Tuesday, July 31, 2007

News Trust dot Net

A non-profit initiative called Newstrust is developing a system for rating news from a very broad array of sources. And unlike previous efforts that employed teams of paid reviewers (a model that proved economically unviable), this one is a social network model which uses the intellect of the masses to rate all manner of news content and news sources. In beta now and due out in early 2008, Newstrust will not only be a stand-alone site where consumers can come to find the best journalism as ranked by an army of volunteer media reviewers, but more importantly it will (we can hope) be deployed over all manner of online news sources so that readers will on any news-related website see an objective rating of that site's quality and of specific news content.

....

Anyone can sign up to be a Newstrust reviewer, with nothing more than an e-mail address. That gets you the right to start reviewing news sources (websites, blogs, etc.) and individual articles. Reviewers are asked to rate news sources using a simple 5-star selection. Each source gets an aggregate score. Ratings for individual stories are more interesting and deeper; story reviewers are asked a series of questions about the article (rate with 1-5 stars):

Is it a good story?

Do you trust this publication?

Is the story informative?

Is the story fair?

Is the story well sourced?

Does the story show the "big picture"

The reviewer also can leave a text review, which will show up on Newstrust along with the story.

....

More importantly, Newstrust's developers are building bias filters into the algorithm that drives the site. Every member reviewer of Newstrust gets a "member rating," which is an assessment of their performance as a reviewer. When administrators notice a reviewer that consistently reviews sources and articles with a particular political bias, for example, that reviewer's member rating gets knocked down. While the biased member can continue rating things, his impact on the overall scores is neglible, and his written reviews are either placed where few will see them or not shown at all.

Administrators actively look for reviewers who are trying to game the system and influence ratings toward a particular point of view (e.g., a conservative reviewer who regularly gives 5 stars to opinion pieces on Fox News while ranking New York Times articles with 1 star). Such people are then sent an e-mail with a request to comply with the non-partisan spirit of Newstrust and start reviewing content and sources objectively.

The site also has tiers of reviewers. Everyone starts out as a Reviewer, but if you really get into this and perform in an objective manner, you can be promoted to a Host or even an Editor.

A future enhancement to the site will be bias-adjusted reviews – that is, optional ratings based exclusively on reviews by Hosts and Editors. (That may be a paid premium service.)

Trouble for the Democrats

In yesterday's Washington Post, Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza report on remarks by House Majority Whip James Clyburn. Among other gems:

Many Democrats have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad. But of late there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive. Clyburn said that would be "a real big problem for us."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Chickenhawks

Baldilocks notes that Paul McLeary has admitted to fumbling when he wrote that the milbloggers were chickenhawks.

He also links to several discussions of the term "chickenhawk" on his blog.

Chickenhawks?

This is showing up all over the place. It seems the Columbia School of Journalism needs a dictionary which properly defines the term "chicken-hawk".

In another ridiculous attack on bloggers covering the New Republic Scott Beauchamp incident, Paul McLeary of the partisan hack outlet the Columbia Journalism Review says milbloggers are chickenhawks

Mr. McLeary must not know what the "mil" stands for.

Life after Katrina

From NRO: A piece on how New Orleans has fared in the two years following Katrina.

...what would keep the good times rolling?

First, crime control is a must. The bad guys have returned with a vengeance. The local homicide rate has climbed a staggering 100 percent this year, according to a recent NBC News story. New Orleans needs a strong dose of Giuliani-style "broken windows" policing. Fighting small crimes usually nabs the perpetrators of bigger violations. An NYPD-type CompStat system also would help police commanders pinpoint crimes on precinct maps and employ those indicators to deploy cops exactly where crimes tend to unfold.

Second, FEMA still cannot connect trailers with everyone who needs them. While some still seek them, others who have finished rebuilding their houses no longer need trailers, but cannot get FEMA to collect them.

FEMA could help by deregulating its failed trailer operation. It should allow inhabitants to sell their trailers to those who need them. This will wheel unneeded trailers to those who want them.

Third, close Mr. Go.

The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (nicknamed "Mr. Go" and the Hurricane Highway) facilitated Katrina's devastation of New Orleans. In 1956, Congress authorized this mini-Mississippi River as a shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico. But on August 29, 2005, Mr. Go became a varnished wooden lane that sped the bowling ball of Katrina's storm surge right into the pins of New Orleans' skyline. The resulting strike still smarts.

Murtha and Pelosi -- architects of defeat?

From today's Washington Times:

Mr. Murtha plans to offer three amendments to the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations bill: One would set a 60-day timeline to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq (which will certainly help al Qaeda and the like in planning the Rwanda-ization of the country). A second Murtha amendment would implement the Pennsylvania Democrat's "slow-bleed" strategy for ensuring a U.S. military defeat by conditioning funds for the war upon the military meeting some unattainable standards for training and equipping the troops. Should the administrate violate the strictures in an effort to reinforce besieged American soldiers or prevent genocide, we have no doubt that if the Democrats are still in the majority that they will be holding oversight hearings and issuing subpoenas to U.S. military commanders and senior Pentagon officials, summoning them to testify about "why they broke the law" by sending these soldiers to the battlefield.

Mr. Murtha's third amendment would close the Guantanamo Bay facility. He hasn't said precisely what he wants to do with these terrorists, but his Democratic colleagues have weighed in, including Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia (who has been perhaps the most fervent congressional advocate of shutting down Gitmo) as well as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan.

Three Inconvenient Truths

A piece at Tech Central Station has "Three Inconvenient Truths" for those who think the war in Iraq is lost.

First, one of the principal purposes of the surge is to persuade the Iraqi population that we are going to stay in their neighborhoods until the Iraqi army and police can take over and bring an end to violence. Only when they have confidence that we will not abandon them to the terrorists will Iraqis come forward-as they now appear to be doing-with information about who among them are the terrorists, militia members and other killers, and where they can be found.

Accordingly, efforts to force the withdrawal of our troops at a time certain undermine this policy and the work and bravery of our soldiers. They cause Iraqis to doubt our promises of long term support, and weaken their incentive to assist us with intelligence. Timetables, then, and pressing for a quick withdrawal, become a self-fulfilling prophesy. In other words, if the surge fails, President Bush will not be the only politician who takes the blame.

Second, although Senator Reid and other war opponents can glibly claim that there is no hope that an independent Iraq can survive, there is one group that is truly expert on that question, and they clearly don't believe it. That group consists of the Iraqis who are now in the Iraqi government-from Prime Minister al-Maliki on down-who risk their lives and the lives of their families every day that they serve. They are Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and all of them are targets of the insurgency and the terrorists of al Qaeda. What motive could these dedicated Iraqis possibly have to place themselves in such a position unless they believe that they can keep the country together and in the end produce a peaceful and unified state?

When we hear war opponents expound on the fact that the enmity between Shiites and Sunnis goes back a thousand years, and that it can't possibly be resolved by the United States in any reasonable period of time, we should think of the Sunnis and Shiites in the Iraqi government today, and whether they think this is a persuasive argument. If they did, they would have been gone long ago-now in Iran or Syria-trying to start their new lives. But they're not-they're in Baghdad-a completely irrational act unless they believe that this historic religious rivalry can be controlled and subdued. It is a wildly arrogant idea that we can tell them that their history cannot be overcome.

Finally, if-as seems apparent now-the surge is succeeding, opponents of the war are going to be hard-pressed to make the case for abandoning Iraq, even if there is no Shi'ite-Sunni political settlement in sight. The inconvenient truth here is that, apart from the irreconcilable Left, the American people's support for withdrawal has been based on an assessment that we were losing the war. If that no longer seems true, support for withdrawal will melt away. The Democratic leaders know this; that's why they made a concerted effort last week to get a vote on withdrawal in July. September, which will likely see a favorable report by General Petraeus, will be too late. Claims that the inability of the Iraqis to reach a political settlement is a reason for us to leave will ring a bit hollow in the face of a possible military success. After all, the American people have noticed that our Congress, unthreatened by anything more serious than an upcoming election, couldn't pass an immigration bill, can't eliminate earmarks or adopt ethics rules, and can't agree on energy legislation when gasoline is $3.50 a gallon. Politicians, they know, will be politicians, but that doesn't mean we should hand our enemies a victory instead of a defeat.

