Archive for August, 2007

Do we learn?

One of the more heartening behaviors, at least to an educator, is the topic and nature of the discussion. One such topic is the mid 20th century history of Vietnam and the lessons it has for us today. Sol W. Sanders, an Asian specialist, describes how such a history is nuanced by many many little things that reach farther back in time and have influence farther forward. Many platitudes or simple conclusions are missing key features that have lessons to understand. These are what make history different from the present. History may not repeat itself but what was can guide what will be. That effort is why learning from history is important yet not trivial.

Yes, all wars in the end are settled politically. But selling out friends and American honor in a withdrawal which would only feed the insane frenzy of this enemy which fights not for turf and power but for liquidation of its non-conforming enemies in an obscure and not a peaceful faith, would produce another catastrophe just as the cutoff of funds and support for a model little army [but totally dependent on American logistics] did in Vietnam in 1973.[Authors of disastrous Vietnam policy have still not been called to account]

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Jumping to conclusion, an example.

The climate argument recently got down to the issue of accuracy in the primary data and the manner by which conclusions were drawn from that data. Stats.org has another example of how a bit of agenda driven zeal can result in questionable conclusions. When inference was checked by experiment, the inference was found to be flawed.

In this case, it was the Ecology Center and plastic use in automobiles. “Ecology” and “plastic” are terms that often seem correlated with an unseemly bias and that should raise a bit of skepticism.

But the Center didn’t actually measure the “off-gas” or what it contained. It was enough to know that because the car contained plastic, and off-gassing occurred, it would yield poisonous fumes. … a real toxicologist has finally studied new car smell, and the results are rather different from the Ecology Center.

As in the Hansen climate data brouhaha, one can wonder if some are thinking “why let measurement get in the way of a good story?” — after all, does the end justify the means? Or is jumping to conclusions something that should be kept in mind as just a start on finding accuracy in measure?

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Precision and accuracy

There is a bit of a brouhaha going on about the top ten warmest years. One scientist noticed something odd in NASA data and a result was that the NASA list of the warmest years was revised. The NASA data is only one of several data sources and the others do not seem affected by this adjustment.

Of course, there are those who assert that the repaired analysis error shows a massive flaw in the man caused global warming advocacy. The advocates say it is no big deal.

There are two big issues here. One is about the argument and the other about the data. The significant point of concern about the argument is that NASA was (and still is) reluctant to disclose its data and its methods in interpreting surface weather records. One of the central NASA scientists involved is also the one who has been very vocal in political allegations. Rather than debate the need for the ability of scientists to inspect raw data and methods used to obtain conclusions, it is about trivial matters of differences in outcomes. This, like labeling skeptics “deniers,” is an indication that the debate is not on very ‘scientific’ grounds of truthfulness and integrity.

The problem with the data is one that confuses precision and accuracy. The debate is about temperatures where the difference in on the order of a tenth of a degree or so. The proper question is whether this precision is matched by the accuracy of the measure.

One effort raising questions about accuracy is an examination of the surface stations use to collect the raw data. That effort has revealed that many of these stations do not meet established standards. Making corrections to historical records to adjust for changes in location or environment or other influences require an ‘interpretation’ of the data. It is this sort of interpretation that was behind the NASA correction. This is why the methods need to be available for inspection so that those who use the data can determine its quality.

Another problem some may have about accuracy is in trying to match up the assertions that the climate is warming by a degree or so over decades with the observations that some think are caused by the warming. A degree or so isn’t going to melt glaciers or entire continental ice masses yet that seems to be the claim. What that means is that global warming by itself must be matched with a chain of causality. Each link in that chain has its own accuracy. It then becomes less of a certainty at the end than at the beginning of the chain and this uncertainty is not reflected in the certitude of pronouncements about the dire effects of the theoretical outcomes.

It is one thing to disagree, to have differing opinions. The certitude of a conclusion must match an appropriate assessment of the precision and accuracy of measure to be a matter of science. The discussion about global warming has a lopsided certitude that does not speak towards it being a matter of science but rather of something else.

Update: Hitting the same points, and also demonstrating an appropriate Limbaugh criticism to contrast with that illustrated in the entry Ignorance on parade is Michael Fumento on James Hansen’s Hacks:

Rush Limbaugh was incorrect in saying the new figures are “just more evidence” that “this whole global warming thing is a scientific hoax.” Conversely, global warming hotheads are also wrong in insisting the revelation deserves no more mention than the back of a Trivial Pursuit card. The GISS, which is directed by global warming guru James Hansen, is saying likewise. He’s wrong. Part of the importance is in the data and part is in how Hansen’s agency behaved, which might be labeled a cover-up.

Criticism on what was actually said that is sourced is shown here. Then there is the notice that the temperature record problem has two main parts centering data problems and behavior problems.

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A source of authority

Michael Yon describes it:

through time, somehow the American military has managed to establish a moral authority in Iraq. It’s not the only authority, but the military has serious and increasing moral clout. In the beginning, our influence flowed from guns, or dropped from the wings of jets. Later it was the money. Today, the clout still is partially from the gun, and definitely the money is key, but there is an intangible and growing moral clout and it flows from an increasing respect among Iraqis for our military. Washington has no moral clout in Iraq. Washington looks like a circus act. The authority is coming from our military. The importance of this fact would be difficult to understate.

First it is the base emotions: fear and greed. Authority is of the sort that is the paradigm behind the scandal paranoia of the left and the eternal quest to uncover misdeeds done for the purpose of obtaining money and power which they see as the only motivations for political office.

