Friday, November 30, 2007

Mindless imitation

Jason Van Steenwyck has some comments about how businesses fail:

Here's a passage from a terrific book called The Warren Buffett Way, by Robert Hagstrom:

"The final justification for the institutional imperative is mindless imitation. If companies A, B, and C are behaving in a similar manner, then, reasons the CEO of company D, it must be all right for our company to behave the same way. It is not venality or stupidity, Buffett claims, that positions these companies to fail. Rather it is the institutional dynamics of the imperative that make it difficult to resist doomed behavior. Speaking before a group of Notre Dame students, Buffett displayed a list of thirty-seven failed investment banking firms. All of these firms, he explained, failed even though the volume of the New York Stock Exchange multiplied fifteenfold. These firms were headed by hard-working individuals with very high IQ's , all of whom had an intense desire to succeed. Buffett paused; his eyes scanned the room. " You think about that, " he said sternly. " How could they get a result like that? I'll tell you how, " he said, "mindless imitation of their peers."

Emphasis added for emphasis.

I might add that military officers, and those responsible for promoting them, should likewise take note.

We need a broad spectrum of military thought and leadership styles. We were not well served while kinetic thinkers ruled the officer corps while counterinsurgent theorists like Nagl and Petraeus were the exceptions and dissidents.

It's likely too easy to go overboard with Petraeusism, too. Petraeus seems like the right man in the right spot for this war.

But we have other wars to fight. And we need a diversity of opinion and approaches as well. Kineticism has not been discredited. We may well need to get uberkinetic on someone's ass very soon.

And what's beyond counterinsurgency? What's the post-Petraeus approach? Do we need to look at retirees from the Clinton era OOTW people? Is that the next phase in Iraq? Do we then gather our kinetics and our counter-I's? Do you pair kinetic commanders with counter-I deputy commanders? Can you synthesize them?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Censored science?

What, exactly, was "censored" from the testimony presented by Julie Goldberg, director of the CDC?

It appears, if press accounts are correct, that what the Bush administration cut from the director's testimony was more speculative than settled science.

The Derb on IQ

Part III of three parts
Q: O.K., O.K., but back to the point that got Watson in trouble. You race realist types like to say: “Well, it’s nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. It’s just DIFFERENCE — and abstract group-statistical difference at that.” Isn’t that a bit disingenuous, though? I mean, look at black Africa. They’re really NOT doing well, are they? If, as Watson claimed, it’s because they just have too few smart people to keep a modern society going — well, how is that not calling sub-Saharan Africans an inferior race, a failed race? How is it NOT?

A: That’s the big one. That, in my opinion, is what all the fuss is about. Again, I’m looking at it a bit “cold,” not quite seeing why there’s a fuss. Why should Clarence Thomas (say) feel any the worse about himself because black Africa’s a mess? Does he, in fact? (My guess: no.)
And here is where you bump up against the fact that what makes human nature so hard to discuss coolly is human nature itself.
Ain't it just?

The Left and Stem Cells

scientists may now be able to have the embryonic stem cells we've been told they need for research--without creating and destroying embryos to get them. If so, the argument is over.

Or, maybe, the argument is just beginning, for this news turns on its head everything in what the nation's newspapers have delivered to us as a story of blinkered pro-lifers vs. courageous scientists.

The people who turn out actually to have believed in the power of science are the pro-lifers--the ones who said that a moral roadblock is not, in point of fact, an outrageous hindrance, for scientists will always find another, less-objectionable way to achieve their goals. President Bush's refusal of federal funding for new embryonic stem cell lines didn't halt major stem-cell advances, any more than the prohibition against life-threatening research on human subjects, such as the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, stopped the advance of medical treatments. For those who attacked the pro-lifers in the name of science, however, things look a little different. As Maureen L. Condic explained to First Things readers this year in her careful survey, "What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells," the promises of medical breakthroughs were massively overblown by the media. But there were reasons for all the hype. I have long suspected that science, in the context of the editorial page of the New York Times, was simply a stalking-horse for something else. In fact, for two something-elses: a chance to discredit America's religious believers, and an opportunity to put yet another hedge around the legalization of abortion. After all, if our very health depends on the death of embryos, and we live in a culture that routinely destroys early human life in the laboratory, no grounds could exist for objecting to abortion.

Questions about Torture

And most of these seem to be questions the reflexive knee-jerk opponents of "torture" don't want people asking.

First, there are conceptual questions. What is torture? How does torture differ from such things as torment, punishment, harsh treatment, cruelty, vengeance, sadism, and violence? Can torture be accidental? Must it involve physical (as opposed to mental) pain? Can deprivation or confinement constitute torture? Conceptual questions such as these are about the concepts, ideas, categories, and distinctions we use. Answering them is the province of philosophy.

Second, there are factual questions. Given a conception of torture, how widespread is it? Is there less of it now than there used to be, and if so, why? Who practices it, and why? What forms does it take? Is waterboarding torture? How much pain or suffering does a particular form of torture typically inflict? How much pain or suffering does a particular instance of torture actually inflict? Is torture effective as a means of gathering information? If so, how effective? Factual questions such as these are about how things are. Answering them requires investigation, consultation (with relevant experts), and observation. Philosophers, as such, have no expertise in this area. This doesn't mean philosophers can't make factual claims, for they can and do; it means their philosophical training doesn't make their factual claims more likely to be true. In other words, philosophers have no comparative advantage in ascertaining how things are.

Third, there are evaluative questions. Given a conception of torture, is torture permissible? If so, in what circumstances? Is torture ever obligatory? If so, why? Should the law permit torture? If so, how should it be regulated to prevent (or minimize the likelihood of) abuse? Perhaps torture should be illegal even if it is, in rare cases, morally permissible. Law and morality are different institutions, after all, with different purposes, standards, and limitations. A thing can be morally permissible but legally impermissible, just as a thing can be legally permissible but morally impermissible.

Myths about rape

The British government is preparing to distribute information packets to demolish "myths" about rape, and get more convictions for rape out of juries.

For the more I look at this issue, the more myths I seem to find. The biggest is being propagated by politicians themselves. They repeat, ad infinitum, that the conviction rate for rape is scandalously low, at 5.7 per cent. They conclude from this that juries cannot be trusted. But 5.7 per cent is only the proportion of convictions secured out of the total allegations made, not the proportion of convictions secured out of the cases tried. The attrition rate in rape cases is high: only about 12 per cent of cases reach court. So in the courtroom, the true conviction rate is about 44 per cent, slightly higher than that for murder.

