Archive for December, 2006

Never enough, the fallacy of the excluded middle

‘It was an assassination.’ ‘There was no fair trial.’ ‘It was simply revenge.’ ‘It was an occupier’s leader’s single handed action for solely political purpose.’ ‘It short circuited trials for more serious crimes.’ ‘It was an aggregious example of the wrongs of capital punishment.’ And on and on and on.

A public, legal trial followed by court-sentenced execution? That isn’t going to happen unless…unless a democracy replaces a tyranny. This is astonishing news — history altering news.

Austin Bay (UPDATED: A few thoughts on Saddam’s execution (three updates)) describes the execution in more rational terms.

Western peaceniks and other terrorist enablers will call this further humiliation of Arabs. As usual they are wrong. Its a chance for cultural liberation, to escape the dismal oppression of autocratic bullies

The atrocities were well known. The guilt not a matter of question as near the entire world was witness. The fact, the historically significant fact, is that the tyrant had an opportunity to explain himself and say his piece. An established and internationally accepted process was followed. But for those with an axe to grind, this was not enough. It had to be something else, something more, something less, — no matter what it was it had to be something else, anything else. It needed to have been perfect. There is no middle that is sufficient.

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Dr. Sowell on the fundamental governance question

Economics theory goes to the fundamental issues of human motivation and decision making. Dr. Sowell notes the ongoing conflict between the ‘crass’ factors and the ‘idealistic’ factors that have risen to a near fever pitch. We have ample evidence about where the balance between the two must lie yet evidence in insufficient for many.

Perhaps it is one of the fruits of the “self-esteem” emphasis in our schools that so many people feel confident to voice strong convictions about things they know little or nothing about — or, worse yet, are misinformed about.

Are individual decisions made by people deciding what is best for themselves to be over-ruled by ignorant busybodies, obsessed by things they do not understand?

The first is about integrity and the second about hubris. For effective governance we must realize the limits of our knowledge and understanding in the strength by which we hold our positions. We also have to allow others to choose their own path by not being overzealous about the boundaries between their behavior, the social impact, and the impact on our personal beliefs.

See his NRO column Unproductive Talk: Leave Bill Gates and Wal-Mart alone.

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The state of the scientists: tension. uncertainty

The National Science Teacher’s Association declined an offer of free DVD’s of Al Gore’s movie. So the organization making the offer decided that the NSTA is in Mobile (evil corp’s) pocket and is offering the DVD to other teachers. Meanwhile, the AGU, a association of scientists working in the fields related to climate change had their national meeting in San Francisco. The meeting of thousands of scientists was an opportunity to feel out background currents of ideas and thoughts about the state of those scientists.

Kate, at Small Dead Animals, made note of Kevin Vrane’s take on American Geophysical Union at Prometheus which in turn referred to the original posting at So what happened at AGU last week?. The reason for links to these three blogs is that it is not only the post that is of interest but the comments from three different blog audiences.

The core of the issue is that of appropriate skepticism and the claims of government censorship versus where the real influence on free expression and debate of important scientific concepts lies.

None of this is to say that the risk of climate change is being questioned or downplayed by our community; it’s not. It is to say that I think some people feel that we’ve created a monster by limiting the ability of people in our community to question results that say “climate change is right here!” It is to say that a number of climsci people I heard from are not comfortable enough with the science to want our community to push to outsiders an idea that we have fully or even adequately bounded the risk. I heard from a few people a sentiment that we need to stop making assumptions and decisions for decision-makers; that we need to give decision-makers only the unvarnished truth with realistic bounds on our uncertainty, and trust that the decision-makers will know what to do with it. These feelings came of frustration that many of us are downplaying uncertainties for fear of not being listened to.

Some of the comments:

bigTom: “we still have a large fraction of deniers” – note the ad hominem, the rest of his comment goes down the same path of false logic. Contrast to the next …

PhysioProf: “I agree completely with you that our job as scientists is to educate policymakers and the public about (1) what we do is important, (2) nothing we conclude is certain, (3) the degree of certainty that we have concerning particular conclusions. In other words, “honesty is the best policy” for scientists, and let policymakers do what they are good at.”

