Archive for September, 2007

How’s your propaganda detector?

Separating climate fact from fiction (Washington Times) promotes a “prove it to me” skepticism and offers a number of indicators that should spark suspicion about the quality of a conclusion.

Here’s what will cause alarm bells to ring on a properly tuned detector:

  • claiming natural events are unnatural, or normal events abnormal
  • Speculation and exaggeration presented as unbiased fact
  • Exploitation of basic fears
  • Taking advantage of public ignorance
  • Continuously shifting goalposts
  • Continuously “upping the ante”
  • In other words, if you don’t have what it takes to take apart the assertions in an argument, a good way to start is to look at the behavior in presenting it. That won’t win an argument or sway anyone but it will help you determine for yourself how much value you should place in the conclusions.

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    That faulty miserable failure

    Rick Richman reviews Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism at American Thinker in Why We Are in Iraq. It brings to mind all of these assertions of faulty miserable failures by the current administration made with conviction and certainty.

    After all, Iraq had been liberated from one of the worst tyrants in the Middle East; three elections had been held; a decent constitution had been written; a government was in place; and previous unimaginable liberties were being enjoyed. By what bizarre calculation did all this add up to failure? And by what ever stranger logic was failure to be read into the fact that the forces opposed to democratization were fighting back with all their might?

    The caution one must heed is that of casting judgment in matters of opinion. The self assured pronouncements of failure, of fault, of incompetence, and similar should immediately arouse skepticism. Such pronouncements are part and parcel of elevating disagreement into moral or even legal matters. Differences of opinion in policy matters very seldom belong in that arena.

    These kinds of judgments, such as that something is a faulty miserable failure, place divergent views at extremes. They are polar. They are not visibly based on known and accepted referents. Even with such a referent, such as the law, the judgments made are subject to appeal and much discussion.

    As Podhoretz illustrates, there are often many factors that may soften the edge of harsh judgment and they must be accommodated for a proper integrity.

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    Dissing public ed

    One of the favorite complaints these days is about the public education system and how it is a miserable failure. Straight Dope provides an example (Does the average American student have less vocabulary today than in days gone by?) with its takedown of a report that modern students do not have the vocabulary their predecessors had. Cecil not only demonstrates the nature of the complaint but shows how it is based in ignorance and gross misperception of data.

    Another aspect of the complaint is its sister. That is that the country is going down the drain and can’t compete with people in the rest of the world. This shows up in education with the flaunting of tests that show US students not doing as well as students from other countries. It also shows up in assertions that the US is lagging in standards of living or manufacturing or productivity. The testing results conclusions suffer from statistical ignorance much as described in the Straight Dope column. The others also suffer when actual measure is considered.

    The matters of standard of living and productivity are important because improving those things are what public education is all about. Children are educated by the state in order to improve health and vitality. The cost is rationalized by the claim that education will help a person get a better job and improve employment prospects. That means the thinking is that an educated populace will be able to produce more and live better. By that standard, a country’s ability to produce goods and services should be a measure of its educational system.

    Donald Lambro took on this thing about the inability to compete in U.S. manufacturing alive and well in the Washington Times. He notes that much of the bashing and trashing of the US is political in nature but lacking integrity.

    At a time when much of the American electorate is sour on trade and wrongly believes America doesn’t make much of anything anymore, this report by Daniel Ikenson, a top analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies, comes as breath of fresh air on a subject poisoned by political demagogues, union leaders and uninformed partisans posing as broadcast journalists.

    So he offers these underreported manufacturing facts from 2006 when the United States was experiencing record imports of manufactured products:

  • Real U.S. manufacturing output reached an all-time high.
  • Real manufacturing revenues reached an all-time high.
  • Real manufacturing operating profits reached an all-time high.
  • After-tax profit rates for manufacturing corporations reached an all-time high.
  • Return on equity for manufacturing corporations reached an all-time high.
  • The value of U.S. manufacturing exports reached an all-time high.
  • U.S. factories remained the world’s most prolific, accounting for more than one-fifth of world manufacturing value added.
  • In other words, the US is competing quite well, thank you. Therefore its education system must be doing something right.

    The danger with the bashing and trashing is that the wrong things get fixed. We see this in schools in the self esteem movement that removes aggressive or competitive play. We see it in the zero tolerance discipline that jails students for innocuous behavior. Getting the right things fixed to make something that already excels even better must always start with a proper understanding of the current situation. In education and in many other areas tainted by governmental politics, this proper understanding seems very hard to accomplish.

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    The disease of anticipation

    One of the truisms in teaching is that students will tend to meet a teacher’s expectations. If the teacher feels the student is a loser, then the odds are the student will be a loser in class. Or consider the idea of a coach that can take a team of average folks and create a winning season. What a society sees for itself is often what it gets. If it is optimistic, its members are likely to make that optimism a reality. If the society is pessimistic, then the life can be drained from the society and it can degenerate – again to meet its predisposition.

    Turning Point is the personal story of how one member faced being a member of a society that had lost its hope and optimism for the future.

    One of the most common questions I’ve ever been asked was: ”What made you decide to emigrate?”

    The United States faces an immigrant problem. It is one of the dilemmas of the age. On the one hand, many of its citizens are very vocal in how bad it is and how it is degenerating into something evil. On the other hand is this pressure from citizens of nearly every other country on the planet to emigrate or at least to visit to partake of its educational opportunities or other benefits. It seems that some of the more angry and bitter and negative US Citizens are missing something. Kim du Toit experienced a gestalt that opened his eyes and prompted his emigration from South Africa to the US.

