Archive for June, 2007


The 5th column attack on the Office of the Vice President (OVP) heated up a bit this week. This time is was in allegations about the OVP not following Executive Orders.

Way back when, the Vice President was elected separately from the President. That was changed when it was decided that both the Vice President and the President should be more of a political unity. What that meant was that the OVP was not elected directly but rather vetted by the election of the President.

That did not change the fact that the Vice President is independent of the President and not a subordinate. The VP’s duties are (basically) to preside over the Senate and to stand by as a successor to the President if necessary. Anything else is on a voluntary basis as requested or allowed. The accountability in the OVP is to the electorate directly and not to the President nor to the Congress.

That is the issue at hand. Some folks in Congress think they should be in charge.

Executive Orders are the President’s instructions to his subordinates in the Executive Branch. The ultimate authority behind these orders is that of employee discipline. Since the President cannot fire the VP, the only way to enforce Executive Orders on the OVP is to either allow or disallow the OVP’s involvement in the actions that involve them.

Laws are another matter. These, of course, are supposed to be followed by everyone. An example of trying to pin lawbreaking on the OVP was the Plame case that resulted in an aid being convicted of not keeping his story straight.

In the latest brouhaha, it is Executive Orders about procedure for maintaining classified information secret. The OVP is doing its own thing rather than submitting to the Executive Agency procedures that are mandatory for others. Again, the Plame case can be seen as an example of why the OVP is maintaining its own policies.

The 5th Column has had the OVP in its cross hairs for a long time. There have been a lot of allegations about secrecy and other suspicious behavior. Of course it sounds really, really serious! The problem is that any attempt to get out of the wacko conspiracy theory realm with these allegations has either fizzled or made the theories look silly. So far.

A good key to look at in many of these 5th Column attacks is whether they are about process or result. S. Berger and the National Archives case was based on a result. The Executive Order thing on handling classified documents case is a complaint about a process. Our system of civil justice is built on the idea that a crime must occur before we start assigning guilt. Much of the political dialog seems to be assumptions of guilt looking for a crime. In these cases of “which comes first, the chicken or the egg” there is a solid answer that can be used as a test for credibility. The crime should come first.

Persistence in calling things a crime despite repeated court judgments, precedence, history, or other matters is not an indication on intellectual integrity, either. If you want to make something a crime that isn’t, get a law passed.

There are ways to disagree but alleging misconduct as a manner of disagreement does not do you credit. Find the misconduct, demonstrate that it is misconduct, and then show that it did indeed happen. Then you can at least help keep government honest. But going on and on about how the OVP not following an Executive Order belongs right up there with the Watergate burglary isn’t going to gain you much credibility in the thinking crowd.

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The price of self flagellation

Oliver North describes the price of internal destructive combat in the Washington Times Commentary Allied angst

A Philippine officer who had served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan put it succinctly: “If America fails to deal with these matters, our dreams for the future will be nightmares.”

Any effort is weakened by second guessing, failure prognosis, self doubt, and a lack of resolve. In the U.S. these tactics are used as political weapons. They push the envelope of responsible free expression of ideas.

Such free expression should not be confused with the renewed talk about the ‘Fairness Doctrine” which is a thinly veiled attempt to suppress talk radio. Nor should it be confused with the so called campaign finance reform that received a recent court setback. These efforts are attempts to censor internal debate and responsible discussion of ideas.

What is issue here is more in line with ex President Carter’s condemnation of US policy and practice to overseas audiences or Congressional leaders judging outcomes before an action has been taken. When Congress passes legislation or a resolution of significant international impact, such as the authorization to use force in Iraq, and then reneges on it just a few years later, much damage is done.

The concept is that it is most responsible to make up your mind, stick to it, and get it done. When a country does not do this, it creates misery for all of those who count on trust and integrity.

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The will to survive

Tony Blair retires from a decade of service as the British Prime Minister. The Patriot Post noted his comment about the will of a civilization to survive.