In other words, there is tension and uncertainty. Scientists need to focus on science but that gets political when it comes to finding funds for their research. Then, when there is high uncertainty on issues of significant importance, the tempations of idealism leads away from the proper intellectual integrity of a scientist.

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The Wizard of Oz Treatment

Will Thalheimer got suspicious and decided to check it out. His blog entry People remember 10%, 20%…Oh Really? is a case study of the need for appropriate skepticism and due diligence, especially when we borrow from others. The case in point is the ‘common knowledge’ of learning retention related to the media used for learning.

we may not be able to trust the information that floats around our industry. It tells us that even our most reputable people and organizations may require the Wizard-of-Oz treatment—we may need to look behind the curtain to verify their claims.

The fact that our field is so easily swayed by the mildest whiffs of evidence suggests that we don’t have sufficient mechanisms in place to improve what we do. Because we’re not able or willing to provide due diligence on evidence-based claims, we’re unable to create feedback loops to push the field more forcefully toward continuing improvement.

The phenomena is similar to the social game where a statement is whispered to one person who then whispers that to another. By the time the statement gets all the way around the room, it is likely to be very different from the original. This is entertaining as a game but when the same thing happens to research results it can be a problem.

Will points out a number of warning signs that should alert users of information to proceed with caution. He also suggests that those who toss out information, especially information that is a research product, know the source and understand its quality.

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Pipes get old

A while back there was a brouhaha about repairs to the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. That was one of the largest private ventures ever attempted and a big deal because of environmental concerns. It is hard to believe but the pipe has done its thing for its entire expected lifespan with very little to notice. Now it is getting old and needs some TLC to maintain its standard of uneventful carrying out of its purpose.

The Alaskan Pipeline isn’t the only pipe suffering from old age. Thomas Rooney talks about his Pipeline nightmares in a Washington Times commentary. His worry is a lot more local and a lot more immediate and one we also don’t hear much about and one the MSM isn’t much interested in.

The oil pipes received a lot of attention. But remember: No one died. No one got sick. No pristine land was despoiled. It will cost us some money.

But only a few people are talking about the broken pipes really do hurt our environment, get people sick, cause deaths and cost us even more money than oil pipeline shutdowns. Those are sewer pipes, of course. Even the worst Alaskan oil pipe is in better shape than the average city sewer pipe.

Say what you will about oil spills, but they are usually small and in remote areas where damage to human life, property and wildlife is minimal at most. But I’ve seen enough of both to know this: Crude oil is much cleaner and less toxic than sewage. And oil spills are much less common. Yet oil gets all the ink, while sewage escapes scrutiny.

In many communities the pipes are well past expected life spans and just waiting for a catastrophic failure. It seems it takes more than that to prompt fixing while it is still relatively inexpensive. One example is in an area of Washoe County in Nevada.

The community was in a typical Nevada Basin and population growth had raised the surface water level to such a point that ditches near the school were filling with septic system effluent. That, and the demand for treated waste water for golf courses, prompted an entire communiy’s streets to be dug up, sewer pipes installed, and water pipes replaced (the water losses from leaks had been significant, too). Then the county charged the folks in that community, many elderly and with only social security, twice for all the work. But at least those who could tolerate going from $20/mo to $100/mo un utility bills now have city water and sewer and resurfaced roads!

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DIME: an integrated effort

Austin Bay takes a look back at his War College days and the discussion about Army force levels that took a dive after the first Iraqi conflict in the early nineties. He notes that Army strength and capability is not a simple matter and it is only a part of the whole picture. “Winning takes all elements of power applied and applied in a sustained, focused (yet flexible) manner.”

the issue isn’t merely military power or “how much” military power. We do a terrible job of “unified action” — uniting our diplomatic, information/intelligence, military, and economic elements of power (DIME is the acronym).

These elements are the expression of a nation’s power through its government. In the U.S. this power is expressed by a bureaucratic corps that has an interia beyond the politicians, the people who elect representatives and first leaders, and a form of government that divies up duties for accountability and action moderation.