Rape is a shocking crime. But you would expect it to be at least as hard to prosecute as murder. More than four out of five allegations are now made against a partner, friend or acquaintance. About half of those involve drink and/or drugs. Jurors think long and hard about decisions if there is no witness, only circumstantial evidence and where a guilty verdict means a minimum of seven years in jail. Gang rape by strangers carries the same minimum sentence as rape by a drunken partner. There is no equivalent to manslaughter, because victim groups feel that a lesser charge would downgrade the seriousness of the crime. Yet some lawyers feel that some juries are not convicting because they feel that the right crime is not being tried.

In March the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of a 25-year-old computer software engineer, Benjamin Bree, for raping a 19-year-old student after a night of drinking with friends. The judges ruled that the student was still capable of consenting to sex, even after consuming substantial amounts of alcohol. They also ruled that a drunken person can lose the capacity to consent, and that would amount to rape. That seems to me to be an intelligent calibration. Ministers are still considering whether to insist that no agreement can be taken as consent if it is given when intoxicated. But that would make a drunken man accountable for his deeds, but not a drunken woman.

It is an outrage that some men are getting away with rape. But I also worry that the language in which the issue is now being discussed implies that the only right result is a conviction. That would be a travesty of justice. It is no good trying to bust myths about rape if you are also going to propagate the myth that everyone is guilty as charged.

Bush Derangement Syndrome

Clayton Cramer looks at parallels between BDS and the Salem Witch Trials.

A person I know who spends a lot of time teaching college students suggested an interesting explanation for this recently which just happens to collide with a book that I am currently reading: Mary Beth Norton's In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. I'm not done reading it, but she has a new twist on what provoked the Salem Witch Trials.

Many of those who were participants, either as "victims" of the witches, or the witches themselves, were refugees from the Maine frontier, driven back into Massachusetts by a series of ferocious Indian wars. Norton argues that unlike other witchcraft trials of the period, where judges were a lot less willing to accept "spectral evidence," and a lot more willing to give accused witches the benefit of the doubt, many of the participants were dealing with traumatic consequences of the loss of community, and of enormous fear of attack. That the Indians were regarded as Satan worshippers throughout this period made it very easy to see the loss of the Maine frontier as having Satanic overtones.


For those Maine frontier refugees, the enemy "out there" was far more ferocious, far more dangerous, than anyone within their own society. Especially among those who started the Salem hysteria (a bunch of teenaged and younger girls), the enemy that they really feared, and with good reason, was not an enemy that they could do anything about. They were powerless, and they were not warriors. They could do something about people closer at hand, and who were not going to kill and mutilate them--people like Rev. George Burroughs.

I think we are seeing something similar today: liberals have always regarded our military as a necessary evil, and the left hasn't even admitted "necessary." The only tools to fight the Islamofascist enemy are those that the left end of America has never identified with in any way. Like those terrified girls, it is easier for the left to redirect its fear onto a target that is closer, and less dangerous--and most importantly, that they can do something about. George Bush doesn't require an unrelenting battle to unseat--just an election.

In other words, attacking conservatives is easier and safer than attacking the real enemies. It's kind of like the fellow who goes looking for his lost keys near the street lamp instead of down the alley where he lost them "because the light's better here".

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reforming terrorists?

Over 1,500 Extremists Freed After Repenting

Arab News

RIYADH, 26 November 2007

Saudi authorities have released more than 1,500 reformed extremists, who were detained on charges of embracing and spreading takfeer (the ideology that brands other Muslims who disagree with them as infidels).

The extremists, under the guidance of the Ministry of Interior, had undergone lengthy counseling, according to Muhammad Al-Nujaimi, a member of the Counseling Committee and professor of comparative jurisprudence at the King Fahd Security College.

Al-Nujaimi told Al-Watan newspaper that the Counseling Committee, which is the brainchild of Prince Muhammad ibn Naif, assistant minister of interior for security affairs, was established in 2004 with the approval of Interior Minister Prince Naif. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance jointly supervise activities of the committee comprising 100 members. Members include religious scholars, preachers, specialists in religious doctrine and law, psychologists and social workers.

The committee is tasked with the duty of reforming youths in an intellectual and rational manner on the basis of Shariah. "The committee has met around 5,000 times to offer counseling to 3,200 people, who were accused of embracing the takfeer ideology. The committee has successfully completed reforming 1,500 people," Al-Nujaimi said.

The suspects were largely confused about the meaning of jihad, which led to their believing in committing blind violence. They also viewed that the present Muslim rulers, scholars and public were infidels, and therefore demanded the establishment of a single Islamic state, said Al-Nujaimi.

"After several graded sessions with the committee, and having been convinced of their misguided vision, they renounced their erroneous ideologies, including the concept of driving out all infidels from the Arabian Peninsula," he said.

The committee first evaluates the personality and the ideological crisis suffered by the suspect, and then decides on how to clean his mind of the mistaken impressions, said Al-Nujaimi.

The committee in the later stages of counseling holds several sessions on the concept of obedience to a ruler, loyalty, conditions for baiat (declaration of allegiance to a ruler) and the mistaken concept of murder and violence without guilt.

And there are some comments on the process here

The Cabbie Index

One indication of whether we're making progress in Iraq may be that cabbies are willing to drive through more of it.

The last few months have shown a remarkable decline in violence in Baghdad and Iraq, and the Western press has finally begun reporting it in earnest. For a while, the media would report the numbers but include enough anecdotal reporting to cast doubt on them. Now even the anecdotal reporting supports the progress made by the Americans and Iraqis in dialing down the violence. Today's Washington Post reports on the cabbie factor for measuring progress:

Haider Abbas, a 36-year-old taxi driver, had only a few moments to answer what is often a life-or-death question in this city: Would he drive a passenger home?

The home, on that scorching afternoon last month, happened to be in Adhamiyah, a notoriously dangerous neighborhood where several cabbies had been gunned down. Abbas hadn't been there in two years. But the fare pleaded that it had become safer, so the cabbie reluctantly agreed to go.

"To tell you the truth, I thought I had just traded my life for 5,000 dinars," or $4, said Abbas, who was shocked when he arrived in the traffic-jammed streets of Adhamiyah to see shops open and people strolling in the road. "Then I suddenly realized that security really is returning to Baghdad."


If cabbies feel secure enough to drive all over Baghdad, that's a good indication of normalcy returning to Iraq. They know better than to take extraordinary risks, which makes the cabbie factor an interesting and reliable leading indicator.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

About that IPCC report

In his latest piece, Webdiarist and contributing author Malcolm B Duncan presents his critical analysis of Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis Summary for Policy Makers released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change

Radiation and health

A mounting number of studies are coming to some surprising conclusions about the dangers of nuclear radiation. It might not be as deadly as is widely believed.

