Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Do we want a proportionate response?

Jonathan Mark at Jewish World Review examines what a "proportionate" response by Israel would look like.

so far, it has only lasted four days and I would like to see a proportionate response that terrifies Hamas for seven years, the years that have filled Sderot and neighboring towns with nightmares, death, amputations and trauma coming from rockets and mortars fired from Gaza.

Perhaps a proportionate response would have Gaza's leaders fearful of being killed every day for the next two years, as Gilad Shalit has been terrified of torture and death every day for the last two years in his solitary Gaza dungeon.

A proportionate response would have Hamas mothers and fathers as fearful for their children's lives as Shalit's mother and father have been fearful for Gilad's life.

A proportionate response would have Gaza's children crying for their mommies and daddies, the way at a Hamas pageant earlier in December a Palestinian actor dressed as Shalit got down on his knees, mock-begging in Hebrew for his Ima and Abba while the Gaza crowds laughed.

Maybe "proportionality" isn't all it's cracked up to be.


Merv at Prarie Pundit looks at the accusation that Israel has been responding in a "disproportionate" manner.

Let's have a pointless discussion about Gaza and begin it by talking about whether Israel's bombing is “disproportionate”.

To illustrate the meaninglessness of such a debate let us attempt to agree what “proportionate” would look like.

Would it be best if Israel were to manufacture a thousand or so wildly inaccurate missiles and then fire them off in the general direction of Gaza City? There is a chance, though, that since Gaza is more densely packed than Israel, casualties might be much the same as they are now, so although the ordnance would be proportionate, the deaths would not. Of course, if one of Gaza's rockets did manage to hit an Israeli nursery school at the wrong time (or the right time, depending upon how you look at it), then the proportionality issue would be solved in one explosion. Would you be happy then?
Hamas is a product of a dysfunctional Muslim society. That is not Israel's fault. Dealing with dysfunctional people is difficult anytime. When they are profound religious bigots who want only your destruction, then negotiations are not a viable answer to dealing with them. Ultimately Hamas must be destroyed for the Palestinians to have peace.

James Robbins has more on the "excessive force" argument.

Regarding Israel’s excessive use of force (which Gen. Sec. Ban Ki-moon, and others, have alleged), one might ask for a definition of "excessive." If the definition is "more than necessary to be effective," then Israel has actually used insufficient force, since Hamas is still launching rockets (though nowhere near the “thousands” they threatened).

That is a good argument.

I've read (and heard) any number of accusations leveled against Israel. Lack of proportionality is one. Another accused Israel of engaging in "collective punishment" (in violation of the Geneva Conventions) by their act of shooting back.

To me, it's obvious that the core of the argument is not based on any kind of misbehavior on the part of Israel, but on the mere fact that Israel exists. The stated arguments are window dressing, cited to justify hatred of Israel.

According to these people, Israel can do no right. If Israel had not done whatever triggered the latest criticism, the critics would have found something else to pick on.

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like easter

In her Jerusalem Post column, Caroline Glick mentions a piece of news we haven't seen reported elsewhere:

On Tuesday, Hamas legislators marked the Christmas season by passing a Shari'a criminal code for the Palestinian Authority. Among other things, it legalizes crucifixion.

Hamas's endorsement of nailing enemies of Islam to crosses came at the same time it renewed its jihad.


LA Times' Honest Liberal strikes again

The only shocking thing about this column is that a liberal was actually willing to say this out loud:

I don't love America. That's what conservatives are always telling liberals like me. Their love, they insist, is truer, deeper and more complete. Then liberals, like all people who are accused of not loving something, stammer, get defensive and try to have sex with America even though America will then accuse us of wanting it for its body and not its soul. When America gets like that, there's no winning.

But I've come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love. True love is the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world, one you would gladly die for. I'm more in "like" with my country.


What really struck me most isn't the admission that liberals don't really love the United States the way we conservatives do -- that we already knew, after all -- but the willingness to say so openly in the Los Angeles Times. (Of course, this is the columnist who wrote that he doesn't support the troops.) Liberals stammer, screech, and sputter with outrage if you ever, ever question their patriotism. But time and time again they give us reasons to, from blaming the United States for 9-11, to not supporting our troops, to sympathizing with our enemies, and idolizing men who exemplify everything that is anti-American, like Castro, Stalin, and liberals favorite hero, Che Guevara.


Liberals look at America, and have a hard time feeling the love and patriotism that conservatives feel because they can't get get past the flaws. They can't love America unless she is perfect. Conservatives, however, don't require perfection to know that America is, indeed, a special, blessed place. It doesn't mean that the rest of the world is a terrible, terrible place. It doesn't mean that no one can possibly have a great life anywhere else. However, despite what many Little League coaches and PC teachers may believe, not every runner can finish the race in first, and while the rest of the world may be great, it's just not the USA.

I think that last paragraph nails it.  Liberals are in love with an ideal, which can never be attained in real life. I've seen one sig file which begins, "I pledge allegiance to the Constitution..." suggested as an alternative to the salute of the American flag. The liberals who use this appear to me to be declearing allegiance to an ideal, which no country -- even the one whose Constitution it is -- has ever implemented to their liking.  Or ever will.

Deaths in Iraq

Baron Von Ottomatic at Wizbang looks at the latest report on civilian deaths in Iraq.

The UN/World Health Organization and Iraq have released the results of a new study estimating the number of excess (by violence) deaths in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2006. Folks who oppose the Iraq war, despise Bush/Cheney, and generally look for anything through which they can feel morally superior to people who supports the US mission in Iraq often bandy about the number one million Iraqi deaths as a result of the invasion. That number is erroneous and vastly inflated:


Limiting the study to the time since the invasion in March 2003, and extrapolating results to the whole country, researchers arrived at the 151,000 estimate. The study authors say they are 95 percent certain that the true number is between 104,000 and 223,000. Iraq's population is roughly 26 million.

How would Iraqi mortality have differed if there had been no invasion? It is impossible to predict what Saddam may or may not have done, but it was widely reported that sanctions imposed in 1990 were killing thousands of Iraqis a month:

"The sanctions, the toughest in history, are killing up to 6,000 Iraqis a month", according to Denis Halliday, a former UN coordinator of humanitarian aid to Iraq.

Six-thousand deaths a month over thirty-six months equals 216,000 dead Iraqis - a number that would place any three years between 1990 and 1999 at the high end of the 2003-2006 study results. Needless to say, there was significant momentum toward ending the sanctions. The Oil for Food program proved to be a giant slush fund through which Saddam plundered billions and bribed sympathetic voices in the UN.

The invasion of Iraq has saved tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.

No vacation in Sderot

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein offered to pay for a trip to Sderot for Glenn Greenwald.  The offer was declined.

Glenn Greenwald, I take it, will not take me up on my offer of a free vacation to Sderot. My offer was specifically in response to his claim that Israel is engaging in a "massively disproportionate response" to the shelling of southern Israel from Gaza.


So, now that I don't have to worry about paying for Greenwald's vacation, I can ask, rhetorically (though Greenwald is free to answer): when a terrorist entity controls territory bordering that of a sovereign nation, and indiscriminately lobs rockets into that nation's territory, terrifying the civilian population and making normal life unlivable, what is a proportionate response?


Greenwald's real problem, I surmise, is that he thinks that Israel's response is "disproportionate" not because its disproportionate relative to Hamas's military actions and Israel's military objectives compared to the civilian damaged inflicted (more or less the international law definition of proportionality), but because he believes that Israel is primarily to blame for the situation in Gaza, and therefore any suffering inflicted on Gaza's civilians is primarily Israel's fault. Hence his observation about Israel's blockade of Gaza, which is not at all relevant to whether Israel's response to the rocket fire is "proportionate," but rather to whether Israel is morally at fault in general.


So, to sum up, let's rephrase Greenwald's position: "I think that Israel is not entitled to cause any casualties, civilian or otherwise, in Gaza, because Israel bears the primary, indeed, almost the entire, responsibility for the conflict it is facing with Hamas. Therefore, Israeli civilians living in the range of Hamas rockets must simply bear with it until their government adopts more enlightened policies that will magically lead Hamas to prefer to live in peace with Israel.

