Day By Day

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Collapse of Scientific Authority -- How the Scientific Method Works in Real Life

From my LA correspondent, thanks J.B.

This is intended to be funny, but in far too many cases it is true, and that's sad, because the kind of fudging it represents undermines the entire scientific enterprise.

Walking With the Animals

"She Who Shall Not Be Named" and I spent a day at the Lake Tobias animal park with some friends a couple of weeks ago. I just got around to downloading the pictures I took. Here's a small selection -- there were many, many more. Doctor Doolittle to the contrary, understanding animal talk isn't that difficult. Basically it boils down to variations on "feed me, feed me, feed me."

Interesting Development in Iraq

AFP reports:
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Western Iraq’s powerful sheikhs have launched an offensive against foreign Al-Qaeda extremists on their territory, they have said, in an important victory for the US-backed government.

"The operation is on!" said Sheikh Abdel Sattar Baziya, head of the Abu Risha clan and chair of the Anbar province tribal council.


This is not the first time that Anbar province's Sunni tribes have pledged to turn over the Sunni insurgents in their midst, but US officers are privately delighted that they now seem to be making good on their promise.

The supposed leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Muhajer, tacitly confirmed this Thursday in an Internet plea for Iraqi tribesmen to rejoin his forces in their battle with the "infidels".

Read it here.

Maybe this time they mean it. If so, it's a major step toward pacification.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Pennsylvania Politics -- The Santorum People Don't Know

Kathleen Parker writes:

The U.S. senator from Pennsylvania could save AIDS babies in Africa, end genocide in Darfur and put welfare mothers to work in his own office -- and he'd still be despised by a sizable number of those who hope Democrat Robert Casey Jr. will defeat him come November.

Come to think of it, Santorum has tried all those things mentioned above, with some success, but often at great political cost. He has worked for global AIDS relief with Bono, the U2 rock star and one of Santorum's more unlikely fans. For his AIDS efforts, Santorum earned the contempt (and veiled threats) of some in the abstinence-only, family-values crowd.

Santorum has been a leader in trying to stop genocide in Sudan, which he views as a front in the war against ideological Islam -- and has sponsored every major piece of legislation created toward that end.

At home in Pennsylvania, he put five welfare mothers to work in his own offices while leading the movement that resulted in the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, signed by President Clinton.

Santorum, in other words, is one of those rare politicians who puts his money where his mouth is -- even though his usual supporters turn on him as a result. And yet his staunch Roman Catholicism has earned him a reputation in some quarters as a weirdo.

Love him or hate him, for the past decade, Santorum has been the conservatives' point man for the world's disenfranchised -- the poor, the sick and the meek. If he loses, the face of compassionate conservatism will be gone.
Read it here.

This is the Rick Santorum few people see through the fog of partisan politics. For twelve years now he's been one of the most effective and compassionate statesmen in the Senate. I like Bob Casey, and don't think his election would be a disaster, but it would be a shame to lose someone like Rick Santorum. He's a good man and a superb Senator. That's why I plan to vote for him this fall.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cayson Mark

Meet Cayson Mark, the most recent addition to the extended clan. At last report the parents were doing fine.

Already we're calling him "Cinderella Man".

DePalma's "Dahlia"

A couple of weeks ago “She Who Must Not Be Named” and I decided to get caught up on our movie-going. Yes, in this day of NetFlix and Blockbuster and HBO, we actually went out to a theater and immersed ourselves images projected on a huge screen. We are of an age where doing that seems appropriate, even pleasurable, even if it means fighting traffic for half an hour each way. Anyway, we had not been to the movies for a couple of months – I believe the last film we actually went out to see was “Army of Shadows” – so we crammed four into four days and emerged from the experience thoroughly sated. It will be a few more weeks before we venture out again.

Two of the films we saw were neo-noir efforts of uneven quality – “Hollywoodland” and “The Black Dahlia”. The latter is a remarkably true to the source retelling of James Ellroy’s manic novel by the same name. The initial book in Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet” of novels (which also includes “L.A. Confidential”), it relates the experiences of two fictional cops who become obsessively involved in the investigation of the famous Black Dahlia murder back in 1947. It is the more flawed, but also the more interesting of the two films, so I will deal with it first.

