Archive for November, 2006

The argument: two perceptions

US News Bad Guys provides a concise description of the ‘war or crime’ debate that exists about the war on terrorists.

I’m convinced …we face a globalized, radical movement of militant Islamists who seek to impose theocratic rule over much of the world. It is an absolutist, misogynist, intolerant ideology that belongs in the 12th century, not the 21st. Some brand this movement Islamofascism, harking back to earlier battles with the totalitarian forces of Nazism and communism. …

But Mike Vlahos says we’re wrong. “We are losing our wars in the Muslim world because our vision of history is at odds with actual reality, … Instead, the resistance we find is but one aspect of a worldwide reaction to entire swaths of humanity being left behind”

This gets off to a good start but then Vlahos takes off on the “left behind” and resistance of the victims meme. That is the view that is at odds with the reality of actual history. He contradicts his own thesis.

Those condemn the wealthy as causing discomfort in the impoverished ignore the history of Western Culture and its influence on many peoples and cultures. The poor are too busy trying to survive to create revolution. The attacks of the terrorists are by well educated and funded personnel. Where economic freedom has surfaced over totaliatarianism and corruption the wealth of the masses has flourished.

If there is anything behind the victim mentality, it is greed and envy. Those who do not care to undertake the necessary responsibility for their own welfare are envious of those who do. There was a fairy tale about this – something about three pigs and the houses the built?

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Is there hope for reality?

Shrinkwrapped provides the psychoanalyst’s perspective of intellectual integrity that is a primary theme of this blog. A recent entry asks What is Reality and Why Does it Matter?. He starts with Senator Moynihan’s famous quote “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”

This quote from the late Senator (D-NY) reflects a core tenet of Western Civilization since the enlightenment and has been under siege for the last 40 years by the forces of Post-Modernism, Leftist ideologies (including National Socialism which perfected the “Big Lie”), and contemporary Political Correctness. Many Conservatives believe that eventually facts, and reality, will assert themselves, yet there is reason for great concern.

In this, he ties in the worries about culture in the U.S. in general. It is not only in matters of international politics but also in our local environments. The example of the Shrinkwrapped post is the war against terrorist tactics and how it is reported in the MSM. This is the season for many others, including the assault on Christian expression.

People have complained that terror is a tactic and you cannot wage war against such a thing. But if terror is seen as an expression of culture, then a war for self preservation of identity might become a bit easier to grasp. The reality is that the skirmishes in Iraq, or activity by the armed forces in general, is only a small part of this war. Glen Reynolds worries about another facet in his TCS Daily column A Second American Civil War? Shrinkwrapped worries about the implications for our sources of information and what their behavior means and how we can qualify or vet such sources.

For the psychoanalyst, a first key is in the discoveries and development of discriminating between perception and reality. In science, this is the recognition of the need to assess the precision and the accuracy of any measure.

“the recognition that rationality is a thin construct, of very recent evolutionary vintage, which rests upon a foundation of instinctually driven irrationality.”

Then we look at how we are presented with perceptions of news and what we are learning about the veracity of those perceptions in recent history.

“Some of our present difficulties in the Middle East are being compounded by the behavior of those who we have always relied upon to inform us of the “facts.” That the MSM has been failing for a long time is not news, but the levels of dishonesty and dysfunction are only now, in the age of the Blogosphere, becoming clear.”

There has always been a human tendancy to believe authority. A major civic reason to support education is to instill an appropriate skepticism of the information we receive from all sources so we can make reality based decisions. Another resource is becoming available and it is showing that education alone will not work for this purpose. It even seems that education provides an isolation of ideas contrary to its ethos that fosters the problem rather than reduces it. Another manifestation of this isolation is in the MSM.

“It is sadly becoming apparent that when people need reality to support their unconsciously or ideologically driven world view, they will often do grave damage to reality. The fact that this is often done on an unconscious basis is bad enough; when done with full awareness, it is even more execrable.”

To this point there has been very little accountability, very little visibility, for any measures of the reality behind what we see as news. This is changing and the question is if such change is sufficient and timely to continue the advance of Western Culture and its demonstrated benefits.

ALSO: Victor Davis Hanson has a related column in the Opinion Journal. Losing the Enlightenment: A civilization that has lost confidence in itself cannot confront the Islamists.

