Archive for June, 2009

Birthers? One of the persistent conspiracies

John Hawkins describes 3 Reasons To Stop Obsessing Over Obama’s Birth Certificate – but doesn’t hold much hope that such evidence will matter to those who fervently believe the President was not born in the U.S.

The latest tactic of the Birthers is to demand that the Supreme Court rule on this issue, but I would suggest to you that if the evidence that has already been made publicly available on this issue hasn’t changed someone’s mind, then having the Supreme Court rule that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii wouldn’t do it either.

Need proof? Just look at the comments and the manner by which they dismiss Hawkins three reasons.

Besides the reams of ad hominem, there is the problem of offering any evidence to support the contrary claim. If you want to establish that the President was not born in Hawaii, then you need to offer some evidence to support that point of view. For instance, a certificate of live birth from somewhere else or a witness to place the mother somewhere else at the time of birth. Instead of just questioning the evidence presented, provide contrary evidence or something to support the suspicions. Otherwise you remain in conspiracy without substance land and that is also known as wacko-land.

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Government science

Watts Up With That? is a good example of ‘citizen science’ and the entry NCDC writes ghost “talking points” rebuttal to surfacestations project presents an illustration of what happens when a government agency that is supposedly scientific meets accountability by a citizen.

NOAA and NCDC are rebuking an analysis which I have not even written yet, using old data, and nobody at NOAA or NCDC had the professionalism to put their name to the document.

By not even so much as giving me a courtesy notice or even requesting up to date data, it is clear to me that they don’t think I’m worthy of professional courtesy, yet they’ll gladly publish error laden and incomplete conclusions written by a ghost writer in an attempt to disparage my work before I’ve even had a chance to finish it.

It appears that these agencies don’t quite know how to deal with criticism that is outside the scope of the routine science bureaucracy. Since WW II, scientific inquiry has evolved into major group efforts that are ‘discussed’ only in ‘peer reviewed’ journals of an esoteric nature. This evolution has lead to big government science where many researchers depend upon government grants or government jobs for their livelihood.

Advances in the I’net for communications and inexpensive computing power for analysis are stimulating change. One factor is that peer review is now actually going back to correspondence between individual scientists and open discussion between interested parties. There is a demand for data sets and processing algorithms by researchers, both professional and amateur, who want to examine the basis for conclusions and understand how an analysis was done. Their results are posted in blogs and discussed at length.

This is where the dissonance occurs. When ‘old’ science tries to use its mass, its money, its prestige, and its standard practices and lets things lapse a bit, ‘new’ science takes note when the emperor is not wearing any clothes. Embarasment results and that is often expressed as psychological denial behaviors as illustrated by Watts Up With That?

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The assault on civil debate

Clifford May talks about his recent experience with How to crush a debate at the Washington Times. It is classic example of where a straw man was established at May’s expense.

Of course, Mr. Schmitt is not so ignorant. He simply endorses slander against people like me, who have the temerity to dissent from the orthodoxy he advocates.

In this case, however, his magazine went beyond misrepresentation to encouraging violence – because anyone who actually does advocate torturing “Muslims because they’re Muslim” should be prepared for a dose of his own medicine.

How on earth can you have a civil debate when one side doesn’t even argue the points on the table has no concern about the intellectual integrity of its perceptions and positions?

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Lawfare: so many options, one has to work

Debra Saunders talks about Lawsuits as a weapon using the terrorist interrogation advice as an example. Lawfare by prisoners who have nothing to do but file lawsuits is one problem. The Padilla case against administration lawyers is another.

John C. Eastman, law school dean at Chapman University in Orange County, Calif., where Mr. Yoo has taught for the past year, is appalled. He fears that if Padilla wins, “everybody in prison can sue the lawyers who gave advice to the sheriff for making the arrest.” Most important, Mr. Eastman said, “The notion that someone is going to be held civilly liable for giving legal advice that other people didn’t like is preposterous.”

In this case, Padilla managed to find a sympathetic judge to let the lawsuit proceed. That requires the accused to spend time and money in defense. Often that is enough for the accuser. It also has implications for following lawsuits.