When I was studying the subject in graduate school, I encountered an article by T.D. Luckey in the Health Physics journal on the subject of "radiation hormesis". It was a review article, and the point it made was that it seems a little bit of radiation is actually healthier for most organisms than none at all. For humans, the optimum dose seemed to be around 5 rem/year (0.05 Gray/year). (Boy, did I just date myself there!) Now there's this piece in Der Spiegel:

There is no doubt that the workers at this plant east of the Ural Mountains performed dangerous work. Enveloped in a permanent atmosphere of fear -- with intelligence agents in black coats constantly hurrying through the hallways -- about 150 men would lift the warm, spent fuel elements from the reactors and carry them to the radiochemical plant.

There, in a long brick building, workers, including many women, sat in a dimly lit environment and placed the encrusted rods into nitric acid, triggering a process that allowed them to remove the weapons-grade plutonium. While the same work was performed with remote-controlled robotic arms in the West, the Soviet workers were not even given masks to wear. There was nothing to stop plutonium gases from entering their lungs.

And yet the amount of health damage sustained by these workers was astonishingly low. The GSF study has examined 6,293 men who worked at the chemical plant between 1948 and 1972. "So far 301 have died of lung cancer," says Jacob. "But only 100 cases were caused by radiation. The others were attributed to cigarettes."

the Japanese and the Americans launched a giant epidemiological study after the war. The study included all residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had survived the atomic explosion within a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) radius. Investigators questioned the residents to obtain their precise locations when the bomb exploded, and used this information to calculate a personal radiation dose for each resident. Data was collected for 86,572 people.

Today, 60 years later, the study's results are clear. More than 700 people eventually died as a result of radiation received from the atomic attack:

• 87 died of leukemia;

• 440 died of tumors;

• and 250 died of radiation-induced heart attacks.

• In addition, 30 fetuses developed mental disabilities after they were born.

More on IQ

This piece links to papers at Cato

Derb on IQ

Part 2

The strong US economy

From the New York Times's worth pointing out now more than ever that Dobbsianism is fundamentally wrong. It plays on legitimate anxieties, but it rests at heart on a more existential fear -- the fear that America is under assault and is fundamentally fragile. It rests on fears that the America we once knew is bleeding away.

And that's just not true. In the first place, despite the ups and downs of the business cycle, the United States still possesses the most potent economy on earth. Recently the World Economic Forum and the International Institute for Management Development produced global competitiveness indexes, and once again they both ranked the United States first in the world.

In the World Economic Forum survey, the U.S. comes in just ahead of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany (China is 34th). The U.S. gets poor marks for macroeconomic stability (the long-term federal debt), for its tax structure and for the low savings rate. But it leads the world in a range of categories: higher education and training, labor market flexibility, the ability to attract global talent, the availability of venture capital, the quality of corporate management and the capacity to innovate.

William W. Lewis of McKinsey surveyed global competitive in dozens of business sectors a few years ago, and concluded, "The United States is the productivity leader in virtually every industry."

Second, America's fundamental economic strength is rooted in the most stable of assets -- its values. The U.S. is still an astonishing assimilation machine. It has successfully absorbed more than 20 million legal immigrants over the past quarter-century, an extraordinary influx of human capital. Americans are remarkably fertile. Birthrates are relatively high, meaning that in 2050, the average American will be under 40, while the average European, Chinese and Japanese will be more than a decade older.

The American economy benefits from low levels of corruption. American culture still transmits some ineffable spirit of adventure. American students can't compete with, say, Singaporean students on standardized tests, but they are innovative and creative throughout their lives. The U.S. standard of living first surpassed the rest of the world's in about 1740, and despite dozens of cycles of declinist foreboding, the country has resolutely refused to decay.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Iraq -- beyond the violence numbers

Those who opposed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 prefer to focus on violence, for it has seemed to confirm their claim that the war was wrong. They've downplayed all good news from post-Saddam Iraq - the end of an evil regime that had oppressed the Iraqi people for 35 years; the return home of a million-plus Iraqi refugees in the first year after liberation; the fact that the Iraqis got together to write a new constitution and hold referendums and free elections - for the first time in their history - and moved to form coalition governments answerable to the parliament.

The drop in violence is certainly a good thing. But other Iraq news, both good and bad, needs to be taken into account.

On the good side:

* More than 70 percent of the cells created by al Qaeda in Iraq have been dismantled, with vast amounts of money and arms seized from terrorists and insurgents. The so-called Islamic State in Iraq, set up by al Qaeda in parts of four provinces, has collapsed.

* Iraqis who'd sought temporary refuge in neighboring countries are returning home in large numbers - 1,000 a day returning from Syria alone.

* Thanks to mediation by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite coalition, the three groups that had withdrawn from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government are expected to return to the fold.

* The British forces' handover of Basra to Iraqi authorities was completed without a hitch; Iraq's second largest city is rapidly returning to normal.

* Iraq's national currency, the dinar, is trading at its highest level since 1990 against the Iranian rial, the Kuwaiti dinar and the US dollar.

* Iraqi oil production is at its highest since 2002. Oil Minister Hussein Shahrestani recently notified OPEC that Iraq intends to produce its full quota next year.

* There's a rush of applications to set up small and medium businesses. In Baghdad alone, the figure for October was 400, compared to 80 last August.

* The fourth American university in the Arab world, and the first in Iraq, has started work in Suleymanieh, close to the Iranian border.

And on the bad:

* All programs for training the new Iraqi army and police are behind schedule. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hasn't met even a third of its quota. Only one Iraqi officer is training at Sandhurst, the famed British military academy. (Former Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised 22 places.)

* A new leadership elite has emerged locally, but isn't represented in central decision-making. In parts of the country, the officials in place are isolated, if not actually disliked, while unofficial leaders organize and manage some services that government should provide.

* The parties dominating the parliament have failed to set a date for local elections - without which full return to normal is unlikely. The former exiles who now dominate know they'd lose power in any elections to new groups led by homegrown figures.

* Prime Minister al-Maliki continues to prevaricate over draft legislation on oil exploration, production, export and revenue-sharing.

* Draft bills on limiting the effects of de-Baathification and facilitating the inclusion of thousands of former officers and NCOs in the new army remain backburnered. This gives the impression that the governing coalition, strengthened by the drop in violence, is reluctant to take measures that might loosen its hold on power.

As a result of pressure by the ruling elite, the crackdown on corruption and embezzlement, launched earlier this year, has ground to a halt. Public perception of widespread corruption - coupled with the government's inability to provide regular services - undermines the legitimacy of the authorities.

* The government has taken few steps to help those driven out of their homes to return to their original places of abode. Most returnees are persuaded to settle in other areas. The net effect is to "ratify" the ethnic cleansing imposed by militants in the heyday of the "war of the sectarians."