Nevertheless, because weakening the will of the American people is the only way that al-Qaeda and our other opponents in Iraq can hope to win, between now and September we will see an all-out effort to inflict heavy casualties on our troops and on Iraqi civilians. Unfortunately, this can be a winning strategy. If we are unprepared for it, a bad August and early September could still lead to a collapse in public support that would even sweep congressional Republicans with it. We should not forget that the North Vietnamese Tet offensive of 1968-although it resulted ultimately in a military defeat for the North-became a turning point in the war because it destroyed the American public's belief in our ultimate military success. A series of spectacular and dramatic attacks could do the same for our enemies in Iraq. They know that, and we should expect them to try.

But if these attacks do not occur-or if they do and are quickly quelled-the success of the surge will be an inconvenient political truth that many in the Democratic party will not easily survive.

Beauchamp cut off

Beldar observes that Private Beauchamp has been stripped of his internet and e-mail privileges.

I guess that means we won't be hearing a Beaupeep from him for a while.

The situation in Iraq

From today's NY Times:

By MICHAEL E. O'HANLON and KENNETH M. POLLACK

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily "victory" but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

<snip>

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

<snip>

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

Michael E. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.

Beauchamp's diary entries

This one from Real Clear Politics

Jack Kelly notes that Beauchamp is in big trouble, pretty much regardless of whether his accounts are true or not.

If what Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp wrote in the New Republic isn't true, he's in trouble, and so is the magazine.

If what Pvt. Beauchamp wrote is true, he's in bigger trouble.

<snip>

It would be better for Pvt. Beauchamp if he made his stories up. It breaks no military rule to BS gullible liberal journalists. But if Pvt. Beauchamp is telling the truth, he and his buddies have broken so many articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that I haven't space to list them all.

It isn't only Pvt. Beauchamp who'd be in trouble. If the latter two stories are true, then his fire team leader, squad leader, platoon sergeant and platoon leader either witnessed them, and did nothing about them, or were negligent in supervising their soldiers. And if I were his company commander, I wouldn't be expecting below the zone promotion to major anytime soon.

His superiors won't be happy campers, and neither will his fellow troops, to whom he has brought unwanted scrutiny, deserved or not. I suspect Pvt. Beauchamp soon will be the guest of honor at a blanket party.

That he is Pvt. Beauchamp suggests this is not his first brush with the UCMJ. He called himself PFC Beauchamp on his Web site last September, which indicates he's been busted a stripe. He's been in the Army long enough to be a Spec 4.

Come to think of it, I wonder if the rest of the soldiers in his unit have cause for a defamation suit.

On his blog (Sir Real Scott Thomas), Pvt. Beauchamp indicates he's an aspiring writer who joined the Army to establish credentials for voicing his liberal political opinions.

"I know that NOT participating in a war (and such a misguided one at that) should be considered better than wanting to be in one just to write a book," he wrote May 18, 2006. "But...maybe I'd rather be both."

But is Pvt. Beauchamp telling the truth about what he sees in Iraq?

In a blog entry for May 8, 2006, Pvt. Beauchamp describes an atrocity: "'Put a 556 in his head.' (The caliber of an M-16 rifle is 5.56 millimeters.) On the street below, the man's brown face dissolves in a thick red mist. The lights in the city's houses shut off in unison.

Electricity rationing. Water rationing too. You ever tried to survive

for more than a few hours in 120 degree weather"

On May 8, 2006, Pvt. Beauchamp was in Germany, where temperatures rarely reach 120 degrees, and the electricity and water work just fine.

Well, the electricity *is* 50-cycle, so his appliances may not have been working very well.

Note, though, his stated reason for entering the military is about the same as Dr. Wells' reason for getting a Ph.D. in Biology.

Shock troop journalism

From Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard blog

When the Columbia Journalism Review solicits donations, it explains its mission like this:

We are dedicated to defending quality journalism, which has many enemies and challenges these days. Our best weapons are deep analysis and investigation, and these tools can be expensive. We rely on people like you to help us produce the kind of magazine and website that can make a difference.

This description is hard to square with CJR's own coverage of the Scotty Beauchamp story, which ran under the headline, "Why do conservatives hate the troops?"

CJR does not examine the complexities and challenges of pseudonymous writing, or the fact that the New Republic has failed to produce any corroboration for Beauchamp's account, or the delicacy of fact-checking spouses of your own employee. Instead, CJR writer Paul McCleary attacks milbloggers for being chickenhawks.

How dare a college grad and engaged citizen volunteer to join the Army to fight for his country! (Which is something that most of the brave souls who inhabit the milblog community prefers to leave to others.) While there are some very legitimate questions about what Beauchamp wrote, nothing, it's worthy of note, has been proved false yet. But that hasn't stopped the sharp knives of a slew of bloggers from coming out.

McCleary clearly has a lot to learn, starting with an understanding of what a milblog is and the experiences of those who write them. (Hint: mil is short for military.) CJR's donors may want to ask for a refund.

Dean Barnett on "Shock Troops"

Dean Barnett on the "Shock Troops" article at The New Republic.

VDH on Withdrawal from Iraq

Victor Davis Hanson on the consequences of retreat

It is easier to envision post-democratic Iraq as a tripartite badlands: a shaky Kurdistan living under the fear of alternate invasion from either oil-hungry Turkey or an ascendant Iran; a Sunni Anbar serving, like Waziristan or Somalia, as a terrorist haven, effused with Wahhabi money and sharia courts; and an Arab Shiite rump state of Iran, residing in safety under an Iranian nuclear umbrella, that would be the convenient jumping off point for Shiite insurgents in the Gulf States. The sorting out of populations into these various enclaves would be messy and bloody, if not like the Pakistani partition of 1947, at least akin to what we saw in the Balkans during the 1990s.

What would the effect be of all this televised carnage and chaos on the United States? Antiwar critics would turn on a dime — disclaiming their prior assertions that our presence ipso facto had been the chief cause of the violence in Iraq. Instead, when the mass beheadings of female reformers and serial shootings of "collaborators" appeared on our screens, American and European leftists would almost immediately blame our fickleness for the carnage. Theirs would not be entirely a humanitarian critique — that our withdrawal was not handled sensibly or with proper concern for civilian security — as much a damning indictment of our military incompetence, far greater than the 1990s furor during the no-fly-zone years over the Shiite and Kurdish massacres that resulted from our failure to go to Baghdad in 1991. Just as our resolve and stubbornness are now alleged to have resulted in the deaths of thousands, so our irresoluteness would soon be cited for the murders of tens of thousands.

A second effect would be a sort of psychological devastation of the U.S. military, particularly the army. Critics of the Iraq war allege that once out of Iraq, we would not have precious assets exposed in Iraq (where the enemy is), and thus enjoy better options in dealing with, for example, Iran. But what precisely is the point? That our military would flee the messy encounter with al Qaeda to reengage al Qaeda on supposedly better terrain and with better odds? As in Afghanistan? The Pakistani borderlands? Or that a Shiite Iran should be fearful of an America freed up through defeat by Sunni terrorists?

General Petreas abandons credibility?

General Petreas has been interviewed on the Hugh Hewitt show, therefore, he's now the enemy.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Another test

This is a test.
Hopefully, this will be bolded.
And hopefully, this will be in italics.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Does the UN want us to stay in Iraq?

Captain Ed Morrissey notes a quote by the UN Secretary General, warning that a precipitous withdrawal of troops may have severe consequences in Iraq.