Basically, Israel can do no right, and her enemies can do no wrong.

Yup.  Check.

"Juicebox Mafia"?

I'm not sure where the term comes from, but Noah Pollak at the Contentions blog uses the term to describe the Jews who only know how to condemn Israel.
And condemn, they do -- holding Israel to standards that are insane.

No, what is interesting about the collective opinion of the Juicebox Mafia is the proposed rule of just war: Whoever kills more is the guilty party. This amounts to a total rejection of the distinction between aggression and self-defense and indeed the entire concept of deterrence. Taken to its logical conclusion, moral victory becomes impossible, because the moment one side has dispatched with a greater number of enemy than casualties have been suffered, justice has been forfeited. The only means of ethical conduct is pure immolation — which is indeed the prescription for Israel, expected to behave as the only true Christian nation on earth, responding to attacks by endlessly turning the other cheek.

There is a tendency on the left to brand critics, or even those who fail to toe the leftist party line, as "self-hating" whatever minority group the critic is a member of.  However, here is an example of what I believe deserve to be called "self-hating Jews".

There is something else about the Juicebox Mafia that is grating beyond its simple inanity: The only time its members write about Israel is when they can condemn it. The truth of the matter is that they have nothing invested in Israel other than their American liberalism and their Jewish surnames. Being a Jewish critic of Israel is ever so much more compelling and melodramatic than being just another leftist critic of Israel: Instead of trafficking in banalities, one can claim disillusionment, embarrassment, and betrayal. Pardon me if I call this out for what it is — moral preening and pure cynicism.

The year global warming went away

From the Telegraph:

First, all over the world, temperatures have been dropping in a way wholly unpredicted by all those computer models which have been used as the main drivers of the scare. Last winter, as temperatures plummeted, many parts of the world had snowfalls on a scale not seen for decades. This winter, with the whole of Canada and half the US under snow, looks likely to be even worse. After several years flatlining, global temperatures have dropped sharply enough to cancel out much of their net rise in the 20th century.

Again, if the computer models don't predict the changes we're observing, why are we about to destroy our economy in order to prevent the changes they are predicting?

Same-sex marriage and religion

Michael Medved writes:
Advocates for same sex marriage regularly insist that they would never interfere with free exercise of religion and will do nothing to force unwilling churches to perform gay weddings. This position counts as hypocritical and misleading, and the current controversy over Pastor Rick Warren's role in the Obama inauguration reveals the underlying intolerance in the gay agenda. Leading activists and politically correct commentators want Warren disqualified from giving the invocation because he opposes gay marriage, subjecting him to the sort of angry attack that will ultimately greet any clergyman who declines to sanction same-sex unions. Conservatives have never attempted to marginalize or humiliate pastors who support gay marriage, but the editorial and media attacks on Rick Warren give the lie to leftist claims that they're ready to respect differences of opinion on this issue.
Just because there's no penalty spelled out in the law doesn't mean there won't be a penalty.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What is Israel responding to?

This Twitter page is a list of Qassam rockets fired into Israel from Gaza. What would a "proportionate" response be?

Is a "neighborhood" analogy useful? What would your response be to a punk in your neighborhood who kept firing bullets into your house, even if he hardly ever actually hit anyone?

What if the police won't do anything?


Israel has lost patience with Hamas and is hitting back. Predictably, they're being attacked for failure to be "proportional".

There is a more fundamental problem here: the notion that Israel’s response (or, indeed, the response of any nation in a similar situation) should be “proportionate” to the provocation. And that is a horrific fallacy.

The notion that one should only respond to an attack with roughly the same force used by the aggressor is based on some fatally flawed presumptions.

The first is that the aggressor can be expected to respond in a rational manner. In this case, the presumption is that Hamas is actually interested in a peaceful solution and mutually beneficial situation. That is provably false. One need only look at Hamas’s charter and the group’s words and deeds to see that it is unabashedly dedicated to the absolute destruction of Israel.

The second fallacy is more subtle. The point of a “proportional” response is that it is intended to end the current hostilities and return to the status quo. And in this case, it implies that the status quo prior to the provocations was acceptable.

Hamas speaks of a “truce,” but their definition of a “truce” is one that no one else would recognize as valid. It consisted of a steady, constant bombardment of Israel by rocket and mortar shells. When they declared the truce to be at an end, they escalated the attacks, which in turn prompted Israel’s air strikes. Had Israel restrained itself to a “proportional” attack, then it would have been saying that the prior status quo — the rocket and mortar attacks reduced to one or two a day — was acceptable.

No, by striking as hard as they did Israel is sending a different message. And it’s, in an odd way, more respectful of Hamas than a “proportionate” response would have been. Israel is saying, in effect, “you are the legitimate government of the Gaza Strip, and we are holding you to the same standard as we would the government of any other nation. And when a nation declares war on us and commits acts of war against us, we respond by waging war on them.”

Hamas now finds itself having to argue before the world that it didn’t really mean all the things it said and did, that it doesn’t want to be treated that way, and that Israel needs to be restrained from further attacks.

And, sadly, there are enough nations in the world who will side with them.

Telling the tightwad party to give more

Liberal Nicholas D. Kristof is urging the tightwad party to give more of its own money to charity.

This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.

Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.

Which side is the media on?

It appears not to be on the side of Israel.

Since November, Hamas rockets have slammed into Israel. Israel countered with diplomacy and incursions into Palestinian territory, but still the rockets came. Today, Israel responded with massive airstrikes, raining tons of explosives on Hamas security facilities. This much the Mainly Marginalized Media can report pretty decently. Then the pro-Palestinian fun begins: Here’s the decidedly anti-Israel NYT, in paragraph three of its story.
A more straightforward report would have said that despite the air strikes, Hamas stubbornly continued firing rockets into Israel. In paragraph 15, AP gets around to telling us over 200 mortars and rockets have struck Israel from Hamas territory in the last week - part of 3,000 such attacks in the last year … “according to the military’s count.”

After dutifully reporting the outrage from Lebanon, Jordan and other locales noted for their openness and tolerance, the stories wrap up. Another military vicory for the Israelis; another media victory for Hamas.

Second Amendment interpretation

A Framing Era View of the Bill of Rights.

One comment from Dave Kopel at the Volokh Conspiracy:

Justice Stevens' dissent in Heller cited a 2006 article by historian Saul Cornell. That article stated that Tucker's 1791-92 lecture notes described the Second Amendment as relating only to the militia.

David Hardy's article reviews Tucker's lecture notes, as they involve various freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Hardy finds that Tucker's view of the Constitution was far more libertarian (regarding issues such as free speech and press, or warrantless searches) than either modern Supreme Court doctrine, or the views sometimes ascribed to the Founders.

As for the Second Amendment, Hardy finds that Cornell's article, and therefore Justice Stevens' opinion, contains a major factual error: the militia language which Cornell quoted was not from Tucker's description of the Second Amendment. The language was from Tucker's explanation of Article I's grant of militia powers to Congress. Tucker's description of the Second Amendment comes 20 pages later in the 1791-92 lecture notes, and is nearly a verbatim match with the text Tucker's 1803 book, unambiguously describing the Second Amendment as encompassing a personal right for a variety of purposes, not just for militia service.


Radley Balko at Reason Magazine looks at what appears to be a growing trend:

They're cases where the police walked or drove onto private property (usually at the wrong address), were confronted by the dog that lived on that property, interepreted—correctly or not—the dog's barks or gestures to be threatening, then shot the animal. Last August, video surfaced of a case in Oklahoma where an officer pulled into a woman named Tammy Christopher's driveway to ask directions. When Christopher's Wheaton Terrier ran out of the house to great the officer (the dog appears to be bounding in the video)—still on Christopher's property—the officer shoots the dog dead. Christopher released the video to a local news station when the police department wouldn't listen to her complaint.