The rub: Lawyers always say such lawsuits are narrow, but then, over the years, others push to expand what once was a tiny tort. The law applies in unintended ways as the stakes escalate and partisans use the courts for payback. After a while, smart lawyers on both sides of the aisle will be more timid about everything. It will be change you can’t believe in. The only sure outcome? Taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

It may be the government paying the bills in this case but the ‘taxpayers’ also get hit on other fronts in this war. The issues of malpractice suits in medicine or liability suits in manufacturing that pay off for questionable – or even downright silly – claims also have their cost.

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Leverage: a financial problem symptom

Seeking Alpha considers a Solution to Our Economic Mess? Limit Leverage!

the problem isn’t that investors buy MBS and lose their money. The problem is that investors can put up $100MM in capital and buy $3B of MBS with someone else’s money – that’s called leverage, and that 30-1 ratio was not at all uncommon.

Leverage, on its own, is not a bad thing. It is the crucial benefit in any loan situation. Where it can be the source of a problem is when it is not balanced with the risks involved in the loan.

The Great Depression was, in part, due to the assumption that banks were safe but the banks were investing their deposits in adventures whose risk was out of line with their leverage. A result was that the feds insured the ‘little guy’ with the FDIC.

The current finance problem is similar. Houses used to be a safe asset but then the political establishment decided home ownership was good and make it easier to buy houses. That created market pressure that, in turn, inflated housing values. Then folks started leveraging their house values to obtain loans. Those loans were, in turn, massaged by third party firms into financial instruments that isolated those who invested in those instruments from the actual value of the housing asset. The leverage was such that it only took a small bump to blow the whole scheme out of the water.

The answer is simple: if you cannot value the security, you should not buy it. You don’t “trust the middleman,” – you buy something else.

If you don’t follow this guide, then the suggestion is that

The Fed’s role should be to prevent systematic risk – in other words, it doesn’t matter if you lose all your money, but there should be regulations to make it so that you cannot put the financial system at risk

That brings up the issue that political policy should be towards protecting the system and not particular individuals (company, corporation, or whatever). The “too big to fail” mantra is being applied where individual and system become too interdependent. One suggestion about this was that “too big to fail” meant that the individual needed to be made smaller so as to be able to keep the political focus on the system independently. This then can inhibit the impact of broken leverage on the system and, perhaps, stimulate more effective due diligence on the part of investors.

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Pick your target: Political gamesmanship

One of Alinksy’s Rules for Power (1p pdf) is to “Pick the target, freeze it,personalize it, and polarize it.” Up until recently, this has been a tactic to gain power. Now it appears to be a tactic to maintain power. It is the ad hominem or straw man argument gone wild. Examples abound.

On the foreign front, Defiant Khamenei warns Iranian protesters and attacks ‘most treacherous’ Britain.

Iran’s Supreme Leader today singled out Britain as the “most treacherous” Western power trying to destabilise the Islamic Republic as he stood firm in the face of this week’s massive street protests, hinting at even tougher repression if the unrest does not stop.

On the domestic front, James Lewis discusses Barack Obama and Alinsky’s Rules for Psychopaths. One of his points is the ‘pick your target’ tactic and its rationale.

Teaching hatred for the normal majority is the key to power for radicals. But Alinsky taught that you can’t easily hate millions of people. To do that effectively you need a one-person scapegoat to focus all your hatred on. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” That is the politics of personal destruction, and it doesn’t matter if the target is black like Clarence Thomas, or a woman like Sarah Palin, or a severely wounded war veteran like John McCain.

Dr. Sanity also gets on the abnormal behavior bandwagon with Obamaworld Apostasy & Malignant Narcissism. Quoting Jim Gehraghty

We haven’t lived in President Obama’s America for long, but already we are witnessing a strange new phenomenon: Previously apolitical figures and organizations find themselves demonized, and then forgotten, with the speed, fury, and transience of a summer thunderstorm.

And then there is Rush Limbaugh, Governor Palin, the AMA, the ‘senile’ IG … It seems there is a rich target field and that may be a problem. Alinsky’s rules have a focus on community organizing where the pool is small. When applied to efforts in the ocean it might be like a small boat in a hurricane – easily swamped. We can hope that the lack of intellectual integrity becomes more visible as well and that it can be seen for what it is.

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How do you approach what you don’t understand?

Rabbi Yonason Goldson takes a look at The Language of Confusion. He encounters students whose view is that something makes no sense when the reality is that they do not understand. A first challenge is to change this point of view so that learning can occur.

It makes no sense implies that, if the material we are learning does not conform to your way of thinking, then it must be wrong. I don’t understand acknowledges the possibility that the flaw in reasoning may reside in you, rather than in the material.”