Ban doesn't exactly endorse a long-term counterinsurgency effort in this statement, but he's asking the anti-war faction a question they thus have refused to answer. If the US retreats, how do they expect to keep a genocidal free-for-all from erupting in our wake? While the same people recall the collective failure in Rwanda and the ongoing genocide in Darfur -- conducted by radical Islamists -- and push for American intervention in the latter, they have no answer for the obvious calamitous consequences of an American pullout from Iraq.

Kling on George Bush

Arnold Kling writes about the George Bush presidency. He's not a fan of Bush.

I have never felt comfortable with George Bush. I voted for Al Gore--although I never felt comfortable with him, either. I felt even less comfortable with John Kerry, so that I voted for Bush in 2004.

Neoconservatism is not my ideology. As I pointed out four years ago, the economic ideology of neoconservatism is willing to accept a large and ever-growing government, whereas I am not. Neoconservatives are comfortable turning religious values into hot-button political causes, while I prefer to keep my conservative moral values in the background. Finally, neoconservatives are somewhat more grandiose and moralistic than I am on foreign policy.

Nevertheless, Bush has one point in his favor.

I think that President Bush has got one thing very much right, which is that Arab-Islamic terrorism is a symptom that something is rotten in the Middle East. If anything, his failures in Iraq and Palestine are due to underestimating the degree of rot. For all the allegations of his lack of intellect, George Bush is a brainiac compared to people who want to see terrorism as a symptom of something rotten in the United States or Israel.

He then addresses five points he considers "myths" about the Bush presidency:

  • Myth 1: Bush lost in 2000
  • Myth 2: Bush economic policies were disastrous
  • Myth 3: Bush was too right-wing
  • Myth 4: Bush was too partisan
  • Myth 5: Iraq reflects Bush's personality

Read the whole thing.

A three-word question for Iraq

In his writings on economics, Thomas Sowell boils a lot of advanced economics down to a three-word question: "And then what?"

"And then what?" That is the question which should be asked of those who are demanding that we pull out of Iraq now.

Read the rest of it.

And remember, as I've pointed out elsewhere, this war is not optional.

The "war on terror" is a misleading phrase. It is the terrorists' war against us -- and it is not something that we can unilaterally call off. Our only choice is where to fight it, over there or over here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

President Bush's Legacy

William Kristol has a piece about how Bush's legacy will shape up, after the snarling and temper tantrums have had a chance to die down.

Let's step back from the unnecessary mistakes and the self-inflicted wounds that have characterized the Bush administration. Let's look at the broad forest rather than the often unlovely trees. What do we see? First, no second terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- not something we could have taken for granted. Second, a strong economy -- also something that wasn't inevitable.

And third, and most important, a war in Iraq that has been very difficult, but where -- despite some confusion engendered by an almost meaningless "benchmark" report last week -- we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome.

Ford's legacy improved markedly after a few decades' aging, why not Bush's?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Michael Yon on Iraq

Michael Yon wrote about an incident that has stirred some controversy.

The paragraph that generated controversy follows:

The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11 years old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.

He "only" has the word of one Iraqi official, but he also notes:

As I write these words just a few miles from the graves I saw, the resulting controversy about whether what the man said was true, or whether his words should have been written if the writer couldn’t verify them, seems precious. There is no imaginary line of credulity that al Qaeda might cross should it go from beheading children to baking them.

....

People at home might find it incredible, improbable, even impossible. Yet here in combat with al Qaeda, the idea is no more improbable-sounding than someone saying “The chicken crossed the road.” Maybe the chicken crossed the road. Maybe not. The veterans I’ve been talking with here have no difficulty imagining the chicken crossing the road, or al Qaeda roasting kids. Sickening, yes. Improbable, no.

Little brothers are watching you

Orwell's 1984 presented a vision of a future where Big Brother watched everyone in an electronic panopticon. The real future may be a bit different.

Wikipedia recalls a TV series called Probe in which fantastic "agents for a group known as 'World Securities,' who were outfitted with various electronic implants, and were equipped with a button-sized 'scanner' that contained a micro-miniaturized video camera, microphone and transmitter, which connected them with a team of technicians and experts who constantly monitored his surroundings, actions and vital signs, and were able to supply the Probe with encyclopedic information on any subject" fought crime on a weekly basis.

Currently that functionality and more is available from any camera-equipped cell phone that can browse the Internet that is available at any shopping mall. And today, "Samsung Electronics will launch in Europe this month its Mobile Blog 3G Phone (SGH-L760), which allows users to upload content directly to blog sites on the Internet. The phone is expected to further fuel the current boom in mobile Internet and user-created content services, as it can upload directly to popular UCC sites like YouTube, Ublog and Buzznet."

Not only is there a very good chance that anything interesting you do will be photographed, it's becoming increasingly likely that you will have no reasonable expectation of privacy any time you're in the presence of another person. With mobile phones capable of transmitting to your blog, any conversation could be uploaded to someone's website.

Being interviewed by a reporter you don't fully trust? Leave your phone on.

Think you may have a sexual harassment case? Leave your phone on.

The policeman who pulls someone over had better watch his language, because it may wind up on the motorist's blog.

Right now, "liveblogging" is the provence of one or two hard-core geeks. What happens when "liveblogging" is as easy as forgetting to shut off your cell phone?

Seven futures for Iraq

If the US pulls out of Iraq before the government is stable, Austin Bay sees seven possible futures.

(1) THREE NEW COUNTRIES: Kurdistan in the north becomes an independent country – and immediately begins to wrestle with Turkey over the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) which is waging a secessionist struggle in southeastern Turkey. Kurdistan has oil. Southern Iraq—a predominantly Shia – area, becomes a Shia state—with oil. Parts of Anbar province become a Sunni state (Iraqi Sunnistan) – which has few oil fields. But what becomes of Baghdad? Does it divide like a desert Berlin into Shia and Sunni sectors? Baghdad remains a source of continuing conflict.

(2) REGIONAL SHIA-SUNNI WAR: Iran sees a chance to recover not only the Shaat al Arab region – the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates, but a chance to extend its border into the economically productive areas of southern Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait immediately react to Iran’s drive into southern Iraq. Iraq has served as a “buffer” between Sunni Arabs and Shia Iranians, and the buffer is dissolving . Jordan and Egypt prepare for action. The War Over Mesopotamia could last for weeks, it could grind on for years.

(3) TURKEY EXPANDS :Turkey reclaims control of territory all the way to Kirkuk, creating a new Southern Turkey: The Ottoman Empire once controlled Mesopotamia. Turkey has a lingering claim to areas of northern Iraq. For almost two decades Turkey has fought with the Kurdistan Workers Party – a Kurdish secessionist group in Turkey which has bases in northern Iraq. Turkey could conclude the way to end the war with the PKK would be to absorb Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey would pay a huge political price. It would lose all chance of joining the European Union. Ties with the West would deteriorate –and as a resultTurkey might become less secular and more Islamic in both identity and in political orientation. The Iranians would be glad to see their “Kurdish issue” disappear, but would be wary of a militant Turkey.

(4) SHIA DICTATORSHIP: Shia Arabs conduct an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Sunni. They create a condominium state with the Kurds. Iranian influence increases . Iraq’s Sunnis either die (a genocide) or flee to other Sunni controlled states – or move to the US.

(5) CHAOS: The region becomes a cauldron. Iraq shatters into ethnic enclaves, a few “new Mesopotamian city states” managing to control oil fields. Iran and Turkey exert “regional influence” over eastern Iraq and northern Iraq, respectively, but concerned about confrontation between themselves or provoking sanctions from Europe and the US, neither send their military forces in large numbers beyond current borders . Terror attacks and intermittent fighting afflict neighborhoods throughout Iraq. Local warlords rule by fear and make money either smuggling oil, drugs, or arms. This tribal hell is a perfect disaster—the kind of disaster that allows Al Qaeda to build training facilities and base camps for operations throughout the Middle East and Europe.