What's troubling is how often in these stories the police officer's first reaction is to fire his weapon at the animal. I suppose that reaction might be understandable if the dog is, say, a pit bull, given that type of dog's (not entirely deserved) reputation. But black labs? Dalmatians? Springer spaniels? A Jack Russell? Something's clearly amiss when a police officer can stroll onto the private property of someone who's doing nothing illegal, be confronted by a dog who's merely doing what dogs do—defending his territory—shoot the dog dead, and get nothing but full support from his superiors. Moreover, many of these shootings have happened in neighborhoods, inside of homes, and in a few cases, directly in front of children. You'd think there would be some public safety concerns, too.

Police departments should be training officers how to deal with dogs in ways other than filling them full of bullets. Cops should be taught, for example, how to tell a charging dog from a bounding one; an angry dog from a barking but playful one; and that a curious or territorial bark is much less threatening than a snarl. Mailmen, firemen, paramedics, and the rest of us non-badge-wearing citizens manage to visit private homes and deal with the dogs that may reside in them without resorting gunfire. It's odd that not insignificant number of police officers can't.

There are plenty of ways of safely dealing with even a large, aggressive dog that fall far short of shooting it. I don't know what percentage of police departments offer this sort of training, but it seems clear that quite a few of them don't.

Bush's victory in Iraq

Nile Gardiner writes at the London Telegraph:

Some of the criticism of Bush's foreign policy is fair. The early stages of the occupation of Iraq were poorly handled and there was a distinct lack of post-war planning. America's public diplomacy efforts have been poor or even non-existent, with little serious attempt to combat the stunning rise of anti-Americanism. More recently, Washington's failure to stand up more aggressively to Moscow after its invasion of Georgia projected weakness and indecision.

Much of the condemnation of his policies though is driven by a venomous hatred of Bush's personality and leadership style, rather than an objective assessment of his achievements. Ten or twenty years from now, historians will view Bush's actions on the world stage in a more favourable light. America's 43rd president did after all directly liberate more people (over 60 million) from tyranny than any leader since Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Widely seen as his biggest foreign policy error, the decision to invade Iraq could ultimately prove to have been a masterstroke. Today the world is witnessing the birth of the first truly democratic state in the Middle East outside of Israel. Over eight million voted in Iraq's parliamentary elections in 2005, and the region's first free Muslim society may become a reality. Iraq might not be Turkey, but it is a powerful demonstration that freedom can flourish in the embers of the most brutal and barbaric of dictatorships.

The success of the surge in Iraq will go down in history as a turning point in the war against al-Qaeda. The stunning defeat of the insurgency was a major blow both militarily and psychologically for the terror network. The West's most feared enemy suffered thousands of losses in Iraq, including many of their most senior commanders, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abu Qaswarah. It was the most successful counter-insurgency operation anywhere in the world since the British victory in Malaya in 1960.

Tipler on Global Warming

From Urgent Agenda. Bottom line, it's a scam.

As regards global warming, my view is essentially the same as yours: Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a scam, with no basis in science.

A few comments on my own particular view of global warming:

(1) I am particularly annoyed by the claims that the "the debate is over," because this was exactly the claim originally made against the Copernican theory of the Solar System. Copernicus' opponents said the idea that the Earth was the third planet from the Sun was advanced by Aristrachus in 300 B.C. (true), and had been definitely refuted by 100 A.D. The debate is over! Sorry, it wasn't: the Earth IS the third planet.

(2) It is obvious that anthropogenic global warming is not science at all, because a scientific theory makes non-obvious predictions which are then compared with observations that the average person can check for himself. As we both know from our own observations, AGW theory has spectacularly failed to do this. The theory has predicted steadily increasing global temperatures, and this has been refuted by experience. NOW the global warmers claim that the Earth will enter a cooling period. In other words, whether the ice caps melt, or expand --- whatever happens --- the AGW theorists claim it confirms their theory. A perfect example of a pseudo-science like astrology.

(3) In contrast, the alternative theory, that the increase and decrease of the Earth's average temperature in the near term follows the sunspot number, agrees (roughly) with observation. And the observations were predicted before they occurred. This is good science.

(4) I emphasized in point (2) that the average person has to be able to check the observations. I emphasize this because I no longer trust "scientists" to report observations correctly. I think the data is adjusted to confirm, as far as possible, AGW. We've seen many recent cases where the data was cooked in climate studies. In one case, Hanson and company claimed that October 2008 was the warmest October on record. Watts looked at the data, and discovered that Hanson and company had used September's temperatures for Russia rather than October's. I'm not surprised to learn that September is hotter than October in the Northern hemisphere.

It snowed here in New Orleans last week and it was the second heaviest snowfall I've seen in the 25 years I've lived in New Orleans. According to the local newspaper, it was the earliest snow had fallen in New Orleans since records were kept, beginning in 1850. I myself have looked at the relative predictive power of Copernicus's theory and the then rival Ptolemaic theory. Copernicus was on the average twice as accurate, and the average person of the time could tell. Similarly, anybody today can check the number of sunspots. Or rather the lack of them. When I first starting teaching astronomy at Tulane in the early 1980's, I would show sunspots to my students by pointing a small $25 reflecting telescope at the Sun, and focusing the Sun's image on the wall of the classroom. Sunspots were obviously in the image on the wall. I can't do this experiment today, because there are no sunspots.

(5) Another shocking thing about the AGW theory is that it is generating a loss of true scientific knowledge. The great astronomer William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, observed in the early 1800's that warm weather was correlated with sunspot number. Herschel noticed that warmer weather meant better crops, and thus fewer sunspots meant higher grain prices. The AGW people are trying to do a disappearing act on these observations. Some are trying to deny the existence of the Maunder Minimum.

(6) AGW supporters are also bringing back the Inquisition, where the power of the state is used to silence one's scientific opponents. The case of Bjorn Lomborg is illustrative. Lomborg is a tenured professor of mathematics in Denmark. Shortly after his book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," was published by Cambridge University Press, Lomborg was charged and convicted (later reversed) of scientific fraud for being critical of the "consensus" view on AGW and other environmental questions. Had the conviction been upheld, Lomborg would have been fired. Stillman Drake, the world's leading Galileo scholar, demonstrates in his book "Galileo: A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press, 2001) that it was not theologians, but rather his fellow physicists (then called "natural philosophers"), who manipulated the Inquisition into trying and convicting Galileo. The "out-of-the-mainsteam" Galileo had the gall to prove the consensus view, the Aristotlean theory, wrong by devising simple experiments that anyone could do. Galileo's fellow scientists first tried to refute him by argument from authority. They failed. Then these "scientists" tried calling Galileo names, but this made no impression on the average person, who could see with his own eyes that Galileo was right. Finally, Galileo's fellow "scientists" called in the Inquisition to silence him.

I find it very disturbing that part of the Danish Inquisition's case against Lomborg was written by John Holdren, Obama's new science advisor. Holdren has recently written that people like Lomborg are "dangerous." I think it is people like Holdren who are dangerous, because they are willing to use state power to silence their scientific opponents.

(7) I agree with Dick Lindzen that the AGW nonsense is generated by government funding of science. If a guy agrees with AGW, then he can get a government contract. If he is a skeptic, then no contract. There is a professor at Tulane, with a Ph.D in paleoclimatology, who is as skeptical as I am about AGW, but he'd never be considered for tenure at Tulane because of his professional opinion. No government contracts, no tenure.

(8) This is why I am astounded that people who should know better, like Newt Gingrich, advocate increased government funding for scientific research. We had better science, and a more rapid advance of science, in the early part of the 20th century when there was no centralized government funding for science. Einstein discovered relativity on his own time, while he was employed as a patent clerk. Where are the Einsteins of today? They would never be able to get a university job --- Einstein's idea that time duration depended on the observer was very much opposed to the "consensus" view of the time. Einstein's idea that light was composed of particles (now called "photons") was also considered crazy by all physicists when he first published the idea. At least then he could publish the idea. Now a refereed journal would never even consider a paper written by a patent clerk, and all 1905 physics referees would agree that relativity and quantum mechanics were nonsense, definitely against the overwhelming consensus view. So journals would reject Einstein's papers if he were to write them today.