    One often hears, or reads the expression, time stood still. Well, it did for me right then, as I, sitting in my warm, comfortable executive car, the heater warm and the radio playing soft, late-night music, saw this little boy, shivering in the cold, forced to work at an appalling hour of night, for almost no money, patiently waiting for the Boss to make up his mind which f** newspaper he was going to buy. …

    That’s why I left: I could see no solution, and I could see no future for the country, or myself, that did not involve hardship, hatred, danger or death.

    There are no more newspaper boys in Johannesburg anymore. It’s not because eight-year-old Black kids’ parents have suddenly become wealthier by the ending of apartheid: it’s because newspaper boys would now be killed for the few coins they carry in their pockets.

    It is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all for a country. The mechanics of governance and administration are one thing, a spirit of success and optimism is another. Much of corruption and degeneration in a country’s society comes out of despair for the future. Everything is going down the tubes so the only way to survive is on one’s own, no matter how it is done. This is an escalating system that leads down to a country that is no more than small groups fighting each other for whatever they can get. The benefits of a country wide infrastructure is lost.

    Much of Africa since the colonial empires departed provide examples that show a contrast by what was lost along with the imperial westerners. It is this example that contributes to the racist view that these people in Africa just can’t hack it. That is the same racist view that is often used to condemn the Iraqis and rationalize abandoning the efforts to help those people rise from tribalism and corruption. That racism is a pessimistic outlook for a bleak future. If it prevails, it may well be self fulfilling.

    It is the attitude that the US brings to the table, the optimism that has shown results to envy, that is its most valuable contribution to worldwide society. US government policy has been on-again, off-again about trying to infect others with this attitude. A few years ago we started another on-again view and it is now undergoing significant debate. Changing attitudes is not switch flipping and vacillation confuses the message. Fortunately, the existence of the vitality and enthusiasm and vigor of individual US citizens will provide a base that the rest of the world will and does notice. That base may be under attack but it will take a long time to turn it around and that provides time to see what the country is doing to itself before the damage becomes too severe.

    Anticipation of failure can be a disease. Confidence in each other and the future may be hard to find but is the fundamental requirement of better conditions for everyone.

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    Over lawyered and the use of civility to decivilize

    Instapundit notes a new book, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration, by Jack Goldsmith because of its description of the constraints imposed on the GWOT by modern attitudes. In some respects the situation for the country’s leaders is similar to that of a Brit facing a burglar in his house. What do you do? Defend yourself from the immediate threat and then face prosecution for doing that – or just let the crime happen and hope the cops will catch the criminal sometime?

    In my two years in the government, I witnessed top officials and bureaucrats in the White House and throughout the administration openly worrying that investigators acting with the benefit of hindsight in a different political environment would impose criminal penalties on heat-of-battle judgment calls. These men and women did not believe they were breaking the law, and indeed they took extraordinary steps to ensure that they didn’t. But they worried nonetheless because they would be judged in an atmosphere different from when they acted, because the criminal investigative process is mysterious and scary, because lawyers’ fees can cause devastating financial losses, and because an investigation can produce reputation-ruining dishonor and possibly end one’s career, even if you emerge “innocent.”

    We are already seeing a lot of this sort of 20-20 hindsight being used to judge actions in the political campaigns – the famous ‘I voted for it before I came out against it’ meme. In the Libby case we see the extent to which a prosecution will be carried and its expense and costs on individuals.

    The situation Goldsmith describes is common in organizations from partnership to family to corporation. You cannot run that organization on suspicion and strict enforcement of rules that attempt to define the exact limits of each and every appropriate behavior. You can’t make a rule for every contingency and every nuance of circumstance. When the consequence of small violations becomes as severe as that of large violations, when differences of opinion become criminal matters, then any action is inhibited and the organization calcifies. It is over lawyered. It decays and dies.

    This is another emphasis to the point that the war against terror is much more than capturing a single individual identified as the leader of a specific attack. It is more than going after followers of an ideology of suicide and terror. It is a war of the fifth column where we have to decide what is important and come together to face the threats from outside rather than putting all of our efforts trying to defeat ourselves.

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    The ugly Americans – or else

    There is the Hollywood producer’s latest propaganda piece that takes a soldier rape case and shows it in minute ugly detail. The producer stated his intent was to cause the U.S. to cease its operations as if this would create world peace.

    Then there is the ACLU’s latest lawsuit. They have used FOI to dig up all the detail on 22 incidents of soldiers run amok to generalize a hypothesis that the U.S. is evil and committing gross offenses as a matter of policy, habit, and just plain evilness.

    Of course, there is the complaint about censorship and conspiracy which are absurd considering the fact that the complainant was able to obtain many thousands of pages of documentation without any problem.

    These kinds of things are indicative of an obsession, an unhealthy obsession. It is like going to a major city and taking each and every crime as proof positive of police incompetence and corruption and that the civic government is a big conspiracy against its citizens. For the ACLU, the fact that there have been only 22 incidents in several years of significant military activity and that the process of military justice has been followed should be considered worthy of compliment. But no, the obsession is to support and confirm an faith based on the concept of US being all things evil.

    Without context, without a proper perspective, without due consideration for priorities and issues, these attacks on the US lack intellectual integrity.

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    Speaking with trepidation

    The nature of the opposition and the emotion of the position are such that those who do not want to offend often display significant trepidation in their reports. An example is at Defense Tech.

    We at DefenseTech recognize that the conflict in Iraq is, to say the least, a controversial subject for our readers and we’re not endorsing the following view other than to say that it comes from a very reliable source and is at least a small window into the current situation from someone other than a Pentagon appointed spokesman.

    No matter how skeptical you are on America’s struggle in Iraq, it’s at least worth a read to see an under-reported aspect of the ongoing “surge” and its effect on the insurgency (no matter who’s doing the shooting)…

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