There are words like narcissist and humility that come to mind with ideas like this. “Doesn’t make sense” foists the problem off of one’s self and removes personal control from fixing the problem. “Don’t understand” allows for one’s faults and delinquencies and provides for repair and improvement. The point is that the language used sets a direction.

Because we formulate our thoughts in words and sentences, incompetent use of language guarantees muddled thinking. If there are no words for rebellion, uprising, or discontent people will find it difficult to formulate and articulate the concept of overthrowing even the most corrupt and oppressive government.

This then leads to the observation that language can be used as a tool in persuasion. If one can control the language, then one can control the debate.

In truth, for advertisers, politicians, special interest groups, and the politically correct, the real purpose of language is no longer to convey meaning – it is to obscure meaning, to appeal to emotions while bypassing the intellect. Their motive is obvious: it is far easier to evoke a strong emotional response than it is to present a logically developed argument. But by allowing meaning to be drained from our language and our words, we have not only denuded them of their clarity, but also of their depth.

Words mean things. When you find someone dismissing the proper choice of words you have also found someone dismissing clarity of meaning and potency of communication. What you say is how you think and how you think governs what you get done.

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Compare and Contrast AG vs IG

Remember the brouhaha when the President fired several Attorney Generals? Compare and contrast that to the President firing an Inspector General.

The key issue to keep in mind is that an AG is a political appointment and serves at the pleasure of the President while an IG is apolitical and there is law that protects that office from Presidential interference.

See the Washington Examiner editorial for the Gangster government’s grip on the AmeriCorps. Perhaps opinions like this might help Congress find an outrage similar to that expressed at that AG firings. Until then, the comparison is a stark contrast.

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Intellectual Integrity has a High Calling

Mark D. Roberts discusses the Sunday Inspiration from The High Calling, defending truth, humility and justice. He notes that we are called to properly express intellectual integrity as a ‘High Calling.”

As people of truth, we will speak and live in a way that reflects God and his revelation. In a world of falsehood, in which truth itself is under attack, we will seek the truth in all things, stand for the truth in what we say and do.

As people of humility, we will never speak the truth in a way that is haughty, as if the truth belongs to us. Moreover, we will always see ourselves as subjects of the King of kings, and offer our lives to him and to others as servants. Thus we will imitate the humble servanthood of Jesus.

As people of justice, we will treat all people fairly and will work for a world that offers justice to all. We will be especially committed to doing justice for the poor and powerless. Where we have been given authority, in our work, our families, our churches, or our community, we will strive for just systems that reflect the character of God.

It is often easiest to find truth or integrity when truth, humility, or justice is missing. We can detect or measure logical fallacies, emotional diatribes, arrogance, or unbalanced justice in others. We need to keep in mind that sometimes detecting it in ourselves can be difficult. That is why we need to keep post such as that of Mark Roberts in mind.

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Going Galt?

Dr. Sanity explains why going Galt is getting so attractive. This time, I don’t care anymore … let the zombies take over medicine.

My entire professional life as a physician and psychiatrist I have been exceptionally vocal about the prospect of government medicine here in the US. I have given impassioned speeches (when I was younger); written essays in medical journals and elsewhere; and talked until I am blue in the face to anyone and everyone about the horrors of socialized medicine and government interference in the health care system of this country. Once it would have seemed impossible that I would ever want to quit medicine; to stop practicing psychiatry.

Every time this madness is killed, it just doesn’t stay dead. Like some kind of putrefying zombie, the left just keeps resurrecting it. Logic doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter.

Opt out was a big thing for the hippies in the sixties. It is beginning to look like that maybe they meant for the other guy to opt out. You know, the other guy who is productive and keeping things together and making things work.

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Drawing the line

Perhaps the most significant problem faced in modern times is where to draw the line. Much of the problem with the inability to determine legal outcomes is because the courts are struggling with just where to draw the line. The effort to combat terrorism has its own line, one that was put into sharp relief on 9/11 when the official view of the line changed.

Q&O takes a look at this in Miranda and War.

The primary issue (and I’m simplifying here) centers around just how detainees caught on a battlefield should be handled if they don’t fit the established parameters of soldiers under the Geneva Conventions. Although there appears to be agreement that reading detainees Miranda rights is a step (or three) too far, there is also wide agreement that we should be skeptical about allowing our government so much latitude as to hold anyone indefinitely. I think closing the gap on those parameters is the challenge to be met, but I don’t think it is possible to do so without understanding how war differs from law enforcement.