“It is said that by removing Saddam or the Taliban—regimes that were authoritarian but also kept a form of order—the plight of Iraqis and Afghans has worsened and terrorism has been allowed to grow. This is a seductive but dangerous argument. Work out what it really means. It means that because these reactionary and evil forces will fight hard, through terrorism, to prevent those countries and their people getting on their feet after the dictatorships are removed, we should leave the people under the dictatorship. It means our will to fight for what we believe in is measured
by our enemy’s will to fight us, but in inverse proportion. That is not a basis on which you ever win anything… The truth is that the conflict in Iraq has mutated into something directly fuelled by the same elements that confront us everywhere. Yet a large, probably the larger, part of Western opinion would prefer us to withdraw. That is the extraordinary dulling of our senses that the terrorism has achieved… There is no alternative to fighting this menace wherever it rears its head. There are no demands that are remotely negotiable. It has to be beaten. Period.” —British Prime Minister Tony Blair

“Work out what it really means”

That is often the tough part. – “Work out what it really means” – when you go after the US for torture and disdain any comparison to the torture chambers being discovered and shut down by US effort – “Work out what it really means.” When you laud Casto or Chavez or Hussain or Stalin or others of this ilk – “Work out what it really means.” Even when you assert the US is going down hill, its economy is in shambles, or other such things – “Work out what it really means”

Find reality. Do not tear and shred those trying to make things better by pretending they are as bad as what they try to fix. Do not undertake the easy target, the one that will listen and respond to you. Go after those who will not allow you to speak or to act and who will not listen to you and, indeed, will seek to kill you if you offend them. – “Work out what it really means”

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Troubling talk about amnesty

The immigration problem is creating quite a bit of dissonance. There is little disagreement about the idea that the US is plagued with illegal immigrants. What to do about this problem is another matter. The manner of argument is making the point that disreputable tactics are not isolated in any corner of the political spectrum.

A key word in this case is “amnesty” spat out in dismissive manner. That takes a disagreement about the degree of punishment and makes it into a yes or no morality issue. That is not an honest tactic and taints all of the other arguments that may follow it.

Big Lizards’ Bride of Picking a Blog Feud – Power Line provides a critique that highlights other logical fallacies in the debate.

Please pardon my puzzlement, but isn’t this a raging non-sequitur? Nothing facially in the immigration bill would increase illegal immigration, or even increase it relative to legal immigration. John makes an attempt to find a logical connection; but he relies upon a logical fallacy called “begging the question,” or assuming that which was to be proved: “further illegality, which, having been forgiven once again, will no doubt be encouraged.”

There is an ugly tone from quarters not usually associated with it. When hubris raises its ugly head then the skeptics eye should also go on alert. We do not need to poison debate about political issues yet that is what has happened to the immigration problem. Solutions offered are castigated and maligned. Differences of opinion are elevated to moral judgments. Priorities are not discussed and clarified. Complications and implications are not allowed on the table. We have some difficult problems to address and they are being given only troubling talk about black and white, all or nothing, solutions such as in the bandying of the word “amnesty.”

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Stem Cells, Haditha, and the need to be careful

How is the war being fought? On the front there is a new large scale effort to round up the terrorists but that is standard stuff. It is the front of the fifth column that is perhaps more important.

The stem cell funding veto was used in a number of ways to attack the enemy. The enemy in this case is the President. From his point of view it is a simple matter of whether or not the federal government should fund research that involves the destruction of embryos. But his opponents paint it as religious activism, as scientific ignorance, as a ban rather than a lack of support, as callous for the needs of those who might benefit from the research, and so on. Meanwhile, the researchers are finding that the need for this particular flavor of research is becoming less and less important as they learn more about stem cells and invent other ways to achieve the same results.

The ‘Marine baby killer’ meme was a favorite from Vietnam days. It was wrong then but that does not seem to have had an influence on today. This can be seen in the reports about bias at the BBC (See
Transterrestrial Musings). The latest example is the story promoted by Rep. Murtha and several major news media assuming that there was a massacre at Haditha. But Haditha is beginning to look like another Jennin as testimony is given in the hearings and trials of the accused.