Science is an economic good like everything else, and it is very bad for production of high quality goods for the government to control the means of production. Why can't Newt Gingrich understand this? Milton Friedman understood it, and advocated cutting off government funding for science.

Some comments...

Point number 2 is important. How well do the computer models predict what's actually happening? The answer is, not very well.

How well do climate models retro-dict? That is, if you plug in the known values for the earth's climate some time in the past and run it forward, how well do these models predict the changes that are known to have happened?

Again, not very well.

(Anyone who disagrees is welcome to cite the paper in which these comparisons were done.)

And let it be noted, this is not an argument along the lines of "they can't predict the weather next week, how can they know what's going to happen decades from now?" I don't buy that argument because these are measurements of two very different things. Weather is an instantaneous state, and climate is an average. It's quite possible to predict an average value for a very changeable system. Los Vegas makes a nice living on this fact.

What this argument is, is a demand that we see hard evidence that the predictions coming out of the climate models actually correspond with reality before we start basing massive policy changes on their output.

The death of right and wrong

The title is from a book by Tammy Bruce. Peter Hitchens writes about what's going on in schools:

If you want to know how bad the future will be, take a look at our schools, and shudder. We know that they are nurseries of ignorance, which is why we have to import disciplined, hard-working, competent young Poles to do so much of the work in this country.

We should also be concerned that they are places of fear and violence, where authority is nothing but a joke.

The police have admitted (under Freedom of Information laws) that they were called to violent incidents at least 7,000 times in English schools last year. Since FoI disclosures are about the only Government statistics we can trust, I think we should take this seriously, though – since not all police forces replied – the figure is probably much higher.

There is no reason to think that things are much better in Scotland or Wales.

The Sixties revolution, which destroyed the authority of parents and teachers alike, will soon reach its long-cherished goal.

Everything stuffy, traditional, repressive, old-fashioned and boring has been swept away in the world of the young. They are all free now.

The trouble is that they do not know how to be free, because they have also been taught that morals are ‘judgmental’, religion is ‘outdated’ and that adults are just obsolete ex-teenagers groping their way to the grave, a nuisance to be ignored or violently shoved aside.

They have discovered that the law is not just feeble (though it is) but that it frequently punishes those who try to uphold what used to be the rules of civilisation. And that, while we now have armed policemen licensed to kill virtually at will, our authorities recoil in horror at the very idea of an adult smacking a child.
Now, listen carefully, to see if you can hear any Sixties liberals admitting that they were wrong to dismantle adult authority. And listen even more carefully to see if you can discover a ‘Conservative’ politician with the courage to say that this must be put right, that marriage is miles better than non-marriage, that a man without a conscience is wilder than any beast, that fathers should be respected, that parents must be allowed to smack, that teachers should be able to cane.

All you will hear is silence, mingled with the sound of boots kicking a human head as if it were a football, the head of another poor fool who tried to stand up for what was right, and thought he could appeal to the better natures of people who have been brought up feral, and have no better natures.

Civilization is one generation deep.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Myths and facts about the Bush years

This piece at Real Clear Politics looks at five myths about the Bush years, and addresses each one. The five "most egregious" myths are:

  1. Myth 1: The last eight years were awful for most Americans economically and President Bush's deregulatory policies caused the current financial crisis.
  2. Myth 2: President Bush's tax cuts only benefitted the wealthy and were paid for by sacrificing investments in health care and education.
  3. Myth 3: The President's "go it alone" foreign policy ruined America's standing in the world.
  4. Myth 4: The war in Iraq caused us to "take our eye off the ball" in Afghanistan and with al Qaeda.
  5. Myth 5: This Administration has been bad for the environment and ignored the problem of global warming.

The other shoe drops

Attacks in Iraq are down. Down to 5% of their levels last year.

The Iraq murder rate is substantially lower than that in many US cities including Chicago. It is also a demonstration of how ill informed the emotionally immature shoe thrower was. I doubt you will see this kind of stat in stories about his misinformed infantile tantrum. You are also unlikely to see it in the left's commentary embracing his actions.

Is BDS self-limiting?

Many diseases are "self-limiting". That is, they will go away after a period of time, no matter what treatment the patient receives. There are many who think Bush Derangement Syndrome will go away after Obama's coronation inauguration day. Wesley Pruden writes:

With only 26 days left to harangue, mock and bash President Bush, some of our colleagues in the media aren't wasting a day. Bashing ex-presidents, except for the ex-presidents with shrill prominent wives, isn't nearly as much fun as bashing while he's still the real thing.
The rush to get in a last few licks at a sitting Republican president is a game a lot of bashers play. Some of the bloggers were bitterly disappointed - complaining is the main point of blogging - that George W. didn't call off the election, as pointy-headed bashers freely predicted through the summer months that he would, or call out the National Guard to prevent the inauguration. There's still time for that, but not only has George W. so far failed to declare himself president-for-life, he's going out of his way to make things easy for the president-elect. He even bailed out Detroit, giving Barack Obama the opportunity to decry later his delaying the inevitable, when Detroit finally craters, or he can bail out the bailout later, as he hears opportunity knocking.
But bashing George W. is the only news that's fit to print in certain places: "There are plenty of culprits [to blame for bad economic news]," reported the New York Times, "like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk. But the story of how we got here," (and here comes the curve ball), "is partly one of Mr. Bush's own making ... "
But we never get to the other "partly" bits, the parts about how "Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk," and how Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, and Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat of Massachusetts, did more than any other 10 men to insulate Fannie Mae from nosy regulators and effective federal supervision. Fannie and her senior executives - one of whom was (and maybe still is) Barney's special friend - grew rich on taxpayer largesse while blowing on the kindling of the fire that melted the subprime housing market.
The worthies at the New York Times are worried, like George W. himself, about his legacy. They all should know better; legacies are not plucked from the pantry shelf, but develop over the years without help or hindrance from either critic or legacee. George W.'s critics are spooked by what happened to Harry S. Truman, who straggled back to Missouri with the contempt of nearly everyone ringing in his ears ("to err is Truman") and within two decades became one of our most popular ex-presidents. Now is the time to blame the president for everything bad, and give him credit for nothing good. It's mere coincidence that America has been safe from Islamist terror every day since 9/11.

Merv at Gateway Pundit doesn't think bashing will end this January, or even this year. I suspect he will be blamed for everything that goes wrong until the end of Obama's stay in office. Then, if a Republican gets elected, he'll be the next scapegoat.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wireheads on the way?

FORGET Viagra: scientists are working on an electronic "sex chip" that will be able to stimulate pleasure centres in the brain, The Australian reports.

Essentially, there'll be a chip implanted in the area of the brain that registers pleasure. It's intended to treat people suffering from anhedonia, an inability to feel pleasure.

"There is evidence that this chip will work," Dr Aziz said.

 "A few years ago, a scientist implanted such a device into the brain of a woman with a low sex drive and turned her into a very sexually active woman. She didn't like the sudden change, so the wiring in her head was removed."

The wiring remains a hurdle: Dr Aziz says current technology, which requires surgery to connect a wire from a heart pacemaker into the brain, causes bleeding in some patients and is "intrusive and crude".
By 2015, he predicts, micro-computers in the brain with a range of applications could be self-powered and controlled by hand-held transmitters.

Larry Niven has written a number of stories featuring "wireheads" -- people addicted to devices that stimulate the pleasure centers of their brains.  He depicts it as the newest addictive drug.  He and Spider Robinson have both written stories in which people have been killed using such devices -- in order to get to a food supply, they'd have to unplug from the current, and they're not willing to end that pleasure, so they starve to death.  ("Death by Ecstasy" by Larry Niven, and I think the Spider Robinson story is "Melancholy Elephants".)

UPDATE: As soon as I posted this, I remembered the plot of "Melancholy Elephants" and decided the Spider Robinson story was probably "God is an Iron".

Is Obama a Centrist?