Some of the factors that complicate the issue include the nature of the behavior, the organizational nature of both the perpetrator and the victims, whether the perpetrators are citizens or not, whether the act was foreign or domestic, and the purpose of the act. When we had massed armies in uniform acting on each other we had a clear understanding that it was war going on. That clear understanding became clouded when we encountered guerrilla warfare and terrorism where acts were often ideologic rather than nationalistic and the perpetrators engaged against civilians and individuals.

The conundrum about piracy is an example. It used to be that merchant ships would carry guns to defend themselves and a pirate had no friends and no recourse if caught. These days a pirate is seen as a common criminal who must be provided all civil rights. A result is a piracy problem. The line is being re-examined.

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Have you noticed the brand?

IBT on Palin Vs. Biden brings up the interesting issue of branding as a comparison and contrast. In this case it is the Dan Quayle brand.

Instead, remarkably, the person who lost the vice presidency to Biden is the one getting the Dan Quayle treatment — and then some.

Some other brands like this that come up frequently are Bork and Swiftboat. They are similar to the ‘right wing’ being applied to an anti-semite that gunned down a guard (anti-semite is symptomatic of extreme left, not right) and the Muslim black prison convert who gunned down a military recruiter.

Take note of the pattern as it is a means by which you can improve your discrimination of quality in the debate.

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graphs and charts

This particular economic period is providing data for all sorts of interesting and unusual charts. Ed Morrisey shows two of them in his Chart of the Day: The Laffer Spike. The Laffer Spike is about “our exploding money supply” which shows an annual percentage change in the monetary base from 1961 to 2000. That one shows that the current status is near ten times any previous level.

The other shows the federal deficit, actual and projected, for the period from 2000 through 2019. It has been a very popular graphic because of the change from ‘normal’ deficits for 2008 and prior increase by a factor of 4 starting in 2009.

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Case Study: Medicare Part D

Distortion of reality often occurs in ‘debates’ about various issues. Medicare Part D is one of those issues. The NYT recently used it to support the idea that the quadrupling of the federal deficit this year. This Medicare prescription drug law has been attacked from all sides and seems to be a favorite whipping boy. The reality is discussed by Mort Kondracke who thinks the Medicare Drug Plan Ought to Be Model for Health Reform.

Passed amid rancor and predictions of catastrophe, the law has proved to be an enormous success – much cheaper than expected and overwhelmingly popular with seniors.

The problem for liberal Democrats is ideology. The Medicare Part D program is based on competition among private insurance plans, whereas they are determined to model health reform on government-run, price-controlled Medicare Parts A and B or on Massachusetts’ individual-mandate plan.

Medicare Part D costs far less than was expected

When the prescription drug benefit was enacted, opponents predicted that few insurance plans would emerge to offer coverage. Instead, dozens did, causing critics to say seniors were confused by the choices.

premiums are lower than expected

This was one law attempting to address the health care costs problem that actually made it through the process and shows some success. It provides lessons both for how difficult it is to address health care issues in legislation as well as in the concepts that can be employed to improve the odds of success.

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More on the propaganda campaign

It seems they come in bunches …

Victor Davis Hanson has a take on the media problem, too.

Now comes a more insidious, brave new self-imposed censorship of the Orwellian mode. It is not just the perennial embarrassment Chris Matthews describing his Obama ecstasy on camera, or even Newsweek’s Evan Thomas comparing his President to God, or even CNN execs being exposed trashing the US abroad at Davos, or whitewashing Saddam, but rather a more incremental new groupspeak in which basic words and ideas—from terrorism to war itself—have been reformulated according to political dictates.

It is a comparison and contrast to show how the winds have changed, not by the issues but rather by who is leading.

Straw men are everywhere. The President, the First Lady, and the Attorney General cannot begin a speech without “some say”, “there are those who believe,” or “I am not convinced by others who argue”—all followed by their own enlightened antitheses.

I no longer believe . . .

…That I can quite trust mainstream science and scientific elites as I once did. When world leaders and Nobel Prize winners meet to decry global warming, I don’t believe that there is a true give-and-take. I doubt what follows is empirical discussion of what is causing global warming and whether it is a natural, temporary phenomenon or a long-term permanent threat.