Both of these events show how misinformation and incomplete information – propaganda – are being used to fight a war. It is not a war supporting freedom or other values that have built health and prosperity for many but rather those values that have been shown to lead to misery, death, and repression. It is a war that leads the gullible. It is an insidious war that is not fought by rules of engagement nor by uniformed soldiers held accountable for their actions. It is being fought on many fronts from many directions by soldiers who attempt to put on a cloak of respectability and self righteousness but have no uniform and no accountability. Let us hope that cloak is seen to be something like the parable about the emperor and his new clothes.

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Compare and contrast: GDP

Strange Maps has a rather interesting map showing the United States with countries for each state that have a GDP comparable to that state [131 – US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs].

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) “is defined as the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time.” Exactly how it is measured and what it means create quite a debate in some circles. What it can be reasonably expected to represent is a hard measure, a comparable measure, that has some relationship to the economic vitality of a country.

A map like this simplifies many things. As the map notes describe, it does not consider the population involved in the comparisons. For instance, the population of Ireland is a bit over four million and that of Nevada, with a similar GDP, is about two and a half million. That is why it is necessary to keep in mind the purpose of the map and not to make too much of what it doesn’t really say. What it does say is striking enough.

When GDP is normalized by population, you get a rough measure of the average productivity of a country’s citizens. That is often then used as a measure of the quality of the education system in a country because a primary purpose of education is to produce productive workers. As in the Nevada to Ireland comparison, the results often do not provide much support for those who like to bash the US and its education system.

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Culture cannot be ignored.

Some say the GWOT – the terror situation – is a culture war. Many worry about the decline of Western Culture and its manifest destiny that has created unprecedented global wealth and freedom. There are countries in Africa looking fondly back at colonial days when there was civic structure and prosperity that is missing today. In Iraq and Afghanistan there is much debate about cultures of corruption and tribal conflict that inhibit the social welfare of the countries.

These are issues of values and how they are reflected in behavior averaged over a large, a national sized, social group. They are intangible. That means difficult to measure, difficult to train, difficult to learn. There is a tendency to set them aside for more tangible concepts that can be easily written down for training or selling. But there are studies that indicate that the easy approach is insufficient.

The “major conclusion” of the study is that “mere dissemination of scientifically sound information is not by itself sufficient to overcome the divisive tendencies of cultural cognition.” With regard to nanotechnology, it “could go the route of nuclear power and other controversial technologies, becoming a focal point of culturally infused political conflict.” [Reason Online. June 12, 2007 Ronald Bailey. More Information Confirms What You Already Know. Study says values win over facts when it comes to tech risks]

This may be why there is such a correlation between environmental activists and political causes related to science and technology. A Nobel prize winning economist described the same values basis in his field and how it is often left out of theories and models in trying to understand growth and development of nations.

Mainstream economics assumes that any policy can be implemented anywhere at any time. In contrast, North sees economic behavior as anchored by institutions, which in turn are anchored by beliefs within the culture. [TCS Daily,Arnold Kling, Due North]

There are several clearly identified values that many believe are fundamental to personal freedom and economic development and liberty. One is the concept of private property rights. Another is the suppression of corruption. A third is evidence based decision making. All of these go against the ‘natural grain’ of individual existence. They are learned things. They are often difficult to learn things (see Cromer, Uncommon Sense). As such, they cannot go unattended. They require nurturing. They require weeding. If we do not take care of these things we will forfeit the freedoms and the liberties they provide us.

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With friends like these …

Dafydd ab Hugh takes a look at the other side of BSD in Strange Betrayal. It is not only the ‘loyal opposition’ that is continually finding fault, it is also a vocal contingent of the base.