* With pressure from al Qaeda and the insurgency easing, the ruling elites (even the Kurds, who'd hitherto remained united) have become involved in bitter power feuds. The United States is doing little to persuade the elites to spend their energies on more productive endeavors.

* The command-economy mindset, discredited after liberation, is making a comeback. The new budget presented to the parliament is based on the principle of a rentier economy: The state, thanks to its control of oil revenues, affects all major decisions. The idea of a modern capitalist economy, much in vogue in 2003-'04, appears to have been shelved, at least for now.

* The authorities appear to be ignoring cultural fascists who are trying to impose their vision of an "Islamic society" through terror. This is especially the case in the predominantly Shiite provinces of the south, where the so-called campaign of "re-Islamicization" is openly funded by Iran. Friends of the new Iraq must impress on its leaders that these cultural fascists could, in time, prove as deadly as al Qaeda terrorists.

IRAQ today is a hundred times better than what it would have been under Saddam in any imaginable circumstances. Statistics of violence don't begin to measure the efforts of a whole nation to re-emerge from the darkest night in its history. And in that sense, the news from Iraq since April 2003 has always been more good than bad.

What is new is that now more Americans appear willing to acknowledge this - good news in itself. As long as the United States remains resolute in its support for the new Iraq, there will be more good news than bad from what is at present the main battlefield in the War on Terror.

Mutha clams up

ON MAY 17, 2006, outspoken Bush critic and erstwhile Iraq war opponent John Murtha (D-Pa.) shocked the world with a dramatic revelation.

At a news conference he'd convened to talk about "the situation in Iraq," the formerly pro-military lawmaker dropped a bomb on the Marine Corps when he revealed in his 24 minute presser that troops with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment had mowed down innocent civilians in a previously unknown town in north western Iraq called Haditha.

In stark language he accused the Corps of a massive cover-up and made the case that the Marines ran amok in a war with no direction. More shockingly, and without any corroborating evidence, he called the Marines involved in the bloody ambush and ensuing firefight cold-blooded killers.


But the subsequent investigation found the Marines acted within the rules of engagement--clearing the rooms "by fire" instead of waiting to be shot at when they entered. This is a controversial practice for sure--throwing a grenade in the room before you know who's in there can have tragic results, as this incident did. But it's important to recognize that Haditha was a perilous place in those days, and Marines had already learned the hard way in Fallujah that opening a door in a house from which you've received fire could mean an up close and personal encounter with the barrel of an AK-47. This time, they weren't taking any chances.

That's why over the last several months, a military court in California has dismissed charges against four of the seven Marines and one Navy corpsman charged in the incident. One officer, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani who commanded 3/1, was ordered to trial for dereliction of duty for not reporting the incident and violation of a lawful order. Another officer, a 1st lieutenant who commanded the intelligence cell that responded to the scene after the shootout, has just begun his Article 32 hearing--the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.

Two other officers have had their charges thrown out.

Democrats at war

....against the surge. the left's imagining, the blame will fall on the press and the Democrats who, by pulling the plug at just the wrong moment, caused the loss of Iraq. "Nobody I know in a rational condition believes that the United States is going to have any kind of a military victory," Mark Shields said in August. "So the idea is going to be, 'We were on the cusp of victory and the rug was pulled out from under us by these willy-nilly, weak-kneed, nervous Nellies back home.'"

The problem with this is (1) that we may really win, and have no failure to blame upon anyone, and (2) that the nervous Nellies really did try to keep us from winning, indeed fought fang and claw to derail our best efforts.

Denying reality is seldom sound politics. President Bush is still suffering from the aftereffects of the reality gap of 2006, when he insisted, in the face of mounds of contrary evidence, that things were improving in Iraq when it was clear they were not. The Democrats are now doing the same thing in reverse, closing their minds to all news that is not catastrophic, or, on the rare occasions they admit to a small sign of progress, denying all credit to our strategy, to our leaders, or, worst of all, to our troops. Perhaps what the Democrats really want is for the surge to succeed, but to appear to be failing, at least until the 2008 elections are over. But this seems a fairly hard thing to explain to the public.

As they took control of Congress at the start of 2007, the Democrats vowed this would be a year of historic importance, and it seems they were prescient: Seldom before in the annals of governance have so many politicians fought so long and so hard to completely screw up a winning strategy being waged on their country's behalf. Some cruelly define this as treacherous conduct, but this is imprecise and unkind. They tried, it is true, to do serious damage, but were compromised in the event by their chronic incompetence, as well as by being too above-board and open to try to do things on the sly. A stab in the back as a concept was wholly beyond their capacities. This was not a stab in the back that works via guile and subterfuge. It was 41 different stabs in the front, that always fell far short of serious damage, unless you count the damage they did to their own reputations (the approval ratings for Congress are now in the twenties). It was the Stab in the Front, the Surge-against-the-Surge, the Pickett's Charge of the Great War on Terror. It was a year to remember, that will live in the annals of fecklessness. It was historical. It was hysterical. It was the Stab that Failed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Media Minute Matters

For all the hoopla surrounding Media Matters, and their army of paid tattlers, there doesn't really seem to be anything truly meaningful there.

The whole thing amounts to using mounds of nit-picking verbiage, hearsay, rumor and innuendo (a verbal smokescreen) to accuse journalists of misrepresenting their Nanny-Founder. This creates a distraction from substance, and would seem to allow Hillary Clinton's supporters to believe that they are buying a scrupulously well-tested "product." I need an ambulance; my side is splitting.

Soros vs Rush

Hillary's media attack machine Media Matters first tried to hush Rush by attempting to have him thrown off the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service in May 2004. In a letter to Secretary Rumsfeld, they demanded Rush be silenced after his "trivialization" of the military misconduct at the Abu Ghraib prison. The gag on Rush was necessary, they wrote, "to protect our troops from these reckless and dangerous messages."

Senator Tom Harkin jumped on the Hush-Rush Campaign that time too, just as he is now, demanding "balance" in media. With the taxpayer-funded, liberal propaganda organ, NPR, being broadcast to the troops 24/7, it's hard to believe that anyone could feel one hour a day of Rush Limbaugh is a threat to balance. If anything, that one hour of Rush may be the only balance to the unending, livestream of "The-War-Is-Lost" Harry Reid and his Democrat followers: Tom Harkin, John Murtha, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy.

The only reason that Hillary Clinton keeps up the public fa├žade of "moderation," and doesn't dare to go on record with her deep disdain for our military is that she is following the Alinsky model, which admonishes revolutionaries to milk their white, middle-class backgrounds and appearances to achieve the political power necessary to carry out the socialist revolution.