Or is he just playing one on TV?
CAN YOU HEAR the grumbling over in what Howard Dean used to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party?" The tolerance-and-diversity crowd is upset with Barack Obama; it seems the president-elect has been bringing people into his circle who don't agree with them on every single issue.
As if all that weren't enough to give a fervent liberal agita, Obama has asked the Rev. Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor of Saddleback Church, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. From many on the left, where Warren's staunch opposition to same-sex marriage is reason enough to loathe him, responses have ranged from dismay to fury. Barney Frank labeled the pastor's views "very offensive" and pronounced himself "very disappointed" that Obama would invite him. The blog Liberal Rapture was more pungent: "Obama throws another middle finger to liberals." ...

Still, Obama is hardly in danger of turning into anything resembling a right-winger. With his trillion-dollar "stimulus" proposal, he is inviting comparisons to FDR. And with committed liberals like Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services secretary, Carol Browner as energy czar, and Eric Holder as attorney general, the Obama administration is never going to be accused of harboring Republican tendencies.
During the campaign, I saw Obama compared with the dog chasing a car -- "What'll he do if he ever catches one?" Well, he caught one, and now he's having to figure out what to do with it.
What some are calling psychopathy, I think is better described as malignant narcissism. The Clintons, for example, are on the side of the Clintons -- period. So is Obama. But even a his age, I'm willing to wait and see if his is the narcissism of youth and whether he might be willing or able to grow out of it. (Being on the Left means never having to grow up.)
Maybe he'll be forced to grow into the office, and into being a mature human being. We can let him, and give him credit if he does so. Or we can treat him the way the strident Left treated GWB for eight years.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Beldar on Rathergate

I played a small but enthusiastic part as one of bloggers who were scrutinizing Dan Rather, "60 Minutes," and CBS News during the 2004 Rathergate controversy.

The problem, though — as I noted at length when Rather first filed his case, here and here — is that Quinn's hands are effectively tied by the fact that his client was spectacularly gutless in its dealings with the psychotic prima donna who for so long occupied its anchor chair. Quinn's defense for CBS News won't be that Rather and Mapes and their entire team were incompetent, biased frauds who committed the worst kind of journalistic malpractice to change the outcome of a presidential election and then, when caught, tried to cover it up. CBS had ample, compelling, even glorious "good cause" to fire Rather no matter what time term remained on his contract or what other terms it contained to guarantee his preeminence at the network.

But CBS didn't do that. Instead, it convened the Thornburgh-Boccardi Panel, whose ultimate report was far from a bare-knuckled or clear-eyed assessment of the culpability of Rather and CBS News' top brass. CBS News eased Rather out, rather than immediately throwing his sorry butt on the street.

And now, instead of defending itself against Rather by using the awesome mechanisms of the law to prove, once and for all, the essential truths of Rathergate — including the indisputable fact that the Killian memos were pathetically obvious forgeries — CBS News' defense is not that Rather is a crazed scoundrel and a national disgrace, but that CBS fully performed its contractual obligations to Rather.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rick Warren on evolution...

From Little Green Footballs:

Oddly enough, the FAQ page at the Saddleback Church that contained their policy statements on dinosaurs, evolution, and homosexuality (among other subjects) has suddenly been wiped clean: Saddleback Church: Small Group Information.

But Google's cache has a copy as it appeared on December 16, 2008.

So now the folks at DebunkCreation can be annoyed with Obama, too.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An Nihil Nation

Dafydd at Big Lizards thinks he knows how Obama the Disappointment managed to find all those voters.

We've all been wondering -- oh, all right... I've been wondering -- whence came all those gazillions of Democratic voters who propelled the over-the-top Barack H. Obama over the top. Well, it appears that a new survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics may have found part of the answer:

Teenagers lie. They cheat and steal, too. And they are doing it more often and more easily than ever.

That is the conclusion of the latest "Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth", released this week by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a partnership of educational and youth organizations. The institute conducted a random survey of 29,760 high school students earlier this year (as they have every two years since 1992) and found that the next generation of leaders have a somewhat casual relationship with the truth.

What this survey, which shows a growing trend of falsity, cheating, and amorality, tells us is that we are not only raising yet another generation of kids without a functioning moral compass, but more threateningly, a generation of kids who haven't the slightest idea that there is a real world out there where lying, cheating, and stealing not only won't get you anywhere, it can destroy your life.


Of course such truth-challenged, reality-denying kids would be much more likely to grow into Democrat-voting young adults; the Democratic Party is the party of fantasy, denial, and situational ethics. Naturally, not every Democrat is dishonest... but the contemporary Democratic Party rewards brazen dishonesty in a way that I don't believe any previous political party in the United States has done.

Heck, look who just got elected president... and how he did it.

I firmly believe this is the result of leftist government schools (followed, after a while, by secular private and even religious schools) ceasing to teach ethics, civics, or even basic right and wrong, for fear of trampling on some kid's "right" to choose his own "values." (For that matter, even the substitution of "values," a content-neutral term, for "virtues," which implies a fixed moral code, is a terrible symptom of the disease of nihilism.)


By being afraid to tell kids that there is a real right and a real wrong -- that some moral codes are absolute, not subject to the whim of the actor -- we may be sowing the seeds of our species' own destruction.

One of the things conservatives believe is that civilization is fragile.  It is a human institution buttressed about by artificial structures which are designed to maintain it.  Without those structures, it will all too easily veer into the abyss.  These structures are not natural components of the human psyche -- people don't automatically invent them when needed or adhere to them just because they might be a good idea.  They have to be passed from generation to generation and enforced by a number of different mechanisms.  If they are allowed to lapse, their recreation and reimplementation is in no way guaranteed in the next generation.  Or, for that matter, before the civilization collapses.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The housing bubble

Daffyd at Big Lizards spots an NY Times article on the housing bubble.

The New York Times waits until after the election to drop yet another bombshell, one which may very well go unnoticed by the rest of the elite media (falling into the memory hole alongside the brief and cryptic reporting on Barack H. Obama's illegal fundraising). Under the headline "Tax Break May Have Helped Cause Housing Bubble"....

Wow, what a great gift President Bill Clinton gave the American people! Except, half a mo... Didn't that staggering "housing bubble" have something to do with the subsequent financial collapse? Well, as a matter of fact, the Times itself now, after November 4th, is willing to admit as such ....

Of course, this being the TImes, they quite predictably get a number of points wrong. There was no "failure by regulators to intervene;" in fact, the "relaxation of lending standards" was precisely in response to Clinton regulators interpreting the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to require banks to make subprime housing loans to poor people who couldn't possibly afford the mortgage payments.

But they do get the basic point: When government intervenes in the market, the unintended bad consequences often overwhelm whatever good was intended. This is why economist Milton Friedman coined the phrase "the invisible foot" of government as the antiparticle to the "invisible hand" of the market.


The Times now thinks this government intrusion was a bad idea after all:

Referring to the special treatment for capital gains on homes, Charles O. Rossotti, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner from 1997 to 2002, said: "Why insist in effect that they put it in housing to get that benefit? Why not let them invest in other things that might be more productive, like stocks and bonds?"

Amusingly, then-Sen. Blob Dole, running against Clinton in 1996, gave a speech that appears to have precipitated Clinton's housing tax-break proposal; but Dole had actually called for an across-the-board cut in the capital-gains tax, without singling out any particular instrument over the others. (Grover Norquist agreed with Dole.) Had Clinton followed Dole's advice, we might very well not be in the current financial crisis.

But, well, here we are. At least, however, we have the enormous satisfaction of seeing the New York Times admit that a Bill Clinton domestic monetary policy was naive and foolish, and give a pretty good explanation -- after the One is safely elected -- why in future we should run our economic and monetary policy on the basis of Capitalism, not liberal fascism. (One wonders whether this new-found fiscal conservatism will ever translate into opposition to specific Obamic policy.)

Better late than never, I suppose; but even better in time than late.

Daffyd is right.  This will disappear into the memory hole.

Outcomes of climate predictions

Top 10 dud climate predictions
By Andrew Bolt, writing from Australia
Global warming preachers have had a shocking 2008. So many of their predictions this year went splat. Here's their problem: they've been scaring us for so long that it's now possible to check if things are turning out as hot as they warned. And good news! I bring you Christmas cheer - the top 10 warming predictions to hit the wall this year. Read, so you can end 2008 with optimism, knowing this Christmas won't be the last for you, the planet or even the polar bears.
Here are the predictions...
Follow this link to read about them. 

