Archive for November, 2007

Dealing with an unrealized guilt

It has been a bit of a topic of discussion lately about how anti-war films are not doing well at the box office. These are the anti-US and anti-soldier films that portray the US and its soldiers as evil and its enemies as thoughtful and well intentioned. This is the boomer philosophy of the glorification of the victim as shown in an unrealized guilt over having more than the other and in not meeting the standards of those who gave them their freedoms of livelihood and expression.

Raymond Ibrahim looks at another facet of this in The Good, the Bad and Beowulf. Hollywood hates Christianity, loves the “Other.” The issue is the smearing of Christianity in the movies. This efforts steps up the anti-US rhetoric to a new level but gets back to the same fundamental guilt. These movies are an attempt to rationalize behavior that creates guilt and to impugn those sources of authority that build civilization and character that has been deemed worthy by one’s parents. It is a guilt for abandoning those characteristics that correlate with social vitality and health and individual expression and freedom. It is an attempt to come to grips with the contradictions of immediate desires with the knowledge of what such a lack of restraint will bring.

By now, the oft-recurring negative portrayals of Christianity in major Hollywood movies have become hackneyed and predictable. … A favorite being the attempt to try to depict pagans as “open-minded” and “free-spirited” peoples, or, quite anachronistically, as Medieval counterparts to the modern, secular, liberal. The idea is that pagan peoples — unencumbered by the suffocating forces of Christianity — are happy, passionate folk, able to live life to the fullest.

So, according to these films and their subliminal messages, we are to understand that all pre-modern Christians who were zealous over their faith were (and thus still are) all hypocrites — or worse — while all truly good “Christians” were (and still are) discreet, indifferent, skeptical, and cautious of Christianity, such as Balian and Arthur. Furthermore, according to these films, all non-Christians were either liberal and “laid back” (e.g., pagans), or noble, upright, and truly pious (i.e., Muslims). That pagan peoples habitually engaged in barbarous practices, such as human sacrifices, cannibalism, and slavery, or that Muslim law, then and now, is characterized by extremely draconian measures, such as stoning fornicators, subjugating non-Muslims and women, and, under certain circumstances, still sanctioning the institution of slavery is, of course, never mentioned. Nor is the fact that Christianity abolished things like human sacrifices, stresses forgiveness, and its ultimate law is to love God and one’s fellow man (Mark 12:30-31).

At any rate, while Hollywood is on a crusade — or jihad — to defame Christianity, it would do well to remember that it is because of Christian civilization that they are even able to make movies in the first place. Not only is Christianity fundamentally responsible for what many a Western liberal takes for granted, that is, the freedoms and advancements of Western civilization, but much of the historical records that movie-makers are able to exploit, warp, and subsequently rake in millions from were compiled by Christians.

You can see this same phenomena elsewhere. The TV series that emphasize anthropology often seem obsessed with ennobling tribal cultures, especially in Africa or the Americas. The portrayal is often idyllic as in being one with nature without any attention to the grubby issues of a short live spent trying to avoid famine, disease, predators, and inter-tribal warfare over scarce resources.

For instance, in one recent show, a decedent of a tribal US Indian waxed eloquent about the wonderful sharpness of the flint knives his ancestors created. He did acknowledge that they traded for the steel of the invading settlers because steel was more durable. What that recognized was that the settlers were able to use a material where they could find a balance between brittleness, which makes for sharpness, and durability. Instead of just chipping an edge off flint, the settlers used natural materials with complicated processes and knowledge to create tools that were tailored to their needs. It seems that some think we should adapt to nature as it is rather than learn how to adapt nature to our needs.

Who is better in touch with nature? The culture that has to find flint and chips it into disposable tools or the culture that understands the secrets behind a reddish rock such that they can create steel tools that can be recycled? Of these, which is glorified and which is impugned in many of the so-called academically oriented public education treatises?

The fundamental fact to deal with is that Christianity was the driving force behind Western Cultures. Christianity not only provided values related to prurient pursuits but also towards charity, industriousness, honesty of inquiry and thought, and the worth of the individual. These values are not inherent in human nature and it is a life-long struggle to accommodate them. The fact is that the success of Western Cultures in eliminating slavery and otherwise fostering individual rights stands alone. Therein is the dissonance.