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Another little bit of disingenuousness

There is the obsession with casualties, day by day, drip by drip. Just watch SF Gate for example. Another measure has been discovered by these folks: the idea that the war in Iraq has not gone on longer than WW II. What makes this newest measure disingenuous? Jay Tea explains in full on his blog.

The foil is a Michael Moore e-mail. The crux of the issue is that “Mr. Moore is conflating the major combat parts with the occupation and rebuilding.” This gets back to the related “mission accomplished” carrier thing that bothers the Moore crowd so much.

The fact is that the war in Iraq took only 3 weeks and the U.S. suffered only minor casualties. Since then, in the occupation and rebuilding phase, the military casuallty count has been comparable to home base accident rates, significant governance progress has been made, and much of the neglected infrastructure has been rebuilt.

But there are those who are determined to make a failure out of a success, just like they have done before. They do not learn the lessons about the human suffering that results when the U.S. looses it will to win. They only see the costs and not the benefits. They take every disagreement and turn it into accusations of failure or incompetence. They take every incident and find the black side. They show that the true struggle is not the one in Iraq but rather the one at home. The one that involves morality, culture, intellectual integrity, freedom, and liberty.

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Thinking can go astray

David Ludden says it is Not Very Comforting

to be reminded of just how fallible we are, Kida does provide his readers with a modicum of solace by offering copious advice on how to anticipate and work around our innate cognitive biases.Don’t Believe Everything You Think> is essential reading for anyone interested in the psychology of belief and pseudoscientific thinking. It also provides one of the best arguments around for the importance science literacy — the scientific method is the antidote to our fallible minds.

Those innate cognitive biases are there to help us understand the world around us – at least as a starting point.

  • preferring stories to statistics
  • seeking to confirm rather than question our beliefs
  • confusing the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events
  • trusting the reliability of our senses
  • a tendency to oversimplify our thinking.
  • How are these expressed? One way is to review A List Of Fallacious Arguments.

    It takes work, effort, and care to properly consider our inherent bias on perception and measure. Providing those considerations is the hallmark of intellectual integrity.

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    Milton Friedman

    Milton Friedman was one of those who made a difference in a field of study that didn’t really exist prior to WW II. Richard Posner posts Gary Becker’s reminiscences.

    Milton Friedman died this past week. He was the most influential economist of the 20th century when one combines his contributions to both economic science and to public policy. I knew him for many decades starting first when I was a graduate student at Chicago, and then as a colleague, mentor, and very close friend.

    I will discuss instead several ideas in his remarkable book, Capitalism and Freedom, published in 1962, that contains almost all his well-known proposals on how to improve public policy in different fields. These proposals on based on just two fundamental principles. The first is that in the vast majority of situations, individuals know their own interests and what is good for them much better than government officials and intellectuals do. The second is that competition among providers of goods and services, including among producers of ideas and seekers of political office, is the most effective way to serve the interests of individuals and families, especially of the poorer members of society.

    Professor Friedman tied it up with General Westmoreland about the volunteer army idea. At issue was the distinction between mercenary and volunteer. It is the idea that people are driven by self interest that the cynics twist towards a mean view of humanity. As Friedman uses the idea, self interest is much more than monetary greed and a lust for power. His view is more in line with the idea that people are driven by more subtle rewards such as that described by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    School vouchers, social security, and many other of today’s issues are all on the table and subject to Friedman’s ideas for clarity of discussion. He was one of thoese who left a big footprint.

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    Does language make a difference in economics?

    Every now and then a thought gets past the PC barriers for some mulling. One of these is about the role of language. Does language influence power or is it correlated with power or is it the result of power?

    Richard W. Rahn talks about Language and wealth in the Washington Times.

    When trying to determine why some countries are wealthier than others, economists rarely, if at all, consider language. However, if you look at the list of wealthiest countries on a per capita income basis, you will notice almost all the top 20 are English-speaking, or use some other Germanic language, with the exception of France, Japan, and Finland (however, most Finns know German and English as well as Swedish, and many Frenchmen know German and/or English).

    Language is very personal as well as very global. This means that there is often a national desire to keep a language pure. When that happens, changes in human paradigms become difficult to express because new words and concepts are demeaned or inhibited. English, as a language, doesn’t seem to care and borrows from any other language that will convey the proper meaning.

    There are at least two facets of language that make a difference. One is having words to mean things and the other is how those words are used. Both influence the flexibility to express new concepts, ideas, and philosophies. Rahn cites examples in the economic area where English provides a utility many other languages lack.