Each excursion into spurious accusation becomes more “evidence” to buttress the next, until they build a gigantic “indictment mountain” of tapioca, which they treat like Mount Rushmore. Every absurd attack makes the next, equally absurd attack easier to hurl: Today, even a single word in a notoriously left-leaning newspaper is enough evidence to prove another Bush betrayal. Hey, where there’s smoke…

It is time for conservatives to focus on the areas where they agree with the fellow Republican in the White House, and on areas where a change can make a compromise bill better, yet not act as a poison pill to kill it altogether. I beseech you, in the bowels of Oliver Cromwell, to leave the Bush bashing to the professionals in the other party.

No one gets anywhere by bashing and trashing. No effort is totally without anything that can be criticized. Weakness is built and created. Winning is not only by big plays but also by the endurance to make a bit of progress here and a bit there. Right now, the question to ask of everyone is just what they consider to be the goal they are after.

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Do you listen? Can you see with another’s eyes?

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski asks

How can we defend ourselves against something of which we are not aware?

and reminds us reminds us that

The stronger the desire, the more important it is to seek an objective opinion.

The issue has long standing. In philosophy it is critical in classifying schools of thought. In science it is a consideration in the quality of measurement and conclusion. In individual lives it is all about how we deal with the world and the people around us.

In psychology, this is known as “denial”, which is a common phenomenon … This phenomenon is clearly described in Scriptures … We must be aware of our susceptibility to self-delusion. This is especially dangerous because the reasons for our denial are often in our subconscious. Denial is not the same as lying. A liar knows that he is lying. The person who is in denial has no idea that he is denying.

It is why arrogance and hubris have such a poor connotation. When there is an excess of confidence, especially in regards to knowledge about things with close personal meaning, there is a significant risk that the knowledge is incomplete or even wrong.

We can detect this imbalance between confidence and quality of knowledge in others. We often fail to even consider we may suffer this in ourselves. It takes education to know about this imbalance and training to learn procedures to accommodate its effect on us. Whether you are a philosopher, a scientist, a journalist, a rabbi, or even just a responsible citizen; whether you attend school or study the Bible or study literature; it is a responsibility for each of us to be humble and to realize we sometimes do not see the world as it really is. We all struggle for a better understanding and a knowledge of the limits of what we do know and how we know it. That is intellectual integrity.

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Conundrums should be a factor

The detection of conundrums is a skill that any good skeptic needs to learn. For instance, the climate catastrophists proclaim disasters from rising global temperatures. The measure of this rise appear to be only a degree or two over a hundred years. The conundrum is how an average global change of a degree or two can have catastrophic effect.

The melting glacier observation is an example. Unless the temperatures at the glacier were very near freezing, a change in only a couple of degrees would make no difference in whether they melted or not. The American Scientist has a story that carries this a bit farther.

But the commonly heard—and generally correct—statement that glaciers are disappearing because of warming glosses over the physical processes responsible for their disappearance. Indeed, warming fails spectacularly to explain the behavior of the glaciers and plateau ice on Africa’s Kilimanjaro massif, just 3 degrees south of the equator, and to a lesser extent other tropical glaciers. The disappearing ice cap of the “shining mountain,” which gets a starring role in the movie, is not an appropriate poster child for global climate change. Rather, extensive field work on tropical glaciers over the past 20 years by one of us (Kaser) reveals a more nuanced and interesting story. Kilimanjaro, a trio of volcanic cones that penetrate high into the cold upper troposphere, has gained and lost ice through processes that bear only indirect connections, if any, to recent trends in global climate. [The Shrinking Glaciers of Kilimanjaro: Can Global Warming Be Blamed?Philip W. Mote, Georg Kaser]

This gets interesting in another vein in that it tosses out an unsubstantiated presumption – “and generally correct” – that it then proposes is not so correct because the issues are “more nuanced and interesting” than often presumed.

Mote and Kaser do provide a good overview of the factors involved and why many of the catastrophic manifestations of climate change used to promote man caused global warming have nuance and interesting stories behind them, stories that sometimes reveal a lack of intellectual integrity in the conclusions being promoted by the climate catastrophists.