Many can now afford the luxury of the connections of fantasy to reality. They can be selective about what they learn from the past. They can then use that distorted reality to rationalize their own lapses from those values that irritate them but that they know must have worth. One result is the ‘acting out’ of a delusion on stage and screen. The lack of interest in the broader community is an indicator that many do understand just what these presentations represent and are not yet willing to join in the delusion.

[update] Roger Simon describes this in Hollywood’s Phony (Anti)War – The Sequel.

In fact, they are close to the biggest no-nos of all for them in their daily lives. Who is worse than a sexist pig? Only a violent, murderous sexist pig who wants to take over the world. It then becomes a complex balancing act indeed to make a movie that ignores or downplays this in order to criticize the US as the larger villain. No one has been able to come close to pulling off this balancing act in a film. In fact, it may well be impossible because it is fundamentally dishonest.

fundamentally dishonest – conflicted – dissonance – in need of intellectual integrity. The path is not often clear nor easily seen.

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Passion is a fine thing, sometimes

The Braden Files takes a look at BSD.

Bush hatred is not a rational response to actual Bush perfidy. Rather, Bush hatred compels its progressive victims — who pride themselves on their sophistication and sensitivity to nuance — to reduce complicated events and multilayered issues to simple matters of good and evil. Like all hatred in politics, Bush hatred blinds to the other sides of the argument, and constrains the hater to see a monster instead of a political opponent.

In other words, passion is a fine thing until it becomes blinding. Hatred tends to blind one by its focus. That means integrity is lost and learning becomes extremely difficult. The result of that is an inability to come together for higher common purposes and needs.

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It’s magic!

La Shawn Barber enters an objection as an Evolution Delusion. It comes across as a reminder of one of Clark’s laws: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”. This is the appeal of the Intelligent Design, a.k.a. creationism.

The idea that an undirected, random series of events caused something as wonderfully complex, specifically magnificent, and infinitely beautiful as life is, to put it mildly, ludicrous.

In other words, because its complexity, magnificence, and beauty is beyond comprehension, they “prove” a source exists that we cannot replicate or understand. ‘The source of these attributes cannot be understood because I can’t understand them therefore it must be by purpose and by design of some being greater than me.’ That is the same rationalization that is behind Clarke’s law. It generalizes an individual’s comprehension and understanding to being the same as that of all. Anything not understood is ascribed to religion or magic or something supernatural.

The key here is to take that conclusion of the supernatural and apply it to science. That is an oxymoron. By definition, science does not deal with the supernatural. It is only when a phenomena can be subject to experiment and test and repetition that it becomes a matter of science. Otherwise it is a matter of religion. Conflating the two is not honest.

Many of the comments to the blog entry illustrate the problems by asserting and demanding the points that have been answered. These include the ‘theory, not fact‘ effort to impugn evolution, misdirected arguments, the conflation of science and religious goals, and so on.

Those who understand science know that its history is one of finding ways to subject the wondrous to mundane principle. Like the magician who shows us how it is done, the wonder changes. When we start to understand how the magic works, we can then start to better appreciate the experience, the art, the skill and knowledge of the magician and those many other things that are not of the mechanics, not of the science, but rather of the other realm, the realm of God’s gifts.

By bashing and trashing evolution, false witness is given to the book that God has put before our feet, the book of the geologic record, of the behavior of life. A punishment for that sin may be the missing of much of the true wonder and glory of God.

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The economy

The Mystery of Capital – Shrinkwrapped on Hernando de Soto and an essay written by a young Kenyan woman, June Arunga. – “many in the West do not understand that private property ownership backed by courts and reasonably honest representative government are the bed rock on which our economic success is built.”

The Futurist notes Outsourcing’ – What a Non-Crisis That Turned Out to Be“other than a few pessimists, socialists, and racists, it is unlikely to gain much traction, as Americans have seen that the benefits have outweighed the costs by a handsome margin.”

