfect efforts or applied their own reporting to the struggle against Japan and Germany. So imagine something like the following op-ed appearing, say, around May 1, 1945.

    This is one of those “don’t know whether to laugh or cry” type columns.

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    The President described the illegal immigrant problem and set out a series of steps for addressing it. The skeptics who have turned cynics are upset because the plan did not include massive fences along the entire US land borders and the immediate removal of more than ten million illegal aliens in the country. These cynics are often on the fringe right and are using this issue to rationalize their disappointment in not achieving perfection in what they though the President would do for them.

    Victor Davis Hanson described what has worked and what hasn’t back on March 31 in The Protests — Whose Backlash?

    Bilingual education in our schools, multicultural romance about a mythical Aztlan in our universities, guest worker programs that institutionalize helot status, salad-bowl separatism, and millions who cross the border illegally, all have contributed to the present disaster. But as we see with second- and third-generation model Mexican-American citizens, English immersion, acceptance of an American identity, integration, intermarriage and assimilation, legal and monitored immigration in the thousands from Mexico–all that guarantees immigrants success and energizes us the host.

    The President’s speech provided rather strong proposals to inhibit those things that don’t work and provided accomodations to support those that do. He mentioned the role of Congress and the current debate that is being waged for all the wrong reasons. The stakes are quite high. The right reasons for the right actions needs to become paramount.

    Americans recoil at the volatile ethnic enclaves in France and the Netherlands–and can understand how such tribalism could quickly escalate to sectarian violence in Iraq, the Balkans, and Rwanda. Unless we curb the present influx, return to the melting pot, and salvage a legal remedy from the present illegal disaster, what we saw this week may only be the beginning of something far more dangerous from both sides of this avoidable crisis.

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    This looks like a book worth reading

    Cal Thomas talks about My kind of guy and starts with a classification that is easily recognized. The he asks for reality as he thinks he found a good story to illustrate it in a book by Bob Greene.

    The image of men in contemporary culture generally falls into one of five categories. There is sitcom man, … pro athlete man, … Playboy man, … soldier man (not the hero … but the few the media pay attention to that commit atrocities), “Brokeback Mountain” man …

    Where can one find real men these days? One place is in Bob Greene’s new book, “And You Know You Should Be Glad,” published by William Morrow

    It is the story of five childhood friends who are called together after 57 years at the fatal cancer of one of their members. It is remembering the lives of the boys and men, where they have been, what they did, and who they are, as one of a close group passes on.

    Cal paints the picture of a book that might well be an antidote for those who are ill at the media presentations of men in one of the categories he describes.

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    The timeless question: Are they knaves or fools?

    On the latest re-release of the NSA telephone nodes and links analysis story. Shrinkwrapped expresses the real concern:

    I am troubled by a pattern of exaggeration and vilification that almost seems orchestrated. It is as if there has been a persistent effort made, primarily by Democrats, to frame the debate in such a way that the worst possible explanation is suggested as the primary explanation. Furthermore, the language used explicitly clouds the issues in terms of the goal of the program, the technical aspects of the program, and the extent of the program. The impression is left, implicitly and often explicitly, that the Bush Administration is spying on Americans; they are going after reporters; they are labeling millions of Americans as suspects. It almost seems as if the complaints are arising from a different country in a different time period. Any day now we should start seeing stories about plumbers and enemies lists; this is disturbing.

    Anyone who understands what the program involves would have a hard time reconciling the extreme reactions with the actual program. …

    The thoughtless comments, and the damage to our national security, performed by these “servants of the people” are excellent exhibits for why such programs demand secrecy. Select Congressional leaders were in the loop on the programs, there was no warrant-less spying on random Americans (our intelligence people do not have the time or energy for such time wasters; they are trying to catch al Qaeda and friends before another atrocity takes place) and the misleading descriptions of the program made by such people makes the important debate about the risk-benefit analysis of such programs infinitely more difficult. The opportunistic, ignorant, or duplicitous comments about the program cast no glory on those who take part in such attempts to mislead the American people.

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    Why Iraq?

    One of the more common recurring canards in the “Bush Lied” meme is that of a single major cause for action against Iraq. Whether it is the more popular WMD threat or the conspiratorial oil greed, it is still quite ignorant of history. One of the many readily available resources that could help provide insight is the President’s Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly September 12, 2002.

    Yes indeed, WMD is in there. Oil can be found in the ‘oil for food’ scandal reference. But consider these in the context of “If the Iraqi regime wishes peace…”

    it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material. …

    it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions. …

    it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi’a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions. …

    it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions. …

    it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

    So there was a path for peace: Don’t play games with the world about WMD, help squash terrorism, cease filling mass graves, meet the conditions of the Gulf War cease fire agreement, and cease abuse of the oil-for-food concessions.

    A proper debate would consider the value of each of these issues and their merit in supporting various actions to resolve them individually or all together. But instead of such a debate, there is accusation and allegation that completely ignores these issues. One side of the ‘debate’ is simply a partisan political attack that avoids the reality of history in order to impugn and demean. Winning the political argument takes precedence over any other consideration, even the truth.

    What should be the real worry? Is it the decision or how the decision is used as a weapon?

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    Truth to Power, Global Warming version

    Dr. Roy Spencer notes the obvious:

    If you are concerned about the Administration possibly muting some of its employees’ influence in this area (remember, NASA is part of the executive branch), don’t despair. Our government heavily funds a marching army of climate scientists — government, university, and private — whose funding depends upon manmade global warming remaining a threat. The government agencies, like NASA, that the money flows through also depend upon these issues remaining alive for continued funding.