According to the Alinsky model of bloodless socialist revolution, Rush Limbaugh represents a Have as opposed to a Have-Not. Now what does Rush Have that Hillary Clinton and George Soros Have-Not? [A lot, actually, good ideas being perhaps the first thing that comes to my mind.] But in the current battle, what he definitely has is an established and quite verifiable reputation for unabashed patriotism. This reputation is so strong that as soon as someone attacks it, then real, living, American Armed Forces and Veterans immediately come to his defense.

They are using Alinsky's "basic tactic in warfare against the Haves," which Alinsky refers to as "political jujitsu." (Rules for Radicals, p. 152) This tactic advises the Have-Nots to "club the enemy to death with his own book of rules and regulations." (p. 152) Rush is a great patriot, playing by the American patriot rulebook. But even a true patriot can be caught every now and then using one or two words, that when taken out of context, might be used to choke him on his own "petard" (p. 152).

This works especially well for the revolutionaries in our high-tech age, and some of Soros' money goes to pay full-time listeners and media-watchers at Media Matters to monitor every word of the Haves.

IQ and education

Imagine that instead of intelligence, what we really cared about in our society was fishing aptitude. At age 10, a child is given tests that involve fishing while wading in a stream, fishing while standing on a bridge, fishing while riding in a boat on a river, and fishing while in a boat on the ocean. Let us suppose that a child's percentile in any one test is highly correlated with that child's percentile on all of the other tests. For example, a child who is in the 85th percentile for catching fish when wading in a stream is likely to be in the 85th percentile for catching fish in the other situations. We could say that this child has a relatively high Fishing Quotient, or FQ.

Common folk wisdom might be that one intuitively identifiable subset of the human race, called Good Ol' Boys, has a higher FQ on average than another subset, called City Fellers. Suppose that results of FQ tests bear out this folk wisdom. In that case, some researchers might try very hard to identify genetic differences between Good Ol' Boys and City Fellers, and they might try very hard to tell "Just-So" stories about how those genetic differences might explain the difference in average FQ. But we should be cautious about concluding that the intuitively identifiable differences reflect fundamental biological differences or that those biological differences are what explain FQ.

Racial differences in average FQ would be one indication that FQ is innate. More powerful evidence would be:

--the fact that someone's FQ as a child is highly correlated with that individual's FQ as an adult, indicating that the environment has relatively little effect on FQ.

--the fact that policy interventions intended to change FQ, including many experiments with fishing education, fail to make a significant difference in FQ.

--the fact that identical twins raised apart tend to have about the same correlation of FQ as identical twins raised together.

One argument against the innateness of FQ would be the Flynn effect, which says that re-norming has occurred over time. In this context, the Flynn Effect is that on two of the tests--say, the boat on the river and the boat on the ocean--the number of fish that you need to catch to be in the 50th percentile has gone up gradually but steadily over the past hundred years.

Some researchers say that this means that the environment affects FQ. Other researchers say that this means that performance on those two tests are not comparable over time, but that FQ is still innate. There are bound to be many indicators of FQ that change over time. For example, fishing income is correlated with FQ, but fishing income can change over time for many environmental reasons. The fact that any one indicator changes over time does not prove that FQ is not innate. In the words of Linda S. Gottfreson "No one would mistake a thermometer for heat."

A theoretical way to rescue environmental determinants of FQ is the Dickens-Flynn hypothesis. This hypothesis is that children with a bit of aptitude for fishing are given lots of opportunity and encouragement for fishing, so that small innate advantages lead to large differences in FQ.

Monday, November 19, 2007

IQ, by Slate

One objection is that IQ tests are racially biased. This is true in the broadest sense: On average, African and Asian kids have different advantages, and IQ tests focus on the things at which more Asian kids have the edge. But in the narrower sense of testing abilities that pay off in the modern world, IQ tests do their job. They accurately predict the outcomes of black and white kids at finishing high school, staying employed, and avoiding poverty, welfare, or jail. They also accurately predict grades and job performance in modern Africa. The SAT, GRE, and tests in the private sector and the armed forces corroborate the racial patterns on IQ tests. Kids of different backgrounds find the same questions easy or hard. Nor do tests always favor a country's ethnic majority. In Malaysia, Chinese and Indian minorities outscore Malays.


Another common critique is that race is a fuzzy concept. By various estimates, 20 percent to 30 percent of the genes in "black" Americans actually came from Europe. Again, it's a good point, but it bolsters the case for a genetic explanation. Black Americans, like "colored" South Africans, score halfway between South African blacks and whites on IQ tests. The lowest black IQ averages in the United States show up in the South, where the rate of genetic blending is lowest. There's even some biological evidence: a correlation between racial "admixture" and brain weight. Reading about studies of "admixture" is pretty nauseating. But the nausea doesn't make the studies go away.

My first reaction, looking at this pattern, was that if the highest-scoring blacks are those who have lighter skin or live in whiter countries, the reason must be their high socioeconomic status relative to other blacks. But then you have to explain why, on the SAT, white kids from households with annual incomes of $20,000 to $30,000 easily outscore black kids from households with annual incomes of $80,000 to $100,000. You also have to explain why, on IQ tests, white kids of parents with low incomes ­and low IQs outscore black kids of parents with high incomes and high IQs. Or why Inuits and Native Americans outscore American blacks.


Is not truth, truth for all?

Truth is very stubborn. It is no respecter of persons. It never ceases to amaze me when I see a movie or read a book that other Christians have told me not to read or watch even in private and I find a biblical truth in it. Atheist Carl Sagan's novel "Contact" was a classic example of an atheist making a theistic point, only he did it better than 99% of theists could do. The book and the movie are a must have. But the ending of the book is even better. It didn't translate to the screen for logistical reasons, more an intellectual than visual scene. It's a must read so I'm not going to tell you what it says.

Gene Roddenberry created the great "Star Trek" series and is listed as a great atheist. But how transparent was the "Prime Directive" as worldly wisdom as opposed to transcendental wisdom? The Prime Directive always lost the debate. It was always on a shaky, morally relativistic ground; what the culture thought was right was what the technologically advanced aliens were supposed to honor. The Prime Directive was almost always violated by Kirk and company because it was almost always wrong. I was actually surprised to see Roddenberry on the "A list" to be honest. Many of my views of moral absolutes were strengthened by watching this show created by an atheist.

Truth has a way of coming through when people choose honesty and sincerity. We are all made in the image of God and He shines through when we let Him.


One of the most disappointing Christian responses was to the Harry Potter book and movie series. Sure it used magic to set up its plot, and we know only God can over-ride the laws of nature, but magic was the vehicle for a distinctively Christian narrative. Two authors even combined to write a book called "The Gospel According to Harry Potter". I have it on my shelf.