The Futurist also explains Why the US Will Still be the Only Superpower in 2030 ” Of the ten points above, Europe and Japan have tried for decades, and have only achieved parity with the US on maybe two of these dimensions at most. China will surpass Europe and Japan by 2030 by achieving perhaps two or possibly even three out of these ten points, but attaining all ten is something I am willing to confidently bet against. The dream of anti-Americans who relish the prospect of any nation, even a non-democratic one, surpassing the US is still a very distant one. “

The IEEE Spectrum has a report about why the peak oil theory has problems“the future of petroleum as a resource is finite but that the midpoint in the history of oil production will follow a protracted, undulating plateau. It estimates that world oil reserves contain 3.74 trillion barrels, which it says are three times as large as the 1.2 trillion barrels estimated by the proponents of Peak Oil. And it states that the theory, originally proposed by the late American geophysicist Marion King Hubbert and now supported by many scientists and environmentalists, has the potential to, according to a statement from CERA, ‘distort critical policy and investment decisions and cloud the debate’ over the future of energy production.”

The Oil Drum talks about Sustainability, Energy Independence and Agricultural Policy“There are many frustrating things about our current energy non-policy. One of the worst is that we’re paying people to do ineffective or even counterproductive things in the name of “sustainability”, “energy independence” and even supporting family farming. … It won’t be easy to change. There are huge interest groups which reap benefits from the status quo. … Our current fossil-based energy system is problematic; perhaps fortunately for us, it is very inefficient and leaves a great deal of low-hanging fruit. Its inefficiency allows the complete replacement of the fuel used for transportation and electric generation by various direct and indirect biomass products. The cost savings could amount to the better part of a thousand dollars per person per year, and the environmental savings would be immense. Best of all, the public wouldn’t have to endure any wrenching changes to make it happen.”

Back talk thinks The HUGE Federal Deficit is a Figment of the Mainstream Media’s Imagination“Is that big or small? You can’t tell, and that’s my point … that’s why so many people mistakenly think our federal deficit is HUGE when it is actually pretty small. This is not a debatable issue. Reporters are just wrong to do this, and I don’t know if they are being intentionally misleading or if they just don’t understand the basics. … As you can see, the CBO had it right and the CNN reporter (who helpfully explained that things would really get much worse) had it all wrong. We’ve never had anything close to record deficits under Bush, and the deficit we see today is really quite low.”

Dr. Sanity – on the morality of capitalism“Many, like Bin Laden, will claim that it is capitalism that destroys humans, spiritually and physically, but they are incorrect; and all the evidence leans to the exact opposite conclusion. In fact, among social, political and economic systems, democratic capitalism is probably the one and only system that is most consistent with human nature in that it allows all aspects of human nature to express itself in socially acceptable ways that can benefit the individual and the society-at-large.”

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Paul, The Federalist Society, and Intellectual Integrity

At Powerline, Paul describes the growth of the Federalist Society as From a wild flower to an oak. A phrase popular on this blog was noted:

For Meyer, the key is intellectual integrity. He told the story of an interview in which the reporter asked him for the Federalist Society’s position on presidential power. Meyer explained that, while the Society’s members generally agree on certain broad principles, the Society doesn’t take positions on specific issues. The reporter then asked for the Federalist Society’s position on abortion. Meyer gave the same answer, and gave it again when the reporter asked about gun control. Finally, the exasperated reporter said, “you must take positions or you wouldn’t be so influential.”

But the Federalist Society is influential because it is not result oriented, but instead focuses on promoting broad principles, including fidelity to the written text of the Constitution, and vigorous debate. As Justice Alito put it, the Federalist Society stands for talking about the big issues and for the belief that rational debate will lead to good outcomes. More than anything else, the courage of that conviction explains why the wild flower Antonin Scalia thought he was helping to plant has become, in his words, an oak.

Intellectual Integrity.

In the Bible it is described as avoiding the sin of false witness. There has been quite a bit of discussion lately about BSD and trying to define the hatred aimed at the President. One of the characteristics of that hatred, what sets it apart, is that is can been seen in the lack of intellectual integrity. This is often noted as an irrationality.