    This is one reason why the claims of those who talk about government censorship of scientists need to be considered with a good degree of skepticism. There is just too much there that contradicts such claims.

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    Marc Sheppard goes on a tear about the Green Piece of Junk Science

    Contrary to their position, it is the actions of these junk scientists and pseudo-environmentalists which are analogous to those of terrorists, as both aspire, through propaganda and intimidation, to turn back the clock on the progress which has elevated our lives and potentials to the glorious levels we now enjoy. Be there no mistake. These eco-terrorists are just as fanatical – just as likely a threat to our economic freedom – as their suicidal counterparts are to our physical freedom. If we ever again hope to relish a quarter in the black, then we must stand up and forsake the folderol of the green.

    This environmentalist movement is a false cover using distortions as a means to rationalize its ideologies. It can’t make up its mind if it is really after responsible environmentalism or socialism. One the one hand, nuclear power is the cleanest and safest base energy source available. But on the other, nuclear is made a symbol of war and the worst of human nature. It is also a symbol of the big corporate anti-individual entity that is so much villified in socialist and communist philosophies.

    The cute ‘truth to power’ slogan being paraded by these folks is one that they really need to apply to themselves.

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    Political rudeness, continued

    The Limbaugh prescription abuse allegation deal brings to mind yet another onslaught of abuse where propriety and responsibility and civility seem to be taking a back seat to political allegience and ideology.

    This is the matter of prosecutorial zeal tainted by political behavior. On the current agenda of potential cases is DeLay, Libby, and Limbaugh.

    The DeLay procesutor has a history of political behavior including dropping a case only when push came to shove and he had to explain to the judge he didn’t have a case. For DeLay, the process has thrown out indictments made for violating laws that didn’t exist at the time of the alleged crime among other prosecutorial errors. The struggle to maintain some semblance of sanity is on the part of the prosecution. The expense, of course, is on the defendant.

    For Libby, it is a matter of tying perjury to a contradiction between witnesses when there is no clear evidence of any motivation for the crime. Again, most of the explaining in pre-trial processes has had to be done by the prosecution. The pattern is the same: the struggle to maintain some semblance of sanity is on the part of the prosecution and the expense is heavy on the defendant.

    For Limbaugh, the judge told the prosecutor that browsing medical records was off limits. But the prosecutor did get his processing for mug shots of the perp. This, despite a deal that essentially sweeps the issue under the rug as a matter of financial expediency. Same pattern. prosecutor doesn’t want to look silly but the defendant pays the price.

    The contrast and comparison often used to rationalize this behavior is the Clinton impeachment. That effort to rationalize current political prosecution tends to ignore the fact that federal employees generally get fired for harassment of interns and that perjury to hide such behavior is not just a matter of figuring out whose version is true. It is the contrasts that give light to the truth of the matter.

    The legal system is not the only arena showing abuse of propriety and responsibility and civility. The judicial nominations process also has mudthrowers trying to figure out what they can make stick, no matter the reality.

    And then there is question about why this should be a worry. What is the value of propriety, responsibility, and civility in public discourse? For that you have to contrast what happens where you don’t have it. And there are plenty of examples available to inspect that should provide a rational person good reason to worry.

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    Defining Rude

    The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner has been, since President Truman or thereabouts, an opportunity for the Press and the President to share some self deprecating humor and improve relationships.

    The most recent one got much of the wacko left in giggles but is causing others to consider the propriety of the behavior of one of the presenters. Richard Cohen is one of those who thought it So Not Funny. In doing so he defined rude:

    Rude is not the same as brash. It is not the same as brassy. It is not the same as gutsy or thinking outside the box. Rudeness means taking advantage of the other person’s sense of decorum or tradition or civility that keeps that other person from striking back or, worse, rising in a huff and leaving.

    Why is it worthy of note?

    Because he [Colbert] is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders — and they are all over the blogosphere — will tell you he spoke truth to power.

    So the first issue was that of abusing a privilege by being rude and behaving as a bully. This is an insensitivity to civility.

    The second issue is that of integrity. Many believe Colbert was funny because they believed that his assault on civility was based in reality and putting it to those in power. They have even used columns such as Cohen’s as proof positive that the MSM is in the President’s pocket. The problem is that their view of reality is not fully in line with facts. It is a constructed defense.

    The key is in the behavior and the acceptance of that behavior. Funny or no, you have to wonder about people who do not value civility and consider lambasting others personally a good thing.

    UPDATE: Dr. Sanity has an interesting analysis on Colbert’s form of humor and where it is usually found.

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    Political Allegiance the #1 Priority?

    We have seen elected representatives who have put their party allegiance ahead of that of their country. Recently we have seen several retired flag officers do the same. And it also appears that at least 4 national security officials from a previous administration have engaged in scurrilous and even illegal behavior demonstrating that political allegiance is their priority.

    There is an argument about the damage caused by such behavior. Another issue is the implications of such behavior.

    When military officers and bureaucrats put politics ahead of their job, they become a part of a partisan political machine and, as a result, subject to purges and other protections and tactics to control or utilize their behavior.

    The key is that there is a means to behave responsibly. When this is not done, the behavior is irresponsible. The rights we have are only kept by responsible exercise. On the one hand we have folks doing the equivalent demaning that their right to free speech means they can shout “fire!” in a crowded theater. On the other we have non-political government functionaries becoming political hacks. Such behavior presents the rest of us a conundrum about just how far to let it go and where to draw the line and how much blood to let flow before we attempt to staunch the bleeding.

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