It is DIME that VDH prompts to ask: Meanwhile, are we losing it here at home?

Does running for President allow a candidate to freelance at a time of war by talking to our enemies and triangulating against the president? Why is Gov. Richardson talking to North Koreans, or Sen. Kerry trying to talk to the Iranians, or Sen. Bayh to the Syrians? Wouldn’t that be like a Tom DeLay talking to Milosevic to undermine Clinton during the Kosovo bombing? Or Trent Lott dealing with the Taliban as Clinton sent cruise missiles against them?

The question is why the U.S. is becoming unhinged, why there are leaders taking destructive actions, why there is such misperception and misguided destruction of a common mission and purpose.

We can talk about more troops. That is easy. It only takes money. It doesn’t offend anyone. It is a simple process. But when we look at DIME, getting the State Department bureaucrats working on the same goals and mission and values as the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies and the MSM and the legislators – that isn’t so easy. It means looking at the mirror and asking not what we do for ourselves but for our country. It means working with a team and not derogating responsibilities to someone else. It means growth and change and tollerance – and perhaps even examining our own intellectual integrity.

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Teasing the bear

The case of the six friends (via CAIR) of a recently elected representative is an interesting story about teasing the bear. This is what children do when they want to see what they can get away with. They push the limits and see how far they can go before they are noticed and before any action is taken. This is also what terrorists do to sound out security measures so they know the boundaries they can avoid in order to carry out their plans. It is also what some people are doing to try to win propadanda wars, gain sympathy, and discredit those they do not like.

The Now Notorious Flying Imams Claim Their Only Crime Was “Flying While Muslim,” But Our Exclusive Reporting Reveals They Are Trying to Sweep Their Real Motives Under Their Prayer Rugs

The Pajamas Media Exclusive: Police Report, Passenger Reveals That Flying Imams Were Up to No Good tells the real story with a link to the official police report. More than three hours of care was taken by authorities. Allegations made in support of those removed from the flight are shown to be spurious.

The problem with testing limits is that it removes trust. When there is not trust that individuals will exercise responsible behavior then it taints all relationships. In this case, those trying to establish base motives of authorities only show to their fellows on the airplane that mistrust is warranted and must be directed in just such a way the supposed victims decry.

Other muslims on the plane did show what is necessary to build trust rather destroy it. Let us hope that their example will spread and that those who tease the bear can be properly isolated as individuals who must be harshly informed of their malfeasance and its implications.

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The Union of Concerned Scientists is real concerned

The BBC reports on another Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) complaint about the politicization of science. Curious Cat John Hunter notes the PSA in the entry
The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science. The complaint from UCS is that

in recent years, however, scientists who work for and advise the federal government have seen their work manipulated, suppressed, distorted, while agencies have systematically limited public and policy maker access to critical scientific information. To document this abuse, the Union of Concerned Scientists has created the A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science.

And the comment about this sad state of affairs is reasonable:

My belief is that improving the science and engineering infrastructure of a country (which includes promoting open and honest debate of scientific data and a culture that discourages political suppression scientific data) is very important for economic well being. And with so many countries moving forward to take advantage of this opportunity to improve their economies if a country fights to suppress science it will pay the price.

The problem is, of course, that neither the BBC nor the UCS have clean noses in this arena. Both have indicated a clear political agenda and this is a part of it. The fact is that science is a human activity and that means that “observer bias” is always a part of any honest research because it always exists. Science is also a peer reviewed and public activity which means the government can do very little to supress ideas. What the government does do is to invest huge sums into research and that is a problem. It has always been a problem.

The government chooses what research it thinks is a worthwhile use for its money. The BBC/UCS complaint is not to try to educate the people who make the decisions about what they think is the most productive use of money – rather they allege conspiracy and complain that they are being victimized. John concludes on this line:

How much public money to devote to science and engineering fellowships is a political decision that greatly impacts science. Exactly what laws should be adopted to slow global warming is a political decision. The problem is not that politics and science can’t interact but how that interaction takes place.