“Dahlia” is a visual feast. The director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond, is one of the greats and here he does nothing to diminish his reputation. The camerawork is as good as it gets. And, the entire mise en scene is impeccable. Costuming, makeup, set design, lighting…, all are superbly evocative of another time and place. The same can be said of the soundtrack, featuring a score by Mark Isham. In short, the “Black Dahlia” looks and sounds great!

Many people, viewers and critics both, have complained that the narrative was too complex and hard to follow. That is true (although I didn’t have much trouble since I had recently read the novel on which the film was based). It is also true to the film’s sources. Ellroy’s novel is maddeningly overplotted (deliberately so) and this, too, reflects the genre’s conventions. Narrative drive and plausibility are not strong points in noir films, nor of the hard-bitten detective stories on which they are based. (If you want to see what I mean try diagramming the plot of any Dashiell Hammett novel or the “classic” noir film derived from it.)

And many have also complained that the plot of the film is absurd. Yes it is, but again that is not much of a problem for noir, where atmosphere is everything. Early in the film a character makes passing reference to “Ralph Meeker”. A noir buff will immediately recognize the name of the actor who played the lead in one of the most celebrated (for reasons that are not exactly clear to me) noir classics, “Kiss Me Deadly.” Here DePalma is telling the audience exactly what to expect – a nonsensical, over the top, loopily plotted mess that presents in exaggerated terms all the genre conventions (I suspect that “Deadly” shows up so often on film course syllabi simply because it so perfectly illustrates those conventions). And those conventions are all on the screen – the femmes fatale, the pervasive corruption and betrayal, the hero’s battle to maintain his tattered integrity, the dark conspiracies, paranoid dreams come true, etc. Like “Kiss Me Deadly” the “Dahlia” is a textbook tour through the fevered fantasies of noir.

The climax of the film, in which the murder mystery is "solved", has been singled out for particular derision. It has been called ridiculous, and indeed it is from a narrative standpoint. But it is thematically coherent. The moral core of both the novel and the film is the relationship between corruption and power. From the first scenes of the movie, it is made clear that in Ellroy’s fictional Los Angeles success or even survival depends on a willingness to corrupt oneself and others. And there is a direct relationship between success and power. Small scale corruption (like throwing a fight) can bring small payoffs (enough money to get your insane father admitted to a care facility), and large scale corruption brings immense wealth and power. And in this schematic, corruption is a source of madness. The wealthiest and most powerful are not only the most corrupt; they are also stark, raving mad. Even the heroes of “Dahlia” cannot escape the taint of corruption and the madness it brings; and some of them succumb to it. Given this equation, the solution is entirely logical and appropriate.

Noir is ultimately defined by the atmosphere it creates, and the skill of the actors is an important element in that composition. Much has been said about the inappropriateness of the casting, particularly Josh Hartnett in the lead role of Bucky Bleichert. There is something to be said for this critique. None of the talent on display is particularly impressive. Hartnett doesn’t seem to have the chops for a major dramatic lead; Scarlett Johannson, who has displayed impressive chops in the past, is forgettable as the semi-good semi-girlfriend; Aaron Eckhart reprises his mad, and maddening, tics from “Suspect Zero”; and Hilary Swank, who possesses major chops, seems to be channeling Katherine Hepburn as a femme fatale. Fiona Shaw’s performance has to be seen to be believed. Only Mia Kirshner’s portrayal of the pathetically vulnerable victim draws praise. But I would argue that the actors, in their ridiculously mannered performances, are being true to the genre that inspired “Black Dahlia.”