(6) “GANG UP”: Shia Arabs in Iraq are numerous, well armed and increasingly well organized – at least enough to expel all of the Sunni Arabs. The Shia and Kurds, who are now over 80 percent of the population, decide to eliminate their main enemy, and the source of most of the terrorism—the Sunni community. Neighboring Sunni Arab nations are kept out with the threat that Iran will intervene. Arguably, this scenario is already happening, though in slow motion.

(7) SURPRISE—THE IRAQI CENTER HOLDS: The democratic government proves to be resilient and popular. The assumption behind this scenario is that Iraq’s new democratic government is just responsive enough and its security forces are just strong enough to withstand attacks by extremists and give Iran pause. After several months of brutal warfare, the Iraqi Army destroys insurgent groups.

Out of seven possible “rapid withdrawal” scenarios only one –number seven– clearly benefits the majority of Iraqis. And the US. And the civilized world.

Libby and Memory

The Stiletto Blog looks at differing recollections during the Libby trial, and how memory works.

And how it often doesn't work.

Scooter Libby Trial -- again

Irony and Hypocrisy, it says.

...isn’t it ironic that:

† During the course of an investigation to determine who identified Valerie Plame as a CIA employee, Richard Armitage - who admitted being the leaker - has not been indicted or prosecuted?

† Rather than shutting down the investigation after the leaker’s identity was known, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald continued taking depositions and hauling people before grand juries to entrap them into making misstatements for which they could be indicted?

† Scooter Libby - who was not the leaker - was the only person prosecuted as a result of an investigation to find the leaker?

† Scooter Libby was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice in a trial during which no witness corroborated the story of another witness – meaning that their versions of events were no more or less credible than Libby’s?

† President Bush specifically selected Reggie B. Walton to fill a vacancy on the federal bench in 2001 because of his tough-on-crime reputation and track record of imposing stiff sentences?

† The Bush administration recently announced a tough new crime bill that empowers judges to impose longer - but not shorter - sentences, and the president commuted Libby’s sentence because he felt it was excessively harsh?

† Libby, who was Marc Rich’s lawyer when he was seeking a pardon from then-president Bill Clinton, would need a similar intervention by the executive branch himself just a few years later?

And isn’t it hypocritical that:

† Dems who vociferously argued that public humiliation was punishment enough for Clinton’s perjury, are now equally vociferous in their demands that Libby get jail time?

† In what Bush spokesperson Tony Snow called a gigantic case of chutzpah, Hillary Clinton denounced the commutation because it “sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice,” despite the 140 pardons and 36 commutations her husband granted during his last hours in the Oval office having included pardons for his half brother, Roger, who was convicted of dealing cocaine and the aforementioned Rich, whose ex-wife donated gobs of dough to erect the Clinton Library?

† Hillary’s brother, Hugh Rodham, made a small fortune for successfully procuring a presidential pardon for a businessman under suspicion of money laundering and a commutation of the sentence of a convicted drug trafficker?

Do the Iraqis want us out?

Jim Garaghty got some e-mail from a .mil address.

I am one of two Americans embedded with the Iraqi military academy near here. We are the only Americans in a 40 mile radius. I am not on a base, but am surrounded by hundreds of Peshmerga.

We go shopping in the city (population: 1.2 million) and walk around freely. Everyone who sees us waves, shakes our hands, or asks us to take a photo with them. We spent several hours walking around Freedom Park, which was Saddam’s detention (and murder) facility before 1992. The Kurds turned it into a garden park.

The Kurds never want the Americans to leave; actually, they want us to build permanent bases here. Why? Because they know if we’re here, no one will attack them anymore. All they want to do is live without being exterminated.

I like Dennis Prager's idea of holding a plebiscite to ask the Iraqis whether they want the Americans to stay or leave.

Pardons we have known

P.S. Ruckman looks at reasons that have been given for pardons in the past.

Most of the time, presidents provide no justification whatsoever for clemency decisions, even “controversial” ones. But Bush explained that he thought Libby’s sentence was too severe and brought it back in line with recommendations made by the probation department. The clarity of his statement prompted swift response from Patrick Fitzgerald, who defended the sentence as being within a range established by “law.” Unfortunately that is about 1/4 of what any fair-minded person would want to know — the other 3/4 being that the “law” establishes “guidelines,” there were legitimate disputes about their interpretation and application and they were not binding

The government section of the public library must be a spooky place for those who find Bush’s explanation of the lowest-grade quality. In the Annual Report of the attorney general, one can see pardons have been granted because criminals were “reformed,” promised to reform, or because their release might cause others to reform. Pardons have been given to those who were insane, went insane in prison, and those who might have gone insane if put into prison. Pardons have also been granted so criminals could take care of someone else who went insane, was going insane or did not want to go insane. Benjamin Ogle (convicted of manslaughter) was pardoned by Abraham Lincoln, in part, because Ogle was “rather remarkable for his good-humored disposition.” Now, imagine if Bush had written that! Lincoln was also moved by John Lawson’s “reputation for honesty.” Lawson (alias John Lassano) had been convicted for passing counterfeit money. If you think Bush’s explanation was among the very poorest, you just don’t have a library card.

Pardon-gate

Why not? Everything else gets "gate"-d sooner or later.

(I'm sure the origin of the "-gate" suffix will be a question on Jeopardy in a few years.)

Byron York has a nice review of the pardon power and its use throughout history.

Here we go again

Every time a new Harry Potter book or movie comes out, someone writes about how the stories are destroying our souls and our civilization.

Here's the next installment.

Watching 6- and 7-year-old children walk out of the press screening for the new "Harry Potter" movie (as well as the many reviewers and others with witchcraft symbols on their clothes and S&M dresses) is always an opportunity to reflect on the malignant corruption of our culture. Aside from the fact that these children are exposed to ugly creatures, fantastic violence and worthless incantations, this movie has some dialogue that sounds like it comes out of Stuart Smalley's Daily Affirmations on "Saturday Night Live." Namely, when professor Dumbledore sits Harry down and tells him, "You are not a bad person. Every person has light and darkness. You have a choice."

...

Contrary to Dumbledore's idiotic aphorisms, there are bad people.

The Wall Street Journal blamed the narcissism of our age on poor Mister Rogers, who was one of the leading proponents of the no-one-is-bad mentality. I liked Mister Rogers, and I think they may be taking him out of context. But, all this psychological mumbo jumbo about how "you are really a good person" has caused a whole generation to be spoiled beyond comprehension.

He thinks Mister Rogers is being taken out of context, but he's got Harry Potter pegged. OK....

Witchcraft means rebellion against God's authority in the Bible. These books and movies teach rebellion against authority. When they add to this rebellious attitude the stupid aphorism that "you're really a good person," then one must seriously ask: What are these narcissistic children supposed to think? Those children who are susceptible to this mindless PC drivel may think their rebellion is part of their goodness and that they're right to break the rules because breaking the rules is fun. In that way, they become part of the growing crowd of rebellious young people who are incapable of constructing and perpetuating a viable civilization.

And while we're at it, Here is a piece explaining that the Harry Potter stories aren't evil. At the bottom are links to other articles about the phenomenon.

Evolution in action

This was linked from World Net Daily, without the usual "Evolution Watch" flag.

A population of butterflies has evolved in a flash on a South Pacific island to fend off a deadly parasite.

The proportion of male Blue Moon butterflies dropped to a precarious 1 percent as the parasite targeted males. Then, within the span of a mere 10 generations, the males evolved an immunity that allowed their population share to soar to nearly 40 percent—all in less than a year.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Transcripts from Hugh Hewitt

Joseph Lieberman, and Michael Yon.

All the Surrenders....

...that are fit to print.

Victor Davis Hanson on an "orderly withdrawal".