    The question for some is whether a language is foisted on others as an evil imperialistic imperitive or whether it is something adopted for the purpose of surviving in a cruel world. For these folks, the fear is that of loosing a failed culture or one that has been outgrown. Maintaining the past is so important that human suffering must be endured to accomodate easing the fear.

    English as the official language of international air transportation and the unofficial language of science and technology provide more common examples than economics. In these cases, the world is presented with the fact that those who are at the top of the heap speak English and they have to cope with that if they desire to compete. The question is whether or not the English language contributed to creating the success. This is the manifest destiny conundrum that leads some to guilt feelings about the US or Western Cultures in general. Perhaps it is just a convenient target for those with deep feelings they dare not properly express, a symbol for their envy.

    Language does seem to make a difference. Understanding that difference may help everyone. Meanwhile, the first task is to just deal with it.

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    What do we do with 12 million who didn’t follow the rules?

    Dan McLaughlin on RedState took on the idea of amnesty and what it means versus how the word is being used. It is a loaded term in the debate about illegal immigration. Even the immigration debate is confused by relationships with Mexico, folks who haven’t got over the Mexican American war, issues of the indigents, labor force complications, and other such things.

    The issue is cited as one reason for the recent election outcome. Hardliners were not able to get their way and even in Arizona lost what was otherwise considered to be a safe seat.

    Dan describes two kinds of amnesty and then says “there are three main reasons why governments may rationally choose to offer an amnesty for violators of some particular type of law.” He winds up with the idea that

    “A final thought along those lines; I’m not an expert on the ins and outs of all the pending bills. But the idea that we should treat citizenship as a thing of value that could be sold is one thing; the idea that we should sell it for $1,000 is ludicrous. … The fact is, if we are letting illegal aliens buy their way into citizenship mainly on the theory that they will become sufficiently productive members of society to be worth looking the other way at how they got here, we should treat that citizenship as a valuable asset, not a discount appliance.”

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    Voting ourselves off the island

    Mark Steyn has it (Washington Times)

    “These Colors Don’t Run” is a fine T-shirt slogan, but in reality these colors have spent 40 years running from the jungles of Southeast Asia, the helicopters in the Persian desert, the streets of Mogadishu. … To add the sands of Mesopotamia to the list will be an act of weakness from which America will never recover.

    we are all Spaniards now. The incoming House speaker says Iraq is not a war to be won but a problem to be solved. The incoming defense secretary belongs to a commission charged with doing just that. A nostalgic Boomer columnist in the Boston Globe argues that honor requires the United States to “accept defeat,” as it did in Vietnam. Didn’t work out so swell for the natives, but to hell with them.

    The mid term elections were not an anomaly by historic standards but, in the current context, they were symbolic for the international community. ‘Cut and run’ Murtha is being considered for House majority leader. The conversation is not now about a war on terror but rather how do we get back to killing soldiers with traffic accidents at home rather than bullets abroad.

    We have ample evidence of what this path means. It is a hypocrisy of values of the first order. But then, such hypocrisy is just the image that those who fly airliners into skyscrapers have of us. They use it as their reason for doing things like that.

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    Split government and matters of accountability

    Some have hypothesized that the US voters like a split government with one party controlling the executive and another the legislative. The idea is that this slows down change and restricts government and that is what people want. Maybe. A split government also brings accountability to each party.

    With a split government, both parties have investment in the outcomes of governance. A party in the minority in both elected branches can pretend it has nothing to do with results. In recent times a party monopoly was noted by assertions of “fascism” and dictatorship. It was asserted that there was a lack of oversight of the government; that criminal actions by high officials were overlooked; that votes were rigged; and conspiracies rampant. These allegations could only hold on to what little they had by dint of “speaking truth to power” and such claims. They loose even that credibility when the image of powerlessness evaporates.

    In the 2006 US elections, government corruption was cited as one of the big issues in voting. This ‘culture of corruption’ was a mantra of the party that gained control of the legislative branch in that election. A promise was to correct for a lack of oversight of the administrative branch. You’d think that the existence of a number of bipartisan commissions and investigations (9/11. intelligence, Plame, DeLay, Abramoff, etc) and the convictions of perpetrators would be enough to create a bit of skepticism of this point of view. The election supporting an impeached judge as an important committee chair and scandal ridden congressmen gives lie to the idea that corruption was high in the priorities of voters as well.