We see noir classics through a haze of nostalgia that turns mediocre performances into cinematic magic. Robert Duvall once supposedly said that he doesn’t understand why anyone watches old films because the acting is so bad. Much of it isn’t really bad, but it is mannered; quite different from the naturalistic conventions to which we have become accustomed over the past few decades. Remember, noir films were “B” movies, and most of the actors who starred in them were “B” list actors. Major stars who made appearances were slumming or working out contract obligations. The raw material to which the neo-noir directors are referring is therefore not so hot when you look at it objectively. The performances on display in “Dahlia” are unnatural, stilted, and hyperbolic – just like those of the noir genre that inspired them.

This explains the unfavorable comparison drawn by many commentators between “Dahlia” and such neo-noir classics as “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.” Those films are, in essence, commentaries on rather than reproductions of the noir source material. In “Chinatown” Polanski and Nicholson maintain a very postmodern ironic distance from their material, commenting wittily on the conventions of the genre. And “Confidential” benefits from some marvelous naturalistic performances by Jamie Cromwell, Kevin Spacey [whose witty performance comments ironically on Jack Webb] and most of all by Russell Crowe – who is a cinematic force of nature. That is why post-modernist critics love them so much. They are not noir films; they are post-modern commentaries on the genre. The only naturalistic performance in “Dahlia” is that of Mia Kirshner, whose brief casting films are themselves a commentary on the artificiality of classic movie acting and the heartless brutality of the business. And those brief episodes are the only performances singled out by critics for praise.

And ironic distancing ultimately explains the overwhelmingly negative reaction so many critics had toward the “Black Dahlia.” Both James Ellroy, who wrote the novel, and Brian DePalma, who brought it to the screen, are men of passion. In Ellroy’s case the novel “Black Dahlia” is a meditation on madness and obsession, written by a man who knows both intimately. It is an impassioned cri de coeur, a personal testimony, not an intellectual or critical exercise. Similarly, DePalma is a man possessed. He loves film in all its aspects. He loves noir; he loves the old actors and actresses; he loves the look, the sound, the manners of the source material, and it shows. His films are, more than anything, excursions through movie history. “Dahlia” like his other works functions as a time machine, transporting us back, not to a past reality, but to a long-past sensibility – in this case the paranoid world of noir.

Today’s audiences, and especially the critical establishment, are uncomfortable with any passion other than affected political rage [leavened by humor] and shrink from it. Faced with the idiosyncratic loopiness of Ellroy’s and DePalma’s obsessions they can only smirk and snark and snipe. But, and this is the essential point, the “Dahlia’s” excesses and quirks are no more blatant than those of the original noir classics we, and the critics, affect to treasure. The difference is that in today’s dessicated cultural environment blatant expressions of passion are out of place and can only be viewed comfortably through insulating layers of time or irony.

Howard Hawks supposedly once remarked that in his opinion a good film was one with three good scenes and no bad ones. By that standard “Dahlia” is not good. It has at least a couple of bad scenes (I leave it to the reader to choose his/her favorites) and only two memorable ones. One is the viciously brutal staircase scene (you will know it when you see it, and remember it long after you leave the theatre) and the other is the brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed discovery of the Dahlia’s body. That brief scene in itself is a reason to see the movie.

So is the film worth a couple of hours of your precious time? Here’s a suggestion – if you thought “Touch of Evil” was worth seeing, then so is “Dahlia.” One suggestion, try to see it in a theatre rather than on a TV screen. It's visual sumptiousness deserves a big screen treatment.

The Tribalism of Environmental "Science"

Here's what happened when a serious economist was invited to speak at a "scientific" conference on global warming:
Prof. Vince Smith, a nationally respected ag economist at MSU, gave a well-reasoned, sensitive, and good-humored analysis of the implications of global warming to Montana. His logic was identical to that presented by Rob Mendelsohn of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Nobel Prize winner Tom Schelling at several of our judges conferences, but Vince focused on Montana. It was an excellent example of economic thinking applied to an emotional and complex problem. I don’t know an economist who would have taken exception to his presentation.

Vince noted general scientific agreement that global warming is occurring, in part due to human causes, and that there are uncertainties about the speed and degree of change. He explained that warmer and wetter has different implications for crops and forests than would warmer and dryer -- and climate models differ as to which is more likely. He then explained that humans adjust much easier to slow than to rapid change.