He offers many examples of why this came to be. There seems to be worry and wonderment. It just doesn’t make sense and that is the source of the dissonance.

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The propaganda campaign through comparison and contrast

Propaganda doesn’t have to be a part of a well thought out plan. It can be a natural expression of a psychological expression. Huston describes one exposure of a propaganda campaign in Comparison: Economic Reporting Under Bush, and Under Obama at Redstate.

Ed Frank created an interesting little video that serves as a stark reminder of how harsh the Old Media was on Bush’s “faltering” economy in comparison to today’s hearts and flowers style of reporting during the age of Obama, even though the stats are far, far worse under Obama than they ever were under Bush.

There are many other comparisons and contrasts such as this that illustrate just how pervasive the propaganda campaign has been over the last few years. What needs to be kept in mind is that such a campaign exists because it is successful. It is successful because those who conduct the campaign are not held to account. The declining markets and business of the major media indicate that there is some action of public accountability but the remaining existence indicates that such an effort has a long ways to go yet.

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A second opinion

Climate Change Reconsidered is offering a rebuttal for the anthropogenic global warming advocates to consider. It is rather cute that they have named their enterprise the NIPCC as a contrast to the IPCC that has been used to pound the ‘rich nations have to submit’ ethos on this issue.

In “Climate Change Reconsidered: The 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC),” coauthors Dr. S. Fred Singer and Dr. Craig Idso and 35 contributors and reviewers present an authoritative and detailed rebuttal of the findings of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on which the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress rely for their regulatory proposals.

The concern has broader implications than just whether 868 pages by eminent scientists can do to offer a second opinion on an important issue.

Seeing science clearly misused to shape public policies that have the potential to inflict severe economic harm, particularly on low-income groups, NIPCC’s team of scientists chose to speak up for science at a time when too few people outside the scientific community know what is happening, and too few scientists who know the truth have the will or the platforms to speak out against the IPCC.

The argument is like so many these days – you don’t dare step up if you don’t adhere to the prevailing meme. Like the current ruckus about how it is unseemly to criticize a court nominee all of a sudden, there are many winds blowing against honest discourse and a proper consideration of issues.

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The illness shows green

RGJ.COM reports Schwarzenegger: look for 30-40 mpg Hummer from Chinese

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he expects the Chinese company to make improvements to his beloved Hummer brand. He said Wednesday that he thinks the Chinese will probably convert the 15 mpg vehicle to one that gets 30 or 40 mpg in a short time.

This expectation (more than a hope) illustrates two things. One is that the Chinese can whip the pants off US engineers and the other that it is easy to ‘go green’ and increase the efficiency of a vehicle by a factor of three or four. The experience to date puts either as a very small probablility, so small as to be non-existent.

The massive jump in fuel efficiencies is a common fantasy. It is behind the recent CAFE guidelines mandating fleet efficiencies of 40 mpg soon. This is the same kind of thinking that considers ‘alternative’ energy sources such as solar and wind as competitive with coal and oil and nuclear.

As for the US bashing – this is related to the overall bashing of the education system. The fact is, though, that on nearly every scale and field you can measure, US engineering stands well above anywhere else on the planet. These measures run the gamut from number of patents to production line design and management. The Chinese still can’t build their own jet engine for military aircraft.

But, reality be damned. These are not the days of intellectual integrity where one has his opinions and ideas firmly rooted in reality and reason, it seems.

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It’s Broken! or maybe not …

Ike Morgan thinks America’s health care system already fabulous (Bangor Daily News):

We Americans are a spoiled bunch. At the same time we benefit from the greatest health care advancements in human history, we have, in our self-centered way, bought into the fairy tale that our health care system is broken. We have convinced ourselves that the markets can never provide us with good medical care and that the only solution to the problem is a government remedy. If we are not careful we may get what we wish for.

He uses as a referent what we take for granted today that did not even exist sixty years ago. In other words, much of the expense people are complaining about is for things our parents or grandparents could not even imagine being able to purchase at any cost. This is true not only for medicine but also for many other fields from automobiles to telephones.

We are stuck in our immediate world and sometimes it is necessary to step back and look at things in perspective to really see how fortunate we are.

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Defamation and libel?

You know we’re in trouble when the courts stifle science in favor of quackery.

Sandwalk takes a look at The Truth About Chiropractic and notes the problem with moral relativism as a defense against reality.

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