A first step would be to show a proper recognition for this reality and then also to acknowledge that it is not new but rather a part and parcel of the political process. Those who impy otherwise should raise the skeptics suspicions about their arguments.

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Its the cows, not the SUV’s

A report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow, is the latest in the climate change war. It says that cows are more of a problem than SUV’s. This isn’t surprising as there have been stories like that at NewsMine before. Anything that tries to digest plant material, especially hard to digest stuff like grass and wood, will produce methan as a byproduct. This is why termites will even outproduce cows when it comes to greenhouse gas production. But there is probably a reason why the report took after cows. James A. Merrit notes (he also provides a link to the report: “Here is the URL to the page where you can download the report: UN FAO Report – Livestock’s Long Shadow.. You can download the whole thing in one PDF file, or any of the individual chapters.”)

Actually, the point of the report is that, because we are so committed to eating cows, we indirectly cause most of the emissions by raising and feeding, processing, and transporting them and the products made from them. The implications of the report are that we need to eat fewer cows, or at least deal with the demand for beef in a more environmentally friendly fashion.

Also see the entry at the Green Diary “for the environmentalist in you.” For more on termites, see Biomass of termites and their emissions of methane and carbon dioxide or Termites as a Source of Atmospheric Methane or Sources of Atmospheric Methane.

This particular debate isn’t ‘clean’ but rather muddied by wishful thinking, theology, ideology, poor precision, and even personal psychology. This latest report is an example. Methane is only one of many greenhouse gasses. Cow flatulance is only one of many significant sources. The effects on climate change are more in the class of wild guesses than anything else. The amount of change even anticipated by the more extreme is well within the kinds of variations you see from year to year. All the talk about “cow farts” can be entertaining, especially to your middle school boy component, but a bit of skepticism is needed before taking it as a serious issue worthy of pursuit.

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Culture and Caudillismo

The Fururist ponders the Culture of Success in trying to figure out why third world countries seem stuck in that world and why economic success and personal vitality reside where they do. A case study is at TCS Daily describing the The Culture of Caudillismo which is trying to figure out what happened to the Venezuelans.

The Futurist shows a Human Development Index map and asks

The first question we can ask is why Australia and New Zealand are wealthy, while Haiti and Liberia are among the world’s poorest. All four are countries that are inhabited and governed by people who have been there for under 200 years. Let me also provide the disclaimer that the reason is not because of the skin color of the inhabitants of those countries.

Then, on TCS, Alvaro Vargas Llosa asks

I am often asked why a government as authoritarian and corrupt as that of Hugo Chavez wins elections. In my five trips to Venezuela since Chavez took office eight years ago, I have come to a conclusion that many Venezuelans suffer something akin to Stockholm syndrome, that state of psychological dependence that the victim develops with a kidnapper.

“Cultures of specific ethnic groups are formed over the the course of centuries, not just decades.” – You have those who have “developed the intellectual or philosophical foundations of science, legal institutions, or productivity” and those that haven’t. And there is a third type of culture, the wheelbarrow culture.

“When using a wheelbarrow, a person can move greater weight than without the wheelbarrow. But when the person stops pushing it, the wheelbarrow cannot move at all. If a person were analogous to a wheelbarrow, such a person would be capable of greatness if guided by the right people, but would achieve nothing without such mentorship. This characteristic can even be seen in entire cultures. “

But where is Venezuela? Why are people like Chavez able to kidnap an entire country? “Like all “revolutionary” strongmen, Chavez has built his legitimacy by discrediting the past.”

Millions of Venezuelans have come to depend on government programs known as “missions” for their livelihood. These programs have placed the welfare recipients at the political mercy of the authorities. Many people are convinced that their personal future depends on handouts rather than wealth creation. Anybody who opposes the government is seen as an agent of the old elite determined to throw the poor to the wolves.
But there is something more — the culture of “caudillismo,” that is, the identification on the part of many people with the larger-than-life strongman who is a father figure to them: They interpret the outside world through his eyes. The politicization of Venezuelan society through the suffocating intrusion of the government has reduced the people’s sense of space in the way the kidnapper reduces the space of the victim. Nothing outside of that relationship can possibly exist for the victim while the kidnapper is in control. Until internal or external factors begin to weaken that dependence,

Sometimes even a wheelbarrow can be a heavy load. Perhaps Venezuela, as a culture, is showing a preference to let ‘father’ carry the load and leaving that wheelbarrow alongside the road for sometime later.