Most climate models look out 100 years, but consider the USA in 1906: average income a mere $4000 in today’s dollars, no paved roads, few cars, no modern medicine, short lives. We can’t predict life two or three generations hence. After listing the risks that may accompany global warming he gave this guidance: “There is considerable evidence that a mixture of policy innovations...and markets can address all of these challenges at a relatively low cost compared to the costs of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.”

Did this make folks happy? No, for this was largely a tribal gathering where most folks already knew the right answers and these weren’t among them. Here are a few of the responses I heard. “He shouldn’t be on the program.” “I’d like to hit him.” (That from a sponsor.) “What do economists know about climate?” Mature and constructive dialogue indeed.

Professionally, I wandered into economics from political science and anthropology. Hence, tribalism isn’t new to me. However, I left this conference knowing a bit more about climate science and with the understanding that economists are to “progressives” as bankers are to cowboys.
Read the whole thing here.

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority -- Publication Bias in Political "Science".

Interesting discussion at "Crooked Timber" about a recent study that confirms what every professional working in the field knows, but few are willing to talk about -- political "science" journals are only willing to publish studies that yield statistically significant results. This leads to a bias among researchers who are only willing to report publishable studies, in other words those that yield statistically significant results. As any honest researcher [and there are still a few of them out there] knows, negative findings are important, if only to provide a context for the significant results, and should be reported, but unless there is a major issue at stake, they usually aren't. The article also notes a similar bias in bio-medical research.

Here's why this bias is important to note:
(An important fact about statistics is that everything has a distribution, including expected results from multiple clinical trials: if you try often enough you will get the result you want just by chance.) If there are enough published trials, techniques like meta-analysis can help reveal the number of “missing” trials—the ones that were done but not published, or just not done at all. [emphasis mine]
Read the whole thing here.

As I have noted before, in "science" publication is the key to career advancement, securing funding, etc. So a selective bias on the part of journals influences the kind of studies that are undertaken and thus biases the entire "scientific" enterprise.

UPDATE: One of the readers' comment points to another problem -- the study shows a disproportionate number of reported results near the 5% level.
This strongly suggests that there has been model-dredging; that a lot of borderline models have been effed around with until their standard errors pass a 5% t-test. This undermines the validity of the t-test, because it makes it clear that the t-ratio isn’t actually draw[n] from an underlying t-distribution – it’s a draw from a distribution of numbers that has a lower bound of 1.96, because the model is messed around with until a specification that gives “significant” results is found.
Ah yes, "massaging" the data until it yields a statistically significant result -- I remember it well from my days in social science research. It was a pervasive problem then and apparently still is. I like that term, "model-dredging".

Here's a long, but useful, discussion of the problem of reconfiguring tests until they yield statistically significant results. Warning, some familiarity with basic statistical methods required, even for the "discussion for laymen" section.


Here's a really lovely discussion from PLoS of the bias problem in medical (and other scientific) research. The title is, "Why Most Published Research Findings are False." Here's the key finding from the summary:
Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.
Read the whole thing here.

What A Difference A Day Makes

Misty Mornings

In the mountains

And at the harbor

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Michael Rubin Nails It

He writes:
Selective CIA leaks are the equivalent of intelligence officials running information operations on the American public.
Exactly! And that is why the current practice is intolerable. It must be stopped!

Read it here.

Dhimmitude Watch -- Now Mozart Is Verboten

Der Spiegel reports:

The German government accused a Berlin opera house of "self-censorship" on Tuesday for cancelling performances of a Mozart opera because it was concerned about attacks by Islamists.

The Deutsche Oper, one of Berlin's three opera houses, was due to show a controversial production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" by director Hans Neuenfels in which the severed heads of the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha are placed on four chairs.

Deutsche Opera manager Kirsten Harms pulled the opera, due be performed four times in November, after receiving a warning from police. "We got alerted by the police that all the press publicity surrounding the play would severely heighten the security risk to this opera," she told a news conference.