Rather, Thornburgh, and the CBS bus

Scott Johnson at Powerline looks at a piece by Edward Wasserman, Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University.  He argues for Rather's defense:

Rather did little reporting for the segment, but led the defense. Within three weeks the network caved and said it shouldn't have relied on the documents. That concession was viewed as acknowledging fundamental problems with the segment's veracity. So were the conclusions of the review panel headed by Thornburgh and Boccardi.

But their 223-page report did no such thing.

Though sharply critical of the network's strident dismissal of critics, the panel never concluded the broadcast was wrong -- that Bush's military record wasn't marked by favoritism and dereliction. Nor did it ever say the disputed documents were bogus. Instead, the panel concluded the documents couldn't be proven genuine, and for a simple reason: They were photocopies. And experts are reluctant to vouch for the authenticity of any document when they can't inspect its paper and ink.

Wasserman cites the Thornburgh-Boccardi report in support of his argument here, but It is hard to believe that Wasserman has read it. If he has read it, this professor of journalism ethics needs to be reminded that it's not ethical to withhold from your readers relevant evidence directly contradicting your thesis.
Such as:

(1) The source of the documents: The documents on which Rather's story relied were asserted to have came from Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, then Lieutenant Bush's commanding officer. The documents purport to derive from his "personal file." Killian died in 1984; his family denies that the documents emanated from him or them. The lack of any evidence to substantiate the provenance of the documents in Lieutenant Colonel Killian's "personal file" by itself highlights the absurdity of the argument for their authenticity.


(2) The font/typestyle of the documents: The Thornburgh-Boccardi report provides the analysis of forensic document examiner and typewriter expert Peter Tytell, both in the text and at greater length in the report's Appendix 4. Tytell is a diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Documents Examiners and a highly qualified expert on the issues raised by the typographic characteristics of the documents. Tytell examined the official Bush Guard documents as well as the CBS documents procured from Burkett and concluded that the Burkett documents were produced on a computer in Times New Roman typestyle.

According to Tytell, Times New Roman was designed in 1931 for the Times of London and was only available on typesetting and other non-tabletop machines until the desktop publishing revolution in the 1980s. Tytell concluded that the Times New Roman typestyle was not available on a typewriter in the early 1970s and that the Burkett documents must have been produced on a computer. The Thornburgh-Boccardi report states: "The [Thornburgh-Boccardi] Panel met with Tytell and found his analysis sound in terms of why he believed that the documents are not authentic." If the documents are not authentic, they are frauds.


(3) The content of the documents: Rather's defenders such as Wasserman ultimately rely on the contents of the documents to authenticate them. However, if the documents did not come from the personal file of Lieutenant Colonel Killian, if the documents were not typed on a typewriter, they cannot be authentic regardless of their content. Even if the documents "meshed" perfectly with the official Bush Guard records, they would still be frauds.

And they don't mesh.  All in all...

Thus the bad faith of the CBS TANG story pales next to that of Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley. Regardless of Dan Rather's level of culpabity for the story as originally broadcast, the story itself is a classic of institutional and professional disgrace. It is odd at the least that a professor of journalism ethics is insensitive to it. For a more clear-eyed view of Rather's lawsuit, by the way, see Bill Dyer's "Rather v. CBS: Experts, 'boardroom truth' versus 'courtroom truth,' and settlement values."

Dan Rather and Mary Mapes are still peddling the same fraud that CBS was peddling on September 8, 2004 in the story on President Bush's TANG service. Edward Wasserman has now come to their assistance in peddling the fraud. Whatever the state of their knowledge then, Rather and Mapes must know now that they are peddling a fraud. Although Wasserman portrays Rather as a victim, he is in fact a perpetrator who has yet to acknowledge his offense.

RIP Forrest J Ackerman

Obituary at Reason Magazine:

Going to pot?

Reason Magazine tends to follow police misconduct, including excesses that stem from prosecution of the War On Drugs.  Here's a piece by Radley Balko:

Like Mark Draughn, I've been somewhat skeptical of Barry Cooper, the former drug cop turned pitchman for how-to-beat-the-cops videos. He comes off as more of a huckster than a principled whistle-blower, which I think does the good ideas he stands for (police reform) more harm than good.

But damn. I have to hand it to him. This might be one of the ballsiest moves I've ever seen.

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby.

To clarify just a bit, according to Cooper, there was nothing illegal going on the bait house, just two evergreen trees and some grow lamps. There was no probable cause. So a couple of questions come up. First, how did the cops get turned on to the house in the first place? Cooper suspects they were using thermal imaging equipment to detect the grow lamps, a practice the Supreme Court has said is illegal. The second question is, what probable cause did the police put on the affidavit to get a judge to sign off on a search warrant? If there was nothing illegal going on in the house, it's difficult to conceive of a scenario where either the police or one of their informants didn't lie to get a warrant.


The story's worth watching, not only to see if the cops themselves are held accountable for this, but whether the local district attorney tries to come up with a crime with which to charge Cooper and his assistants.  I can't imagine such a charge would get very far, but I wouldn't be surprised to see someone try.

If this happened as portrayed, the police can't get a pass on it.  Police officers have a great deal of power.  If they're perceived as abusing it, public distrust will make their jobs infinitely harder.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Loser pays

Some notes from Sasha Volokh:

The Manhattan Institute has released Greater Justice, Lower Cost: How a "Loser Pays" Rule Would Improve the American Legal System, by my friend Marie Gryphon. From the executive summary:

Effects of Loser Pays

This paper infers from its examination of the scholarly literature how loser pays would affect the American legal system:

  • Almost every economist who has studied loser pays predicts that it would, if adopted, reduce the number of low-merit lawsuits.
  • A loser-pays rule would encourage business owners and other potential defendants to try harder to comply with the law. Doing so should produce fewer injuries.
  • Loser pays would deter ordinary low-merit suits, but it would not discourage low-merit class actions to the same extent because the risk of enormous losses, rather than the costs of legal defense, is the primary source of pressure on defendants to settle. . . .

Litigation Insurance

This paper provides an overview of how litigation insurance would ensure access to justice for poor and middle-class plaintiffs under an American loser-pays system:

  • In loser-pays jurisdictions, insurance covering the legal costs of the plaintiff can be purchased at the same time that a lawsuit is filed for a reasonable premium advanced by a plaintiffs' attorney as part of the ordinary costs of litigation.
  • After recently scaling down its legal aid services, which were funding civil litigation for poor plaintiffs, England witnessed massive growth in its litigation insurance market; the same thing is likely to happen in the United States if it adopts a loser-pays rule.

To be successful in the United States, a loser-pays reform must be designed to reduce the number of nuisance lawsuits, control overall litigation costs, promote settlement, and ensure access to justice for plaintiffs with strong legal claims. To achieve these disparate goals within the existing American legal system, this new Manhattan Institute proposal incorporates a modified offer-of-judgment rule, which ties the amount of any fee award to the size of the parties' settlement offers, and advocates the removal of legal barriers to the establishment of a robust litigation insurance industry in new loser-pays jurisdictions.

IQ and success

The conventional wisdom holds that IQ doesn't matter for success in life.  For success in particular occupations, it may matter a lot -- to a point.

I haven't managed to finish Malcolm Gladwell's new #1 bestseller, Outliers, yet, because it's so full of snarkworthy goodness. Here's a taste from p. 80:

"What Hudson is saying is that IQ is a lot like height in basketball. Does someone who is five foot six have a realistic chance of playing professional basketball? Not really. You need to be at least six foot or six one to play on that level, and all things being equal, it's probably better to be six two than six one, and better to be six three than six two. But past a certain point, height stops mattering so much. A player who is six foot eight is not automatically better than someone two inches shorter. (Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever, was six six after all.) A basketball player only has to be tall enough — and the same is true of intelligence."