Clinton, Libby, and Bonds

...oh My! isn't the Oval Office and Democratic excuses for being sexually satisfied by an intern while you're on the phone with a congressman talking about sending American troops to the Balkans. Baseball isn't a list of names of foreign operatives that can be linked to a CIA officer outed only because the Republican Bush administration didn't like her husband's politics. Baseball isn't sacred. It's a professional sport. Bookies make a living on it.

This is what happens when we abandon the principle that no one is above the law, and exchange it for the warm comforts of partisanship. It's something many Democrats did years ago for the Clintons. They prattled on that lying under oath was OK as long as it involved sex. It wasn't. It was lying under oath.

It's something many Republicans did recently for the Bush administration, saying it was OK for "Scooter" Libby to lie under oath because he wasn't the original leaker in the Valerie Plame affair. It wasn't OK. It was lying under oath.

Yes, there's something to be said for consistency.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

VDH on the state of the war

The military -- unlike the Bush administration -- is strangely silent about its recent successes. The caution is not just due to uncertainty over whether the Sunni Triangle will stay won for good.

Instead, the September testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and the reaction to it -- whether the "General Betray Us" ad or Sen. Hillary Clinton's jab that to believe the general's testimony required a "willing suspension of disbelief" -- reminded officers how Iraq will loom large in election-cycle domestic politics. Getting drawn into such politicking is something responsible military leaders try to avoid.

Nevertheless, we may be witnessing one of those radical, unforeseen reversals in America's wars that have often changed our history.

The White House was burned by British forces in late August 1814; a little more than four months later, the British were routed at New Orleans. During the Civil War, the Union army was on the ropes in July 1864 yet outside Atlanta by September. The Germans were driving through France in March 1918, but fleeing toward the Rhine by August. The communists took Seoul in early January 1951, yet were pushed back across the Demilitarized Zone a little more than three months later.

Of course, we don't know the final outcome in Iraq, given the remaining problems of Shiite militias and diehard al-Qaidists -- and the question of our own remaining resolve.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps may well soon stabilize the Iraqi democracy once deemed lost. Or perhaps, in the manner of Vietnam between 1973-5, the public may have become so tired of Iraq -- despite the improvement -- that it simply wants it out of sight and out of mind.

Either way, history is now being made while we sleep.

Iraq's WMDs

Was Saddam bluffing? It looks like it.

The answer, according Ronald Kessler in his new book, The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack, is that Saddam ultimately feared United Nations actions less than he feared an attack from Iran . . . which, he calculated, would be much more likely if the leaders of Iran knew he had no WMDs. Kessler based his conclusions on information obtained by an Arabic-speaking FBI agent named George Piro who debriefed and befriended Saddam after the dictator's capture in Iraq, during his months of captivity before his eventual execution.

What Saddam never counted on, of course, was September 11, 2001. Kessler's book should put to rest, once and for all, the notion that Saddam was somehow involved in Osama bin Laden's plot. The 9/11 attacks were Saddam's worst nightmare because they changed the risk equation for the United States. Suddenly, the prospect of Saddam hiding WMDs went from being an ongoing nuisance to a mortal dread. What was to stop him from handing them off to al Qaeda?

President Bush decided the risk was intolerable -- and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ried plays hardball

Lieberman calls him on it.

The godless delusion

Need to comment on this piece.

Vicar of Bray

Finally found the lyrics.


A piece at American Thinker:

But, as I wrote about Dr. James Watson's comments regarding Africans, intelligence and genetics, this is part of a very distressing pattern.  Everyone fixates on the fact that such comments constitute generalizations (about groups that are supposed to be immune from such things), as if this is an offense in and of itself. Yet, no one seems to ask the only relevant question.

Are the generalizations true?

More perspectives on waterboarding

At Captains Quarters

Earlier, I wrote about the practice of waterboarding after reading a piece in the New York Daily News by Malcolm Nance. Nance, who served as an instructor at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE), wrote that he considered the practice to be torture, without question, and therefore illegal. Given his description of the practice, I thought he made a good argument. A number of commenters questioned Nance's conclusions, description, and qualifications, and I decided to get a second opinion.


Captain's Quarters readers will remember Mike the SEAL, who has served this nation in several capacities, including as a decades-long member of the elite commando team as well as a first responder in his community. Mike wrote several extensive posts here at Captain's Quarters while overseas in various capacities in 2004 and 2005. I'm fortunate enough to count Mike as a personal friend for the last several years, and I know him to be a man of courage, honesty, and absolute integrity. For obvious reasons, I will not identify him any further.


Without getting into specifics on his experiences, Mike strongly disputes Nance's exaggerations of waterboarding. There is a word for people who have "pint after pint of water" filling their lungs: dead. "In fact," according to Mike, "they would be very, very dead.


Mike emphasized that modern military interrogators receive excellent training and know that coercive techniques do not usually work as well as "positive incentives" and they will generally work through "echelons" of interrogation to obtain critical information. Mike would not go into any detail on "positive incentives" anymore than he would about coercive interrogation techniques generally used as a last resort. He continued to emphasize operational security (OPSEC). However, there are many different scenarios for interrogations, including time-critical emergencies, such as hostage rescue or impending attacks. "Effective interrogators need every range of options in these cases, including methods that use coercion to elicit information, for the different situations that our forces not only might face, but have faced. He used the examples of rescuing captured American soldiers from terrorists when we know they will be brutally tortured and murdered if not found immediately and rescued. "I'm guessing that the vast majority of Americans who vote would not have a problem with us using coercive tactics to get that kind of information from a terrorist."

Zero Tolerance page

Randy Cassingham, author of, has zero tolerance for "Zero Tolerance" laws and rules.

The stories on this page illustrate why.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Readability test

cash advance

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Dershowitz on torture

Alan Dershowitz doesn't like torture. But...

Although I am personally opposed to the use of torture, I have no doubt that any president--indeed any leader of a democratic nation--would in fact authorize some forms of torture against a captured terrorist if he believed that this was the only way of securing information necessary to prevent an imminent mass casualty attack. The only dispute is whether he would do so openly with accountability or secretly with deniability. The former seems more consistent with democratic theory, the latter with typical political hypocrisy.

There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

The kind of torture that President Clinton was talking about is not designed to secure confessions of past crimes, but rather to obtain real time, actionable intelligence deemed necessary to prevent an act of mass casualty terrorism. The question put to the captured terrorist is not "Did you do it?" Instead, the suspect is asked to disclose self-proving information, such as the location of the bomber.

One of the points made about SERE training, which does (or at least has) included waterboarding, is that the anti-torture laws of this country don't have an exception for training of our soldiers. If it's torture, it's banned. Period.

Another implication raised by SERE training is that if waterboarding is torture, then it works. If torture only produced false information, there'd be no need to train people to resist it.