“the key is intellectual integrity” – This starts with being honest with yourself. Your emotions, especially the negative ones, tell you that there is something awry. It is one thing, for instance, to ‘hate’ how a person speaks or what they do. It is another to hate the person.

Patriotism is a positive emotion but it has also become twisted. When someone notes an irrational hatred of country or a dissent that is destructive, the response these days often seems to be “don’t question my patriotism.”

Talking points – such as can often be seen as ‘debate’ responses are another example. Take them down, refute them in detail, demonstrate just how lacking in integrity they are – it makes no difference. The points will pop up verbatim again and again. Without intellectual integrity, reality and logic have no purpose and must be dismissed if they do not serve the preferred paradigm.

“the key is intellectual integrity” – One’s ideology must be based on honesty and a proper inspection of values. That is how constructive and meaningful and stron viewpoints on specific issues can be built. To adhere to a viewpoint and then build the values and rationale to support it does not lead towards constructive outcomes.

the Federalist Society is influential because it is not result oriented, but instead focuses on promoting broad principles

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GWOT, Iraq, and money where the mouth is

The emergency spending bill for the GWOT is on the table again so it may be a good time to take a look at some thinking on the factors involved.

The Gateway Pundit wonders How Will Democrats Tell 40 US Allies Iraq Was A Mistake? “How exactly will democrats tell 40 US allies that Iraq was a mistake and that the US is pulling out and going home or to Okinawa? … How will democrats direct US soldiers and marines into the next battle when they are not willing to finish the job or accept the sacrifice?”

Shrinkwrapped talks about a Dirty Liitle Secret“The dirty, little secret, more accurately, the hidden pang of anxiety and fear at the heart of the anti-war movement, is the question of our courage. … Why is this important today? Defensive rationalizations and intellectualizations are used to keep us from knowing uncomfortable things about ourselves. … the only way we can lose this war is by abandoning the fight. Our enemies know this and count on it. We should not rationalize our failure of will as a triumph of morality; we did that once and it was the height of immorality.”

Wretchard describes the First Iraq “Although history never quite repeats itself, current events often resemble earlier occasions so closely there is a temptation to draw lessons from them. Imagine a time when America found itself in a war against a foreign foe whose strategy was to inflict a constant rate of loss on the army; invited US and British reporters to feed antiwar elements with atrocity stories; when US commanders who expected a quick war against a corrupt and oligarchic native elite found they had roused the countryside against them. Imagine a time when the issue of this war was central to an American Presidential election, caused a split in one of the major parties and planted the seeds for a world war. Not Iraq. The war was Philippine-American War and the election that of 1912.”

David Ludden talks about how Thomas Kida’s new book, Don’t Believe Everything You Think, is Not Very Comforting“we prefer stories to statistics … we seek to confirm rather than question our beliefs … [we have] a general misunderstanding of the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events … [we have a bias towards] Trusting the reliability of our senses … we have a tendency to oversimplify our thinking … we need to be aware that our memories are faulty … Don’t Believe Everything You Think provides an excellent review of the literature on the psychology of belief, touching on all the standard topics of paranormal and pseudoscientific thinking. However, Kida also discusses important topics not always covered in the skeptical literature. For example, Kida’s examination of the role of the media in perpetuating pseudoscientific thinking among the general public is excellent. Furthermore, Kida’s examples of fallacious thinking in investment and finance are new to the skeptical literature and likely to challenge the assumptions of even the hardest skeptic. Kida’s demonstration of the folly of financial forecasting is thoroughly convincing, and readers of this book will be asking their stock brokers and financial analysts some hard-hitting questions.”

Michael Yon brings up the ghost of Cambodia in No Darker Heart – “The remains that seep up through the mud under my feet in this Killing Field are from a different war, but they echo a mournful reminder of how jarringly common it is for societies at war with themselves to descend into madness.”