    Now that there is a split government, both parties can be held to account for their behavior. Obstruction and blocking tactics will have more significant consequences. Many point to the Gingrich vs Clinton budget blockade as an example of this. It remains to be seen if the blocking of nominees as judges or ambassadors – a new game of the previous minority only party – remains as an active tactic.

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    Election myths revealed

    Ms. Betsy, AP history and government teacher, listed a number of the conventional wisdom truths that didn’t turn out to be so true in the last election. See Betsy’s Page.

    The power of incumbency and Gerrymandering; all politics is local and people vote their pocketbooks; money in pocket and pork to constituents is political capital; and more.

    In this particular election, a booming economy with nearly all measures in the green didn’t make a difference.

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    Why go to school?

    Bill Gates dropped out of college and he’s doing OK. TCS is asking about Suffering Schools Gladly.

    Economist David Henderson in his book The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey asked how it could be that our educational system is generally so weak and yet our economy continues to hum along. His answer: “Schools do not have a monopoly on learning.”

    What many successful entrepreneurs learn is that school is not where they learn what they need to succeed. There is a lot of FUD-mongering about the need for formal education to keep the economy strong and for individuals to have excellent jobs. The reality is somewhat different.

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    Election outcomes

    It seems that corruption was the big deal and terrorism was down the list. Folks like those who wrote salacious I’net messages got canned and Nation of Islam extremists got elected.

    The Entrepreneurial Mind: What Does the Election Mean for Entrepreneurs? provides the point of view that not much will change. “In the twelve years of Republican control, we have seen little progress. … Neither party seems to be willing to embrace the new economy — the entrepreneurial economy.”

    In his Entrepreneurial Mind blog, Jeff notes that there has been little progress on causes and only a bit of salve on symptoms. Tax cuts but no significant reform of tax methods or policy; a Supreme Court abuse of property rights only stirred up a few for a while. “Sadly, there is little evidence so far to show that these efforts have had a significant impact on the economic cost of regulation on small business.”

    “Small businesses still face the lack of affordable health care, the threat of frivolous lawsuits, the burdens of over-regulation and a complex tax code. These issues don’t have partisan labels,”

    But there are some changes to consider. In Nevada the minimum wage socialism received favor. Immigration reform in what some refer to as “amnesty” is looking more likely. Perceptions have prevailed over intellectual integrity and this will shift attitudes.

    Perhaps most important was that it was a hot election. Many voters turned out. The campaigns were nasty. The votes were close in many races. Emotions ran high. Something is up. But what?

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    About the war, what you need to know.

    The Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq is an oft forgot document that outlines just why an armed conflict was undertaken.

    Catholic Answers: Just War Doctrine is an attempt to deal with the dissonance between Christianity and war. “This guide is a primer on just war doctrine. Because it is meant to be of use to Americans evaluating conflicts in the war on terrorism, it is written with an eye towards the present conflict. ”

    The high court’s Hamdan power grab – Los Angeles Times by John Yoo – “A PRESIDENT responds to an unprecedented war with unprecedented measures that test the limits of his constitutional authority. He suffers setbacks from hostile Supreme Court justices, a critical media and a divided Congress, all of which challenge his war powers.”

    RealClearPolitics – Articles – Emergency Over, Saith the Court opines that “The first rationale is an odd but fixable misreading of congressional intent. The second is a grotesque and unfixable misreading of the Geneva Conventions.” Another critique of a pundit rather than the Supreme Court is Responding to George Will’s Realism

    Victor Davis Hanson on War says “it is still surreal to reread the fantasies of Chamberlain, Daladier, and Pope Pius, or the stump speeches by Charles Lindbergh … Our present generation too is on the brink of moral insanity. That has never been more evident than in the last three weeks, as the West has proven utterly unable to distinguish between an attacked democracy that seeks to strike back at terrorist combatants, and terrorist aggressors who seek to kill civilians.”

    DefenseLink Speech: Address at the 88th Annual American Legion National Convention provides an update on the status of the war from the Secretary of Defense’s point of view.

    The role of higher education is discussed in Indoctrination, not orientation which is related to the commentary Pseudo-histories of the Iraq war – Commentary – The Washington Times, America’s Newspaper

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    Gannet: creating one’s own reality

    The Gannet folks put a ‘SecDef must go!’ editorial in their military trade pubs for election day. This is often presented under false colors as being a voice of the military rather than a voice to it. Sometimes one could even wonder if the publishers understand this difference.