After its premiere at the Deutsche Oper in December 2003, the Neuenfels production prompted shouts of protest from the audience but reviewers interpreted it as a radical critique of religion and religious war. First performed in 1781, the opera set in ancient Greece after the Trojan War deals with human resistance to making sacrifices to the gods.

News of the cancellation drew strong criticism from the government and the main political parties.

Read the whole thing here.

Mozart? Mozart!!!!


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Goodbye Etta

From the NYT:
MORGANTON, N.C., Sept. 25 (AP) — Etta Baker, an influential blues guitarist who did not become a professional musician until she was 60, died on Saturday in Fairfax, Va., while visiting a daughter who had had a stroke. She was 93. ....

Ms. Baker was raised in a musical family in western North Carolina. She made her first mark in music in 1956, when she appeared on a compilation album called “Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians.” The recording influenced the growing folk revival, especially her versions of “Railroad Bill” and “One-Dime Blues.”

She worked for 26 years at a textile mill in Morganton before quitting at 60 to pursue a career as a musician.

Ms. Baker became a hit on the international folk-festival circuit, playing Piedmont blues, a mix of the clattery rhythms of bluegrass and blues. She won a 1991 Folk Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Outside her musical career, Ms. Baker raised nine children. Her husband suffered a debilitating stroke in 1964. That same year she was in a car accident that killed one of her grandsons. In the span of a month in 1967, her husband died and one of her sons was killed in the Vietnam War.

Ms. Baker toured well into her 80’s, but she finally quit because of heart problems.

Read it here.

Think about that..., she worked in the textle mills for a quarter century, raised nine children, lost a husband and a son and a grandson, survived a fatal auto crash, and then started her musical career in her seventh decade. Nobody better to play the blues.

What a babe!

Condi Tees Off On Clinton

The NY Post reports:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday accused Bill Clinton of making "flatly false" claims that the Bush administration didn't lift a finger to stop terrorism before the 9/11 attacks.

"The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false - and I think the 9/11 commission understood that," Rice said during a wide-ranging meeting with Post editors and reporters.

"What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years," Rice added.

The secretary of state also sharply disputed Clinton's claim that he "left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy" for the incoming Bush team during the presidential transition in 2001.

"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice responded during the hourlong session.


She also said Clinton's claims that Richard Clarke - the White House anti-terror guru hyped by Clinton as the country's "best guy" - had been demoted by Bush were bogus.

"Richard Clarke was the counterterrorism czar when 9/11 happened. And he left when he did not become deputy director of homeland security, some several months later," she said.

Read the whole thing here.

Way to go Condi!

To quote Dick Morris, who ought to know, having been on the receiving end of several such tirades, Clinton is an "angry, sarcastic, snarling, self-righteous, bombastic bully" [here] and there is nobody better to stand up to him than a powerful, educated, articulate, hyper-intelligent woman of color like Condi. She's got class..., he never did and never will.

The Anchoress, however, notes that Clinton's eruption serves the interests of the MSM far more than a reasoned, factually based, response. [here] She's right, of course, and that is a sad commentary on our contemporary political culture.

Pennsylvania Politics -- Bad News For Santorum

Quinnipiac reports:




Democratic State Treasurer Robert Casey Jr. has regained his momentum in the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race and now leads incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum 51 – 39 percent among likely voters, with 4 percent for Green party candidate Carl Romanelli and 5 percent undecided, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

This compares to a 48 – 42 percent likely voter lead for Casey in an August 15 poll by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN uh-pe-ack) University.

Read the whole thing here.

Good news for Bob, bad for Rick. Santorum's minor surge last month has not only stalled, but he has lost whatever ground he gained back then. We'll have to wait to see if other polls support this but I have heard, from inside sources, that they do.

Stay tuned....


The Harrisburg Patriot-News notes that Casey has become the invisible man.

Six weeks before Election Day, Casey appears to be hunkering down with few public events scheduled. He is continuing a strategy that has worked well so far, even as polls show the race has tightened.

"The strategy was a good acknowledgment that this race is not about Bob Casey," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. "It's about Rick Santorum."