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another anniversary

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Saddam Hussein's capture by U.S. forces, when he was pulled dirty, afraid, and alone from a hole in Tikrit, Iraq. Five years from that day, Iraqis continue to face a somewhat uncertain future fraught with challenges and perils. Critics of the war complain that there is no certainty that democracy can take root in Iraq, and lament the possibility that this "experiment" will fail.
When U.S. soldiers pulled Saddam Hussein from that hole in Tikrit, the spell that had held Iraqis captive for decades was broken. Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope for a population who had never had the right to dream of a better life. That hope is what differentiates every day before December 13, 2003, from every day since. It is the hope that things will get better, that the individual life can mean something. That the next generation can live a better life than the current one, and that through effort and will the people can make tomorrow better than today. This hope is fundamental to meaningful human existence, but is often taken for granted by Americans who have never endured a life where its expression is denied by a cruel dictator. Some suggest that Saddam's dictatorship, though cruel and oppressive, was the only way to effectively control the tribes, maintain order, and govern the country. Day by day the Iraqi people are proving them wrong; this is the legacy of December 13. 


I've occasionally described "Legalese" as "a language used by lawyers, which bears a deceptive similarity to English".  And I point out that people often err in assuming that a particular word in Legalese bears anything like the meaning in Legalese that it bears in English.
Now, I read a Constitutional Law Professor saying much the same thing. (I'm assuming he wrote the following in English, in which case it means what it says -- as opposed to Legalese, in which case it might not.)

...actually the panel reasoned that Hatfill failed to prove that the columns were published with what libel law calls "actual malice": "that The Times had knowledge that the columns were false or published them with reckless disregard of whether they were false." "Actual malice" is thus a legal term of art that has little to do with what English speakers actually call malice (in the sense of ill will).

So this is partly the fault of the lawyers. You'd hope that "malice" in law would mean what "malice" means in English, but if it doesn't, at least you'd hope that "actual malice" would actually mean that. No such luck.

The Democrats' torture narrative

According to the Levin report, the Bush administration reacted to 9/11 by "redefining" the law to permit aggressive interrogation tactics. Thus, the fable goes, in early 2002 the president determined that neither al-Qaeda nor Taliban fighters were entitled to prisoner-of-war treatment, in effect blocking application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and the "well established military doctrine" of "legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions." The administration then covertly set about having its Justice Department alter the legal definition of torture, the story goes, while its interrogators were schooled in illegal tactics by experts at the Defense Department. These techniques were employed by the CIA on important captives and became elements of a new warfare culture that spread to military interrogators at Gitmo and led, eventually, to the Abu Ghraib scandal. 

That narrative is flawed in its fundamental assumptions and fictional in its sweeping conclusions. The Bush administration did not "redefine" detainee treatment law; it undertook to determine what the law says and whom it covers. The intent of the Geneva Conventions, the principal law on the subject, is to civilize warfare by affording benefits, including an absolute bar against abusive treatment, to eligible prisoners of war — i.e., to captured soldiers who adhere to the laws of armed conflict, meaning, among other things, that they forgo intentionally endangering civilians. By definition, al-Qaeda is not qualified for Geneva protections because it is a terrorist organization: It is not one of the sovereign nations that signed the 1949 pacts, and it specifically targets civilians. Though the Taliban was the de facto government of Afghanistan, its fighters also target civilians and hide among them, and consequently they do not qualify for Geneva protections.


Prisoner abuse should not be taken lightly. There have been nearly two dozen detainee deaths reported, five of which are believed to have occurred during interrogations. But these episodes are endemic to warfare, not peculiar to the Bush era or a result of the president's policies. Abuse is not to be tolerated — and it isn't: dozens of U.S. military personnel have been disciplined and a number tried in courts-martial. There is a world of difference between relatively rare wrongdoing at the hands of a miniscule number of soldiers and a government program of torture. 

The torture narrative is at odds with the facts. The U.S. does not have a policy of torturing captives, nor does it fail to abide by its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. When abuse has occurred, steps have been taken to punish the wrongdoers and rectify military practices. Those efforts will continue. A sober study would have made that clear. Congressional Democrats have instead found it expedient to smear the administration, the military, and the intelligence community for political purposes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Asking questions about 9/11

Hat tip: Little Green Footballs. has some questions for the 9/11 truthers to answer:
One of the standard claims of 9/11 "truthers" is that they are merely sceptical individuals with a healthy and understandable desire not to swallow US government propaganda at face value. The mantra "just asking questions" allows them to pose as wary and intelligent souls too accustomed to the concept of duplicity in high places to accept the "official story" of Al Qaeda's role in planning and perpetrating the largest mass casualty terrorist attack in modern history. It also allows them to adopt an indignant tone when dealing with their critics, and to conflate attempts by debunkers to undermine their claims with both unquestioning acceptance of an "official cover-up" (irrespective of whether the debunker happens to be a supporter of the current US administration or not) and a systematic effort to deprive them of freedom of speech. It goes without saying that in the process the "truthers" set up two straw-men for them to knock down, but then they're not very good at dealing with tougher critics.
...conspiracy theorists know that mud sticks: if you can make an accusation against an individual or group through innuendo and sly hints the latter has the hard task of proving the calumnies against them to be false.
...the claim that one is "just asking questions" is liberating, as it frees the truther of the obligation of actually constructing a coherent alternative theory - based on the evidence at hand - which is more convincing than the "official theory".

it makes the task of a truther an easy one: all he or she (there seem to be few female truthers around, which hopefully means that they won't reproduce) has to do is google to get the appropriate "story" from Prison Planet, 9/11 Blogger, What Really Happened or a similar website. Hey presto, they get what they want: "The FBI said there were no phone calls from AA77!"; "4,000 Jews didn't turn up to work at the WTC on 9/11!"; "Silverstein ordered the demolition of WTC7!" And so on and so forth. 

Any genuine sceptic dealing with truthers - whether online or in the flesh - then has to (1) work out what the hell his or her interlocutor is talking about, and (2) ask themselves how exactly they made this claim, and if it has any substance. Anyone lacking either patience or detailed knowledge of the events of 11th September 2001 may be tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt. Debunkers are left with the time-consuming task of researching the historical background, and trying to assemble the relevant technical and scientific information, before they can actually verify the facts for themselves.  In short, the truther can throw out a red herring or an outright distortion in a matter of minutes, leaving it up to other net users to take the time and trouble to verify their origin and accuracy.

(In debates over Evolution, this tactic is known as the "Gish Gallop" after Duane Gish's tactic of throwing out a multitude of red herrings for the evolutionist to refute.  Each one sounds impressive, and a claim that takes five seconds to make takes at least fifteen minutes to properly refute.)

Fortunately, yeoman work has been done by scores of individuals to actually put the record straight. Pat and James from Screw Loose Change, Mark Roberts, 9/11 Myths, Debunking 9/11 and 9/11 Guide in particular provide a valuable resource. The James Randi forum is particularly useful in that it provides commentators with specialist knowledge - military veterans, pilots, flight engineers, physicists, architects, forensic experts etc - with a platform to expose the anti-scientific claptrap and historical illiteracy of the truthers. This is the main reason why the JREF and its commentators arouse such hatred from the 9/11 conspiracy ghouls.

It's time to turn the tables on the truthers. Rather than accept a situation in which the nutjobs and kooks who subscribe to 9/11 conspiracies can make their accusations willy-nilly, it is high time that their critics decided that they can "just ask questions" too. This particular debunker has decided that maybe, just for once, the onus for actually demonstrating the validity of their theories on the basis of systematic and critical analysis of the evidence belongs to the truthers, not to those who wish to expose their fallacies. As someone whose academic bias is based on history, I would like to pose the following challenge to the conspiracy-mongers:

Let's take your thesis (that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by the Bush administration, and covered up by a coalition of US government agencies, allied powers, big business and the media) as read. The following questions point to logical and factual gaps within that thesis. It is now up to you to answer these questions and explain why your theories are still valid. For your answers to be credible, they need to be detailed and based on verifiable evidence. No suppositions, no speculation, no unsupported assertions, just the facts. Stop "asking questions", and provide answers. These fifteen initial questions will do for starters.