    At any rate, they have continued the ad hominem against the administration by looking for resignations based on created misdeeds or puzzling perceptions of the way things work. This one is the meme that US effort in Iraq is a failure and it is all the SecDef’s fault. It ignores the role of the current administration in reforming the military structure and mission for a post cold war era and it ignores much of the interplay between Congress and the military branches and the current activities of the military.

    To get a good handle on the ‘other side’ of the issue, check these links.

    Press Gaggle by Tony Snow is from the White House. Mr. Snow starts with the ‘Mission Completed’ and ‘painting a rosy picture’ memes and goes from there.

    U.S. Department of Defense Update is the official Rumsfeld response starting with “The editorial included a number of inaccurate and misleading statements.”

    Gateway Pundit: Donald Rumsfeld… The Best Defense Secretary Ever! suggests “Writers for USA Today are going to “bravely” publish some anti-war crap against Donald Rumsfeld in Gannett periodicals on Monday, a day before the election. Surprise Surprise! and then provides a comparison and contrast by example.

    Instapundit.com – takes off on some responses to the editorial. “t’s hard to know what to make of this. Rumsfeld’s a polarizing figure, and antiwar people have been talking smack about him for so long that legitimate criticism tends to get lost in the fog of politics.”

    That fog of politics seems to be rather severe these days. A lot of money is going into fog making machines. Unless and until the voters get past the obfuscation and into the clear, the decisions being made are not likely to be as effective as they could be.

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    You think the voting machine FUD mongering is bad … ?

    What do you do when you loose an election or can’t win an argument based on its merits? One example is illustrated in the Democrats attack on the US elections system. Another one is in Climate change special: State of denial – earth – 04 November 2006 – New Scientist

    It appears that those poor scientists who advocate human caused global warming are being attacked by a vast conspiracy of something or other, too.

    Kevin Trenberth reckons he is a marked man. … The attacks fit a familiar pattern. … So what is this money buying? … with a US administration that has a record of hostility to concerns about climate change … NCAR is not commenting on Inhofe’s investigation, but many climate scientists contacted by New Scientist regard it as a tactic designed to intimidate

    This, of course, goes along with the allegations about  how the current administration is censoring scientists who do not agree with it and other such things.

    When you hear complaints about the politicization of science, these kinds of reports are a good place to start. Rather than work on the merits of the data, the accuracy and precision of the knowledge, and a proper weighing of evidence, complaining of attacks and censorship are the tactic. What do you want? Evidence and rationale debate or conspiracy theories and fantasies?

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    Elections coming up and the spin slings

    Next week it is, although many have voted already via absentee or early vote procedures.

    WorldNetDaily: Mideast terror leaders to U.S.: Vote Democrat is an interview that makes an endorsement worth considering.

    Kerry suggests troops lazy, not bright is a brief description of a faux pas that received a lot of attention because it was a clear symbol of long standing ‘attitudes’ and generated a response from the troops that had many rolling on the floor with laughter.

    Tigerhawk also notes a New York Times story just out

    So, the New York Times is quoting “experts,” apparently approvingly, who say that Saddam Hussein was as little as a year away from building an atom bomb. This is offered in support of the proposition that the Bush administration acted recklessly when it published captured Iraqi documents that describe that country’s WMD programs, because those documents might be used by any other lame-o country to build WMD.

    Wait a minute. Iraq had WMD programs?!? Iraq was “on the verge of building an atom bomb, as little as a year away”? You’re ‘shittin’ me! And here I thought Bush lied.

    And then there is the FUD mongering over the election. Diebold is protesting an HBO show because of its portrayal of hacking electronic voting machines. WaPo complains about dirty tactics when the public record of performance in office is aired but then seems to enjoy trying to dig up sealed divorce records.

    Meanwhile the Rodney Dangerfield economy is showing numbers like a new high in employment while stocks are at record highs (but don’t tell the MSM).

    And, in Nevada, a candidate for governor is having trouble finding the right equipment to show security video records to clear him of allegations made.

    Trying to get to the bottom of it might seem so difficult but then, a bit of proper skepticism and intellectual integrity in inspecting the whole scene can go a long way.

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