Rarely in military history has an “orderly” withdrawal followed a theater-sized defeat and the flight of several divisions. Abruptly leaving Iraq would be a logistical and humanitarian catastrophe. And when scenes of carnage begin appearing on TV screens here about latte time, will the Times then call for “humanitarian” action?

And there's more.

Our enemies

Al qaeda and its allies hate us. This says good things about us.

The latest surrender bill

...has just passed the House. The Captain has comments.

Materialism and dualism

Here's a post on dualism and the mind-brain problem.

That we are deepening our understanding of how our brains bring about our minds — and learning that other animals may perform some of the same tricks — undermines not in the least Descartes’s cogito, which is simply a demonstration by the mind, to the mind, that the thinker exists.

The aspect of Descartes’s model that is almost universally rejected among scientists these days is his assumption that the mind is a “substance” unto itself, capable of independent existence, and that it is in this nonmaterial substance that all our reasoning, decision-making, hoping, fearing, hypothesizing, and, of course, doubting, take place. The Mind, in this dualist model, then exerts its Will upon its puppet body in some unknown way; Descartes speculated that the point of entry might be the pineal gland.

The way that all this actually happens in the brain is now at the convergent focus of a number of scientific disciplines, equipped with brand-new tools of amazing power and resolution, and as has been the case in so many other areas of scientific inquiry, much that was previously regarded as ineffably mysterious is beginning to be understood as explicable natural phenomena. The manner in which the physical processes of the brain result in subjectivity itself is still outside the circle of illumination, but that we have not yet explicated how the trick is done is not in itself evidence for interactionist dualism, any more than not understanding the physics of lightning was evidence that thunderbolts were hurled by Zeus.

Kodadpaf

Beldar has devised a post, called the "Bodadpaf". This stands for "Beldar's obligatory disclaimer about Dems' patriotism and foolishness". Swap out "Beldar" and replace it with "Karl", and you have....

Here is the disclaimer:

I'm not "questioning their patriotism." I'm not criticizing the Dems for being unpatriotic, much less accusing them of willful treason. Instead, I'm faulting the Dems* because they're reflexively America-blaming and Bush-hating, selfish, power-hungry, short-sighted, na├»ve, ignorant of history, and generally foolish beyond measuring — all of which makes them into useful fools who our enemies can easily exploit, and upon whom our enemies can (and expressly do) therefore rely. Although it is not the Dems' subjective intention to harm America or the rest of the civilized world, that will be the direct, inevitable, and profoundly foreseeable consequence of their actions. And when the next 9/11-scale event happens, they will not be excused of their moral and political responsibility for those consequences simply by virtue of the fact that they were "patriotic idiots" instead of "mere idiots."
*By "Dems" I mean the current Democratic Party leadership (Reid, Pelosi, Dean, etc.) and its current leading candidates for its presidential nomination (Clinton, Obama, and Edwards). I exclude past Democrats like Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Scoop Jackson, and their single prominent modern counterpart, Joe Lieberman.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The religion of the Left

the blog, Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, has a post on the religion of the left.

One characteristic of this religion is intolerance of differing views.

The American government are often accused of ignoring their critics, never giving them the hearing they demand. In fact, that is opposite of reality. Critics of American policy are given a hearing everyday, in the press, on the streets and even in Congress. What those critics can’t abide is not being agreed with. They cannot conceive of anyone having an opinion that is different from their own. To differ is to become illegitimate.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Libby Paper Blizzard

Here's a link to a list of the various motions, findings, rulings, and other paperwork over the course of the Scooter Libby trial.

More on the Libby/Plame case

Brian M. Carney writes in commentary magazine.

Libby’s troubles began that October when he was questioned by the FBI about his conversations with reporters during the weeks and days just prior to Novak’s July 14, 2003 column. Libby was not a target of the Justice Department investigation; it was not he who had spoken to Novak about Valerie Plame Wilson. But he had spoken with others. To Matthew Cooper of Time, for example, he had confirmed knowing or having heard that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA. And he had had another conversation with Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News—who, by Libby’s account, surprised him by taking the lead and confiding the fact of Valerie Wilson’s employment at the CIA.

When Libby was finally indicted in October 2005, four of the five counts against him concerned these two conversations. He was in effect charged with telling the same lie about them twice: once to the FBI, and again to the grand jury that handed down the indictment. In brief, the case against him rested on differing recollections of two conversations during the week between the publication of Wilson’s op-ed and Novak’s column.

....

Another indication was that, for the next eighteen months, Fitzgerald would doggedly pursue a number of reporters to compel or cajole them into testifying about their sources. He sent Judith Miller of the New York Times to jail for refusing to testify about Mrs. Wilson, even though Miller had never published a word about the Wilson story. He nearly sent Matthew Cooper to jail as well. In all these months, the question of what Novak had done when confronted about his sources remained a mystery. But in retrospect it was no mystery at all. Fitzgerald, who knew the identity of Novak’s source before he ever questioned him, had simply presented the columnist with a single waiver of confidentiality signed by Armitage. This was enough, apparently, to convince Novak to cooperate.

In short, the main source having come forward voluntarily, Fitzgerald had learned everything he needed to know without Novak’s help. And as for Novak’s second “senior government official,” that was Karl Rove, who confirmed Armitage’s information; questioned repeatedly by prosecutors, he, like Armitage, was never charged with a crime. Had these facts been appreciated early on, Fitzgerald’s single-minded pursuit of a third person, Scooter Libby, might well have been cast in a very different light. But they were not, and so, since journalists abhor a mystery, a story grew up that Libby to this day has been unable to shake.

Ultimately, the case came down to differing recollections. Libby remembered a conversation one way, and a reporter remembered it another.

For example: Libby told the FBI and the grand jury that when Matthew Cooper asked him on July 12 whether Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, he responded: “I’ve heard that from other reporters, too.” But Cooper recalled the conversation differently. According to him, Libby said simply, “I heard that, too.” On this discrepancy, for which neither side possessed any supporting notes or evidence, rested two counts of Libby’s indictment.

Next, Russert. A day or two before speaking with Cooper, Libby had spoken to him, too, about an unrelated matter. In the course of that conversation, according to Libby, Russert asked whether Libby knew that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA; Libby answered that he did not, and Russert then offered that “all the reporters knew it.” But, once again, Russert had a different recollection. According to him, he never asked Libby about Valerie Wilson on that occasion. And thus two more counts were born—one for lying to the FBI and another for repeating the alleged lie to the grand jury.

Libby was ultimately acquitted of making false statements about his conversation with Cooper, though convicted of having perjured himself about it. The Cooper items were, indeed, the flimsiest of the counts in the indictment against him. As for the Russert items, they were virtually inexplicable. If Libby was trying to cover his tracks by making his conversations with reporters seem innocuous, what possible reason would he have for inventing an additional conversation about Valerie Wilson that, according to Russert and the prosecution, never took place at all?

The modern American government is a vast and largely self-sustaining bureaucracy. That bureaucracy acts, first and foremost, in its own interest, and not necessarily in the interests of its putative but temporary political bosses. The CIA, its intelligence having been challenged, sold out the White House on the sixteen words—even though that intelligence would later be upheld. The State Department, faced with the knowledge that one of its own was responsible for the Valerie Wilson leak, preferred keeping the White House in the dark to revealing what it knew. The Justice Department did what prosecutors do when ordered to investigate, which is to charge people with crimes.

Rabinowitz on Libby

Just what serious obstruction of justice Mr. Libby could have been guilty of, then, was, at the least, a heady question, though not one, clearly, that raised any doubts in the judge. Neither did Mr. Fitzgerald's charge -- also in pursuit of a heavy sentence -- that the defendant had caused, by his obstruction, no end of trouble and expense in government effort.