Seeds of Intellectual Destruction“It’s always amazed me how quickly the American left managed to twist the 9/11 attacks into a club with which to beat their own country … The Iraq War was a godsend for the American left, something they’d have had to invent if it hadn’t happened on its own. It allowed the entire War on Terror to be chopped and fit into the already existing intellectual template, enabled all the old slogans to be revived, all the dusty concepts to be trotted out anew. It has turned the overall war, one of the most justified conflicts in this country’s history, a belated defensive response against an ugly and murderous enemy, into the traditional shadow play of murderous military officers, bloody-handed CIA operatives, and cackling businessmen, all overseen by a bulging-browed Karl Rove, operating from some Goldfingeresque headquarters buried far beneath the Crawford ranch. The result is a nation slowly edging toward the same paralysis that afflicted it during the 1970s.”

Russ Vaughn remembers about what is Good Enough to Die For“My belief is that a lot of Vietnam War protestors were rightfully fearful of the physical perils of combat, as were all those of us who chose to serve there; but where we tamped down those fears and continued the mission, they wrongfully used a contrived moral outrage against the war as convenient cover to conceal their cowardice.”

J.R. Dunn On Going Roman“Much in the way of criticism of the United States comes in the form of accusations of imperialism. … Domestically, this takes the form of hegemonism, with the U.S. viewed as the primal source of global iniquity. Internationally, it’s a major component of anti-Americanism, in which the U.S. is taken as the embodiment of an overpowering modernity, in whatever form – economic, political, cultural — the onlooker finds most threatening. … the critics should be wary of screaming too loud, of conspiring too well, of undermining us too thoroughly. Because if they succeed, if they do get what they insist they want, then the result may well be something they never conceived, and it will be their desolation, and our peace. “ — Also check out his thoughts on Breaking the Hold of Hegemonist Doctrine“Hegemonist doctrine is a major factor in the rush toward abandonment of American responsibilities in the Persian Gulf.”

At Winds of Change, Nitin Pai describes The clash of convictions and the remaking of the world of wars“The outcome of modern wars is decided in the mind … This poses a special challenge to open and secular democracies where there is no supremacist religion or ideology that has an irrational hold on the mind, and the media is more susceptible to manipulation by cynicism, populism or worse, by enemy interests. … What this means, in effect, is that citizens have become combatants in the war of convictions. The side that believes that it has won wins. The side that believes it has lost loses. “

As the debate continues, the real issues may become more clear. This message is not a simple one. It has whispers from ghosts of the past, angst from conflicting values and desires, and the ongoing struggle to connect idealism with reality to create effective goals. The struggle is as much within as without.

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Readings on science and truth

What is, what isn’t, how do we know, and how do we know what we know. Here are examples and thoughts and ideas to ponder.

Science Blogs: Oh, the shame again: Another doctor embarrassing himself over “intelligent design” creationism – “You’ve heard me lament before about the woeful ignorance about biology and evolution common among all too many doctors. … the above indicates that Dr. Cook is very likely an excellent orthopedic surgeon. But none of it represents adequate qualifications to persuade me to take him seriously when he comments on evolution, and the harping on all of his qualifications appear to be nothing more than a transparent attempt to give him an air of scientific authority when blathering about evolution that, based on the content of what he writes, he clearly does not have or deserve”

Dr Melissa Clouthier: Dr. Sanity On Compassion And Truth “Leaving behind the “all truth is relative” mantra means leaving behind the circular and maddeningly unreasonable reasoning. Attaching firmly to the truth and having the truth inform and guide one’s fate, and that truth includes the humility of admitting to not knowing everything, but to knowing this much is true, confers sanity and a sound mind and freedom.”

The Guru’s Handbook: Words ” Nothing destroys communication as effectively as simple words misunderstood”

Isaac Asimov – The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 14 No. 1, Fall 1989. The Relativity of Wrong: “What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.”

Healthbolt: 26 Reasons What You Think is Right is Wrong: “A cognitive bias is something that our minds commonly do to distort our own view of reality. Here are the 26 most studied and widely accepted cognitive biases.”

Wellington Gray: A physics teacher asking for his subject back. “I am a young and once-enthusiastic physics teacher. I despair at what I am forced to teach.”