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Can’t we all just discuss things?

Sam Burson thinks The flight from science is worrying – it seems we can’t have rational discourse’. He cites a leading Welsh theologian warned yesterday that superstition is replacing science in modern society and Professor Tom O’ Laughlin who claims there is a lack of rational discourse on science because playing on emotions is an easier task.

Prof O’ Laughlin suggests we need more calm Mr Spocks and less hysterical Dr McCoys when it comes to discussing emotive issues, such as vivisection, embryonic research and nuclear energy.

You don’t have to look very far to find more examples to cause you to be disheartened if you are looking for intellectual integrity and reasoned debate. Let us hope that things will turn around and society will not devolve back to Aztec human sacrifices and such – or is that a jihadist I hear?

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Copyright Obfuscation

While Disney has had great success with Micky Mouse laws that keep its original copyrights in force, there has also been a lot of effort on the enforcement side as well. TechDirt reports: Wall Street Journal Editorial Apparently Clueless Over Copyright.

The entire editorial mixes and matches different situations to try to make their point (that Google is ripping everyone off and deserves to be punished), but if you look at each specific situation, none of them stand up to any scrutiny.

This aspect of the copyright problem really started with software. It was so easy to copy software packages and they were (and many still are) so expensive that ‘pirating’ became an issue. People would ‘borrow’ a copy of some program so they could try it out or even just to have it in a collection so it was handy, just in case they had a need for its functionality sometime. Very few actually used the program and another very few actually violated the intent of copyright and intelllectual property law.

Next on the electronic media, easy to duplicate and distribute roster was entertainment. Audio especially because of better standardization of formats and moderate file sizes. This means the recording artists became fearful of loss of revenue and their association (RIAA) started going after anyone who they thought might have a copy of a recording they didn’t properly purchase. That led to a law known as the DMCA and that lead to copy protection schemes being built into both the recording media and the hardware needed to display it. These copy protection schemes make the equipment more difficult to use and create frustration even for legitimate use.

Google was the topic of the editorial because it was trying to ease some of that user frustration. The response was a rather typical defense.

the article trots out a bunch of weak arguments that we’ve discussed before, that can basically be summarized as jealousy that Google figured out how to make money by making others’ content more valuable. They all jump to the conclusion that it’s illegal …

Keep an eye out for this one! Its tentacles reach far and wide. It is already something you pay for whenever you purchase equipment that can display recordings. It influences how you can find and purchase those recordings. It influences how you can use what you purchased. And even prestigeous publishers can’t get it right in editorializing about it.

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Making a list and checking it twice – supporting terror

Vasko Kohlmayer took at look at Democrats, terrorists and ‘brotherly way‘ in a special to World Defense Review. He notes some of the positions and actions taken by the Democrats such as

  • tried to prevent us from listening on terrorists’ phone calls
  • sought to stop us from properly interrogating captured terrorists
  • tried to stop us from monitoring terrorists’ financial transactions
  • revealed the existence of secret national security programs
  • opposed vital components of the Patriot Act
  • sought to confer unmerited legal rights on terrorists
  • opposed profiling to identify the terrorists in our midst
  • impugned and demeaned our military
  • insinuated that the president is a war criminal
  • forced the resignation of a committed defense secretary
  • repeatedly tried to de-legitimize our war effort
  • want to quit the battlefield in the midst of war.

Is it any wonder that “America’s sworn enemy used the term ‘brotherly’ when referring to one of our major political parties?”

Perhaps equally telling is the logic and rationale used to support these views. That gets into an interesting study of intellectual integrity and the forms of nonsensical logical forms.

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