The obligation to truth, the prosecutor argued, was of the highest importance, and one in which Mr. Libby had failed by perjuring himself. It would be hard to dispute the first contention. It is no less hard to avoid the memory of Mr. Fitzgerald's own dubious relation to truth and honesty -- as, for example, in his failure to disclose that he had known all along the identity of the person who had leaked the Valerie Plame story. That person, he knew, was Richard Armitage, deputy to Colin Powell. Not only had he concealed this knowledge -- in what was, supposedly all that time, a quest to discover the criminals responsible for the leak of a covert agent's name -- he had instructed both Mr. Armitage and his superior, Colin Powell, in whom Mr. Armitage had confided, not to reveal the truth.

Special prosecutor Fitzgerald did, of course, have a duty to keep his investigation secret during grand jury proceedings, according to the rules. He did not have the power to order witnesses at those proceedings not to disclose their testimony or tell what they knew. Instead, Mr. Fitzgerald requested Messrs. Armitage and Powell to keep quiet about the leaker's identity -- a request they understandably treated as an order. Why the prosecutor sought this secrecy can be no mystery -- it was the way to keep the grand jury proceedings going, on a fishing expedition, that could yield witnesses who stumbled, or were entrapped, into "obstruction" or "lying" violations. It was its own testament to the nature of this prosecution -- and the prosecutor.

That prosecution was abetted by the draw of Reggie Walton, a trial judge not disposed to sympathy for the defense. Still, even for a judge with a reputation for toughness and a predilection for severe sentences, the court's behavior was -- there is no other word for it -- strange.

There were bouts of regularly expressed irritation when it occurred to Judge Walton that his conduct of the trial was being challenged -- as when the defense, arguing for postponement of the sentence, cited the existence of grounds for a successful appeal. And Judge Walton was impelled, at frequent intervals, to hold forth on the need for the man in the street to be persuaded that he receives equal justice. Defense lawyers must do what they must do, but at a certain point it was obvious that letters of support testifying to Mr. Libby's service to the country would avail nothing. Given a judge enamored of the image of his courtroom as an outpost in the class struggle -- a judge obviously determined that this government official had to be sent to prison now -- the outcome of this plea hearing was clear. It would have been the same, one understood, if Mr. Libby had been a Medal of Honor winner in a wheelchair.

At one point the judge delivered an outraged denunciation running to several paragraphs, about a footnote to an amicus brief filed on behalf of the defendant: One, he complained, in which the brief writers cited white collar cases. This indicated, the judge concluded, their indifference to the principle that blue collar criminals were entitled to the same rights as white collar ones. The writers had put the names of these white collar cases out there, the fugue continued, "solely in the hope that it would cause me to feel pressured. . ."

Finally, the judge dismissed the amicus brief filed by 12 distinguished law professors as "not something I would expect from a first-year law student." Nothing, however, quite equaled the court's flow of resentment toward the brief writers as his jeering observations about "these eminent academics" and how he trusted they might be moved in the future to "to provide like assistance" for litigants around the nation who lacked financial means.

The judge of course knew nothing about the signers of the brief or their pro bono work, nor did he have any need to, as he knew. A judge with life tenure doesn't have much to fear. Among the signers of the brief dismissed as unworthy of a first-year law student was Alan Dershowitz, more than half of whose cases are done pro bono. As to the merits of the case for allowing Mr. Libby to remain free pending appeal, Mr. Dershowitz, a liberal Democrat, notes that one of the other signers is Robert Bork: "I agree with Robert Bork on nothing -- but on this we're of one mind."

The prospects for Mr. Libby's success in an appeal hinge on three points, two concerning the court's refusal to allow the defense to present certain witnesses. The other potentially powerful issue relates to Mr. Fitzgerald. The Special Prosecutor was given, on his appointment (by his long-time friend, acting Attorney General James Comey) a remarkable freedom from accountability to any higher authority or Justice Department standards. This unique freedom was made explicit in his appointment letter. Such unparalleled lack of control, the appeal will argue, is a violation of the principle of checks and balances.

However it comes out, both the case mounted against Mr. Libby, and the sentence delivered, have plenty of parallels. It is familiar stuff -- the fruits of official power run amok in the name of principle and virtue -- and it's an ugly harvest. Mr. Libby is another in the long line of Americans fated to face show trials and absurdly long sentences -- the sort invariably required for meritless prosecutions.

There was at least one bright spot in the events of the last week, specifically, Mr. Nifong's removal from office -- a case, at long last, of a prosecutor called to account. It will be some while we can guess, before any such wheels of justice grind their way to the special prosecutors.

And here's the Washington Post article about the amicus brief mentioned above.

Scooter Libby

Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post, Calls the whole affair leading up to the sentencing of Scooter Libby "a train wreck".

For some odd reason, the same people who were so appalled about government snooping, the USA Patriot Act and other such threats to civil liberties cheered as the special prosecutor weed-whacked the press, jailed a reporter and now will send a previously obscure government official to prison for 30 months.

....

I have come to hate the war and I cannot approve of lying under oath -- not by Scooter, not by Bill Clinton, not by anybody. But the underlying crime is absent, the sentence is excessive and the investigation should not have been conducted in the first place. This is a mess. Should Libby be pardoned? Maybe. Should his sentence be commuted? Definitely.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Trust and science

Another point Kling makes in this piece on trust has to do with science.

For information, it is easiest to trust scientific research when the methods seem capable of producing reliable results and the conclusions have little political significance. Many people distrust politically loaded scientific research because they do not like the conclusions, regardless of the quality of that research. That common form of bias makes it difficult even for reliable knowledge to influence people's opinions. Because economics often has political implications, it is common to distrust economic analysis, even when its conclusions are arrived at by careful reasoning and empirical study.

When the conclusions are politically loaded, it makes sense to check the methodology carefully, regardless of whether or not they support your personal views. Careful research deserves consideration, but unreliable research should be given less weight.

Of course, most people lack the background to evaluate scientific research methods. To me, this suggests that scientists ought to try their best to explain their reasoning to an intelligent lay audience. This means explaining which experiments or observations convince a scientist of the validity of a theory, and why this evidence is compelling. It also suggests that it is important that for high school and college students to learn statistics and research methods.

I have difficulty trusting climate models. If a scientist wants me to believe that a particular climate model is reliable, then I would like to read an essay written for an intelligent layman explaining the tests that the model was able to pass, and how these tests serve to rule out alternative hypotheses about the phenomena explained.

I understand that a model will have some uncertainty surrounding its predictions and properties. In fact, I would expect considerable uncertainty. I would be more comfortable if scientists spelled out the uncertainties than if they glossed over them.

My impression is that no single climate model enjoys the confidence of a large number of scientists. Instead, many climate scientists are willing to endorse a "consensus" that takes a range of estimates from some models. I would like to read an essay written for an intelligent layman that explains why this is a persuasive approach. What is the rationale for including some models while excluding others? Do predictions based on the "average" or "consensus" model out-perform the predictions of any individual model, as in a "wisdom of crowds" phenomenon? Or is the purpose of a "consensus" is to strengthen a political coalition, rather than to improve accuracy?

Trust

Arnold Kling looks at what it means to be a "high-trust culture".

The word "trust" is one of the most positive words in the English language. Often our most emotionally powerful words are vague and imprecise when it comes to definition.

For me, trust operates in two contexts that are similar but distinct. To trust information means that I use it in a positive way to guide my thinking on an issue. To trust a transaction means that I expect to receive appropriate benefits from that transaction.

A high-trust society is one where trust extends beyond one's clan or village. Trust within families is something that can be taken for granted, even in a low-trust society. A high-trust society is one that has found a way for trust to extend to strangers.

Sometimes, trust is based on experience that leads one to believe that someone else is virtuous...

However, the highest form of trust is trust in the processes followed by other parties, including the incentives governing those processes. Information that is developed using scientific methods, with careful consideration of alternative hypotheses and limitations of the data, comes from a reliable process. Transactions are most trustworthy when they take place in a context where similar transactions have proven trustworthy and cheating is easily detected and punished.