The Belmont Club on The Truth, Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth: ” if we return to the object of the Enlightenment, which is the search for a Truth that exists, then we need not dismiss the quest for love and healing as futile. It lies there for us to find and we may glimpse it along the way like the flowers into the light. Then we can live and die, in doubt perhaps, but never in despair.”

Philip J. Overby, The New Atlantis: Psychiatry’s Healer: “McHugh began his training in neurology and spent his career directing psychiatry away from its “misadventures” toward a more empirical approach in the manner of other medical disciplines. His training in neurology and psychiatry prefigured the widespread view that increasingly the two fields will overlap. As we learn more about the workings of the brain, the vagaries of the mind will become more concrete and subject to empirical scrutiny.”

Dumb looks still free: Internetworking and the role it plays: It is about the Iraq effort that you don’t see and is hard to comprehend – “Today, however, the computer has replaced the notecard and string arrangement, and one of the key elements of police work to bring down gangs, identify gang leaders and how their territory changes is via this method of network analysis.”

The Volokh Conspiracy: Bush Appointees Blocked Health Report Release: an example of cognitive bias? — “The problem is that the facts of this episode do not support Carmona’s charge nor the larger narrative.”

Thomas Barnett Modelled behavior is our military’s most important export. “To those who view America’s military history as one long list of evil deeds, this argument is insane. But to those who’ve spent their lives in the military or working with it, as I have, the notion of modeled behavior is a biggie.”

Sol Stern, The City. False Prophet – cognitive bias and the NCLB – ““Essentially, Kozol is the foundation on which the Steinhardt program is built. He is introduced in . . . a freshman course that serves to elucidate current political debates concerning education. Unfortunately, there’s pretty much no one on the syllabus to debunk him.” And that’s a pretty good explanation for why new teachers find themselves clueless when they step into urban classrooms.”

metapsychology online reviews. Doubting Darwin — “Though I agree with almost everything in this book, I do wonder at its value. There is a perennially debated question among opponents of creationism: should we debate them at all? Debating them seems to give them a legitimacy they do not deserve. Now, though Sarkar is not giving them a platform, in quite the same way as he would were he to appear on the same stage as them, a book-length refutation is, in one way, far too much effort to expend on them and takes them with a seriousness they do not deserve.”

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Cycle Helmets: Should motorcyclists and bicyclists be forced to wear head protection? What is the benefit? What is the real story? Is this effort just another example of state nannyism?

Media Dishonesty Matters

“We are being fed false and misleading information, in matters big and small. It has come from trusted sources such as established newspapers, experienced journalists, Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel Peace Prize winners. It has been going on for a long time, sometimes by carelessness and sometimes by deliberate lying. I have compiled a list of 101 such incidents.”

Why Beauchamp Matters: “because memes drive ideas, and ideas – in the media monoculture – drive coverage, which in turn drive how we understand what’s going on.” – honesty and integrity have implications we cannot ignore.

Ambushed By Our Own – “Snipers aim for a soldier’s heart; congressional leaders aim for the heart of why he serves: Honor, Country, Duty to both.”

It’s one thing for leaders to oppose a mission, another to undermine it; one thing to make course corrections, another to sabotage the ship, one thing to overhaul an engine, another to wreck it in flight. The time to abort a mission is before it’s launched. Once launched, it’s all hands on deck. But for congressional leaders, it’s every man for himself. … The only thing hopeless about Iraq is congressional leaders.

Saving enemies from themselves– how the President helps his political enemies gain direction via veto.

On Coulter, Christians, And Jews

The ideology of PC is anti-American to its core. Its fundamental purpose is not to ensure that “minority” Americans share more fully in the American Dream. Its goal is to tear apart this nation — its people, its culture, its history — root and branch, and replace it with a miasma of atheism, socialism, and multiculturalism.

The problems and course of rebuilding in Iraq – “The ongoing problem is infrastructure: a decayed, Soviet era piece of junk that was not well maintained and then left to neglect in many areas.”