Go read the questions.

Shoes fly, don't bother me

The news is full of accounts of an Iraqi journalist throwing his shoes at the President during a press conference. From The Anchoress, I note:

In reading some of the forums, this commenter at Ann Althouse made a spot-on analysis that actually can be broadened.

Harsh Pencil wrote:

The reporter knows deep down that he can throw his shoe at Bush only because of Bush and it shames him. He can't forgive Bush for that.

Yes. Spot-on. And when I read that, I realized Harsh Pencil had articulated the sense I have had, since 2001, that Bush Derangement Syndrome was rooted in shame and fear. I remember reading a Maureen Dowd column written shortly after 9/11 in which she blathered on about no longer being able to occupy her time discussing which nylons she bought (or something like that - I told you, it was blather). While I cannot remember the column clearly, I remember the odd (for then) tone of resentment Dowd expressed in it toward Bush, and at the time I thought:

she is resentful that it is Bush who she must look to for safety, that it is the parental, cowboyish Bush who is protecting her, and not the adolescent Gore.

I'm pretty sure Bush Derangement Syndrome is nothing more than adolescent angst because "their side" did not get to lead and reassure and hold-steady in a time of danger and uncertainty. It's a larger demonstration of Bill Clinton's regret that 9/11 did not happen on his watch, so he could have a chance to be a "great" and wartime president.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Accepting responsibility

David Friedman comments:

am reminded of my reaction at the time of the Waco tragedy when Janet Reno, then Attorney General, made a similar statement on her own behalf. If you accept personal responsibility for actions that led to a substantial number of people, including children, being burned to death while under attack by people whose actions you consider yourself responsible for, the very least you can do is to resign. Subsequent suicide may be appropriate but is not mandatory.

But of course what she actually meant, and what he actually meant, was something closer to "all right already, stop bugging me."

Family matters

Brenda Almond at the London Daily Mail believes family matters -- a lot.
From almost the first moment of recorded history, one set of relationships has been at the heart of the human experience and the basis of civilisation itself: a mother and father who depend on each other; the children who rely on them both; a supportive network of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
And society isn't helping.

This week a report from Unicef, the UN's child welfare agency, warned that working mothers take a massive risk when they put their offspring into low quality childcare. 

Experts at the world body said such toddlers could suffer psychological harm and fare poorly later at school. Aggressive behaviour learned by children at some nurseries might contribute later to classroom disruption.


Until very recently, in fact, the importance of the family was taken for granted, not only as the basis of society, but as the foundation of our human identity. 

Today? In western societies  -  and especially in the English-speaking world  -  we think we know better. Forget the wisdom of the ages. Forget our deep-rooted instincts.

Forget precepts that have governed every society in every era of history.

The importance of the 'traditional' family is being challenged as never before.

The idea has taken root that human families can be constructed in any way people want. The message is that biology counts for nothing. 

Biological mothers don't matter to their children. Biological fathers don't matter either.

All that matters is what adults want  -  and children must adapt to it, whether they like it or not. 

The sheer speed of what is happening is quite astonishing. In less than 50 years, the old values have been stood on their head.

Today, legislators don't hesitate to plunge into 'reforms' that tear up the rights, duties and obligations that have underpinned the family for millennia.

They rush into new ' postmodernist' concepts of family, partnering and parenthood. Indeed, they are even attempting to banish the word 'marriage' from the statute books.

Everywhere in the West, the liberal consensus is on the march. In Britain, for example, a Labour Government has discouraged the use of the 'm' word in official documents, while in the U.S., the American Law Institute recommends that marriage should be ' deprivileged' and not be given a status above any other relationship. 

But we're no longer hunter-gatherers. Do we still need a life-support system suited for cave men?

Yet on any rational analysis, this reckless embrace of a brave new world is simply perverse, since there is no doubt whatever that the traditional family, underpinned by marriage, is the best way of bringing up secure, happy children and maintaining social stability. 

You don't have to be a religious believer or a Victorian moralist to take this view. The evidence speaks for itself (despite the strenuous efforts of the liberal establishment to ignore it). 

Fact: one in two unmarried couples splits up before their first child is five years old. The figure for married couples is just one in 12. 

Fact: children from broken homes are 75 per cent more likely than their classmates to fail at school, 70 per cent more likely to be involved with drugs and 50 per cent more likely to have alcohol problems.

They are also more likely to run away from home, find themselves in the care system and end up in jail. 

At the very least, those bleak statistics should give us pause. The truth is that some of the most intractable problems facing Britain today  -  from our tragically high rate of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases to petty crime, gang membership and welfare dependency  -  have their roots in family breakdown.


And yet the family in its traditional form is crucial to us all  -  not simply because it underpins social stability or because it connects us to the past and the future, but because it's also a bulwark of freedom itself. 

Why? Because the invisible bonds it creates between its members generate loyalties and affections capable of resisting any tyranny. 

That's what, in the end, makes the family not just a conserving institution, but also the engine of liberty and progress.

Yes, the family can sometimes fail. When it does, the consequences can be appalling. But at its best, it provides an anchor for individuals who would otherwise have no inspiration or support in an uncertain world. 

For these reasons we should think long and hard about where we are being taken by some of the fashionable dogmas of our day: the belief that divorce or separation doesn't hurt; that what adults do can't seriously harm their children; that cohabiting is at least as good as marrying; that genetic relationships don't matter; and that 'family' can mean whatever we want it to mean.

All of these dogmas are false. All are deeply damaging. Every day we can see the consequences in broken families and broken lives. 

In allowing matters to come to this, the liberal establishment has made arguably the most profound mistake of the past half-century. Dare we allow it to continue?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Probably apocryphal, but...

According to a Marine Pilot:

In addition to communicating with the local Air Traffic Control facility, all aircraft in the Persian Gulf AOR are required to give the Iranian Air Defense Radar (military) a ten minute 'heads up' if they will be transiting Iranian airspace.

This is a common procedure for commercial aircraft and involves giving them your call sign, transponder code, type aircraft, and points of origin and destination.

I just flew with a guy who overheard this conversation on the VHF Guard (emergency) frequency 121.5 MHz while flying from Europe to Dubai. It's too good not to pass along. The conversation went something like this…

Iranian Air Defense Radar: 'Unknown aircraft at (location unknown), you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself.'

Aircraft: 'This is a United States aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace.'

Air Defense Radar: ' You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace we will launch interceptor aircraft!'

Aircraft: 'This is a United States Marine Corps FA-18 fighter. Send 'em up, I'll wait!'

Air Defense Radar: (no response … total silence)

Islamic Creationism


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mark Steyn and terrified Muslims

Mark Steyn looks at the expected backlash against Muslims.
This time round – Mumbai – it was the Associated Press that filed a story about how Muslims "found themselves on the defensive once again about bloodshed linked to their religion".
Oh, I don't know about that. In fact, you'd be hard pressed from most news reports to figure out the bloodshed was "linked" to any religion, least of all one beginning with "I-" and ending in "-slam."
We are told that the "vast majority" of the 1.6 billion to 1.8 billion Muslims (in Deepak Chopra's estimate) are "moderate." Maybe so, but they're also quiet. And, as the AIDS activists used to say, "Silence=Acceptance." It equals acceptance of the things done in the name of their faith. Rabbi Holtzberg was not murdered because of a territorial dispute over Kashmir or because of Bush's foreign policy. He was murdered in the name of Islam – "Allahu Akbar."

I wrote in my book, "America Alone," that "reforming" Islam is something only Muslims can do. But they show very little sign of being interested in doing it, and the rest of us are inclined to accept that. Spread a rumor that a Quran got flushed down the can at Gitmo, and there'll be rioting throughout the Muslim world. Publish some dull cartoons in a minor Danish newspaper, and there'll be protests around the planet. But slaughter the young pregnant wife of a rabbi in Mumbai in the name of Allah, and that's just business as usual. And, if it is somehow "understandable" that for the first time in history it's no longer safe for a Jew to live in India, then we are greasing the skids for a very slippery slope. Muslims, the AP headline informs us, "worry about image." Not enough.