For example, purchases from firms that need good reputations in order to attract repeat business and word-of-mouth sales are more reliable than purchases from firms that can survive on one-off, isolated individual purchases. That is because when reputation matters, the incentives serve to protect the purchaser.

My idea of a high-trust society differs from that of many elites. Elitist journalists think that a high-trust society is one where we trust the mainstream media. Elitist politicians and activists think that a high-trust society is one where we trust legislators, regulators, and experts to exercise broad authority. In contrast, I believe that a high-trust society is one in which processes ensure that elites are subject to checks and accountability. It is particularly important for legislators, regulators, and experts to have their authority limited and their accountability assured.

When Al-Qaeda comes to town

All Things Conservative links to a report by Michael Yon. In this report, he looks at a village that was taken over by Al-Qaeda.

The village had the apparent misfortune of being located near a main road—about 3.5 miles from FOB Warhorse—that al Qaeda liked to bomb. Al Qaeda had taken over the village.

The village was abandoned. All the people were gone. But where?

I told the Iraqi commander, Captain Baker, that it was important that Americans see this; he took me around the graves and showed more than I wanted to see. He said the people had been murdered by al Qaeda. I made video of him speaking, and of the horrible scene. The heat and stench were crushingly oppressive and broken only by the sounds of shovels as Iraqi soldiers kept digging.

Even the villagers animals were slaughtered. The bodies of murdered children were booby-trapped.

Any reason not to expect this all over Iraq, if we pull out?

The limits to warming?

Futurepundit has an interesting point: If we assume CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are a major contributor to climate change, there may not be enough of these fuels left to increase CO2 all that much.

Dastardly humans won't be able to fry the world with excessive amounts of fossil fuels burning because we do not have enough fossil fuels left to burn to cause a first class disaster? Mother Gaia wisely limited the amount of fossil fuels she created because she knew her human progeny would wreak disaster if tempted with too much oil and coal to burn? Writing at The Oil Drum CalTech professor Dave Rutledge argues that the mathematical method which petroleum engineer King Hubbard used to predict the date of US oil production peak can also be used to predict how much coal will get burned in the world. Rutledge, Cal Tech Chair for the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, says the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models for future climate change assume fossil fuels supplies available to raise atmospheric CO2 which overstate future hydrocarbon burning by a factor of 3 or 4 or more.

Sicko-nomics 101

Tim Worstall looks at some of the numerical manipulations underlying the claim that healthcare in the US is worse than in places like Cuba.

For example: Medicare is more efficient than privately-funded health care? Well, Medicare has an overhead of 1%, and the overhead for private health care is between 10% and 30%. But...

"Overhead" includes not just profit and administrative costs, it includes the cost of collecting the money to feed the system itself. It's a commonplace of public finance that the deadweight costs of taxation finance are 20% of the sum raised through that taxation. That deadweight hasn't been included in our Medicare costs, meaning that the truly comparable overheads are in fact 21%: slap bang in the middle of our private sector range. Let us take this as our first example of your results being dependent upon what you're measuring.

Then there's the question of how you measure the quality of a health care system.

There's a story of a land where the law required doctors to fly a red flag outside their offices for every patient who had died in their care. One man was shopping for a doctor, and he saw offices with lots of flags outside them. Then he spotted one with only three flags, and went in.

The doctor looked up and exclaimed, "I never expected so many customers my first week in business!"

The point is, you need to make sure what you think you're measuring is what you're actually measuring.

We've got a system of rankings of health care systems. France and Canada are in the top 10, the USA, despite spending more, at number 37. But let's look at how those rankings are composed:

To make the definition of the composite easier to understand, these survey results have been rounded to the nearest one-eighth so that the final weights to be used are 0.25 for health, 0.25 for health inequality, 0.125 for level of responsiveness, 0.125 for distribution of responsiveness and 0.25 for fairness of financial contribution.

Do you see that? Only 25% of the weighting is about the actual health care received. A similar amount is awarded for the equality of care received. So, imagine, say, the Canadian system, everybody waits the same amount of time for a hip replacement, in the American one some get it very quickly, others get it after a long wait: it doesn't matter that everyone in the US waits a shorter period of time than anyone in Canada: the Canadian system would be scored as better here. I'm not saying that those waiting times are actually true, I'm simply pointing to the effects of the weighting: inequality in treatment times is as important here as the actual treatment itself.

Indeed, dependent upon how these numbers are manipulated, it could be that a system where no one has hip replacements would be better rated than one where some do immediately and some wait six months.

The point that Professor Whitman makes is also there: the fairness of financing.

More importantly, the distribution of household contributions will obviously decline when the government shoulders more of the health spending burden. In the extreme, if the government pays for all healthcare, every household will spend the same percentage of their income - zero - on healthcare. In other words, this measure of health outcomes necessarily makes countries that rely on private payment look inferior.

The moral of the story: When you reduce a complicated system to one "figure of merit", it's always a good idea to check some known examples for reasonableness.

Just to hammer the point home. On this system of measurement, the actual level of treatment in the US could fall, but the amount tax financed rise: and the US would be declared to have improved its system. Yes, really, a decrease in the absolute level of treatment could mean a rise up the rankings.

Which rather means that the ranking system isn't of all that much use to us here.

Global warming prediction fails

The predicted effects of global warming, or global climate change, are based on computer models of the climate. Plug in a higher temperature, and turn the crank, and report on the results.

There are problems with the global climate models in use. Among other things, they don't reliably predict past climate changes when you plug in the values for those eras. Now, we find their predictions don't match current changes.

Many climate models have predicted that as the Earth warms, “the wet will get wetter and the dry will get drier,” said lead author of the new study, Frank Wentz of Remote Sensing Systems. This exaggeration of current rainfall patterns would mean that very rainy places such as Bangladesh could be soaked even more, while places such as the American Southwest would see even fewer drops than it currently does.

But by examining satellite data from the past 20 years, Wentz and his colleagues found that these predictions don’t seem to match what observations have shown, underestimating the rain that fell over that period and indicating that something was amiss in the way the models portrayed the water cycle.

Wentz described the water cycle as a “vertical conveyor belt”: winds help evaporate moisture from the surface and transport it, like boxes on a conveyor belt, upward in the atmosphere where it then eventually falls as precipitation. “As the planet warms, there’s going to be more water, and that means more boxes on the conveyor belt,” he explained.

With more water being transported, more rainfall might be expected to follow, but the previous models predicted a decrease in global winds, which would fail to circulate the moisture upward and leave the air humid and stagnant.

“What the models predict is that the conveyor belt’s going to slow down,” he told LiveScience. “So you’ll have more boxes on this, but it’ll be moving more slowly.”

But looking at the satellite data, Wentz and his team found that winds actually slightly increased over the past two decades, and so did precipitation and evaporation—and all by about the same percentage for each degree of warming during the time period. Their work is detailed in the May 31 online edition of Science Express.

Basically, we really don't know if the climate trends are going to work out for the better or the worse. Maybe we should learn that before we spent trillions trying to stop it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Testimony of Kevin Padian

The testimony of expert witness Kevin Padian in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case has been transcribed, and is available, with the slides used.

The skinny on Jonathan Wells

One of the points made about Jonathan Wells is that he has a Ph.D in biology from UC Berkeley, and has "issues" with evolution.

It seems he was an anti-evolutionist before he went to Berkeley, and got his degree in order to bolster his credibility in arguments.

This is a link to the documentation.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pacifism and moral sickness

(Hat tip: John Ray.)

Dr. Sanity looks at the pathology of pacifists. Among other things, he notes:

If the peace movement really were a peace movement, its members would be denouncing the true threats to peace and trying their damndest to disarm and neutralize the likes of Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah etc. etc.