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The tortured debate surfaced again in an attempt to have an Attorney General assert a position that the Congress would not define. That episode was another example of how the meaning of torture has been tortured as a political football. The American Thinker (The ‘Torture’ Fraud of the Left by J.R. Dunn) puts it this way:

“Torture” is probably the most egregious of these cases. That’s the explanation for the sneer quotes. Because, quite simply, in much of the debate over “torture”, we’re not talking about actual torture at all. We’re talking about rough treatment, harshness, or coercion.

The word is being used as a cudgel to beat on the US and, more specifically, the US President. This is done not only by his domestic political enemies but also by his international political enemies. There is a lot or moral preening going on.

Strategy page describes how some of the myths about torture, attempting to minimize its value, are also being re-examined. Extraditions Rising is about how tastes change when behavior applies pressure.

The torture issue has been diminished by the European realization that such practices are common throughout the Middle East and are often more effective than Western interrogation methods, in obtaining useful information. It’s become fashionable in the West to believe that torture does not work in intelligence work. But the long history of torture in the 20th century, especially during World War II, demonstrates that it does work, as unsavory as it might be to modern sensibilities.

Moral Preening is the term Mona Charen used in the Washington Times.

The question of just what does and does not qualify as torture is a vexed one in American law. The U.S. is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment — all of which forbid torture. … torture has been variously described as “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” or “intense, lasting and heinous agony.” … “It is ironic … that the same elected officials now demanding a definitive answer from Judge Mukasey have failed to give us one themselves.” … It’s so easy to, in John McCain’s words, “take the moral high ground” and denounce any sort of torture under all circumstances. But is it really the moral high ground?

It is so easy to pretend to take the moral high ground but one must be careful that the mound one mounts for this does not have a grand mountain behind you that shows just where you really stand – and where you should be headed.

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Honest Broker?

Jonathan H. Adler discusses Devaluing Science in the New Atlantic. The topic is The Honest Broker by University of Colorado political scientist Roger A. Pielke, Jr.

The premise has promise:

Pielke fears that when scientists and policymakers claim “science” supports a particular policy agenda, they diminish science’s ability to inform policy development.

Today’s politicization of science is due in part, Pielke argues, to the “scientization” of public policy—attempts to resolve policy disputes through technical expertise rather than politics.

Pielke spells out the choices scientists must make if they wish “to play a positive role in policy and politics and contribute to the sustainability of the scientific process.” He lists four “idealized roles” scientists can adopt, each of which reflects assumptions about the nature of science and democratic policymaking. The first, the pure scientist, … the science arbiter … the issue advocate … the honest broker

In a pluralistic society, science can still inform policy judgments, but it cannot resolve what are, at their core, disputes about subjective values or preferences.

By dressing arguments in the clothing of science, stealth issue advocates try to move the focus from disputed to widely-shared values.

Unfortunately, he steps in it by equating the decision to invade Iraq and the pre-emptive policy towards terrorism to his own favorite issues.

When scientific or technical information is presented in order to advance a predetermined political agenda, it can undermine the credibility of those who provide the information, as well as those who rely upon it. The overselling of pre-war intelligence about Iraq damaged the credibility of both the Bush administration and U.S. intelligence agencies, and handicapped the administration’s “subsequent ability to make similar decisions by discrediting its own intelligence agencies,” Pielke observes.

This departs from the facts as they are known. The idea that the war was oversold completely ignores a long history of preceding events and decisions. By accepting this “oversold” concept, Pielke does exactly what he is advising against. He shows a predetermined political agenda and destroys his own credibility. This political agenda also shows in suggestions for solution.

The greatest potential for “honest brokering” by scientists, Pielke believes, is in the context of authoritative institutional bodies

Here, the matter of honest brokering is given to a governmental authority and not on the individual scientist. That is a conclusion in a value system. It is also one of the fundamental values behind many political issues. Does the government solve problem or do individuals solve problems? Is socialism, the collective, preferred or is capitalism and individual initiative and responsibility?

Pielke’ fears are some that any reasoning person can easily share. He does not do service to his ideas when he illustrates just the phenomena he castigates in describing his fears and how to approach them.

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