But then there is an authority of a different sort. It is the authority that comes from action, an authority based on a mutual respect. This is a true authority, one that lasts. It will be the legacy of the military in Iraq and elsewhere, but only if we allow it to be.

Much of the ‘hate America’ that some dwell on in the world community is based on envy at the power and money that the US has at its disposal. That illustrates that authority from the base emotions has its negatives. There is also the other side, the reason why so much of the world emulates the U.S., attends its schools, and finds ways to live in the country despite immigration law. This is the ‘love America’ that is so often ignored. It is a respect for the authority of standards and behavior.

Whether we allow, support, and extend this authority from respect for values, integrity, and honor is the political debate of the day. It is whether we, at home, will stand behind our expressed values and step forward with actions to make them real that will determine the future.

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Why the winter soldier?

Maulkin’s report on the Winter Soldier Syndrome is the cited reference on understanding the latest example.

The tale of Army Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp, the discredited “Baghdad Diarist” for the discredited New Republic magazine, is an old tale

Winter Soldier Syndrome will only be cured when the costs of slandering the troops outweigh the benefits. Exposing Scott Thomas Beauchamp and his brethren matters because the truth matters. The honor of the military matters. The credibility of the media matters.

Doug notes this same phenomena in Media Hall of Shame where the perpetrators are media stars.

What do Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, Gavyn Davies, Howell Raines and now Thomas Beauchamp all have in common? They’re all in John Wixted’s Liberal Media Hall of Shame for ruining their own careers because of lies told to promote a liberal agenda.

The Rather episode brought about the ‘fake but accurate’ idea where the dishonesty become so blatant that a rationalization of serving a greater, more abstract, purpose had to be invented. That is why Dr. Sanity is needed for an insight into these defenses of the mind from a trained and educated psychologist.

Some have wondered why the latest New Republic episode is getting the attention that it does. They see it as a minor thing. But it is the second time the magazine has been caught publishing grossly inaccurate material. It displays a pattern of propaganda that fits into a broader fantasies promulgated to support a dishonest perception. It is just one part of a much bigger picture. It says more about an illness in society by its publication than the stories themselves.

That is, it is an illness if the truth does matter, if integrity does matter, if honor and respect for others does matter.

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The chilling effect of lawfare

The attempts to elevate the Gitmo prisoners to full US citizenship status, after elevating them to Geneva Convention official POW status, are one front of many in the use – or misuse – of law to fight an ideological battle. Mark Steyn described another in
The vanishing jihad exposés.

So why would the Cambridge University Press, one of the most respected publishers on the planet, absolve Khalid bin Mahfouz, his family, his businesses and his charities to a degree that neither (to pluck at random) the U.S., French, Albanian, Swiss and Pakistani governments would be prepared to do?

Because English libel law overwhelmingly favors the plaintiff. And like many other big-shot Saudis, Sheikh Mahfouz has become very adept at using foreign courts to silence American authors – in effect, using distant jurisdictions to nullify the First Amendment. He may be a wronged man, but his use of what the British call “libel chill” is designed not to vindicate his good name but to shut down the discussion, which is why Cambridge University Press made no serious attempt to mount a defense.

The target here is censorship of unpleasant ideas. Another target where foreign courts are selected to cast judgment is in the matter of ‘war crimes’ to taint certain politictal and military leaders. The underlying problem in lawfare is that the law is not uniformly certain. A man of good sense cannot predict the way some legal matter will turn out because there is no standard that is uniformly applied. Words only mean what someone wants them to mean in a particular circumstance.

Lawfare is poking and prodding at the fringes of common sense and understood morality and justice in order to trim them back like a fungus attacking a tree. It is death in little steps. It uses the law against itself and the weaknesses of its practitioners to destroy the edifice upon which they base their livelihood. Social structure is only a victim of collateral damage in this war.

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Ignorance on parade

There is a tendency to create things that fit one’s world view. Bob Owens notes one case in his post A Community-Based Reality:

And so it is that “this whole thing”—the claim that conservative bloggers said Thomas didn’t exist or wasn’t a soldier—comes squarely back onto the shoulders of liberal bloggers who created the meme themselves.

When pressed to provide a specific quote from any conservative blog stating that Scott Thomas didn’t really exist, was fabricated, or was an imposter, these and other liberal bloggers have utterly failed to do so.

Why they failed should now be obvious: they made up these claims themselves.

That one is story based. Another type is the person based with an example provided by headlines like “Left for Rush Limbaugh to blame global warming on in 2008” – These set up a straw man to attack and, again, suffer from an inability “to provide a specific quote” else why the straw man, the ad hominem? Either type creates an opposition and an artificial conflict.

The headline was where Russsell Seitz took off on a typical fantasy. He seems to miss the idea that Limbaugh is a commentator and not a reporter or scientist and he makes no pretenses about his role. In regards to climate change and other issues, Limbaugh highlights the work of others and the manner of the debate. He does not ‘blame’ but rather comments on what others see. He highlights the absurdities and conflicts rather than buys trivia for digestion.

There is the issue of why this matters. After all, these folks are just talking. Everyone is entitled to have their own fun. Free speech is supposedly protected. Why should it be of any note when someone strays from the realm of reality?

A first issue in integrity is an honesty with oneself. People who head off on fantasies tend to try to make them true. Where that becomes a social problem rather than an individual problem is a difficult line to determine. What does appear to be a pattern these days is that there are a number of people who are pushing that line as hard as they can. Terrorism is an extreme case. Propaganda is more subtle but still quite demonstrable as an issue. The less clear behaviors we face now include what has been called lawfare and the continual debate about bias and the impact of social media such as illustrated in these examples. We depend upon an honesty with reality for social cohesion and effective decision. That is why it matters.

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