Nature and Nurture

(Hat tip: John Ray)

When scientists first decoded the human genome in 2000, they were quick to portray it as proof of humankind’s remarkable similarity. The DNA of any two people, they emphasized, is at least 99 percent identical.

But new research is exploring the remaining fraction to explain differences between people of different continental origins.


At the same time, genetic information is slipping out of the laboratory and into everyday life, carrying with it the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA. Ancestry tests tell customers what percentage of their genes are from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. The heart-disease drug BiDil is marketed exclusively to African-Americans, who seem genetically predisposed to respond to it. Jews are offered prenatal tests for genetic disorders rarely found in other ethnic groups.

Such developments are providing some of the first tangible benefits of the genetic revolution. Yet some social critics fear they may also be giving long-discredited racial prejudices a new potency. The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal.

Which is a continuing attempt to sidestep a basic question: What if some important differences are real and genetic?

Nonscientists are already beginning to stitch together highly speculative conclusions about the historically charged subject of race and intelligence from the new biological data. Last month, a blogger in Manhattan described a recently published study that linked several snippets of DNA to high I.Q. An online genetic database used by medical researchers, he told readers, showed that two of the snippets were found more often in Europeans and Asians than in Africans.

Granted, other snippets are found more commonly in Africans, and some folks are trying to show Africans are genetically smarter than Europeans. But if it is true, either way, what do we do about it?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lieberman and the war on Bush

Dinocrat notes Senator Lieberman's comments about the party that threw him out for thought crimes.

Since retaking Congress in November 2006, the top foreign policy priority of the Democratic Party has not been to expand the size of our military for the war on terror or to strengthen our democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East or to prevail in Afghanistan. It has been to pull our troops out of Iraq, to abandon the democratically-elected government there, and to hand a defeat to President Bush.
there is something profoundly wrong — something that should trouble all of us — when we have elected Democratic officials who seem more worried about how the Bush administration might respond to Iran’s murder of our troops, than about the fact that Iran is murdering our troops. There is likewise something profoundly wrong when we see candidates who are willing to pander to this politically paranoid, hyper-partisan sentiment in the Democratic base — even if it sends a message of weakness and division to the Iranian regime.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A computer for every starving child?

If the goal is to broaden children's horizons through connectivity, why must OLPC reinvent the wheel? Repackaging the XO as an inexpensive mobile device could excite significant consumer demand and make an immediate impact on education. The current plan will have a different impact.

Children will suffer if governments divert scarce resources away from essential services. To avoid that outcome, professor Negroponte should channel his ingenuity into a product compatible with existing markets. Success will be achieved not by forcing technology on children, but by bringing children to technology.

Global Warming

An article in the London Telegraph:

More serious, however, has been all the evidence accumulating to show that, despite the continuing rise in CO2 levels, global temperatures in the years since 1998 have no longer been rising and may soon even be falling.

It was a telling moment when, in August, Gore's closest scientific ally, James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was forced to revise his influential record of US surface temperatures showing that the past decade has seen the hottest years on record. His graph now concedes that the hottest year of the 20th century was not 1998 but 1934, and that four of the 10 warmest years in the past 100 were in the 1930s.

Furthermore, scientists and academics have recently been queuing up to point out that fluctuations in global temperatures correlate more consistently with patterns of radiation from the sun than with any rise in CO2 levels, and that after a century of high solar activity, the sun's effect is now weakening, presaging a likely drop in temperatures.

If global warming does turn out to have been a scare like all the others, it will certainly represent as great a collective flight from reality as history has ever recorded. The evidence of the next 10 years will be very interesting.

Mukasey confirmed

Despite not declaring waterboarding illegal.

Captain Ed has some (comments )

Mukasey doesn't get to classify waterboarding as torture. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the AG and the DoJ don't get to write their own laws. Congress writes the laws, and the AG makes sure that they are enforced. Congress has explicitly forbidden the Pentagon to use waterboarding as an interrogation technique, but has not yet passed that same restriction on other agencies -- and until they do, any instance of waterboarding cannot be said to be explicitly illegal.

That is what makes the Post's description of Democratic angst so irritatingly ironic. The debate partly centered, according to this report, on the boundaries of executive power. Yet the Senate wants the AG to enforce laws Congress has not passed, which would be a rather obvious and objectionable expansion of executive power at the expense of the judiciary.

Congress does not want to take responsibility for restricting the options for time-critical interrogations. Many of these same Senators have thought what a future commission looking into a massive terrorist attack on the US might say if we had a member of the conspiracy in custody and failed to save hundreds or thousands of American lives through coercive interrogation techniques. They want to make sure that they don't have to answer for their choices in those circumstances as those involved in building "the wall" between law enforcement and intelligence agents did after 9/11. They like being in the position of demanding to know why dots weren't connected when they kept putting barriers between the dots themselves.

One person who taught SERE courses describes waterboarding as torture.

In his column at the Daily News, Nance wrote that "pint after pint" of water enters the lungs, and that the subjects actually start to drown. That description got disputed in two separate interviews I conducted, one with a former SERE instructor and another with a SEAL. The latter, whom I have known personally for years, explained why Nance's previous description made no sense. Mike's secondary specialty in the SEAL force is as an advanced combat medic. Without getting into specifics on his experiences, Mike strongly disputes Nance's exaggerations of waterboarding. There is a word for people who have "pint after pint of water" filling their lungs: dead.

Remember, waterboarding is (or at least has been) part of SERE training for our own soldiers. If they were being subjected to such a lethal technique, I have to imagine someone would have spoken up and put a stop to it. We don't like killing off our soldiers during training.

However, Nance's testimony highlights exactly why Mukasey had to answer as he did. If waterboarding under all circumstances is torture, then we torture our own soldiers. Will Mukasey prosecute SERE instructors, too? Or does it demonstrate that context and circumstances make a difference when deciding whether an ambiguous standard has been violated?

In addition, if SERE is legal, it implies SERE uses a form of waterboarding that is not torture. That means there are at least two procedures, both called "waterboarding", at least one of which is not torture. Mukasey is being perfectly reasonable in refusing to say whether "waterboarding" is torture until he knows which form of "waterboarding" is being discussed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A look back at Communism

An examination of our historical "inordinate fear" of communism might shed some light on what some consider our new inordinate fear of terrorism.


Let us examine the myths and realities of communism and anti-communism, and see if our fear really was inordinate. Were we fighting a phantom menace? Was the only thing we had to fear our own fear? Let's start at the beginning.

Myth: The Communist ideal is quite innocent, for example, "to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities."

Myth: The Russian Communists overthrew the czar; they were simply replacing a violent dictator.

Myth: The Russian Communists were no more violent than the czar.

Myth: The Communists were guilty of some violence, but no more so than any other form of government, especially considering the Christian Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery in the U.S. and its treatment of Native Americans.

