Archive for July, 2006

The distortion of language

Victor Davis Hanson takes on the The Vocabulary of Untruth where Words take on new meanings as Israel struggles to survive. What does it really mean when you hear (read in news stories) things like “Civilians” or “Collateral damage” or “Disproportionate” or “excessive” or “United Nations Action” ?

The good part is that the distortions of language are being paradied but that does not dimish the importance of such intellectual dishonesty.

What explains this distortion of language? A lot.

First there is the need for Middle Eastern oil. …

Then there is the fear of Islamic terrorism. …

And don’t forget the old anti-Semitism. …

Israel is the symbol of the hated West. …

Population and size count for a lot …

Finally, there is the worry that Israel might upset things in Iraq. …

But most of all, the world deplores the Jewish state because it is strong, and can strike back rather than suffer.

The only way to get the language back to an honest means to communicate is to laugh those who misuse it into insignificance. That requires that its silliness be made transparent. That appears to be happening one small step at a time.

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The Assertions

There seems to be a lot of judgin’ goin’ ’round these days. Especially when it comes to condemning the President. Opinion has been elevated in its expression and promoted by certain media outlets as fact. ‘Amiranta’ discussed some of what should be of note in a comment to the blog entry William F. Buckley: Bush Not A True Conservative

the article is very slanted. While it does present small token arguments on the side of the President, it is clearly an effort to create an image of him as riding roughshod over the Constitution.

However, the powers granted to the President by the Constitution have been the topic of disagreement for approximagately 205 years, give or take a year or so. This is nothing new. Constitutional scholars have been arguing these points, or the basis for these points, for two centuries. And Supreme Court decisions, and other court decisions, have tended to come down on the side of the president when they have been asked to rule.

Certainly the ABA can have an opinion, anc can express it. But they are not the arbiters of constitutionality.

I find it unpersuasive to argue that merely having a different opinion regarding Consitutional definitions of, or limits on, Presidential authority is the same thing as “trampling over the Constitution”.

What concerns me is the eagerness of the Left to blindly accept an opinion of a highly biased source, whether it be the NYT or Air America or some other agenda-driven entity, as law and fact and absolute proof of wrongdoing, instead of recognizing it as merely a different opinion. As a difference of opinion, a matter can be discussed and can stimulate thought. But when an opinion is presented as absolute fact, there is no discussion, merely defense of a position. This is not productive.

You see the headlines but you should wonder. Since when does a lawyer espouse the verdict? What is it that actually determines the case and makes the decision? We have methods for figuring out which opinion will prevail – and we have means to change our minds if we so choose. So when you see rhetoric that condemns as if the Almighty himself has made judgment, it is time to put on the skeptics hat and start asking appropriate questions.

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Another issue marked by obfuscation

Texas Rainmaker takes on Clarifying the Stem Cell Debate. The issue is simply federal funding but with the rhetoric in the debate it would be difficult to figure this out.

The more fundamental issue is how the government should support fundamental research – whether in biology, meteorology, physics, or whatever.

But the debate is about the abortion issue.

Confused? That is why you need to listen carefully and consider what you hear with an appropriate degree of skepticism.

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Net Neutrality: Trying to figure out the issue

There is a lot of ideology in the technology of the Internet. The Free Software Foundation can provide an illustration. When it comes to hardware and infrastructure, most realize that totally free just doesn’t provide the equiment or maintenance required. So there is an argument about what it should cost and how to protect access by everyone.

Net neutrality is the name given to a question of how much market freedom should exist in the I’net backbone. Right now, wholesale pricing is based on traffic volume with some adjustment for peak volume capability. The argument is about whether or not the communications service providers should also be able to base their pricing on the type of traffic.

Traffic type pricing is being made an issue because of both a need and a capability.

The capability is an upgraded version of the protocols that define how information goes through the net. It expands the address space or number of places it can direct traffic to and it provides a means so that the devices that route it to where it is going can tell how urgent it is.

The need is for support of VOIP, which is telephone service using the I’net, and live media, which can potentially replace the current cable TV delivery methods. These I’net uses are critically dependent on time delays and a large part of the net neutrality argument is about whether this need for low latency could be sold as a premium service at a premium price.