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The word narcissism seems to keep cropping up

A word that seems to come up often as folks try to describe and understand what they see in political discussion is narcissism (dictionarywikipedia). It seems related to the coarsening of public discourse in the use of swear words and a general contempt for others. Dennis Prager made note of one such example.

The ’60s redefined narcissism as idealism. The individual’s feelings became sacrosanct.

That is why the self-esteem movement — the idea that how an individual feels about himself is far more important than what he actually accomplishes — arose from the Left.

And that is why you almost never hear a conservative say “I am offended” when reacting to a liberal speaker or writer, but it is quite commonplace for a liberal to use those words in reacting to someone from the Right.

“Make love not war” was another example of placing one’s feelings above other values. That is why it is a very good thing for the world that the previous generation, the one that fought Hitler, didn’t believe in making love rather than war. [“Buck Fush” and the Left, Dennis Prager. June 5, 2007]

The concepts opposite to narcissism include such things as courtesy, honor, civility, integrity, and patriotism. These are often worn as banners to attempt to show how someone thinks they are super great and civic minded. But such an attempt to use these things as a cloak and not as a guide to personal behavior is indeed just an expression of narcissism.

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Rational evil

You never can tell whether Scott Adams has tongue in cheek or not but his blog entry on Rational Evil has a few points worth considering.

it seemed to me that even terrorists have specific objectives, and if they achieve those objectives, they stop terrorizing. … The problem is … If we remove all the original reasons for Al-Qaeda’s existence, I believe they would find new ones. It is unlikely the members of terror cells would decide to quit and become insurance salesmen.

One of the problems is that there is a complete disconnect between reality and what terrorists believe.

Now I believe there is sufficient perpetual hatred against Israel that it would be irrational for them to offer any concessions. … While I think Israel’s policies are a dark grey form of evil, I support them because at this point they are being entirely rational. It would be hypocritical to deny any other nation the right to pursue their self-interest.

Of course, there is the usual jab at the current US President’s Christian beliefs and the comments to this post also show examples of the postmodern moral equivalencing. These may just be efforts to try to deal with reality. The key is that reality is being noticed; that there is an awareness that the world may not be as we see it or want it to be.

In this case the reality is that civilization is faced with ideologues whose objectives are unappeasable. Unless Israel and the U.S. are wiped off the map and the rest of the world submits to the ideologues’ vision of proper behavior, the conflict will not end. That is why there is so much political conflict as it is not clear what to do about this sort of enemy. What experience tells us is needed to minimize the enemy is not something that goes down well with the views and ideals of many so it creates dissonance and distortion.

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Griffin riles the priests

It seems the head of NASA has riled a vocal community. “During an interview Wednesday with NPR, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin expressed doubts that global warming was an issue that humans could or should address.” (Andrea Thompson, LiveScience: NASA Chief’s Global Warming Remarks Called ‘Naïve’)

It is not that Griffin disputed the idea of human caused global warming. What he did was to question whether humans could do much about it. He also questioned the idea that some folks feel they can judge just what the climate should be. Griffin considered it rather arrogant for some to decide that the current climate is the right one. That point about arrogance was underscored by Gavin Schmidt calling Griffin naive for such views.

That is one of the behavioral indicators that anyone can use to qualify views expressed. When folks like Schmidt cast judgment on those with views they do not like, such as labeling the holder of those views naive, then one should be very concerned about the basis for Schmidt’s views. It is one thing to opine that the current climate is best because we have adapted to it and accommodating change would be expensive. It is another to opine that someone is naive because he doesn’t see it this way.

This is related to the heat and tenor of the debate. The vocal community is bound together by something other than a common consensus of thought. They are bound by something that does not tolerate any thoughts that might weaken its commonality. That is an indicator that the consensus is not a matter of intellect but rather belief. That is why there are many who feel that the climate warming issue has become religious rather than scientific.

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