Myth: Communist movements were subverted by their leaders, who were not practicing true communism.

Myth: Communism offers a more fair distribution of wealth.

Myth: Anti-communism in the U.S. is a Republican product, part of their "politics of fear", from the Red Scare to the House Un-American Activities Committee to the Cold War itself.

Myth. Joe McCarthy ran the HUAC and blacklisted hundreds of innocent Hollywood artists. He ruined the lives of innocent people by irresponsibly accusing them of being communists.

Myth: The anti-communists warned us of a "domino effect" and a "bloodbath" if we left Vietnam. Those warnings turned out to be unfounded.

Myth: Communism was flawed and would have fizzled out on its own. "George Bush taking credit for the Berlin Wall coming down is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise." Al Gore in the 1992 Vice Presidential debates.

Myth: Communism is so over; didn't you see Rocky IV?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


James Watson, the geneticist who helped unravel the structure of DNA, came under fire for saying that Africans are not as intelligent as Westerners. Aside from his remarks being deemed baseless and unscientific, he has quite predictably been labeled "racist." Why, some thought police even want him charged under Britain's Orwellian "racial hatred laws" (Watson is conducting a speaking tour in Britain presently). He has apologized, and averred, "I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said."

And what is the Truth about racial differences? For one thing, is it logical and rational to claim that, except for appearance and a few diseases and conditions of the body, every group is the same in every way? This is the left's implication, and it's absurd. It seems especially odd when you consider that most of these inquisitors are secularists who subscribe to the theory of evolution. Yet, despite their belief that different groups "evolved" in completely different parts of the world, operating in different environments and subject to different stresses, they would have us believe that all groups are identical in terms of the multitude of man's talents and in every single measure of mental capacity. Why, miracle of miracles, all these two-legged cosmic accidents, the product of a billions-of-years journey from the primordial soup to primacy among creatures, whose evolution was influenced by perhaps millions of factors, wound up being precisely the same. It's really the best argument for God I've ever heard, as such a statistical impossibility could only exist if it was ordained by the one with whom all things are possible.

Lastly, if we really care about a race's welfare, shouldn't we "diagnose" its condition -- whatever that condition may be -- properly so that its gifts may be best utilized, its inherent weaknesses best mitigated and its problems best remedied? If this makes sense with physical crosses such as sickle-cell anemia and heart disease, it makes sense for all crosses, be they spiritual, social or, dare I say, intellectual. Stating this isn't wrong or racist, and it shouldn't be repressed. And as Dr. Watson might say, that's something you don't have to be a Sherlock to understand.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The left has hijacked torture

quite simply, in much of the debate over "torture", we're not talking about actual torture at all. We're talking about rough treatment, harshness, or coercion.

The American left has defined these upward until they mean the same thing as torture, all as a part of their efforts to undermine the War on Terror in general. The core of this stance is the assertion that a slap on the head, several days without sleep, or hearing Rage Against the Machine played at full volume is fully the equivalent of torture in the classic sense. (Well... maybe we should reconsider that last....)

Of course, it's no such thing. Torture is easily defined as physical assault carried out over a prolonged period against a victim under complete control and holding the possibility of permanent physical or psychic damage. Official legal terminology contains the proviso that torture consists of acts that "revolt the conscience" We can also add, by way of Dashiell Hammett, that such actions must have "threat of death behind them". If they contain these elements, they are torture. If not, they're something less. Not necessarily something justifiable or commendable, but not torture either. (Another method of judging these actions is to ask whether the activity would excite an individual like Mengele or Yezhov.)

The left has succeeded, through a relentless media campaign (is there any other kind?) in obscuring this distinction. According to the latest criteria, torture is anything unpleasant that occurs to a prisoner while in American custody. (Overseas it's different. It's very, very difficult -- almost impossible, in fact -- for any developing or left-of-center regime to commit torture, no matter what they do to their prisoners. Unless, as in the rendition uproar, the U.S. is somehow involved.)

Friday, November 02, 2007


Well, not quite. But Glenn Reynolds does have some comments about who's for, who's against, and who's on the fence.

Lieberman speaks out on Mukasey

Follow the link.

Watson and IQ

Very long post linked here

Confirm Mukasey and ban torture

Of course, torture's already illegal.

Those senators who truly want to bring the nation back from the disgrace of Mr. Bush's interrogation policies should do two things. They should confirm Mr. Mukasey, who is far more independent and qualified than either of Mr. Bush's previous two nominees. And they should do something which, for all the rhetoric, they have so far declined to do: ban torture, by passing the National Security with Justice Act sponsored by Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.). The act would limit all United States personnel -- military and civilian -- to using only interrogation techniques authorized by the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, which expressly prohibits waterboarding and which military leaders have said gives them the tools they need to get reliable information from difficult subjects.

Of course, that would require taking a stand.

Space Elevator

An article in today's TCS compares the Space Elevator project with the Erie Canal.

To many, the idea of constructing an elevator into geosynchronous orbit might be, to echo the words of Jefferson, a splendid project a century hence but little short of madness today. Nevertheless the idea is beginning to elicit consideration from a growing number of serious scientists.

In its simplest form, the elevator would consist of a ribbon of super-strong carbon nanotubes be tethered to a large platform located near the equator and attached to a space structure at the other. To get from earth to space a cab would climb the ribbon. (Further details can be found at


But like the Erie Canal, a space elevator would be more than just a testament to good old-fashion American ingenuity and know-how. It would have broad, practical economic and political ramifications. For instance, just as the Erie Canal lowered the cost of shipping a ton of flour from $120 to less than $6, a space elevator could similarly open up space by radically reducing the price of hauling the equipment and supplies into orbit. Today, it costs anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 to launch a single pound of material into space. With a space elevator, replacing and updating the communication and satellite infrastructure upon which modern society is now so dependent would be fast, inexpensive and easy.

Beyond this, if America is serious about establishing a permanent presence on the moon -- and, ultimately, Mars -- this country will need a dramatically more efficient process for delivering cargo and personnel into a space. Our present system of using individual rockets is about as efficient as hauling flour by horseback.

It has been estimated that a space elevator can be built for $12 billion. It is a large amount of money to be sure, but so too was the Erie Canal. Thanks, however, to some farsighted and courageous leadership a profitable canal was built and, in the process, it turned the course of history. How fitting then if on October 26, 2025 -- the bicentennial of the opening of the Erie Canal -- America could send a group of people into space on an elevator. It is possible but first we must enlarge our minds to "so great an object."

The Erie Canal was expected to cost $6 million -- three quarters of the Federal budget in that era. Granted, the Federal budget was a lot smaller in proportion to the GDP back then. If we call the Federal budget a trillion dollars, then $12 billion is 8.3% of the Federal budget.