Instead, like the parents who are so desperate to squelch their own aggressive impulses they unconsciously enable and facilitate their children's violent behavior; these "pacifists" actually champion the terrorists; rationalizing terrorist behavior; refusing to call them to account for their uncivilized and barbaric actions;, demanding cease-fires with them (never acknowledging that there is no way to hold them to account when they break the ceasefire, as they inevitably do); and have little or nothing to say about the standard terrorist operational policies that deliberately target the innocent.

....

War is a always a terrible choice. No reasonable person could believe that it is benign or intrinsically "good" to wage war. Yet, it is sometimes a choice that reasonable people need to make simply because evil exists in the world and it cannot go unchecked--that is, not if you truly care about innocent human life.

....

Pacifists cannot deal with this simple truth. In reality, they don't care much about human suffering, misery or even death; let alone the legacy of evil in the world. Through a variety of psychological defenses, they have managed to deny, displace, distort, and project real evil away. There cannot be found even a trace of psychological insight among all those angry marchers who violently and adamantly demand peace at any price.

For the carefree members of the antiwar movement, the triumph of evil is unimportant when compared to their own narcissistic need to appear virtuous and good. Like the parents ShrinkWrapped writes about, they will always find a way to externalize the blame for the consequences of their own self-delusion. Like Petunia, they will emphasize rhetoric over action; good intentions over actual behavior.

And indeed, part of the defense mechanism at work here the tendency to deal in absolutes. War is never the answer. Violence is always wrong. Torture never works, and so on.

The function of such extreme rhetoric is to delegitimize any opposition. If the extremist claims are accepted, it means there can be no principled opposition to the speaker's point of view. "War is not the answer" is interpreted as meaning "war is never the answer". Indeed, its true interpretation is "war is never the answer, and only vicious, immoral people advocate it.

Thus, debate is shut down before the extremist risks exposure to any facts that might get in.

OK, now will you read this blog?

Free Online Dating

Mingle2 - Free Online Dating


OK, well. It's based on "hot words".

In this case:

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
  • torture (10x)
  • rape (7x)
  • suicide (3x)
  • dangerous (2x)
  • pain (1x)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beldar on the Scooter Libby case

Beldar has some comments on the Libby sentence.

...he prosecution has not been able, as far as I understand, to articulate a causal chain in which anything that Libby did actually did obstruct Fitzgerald's investigation, or even a plausible chain of events by which it could ever have been expected by Libby or by anyone else to do so. There wasn't anything to his obstruction, in other words, than telling a story that would conflict with someone else's story. Nothing was permanently hidden; no path of inquiry was blocked. For Libby's feeble obstruction to have succeeded in hiding another crime, or preventing its investigation and proof, the FBI and Fitz would have had to be completely vegetative.

Also here...

Patterico and I have been among a pretty small minority of conservative bloggers who've been supportive of Fitzgerald and skeptical of those who argue that the whole Libby prosecution is bunk. I suspect that my friend would agree with me that if we start applying a relativistic approach — comparing Libby with, say, Sandy Berger — the Libby commutation would look better. But he'd also certainly argue that a relativistic approach is improper, and I tend to agree with that; and he'd argue that Berger going unpunished doesn't justify others going unpunished, and I definitely agree with that.

What he and I — and, with respect, you too, gentle readers — all lack is what I'll call the "sweaty shirtsleeves perspective" that Dubya has. If there is a basis for showing mercy, for indulging in an act of "constitutional grace," for Scooter Libby, it is because of the public service he's rendered during his career — not for reasons particular to this prosecution. Critics see it as cronyism, but in fact, no one is better qualified to judge the value of Libby's public service than President Bush. Huge, huge portions of what Scooter Libby did as a key inside figure in implementing the Administration's response to 9/11 and global terrorism is still highly classified. But the President knows on a first-hand basis what the man contributed, what its value has been, and under what critical and pressure-filled circumstances he served. And as it happens, George W. Bush is the one person in whom the Constitution entrusts the power to weigh that public service against the serious crimes of which Libby stands convicted. And he clearly thinks "this particular convicted felon" is deserving, even though there will be a political price to pay.

And...

Some politicians ought to be glad that God does not, in fact, smite politicians who tell colossal lies with bolts of lightning:

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mi.) released a statement saying that "until now, it appeared that the President merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The President's action today makes it clear that he condones such activity. This decision is inconsistent with the rule of law and sends a horrible signal to the American people and our intelligence operatives who place their lives at risk everyday."

This is phony on so many levels that it leaves me dizzy. Perhaps Rep. Conyers would like the nation's chief executive to start routinely speaking out on all pending federal prosecutions — starting with U.S. Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) pending bribery case — so no one will think he's "turning a blind eye" to government corruption? Shall we just have the president phone up the jurors during the trial to tell them how to vote? It's not that I expect the Dems to give Dubya any credit for not issuing an outright pardon. I just expect them to tell more nuanced, sophisticated lies than this.

Rather than "mak[ing] it clear that he condones such activity," the commutation, as opposed to an outright pardon, makes it clear to anyone with the honest eyes to see it that President Bush is indeed committed to the rule of law, and that that is precisely why he's allowing the appeals process to continue (and, potentially, the fine, probation, and felony disabilities to stand). This is an act of limited presidential mercy. Only a demagogue can transform that into "condoning." Or maybe Rep. Conyers would like to be "condoned" himself by the destruction of his career, a felony conviction, two years of probation, and a quarter-million dollar fine (not to mention what's probably a seven-figure legal bill)?

Scooter commuter

Scooter Libby's sentence has been commuted. The jail time goes away, but he still has to pay a fine and go through probation. Bush is catching hell, because he's been so restrained in issuing pardons. Apparently, if you're a Republican, your past behavior is supposed to be a promise of future behavior, not an account against which you might be able to draw.

There are comments all over the place, of course. I'm listing a bunch from the Volokh Conspiracy.

Orin Kerr: Bush sets Libby Free

I find Bush's action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead.

Thus, the "promise vs. account" theory.

Orin Kerr: "Politics" and the Libby Prosecution

...the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.

I find this claim bizarre. I'm open to arguments that parts of the case against Libby were unfair. But for the case to have been purely political, doesn't that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee? Who are the political opponents who brought the case? Is the idea that Fitzgerald is secretly a Democratic party operative? That Judge Walton is a double agent? Or is the idea that Fitzgerald and Walton were hypnotized by "the Mainstream Media" like Raymond Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate? Seriously, I don't get it.

Orin Kerr: Why Didn't Fitzgerald Close Up Shop After Learning That Armitage Was the Leaker?

...you don't want to close up shop and then read in someone's memoirs ten years from now that the official (Armitage) was the fall guy who came up with the "accident" story to cover up something -- and that he got away with it because the naive prosecutor bought the story and closed the investigation without even verifying the facts.

Orin Kerr: President Bush Won't Rule Out Eventual Pardon For Libby

Orin Kerr:Judges Sentelle and Henderson Are Anti-Bush Hacks, Dersh Says

About those signing statements

So are signing statements all that new, or is it just that we're hearing hysterical screaming tirades temper tantrums news about them now?

Here's a FAQ located at UCSB on the subject. Among other things we can learn at this page are:

Q: Is George W. Bush the first President to issue signing statements?

A: NO. Several sources trace “signing statements” back to James Monroe. Interesting early statements that include discussions about presidential doubt about legislation and the issue of how the president should proceed are found from Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Ulysses Grant. A brief overview can be found in the ABA Task Force cited below.

Q: What kind of claims does Bush make in his signing statements that has people upset?

A: In one frequently used phrase, George W. Bush has routinely asserted that he will not act contrary to the constitutional provisions that direct the president to “supervise the unitary executive branch.” This formulation can be found first in a signing statement of Ronald Reagan, and it was repeated several times by George H. W. Bush. Basically, Bush asserts that Congress cannot pass a law that undercuts the constitutionally granted authorities of the President.

(Hat tip: View from a Height.)