Those spouting that they are advocates of “net neutraility” are of the opinion that all I’net traffic should treated the same way and priced only on volume.

The keys that should raise the skepticism level include the name given to this issue (net neutraility) and the fact that it is very difficult to get a clear explanation of the issues. The fundamental question is that of how much the government should control communications companies’ business practice in regards to the I’net. It is, in part, a hangover from the time when the only communications available to the average household was a telephone line. The residue of that still exists in regulation, law, and public perception.

These days, the telephone company that was busted apart to promote competition is now aggregating back together via merger and buyout. But they face brand new challenges in that household communications is being served by cable TV and cell phone and satellite companies.

So the question is whether to mandate that communications companies consider all the I’net traffic they carry as neutral – every bit of data is the same as every other bit – or whether they should be allowed to charge extra to those who are willing to pay more for a greater assurance of prompt delivery or other benefits.

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Isreal and Disproportionate

Victor Davis Hanson takes a stab at The Israel enigma in the Washingtom Times July 8. He asks “What explains most of the world’s dislike of Israel?” and notes that “Israel is always seen as a special exception that somehow deserves what it gets.”

A new example can be added to the list. It is those who are using disproportionate to complain about Israel. On the one hand, launching crude rockets with anti personnel munitions into Isreali cities and kidnapping soldiers is seen as something only needing a bit more diplomatic talk. To respond by taking out the missle stores, their launching locations, and isolating the perpetrators is labeled “disproportionate.”

Say what?

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Mixing Military and Politics

Court of Inquiry by Tony Blankley (Washington Times April 19, 2006) takes note of the threats to established US practice in the recent spate of retired flag officers joining in on the BushBash.

Will future defense secretaries have to worry about potential rebellions by their brass, and will they start to choose commanders according to calculations of political loyalty? … When the United States teaches Third World militaries how to be professional, one of the key instructions is that the officer corps should be taught to be loyal to their government and its constitution — never personally loyal to the current leader. … bad habits start very innocently and slowly corrupt a person or a country.

There has been quite a bit of attention to the accountability mechanisms in the US government with a balance of power between judicial, legislative, and executive – often in complaints about one of these branch’s abuse of its power. There has also been discussion about free speech, the press, and “speaking truth to power.” The Clinton Generals raise the issue military accountability in it being led by civilian authority yet having loyalty to country and government.

Many of these arguments can be tied to the question of patriotism – as in ‘are you questioning my patriotism?’ Where is the loyalty? It it an honest loyalty? Too often there is a taint that indicates the loyalty is not to country and government but rather to party and ideology. This not only impugns the message but also the messenger. The innocence of bad habits starts with a motivation to relax intellectual integrity to achieve a desired result. Pinocchio comes to mind.

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Getting a grip on global warming

Dr. Lindzen tries to clarify the climate change controversy in the Opinion Journal column Don’t Believe the Hype. Al Gore is wrong. There’s no “consensus” on global warming.

Given that we do not understand the natural internal variability of climate change, this task [to claim that the theoretically expected contribution from additional carbon dioxide has actually been detected] is currently impossible. Nevertheless there has been a persistent effort to suggest otherwise, and with surprising impact.

So what, then, is one to make of this alleged debate? I would suggest at least three points.

First, nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates and politicians of any need to do so. Such claims also serve to intimidate the public and even scientists–especially those outside the area of climate dynamics. Secondly, given that the question of human attribution largely cannot be resolved, its use in promoting visions of disaster constitutes nothing so much as a bait-and-switch scam. That is an inauspicious beginning to what Mr. Gore claims is not a political issue but a “moral” crusade.

Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition. An earlier attempt at this was accompanied by tragedy. Perhaps Marx was right. This time around we may have farce–if we’re lucky.

In his column you can find out what the current consensus really is and how it is being misrepresented and the tactics used to create a false consensus. This also brings up another science issue from another field: why are people like Mr. Gore so predisposed towards alarmism that they build such castles in the sky so lacking in intellectual integrity?

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