Some Democrats are getting antsy about the lack of public events, and the strategy has led to debates inside Casey's campaign as poll numbers have tightened. But other Democrats, such as former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel, are reluctant to question the strategy.

"If it's working, it's working," Singel said.

Read the whole thing here.

Yup, he's right. It seems to be working. It was Henry Clay who famously said "I would rather be right than be President." Maybe Rick should rehearse saying "I would rather be right than be Senator."


Romanelli's future is still uncertain and in the hands of the courts.

As of now, Carl Romanelli, the Green Party U.S. Senate candidate, won't appear on the November ballot, and that could be good news for Democratic challenger Robert P. Casey Jr.

Senior Commonwealth Court Judge James Kelley said yesterday that Romanelli's name would not be on the ballot because he lacked enough valid signatures on his nominating papers. Romanelli's lawyers, pointing to a separate legal challenge before the state Supreme Court, said their candidate is conceding nothing and hopes to be on the ballot.

If the decision stands, it is widely seen as boosting Casey's effort to unseat Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.


If the appeal fails that will further cripple Santorum's chances.

Things are definitely not looking good for Senator Rick.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Loyola on Rogue Bureaucrats

Mario Loyola on the bureaucratic wars:
[I]t is important to understand that there will always be strong currents of anti-administration basis within the civil service of any agency — whether the administration is Democrat or Republican — and sometimes that bias can shape the institutional culture in crucial ways. And while the problem is not new, I don't think that federal civil servants have ever enmeshed themselves so actively (and illegally) in politics as under this administration.
On the institutional side, I don't know what the culture is at CIA, and indeed I suspect that it is generally right-of-center, but I can say that at the State Department, the institutional culture is so strong—and so independent—that my friends there often explain their thinking by saying "this building thinks" this or that. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that these "buildings" are supposed to think anything. They were created to implement the policies of the elected chief executive of the people. It may seem to many civil servants like it's a noble thing to protect the foreign interests of the United States from whoever happens to be in the White House, but that project is unconstitutional. And, when they leak top-secret information, it is also a felony.
Read it here.

Just what I've been saying for several months (or is it years) now. One of the great negative consequences of the Cold War and the Civil Rights revolution was the de-democratizing of government, as more and more operational decision making was transferred from elected, and therefore accountable, officials to bureaucrats and judges. It used to be the left who worried about rogue agencies whose existence was protected in national security term; now those rogue elements inside the permanent government themselves constitute a threat to national security. In the past I have had numerous conversations with federal bureaucrats in which they expressed nothing less than contempt and disdain for political appointees. Their position was essentially that crucial government decisions should be made by the "professionals" rather than the representatives of the people. This is a dangerous conceit, one that is far too widespread within the beltway, and as Mr. Loyola points out, is unconstitutional and in some circumstances illegal.


Loyola reports this communication from a former CIA employee:
As a former intelligence analyst at the CIA, I can assure you that the culture at CIA is most definitely not "right-of-center." The CIA may have serious disagreements with State about specific policy issues, but the employees at the two institutions come largely from the same left-leaning political science/international relations degreed university pool.
Read it here.


And then there's this from Loyola:
When it comes to CIA leaking, this passage from the November 10, 2005, American Prospect is interesting:

“The fact that the agency was leaking isn’t denied by some. ‘Of course they were leaking,’ says Pat Lang. ‘They told me about it at the time. They thought it was funny. They’d say things like, ‘This last thing that came out, surely people will pay attention to that. They won’t re-elect this man.’

There are other smoking guns out there. Take NPR, more recently, on Iran. “The Pentagon has created a new desk to work on Iran policy. That worries some at the CIA, who point out that many of the new Iran-desk staffers are the same people who staffed the now-notorious Office of Special Plans in the run-up to the Iraq war.”

Forget for the fact that the “notorious” is nothing but blatant reporter bias and perhaps a fondness for conspiracy theory (disproved in July 2004, see pages 282-283 on this .pdf). The fact of the matter is that some in the CIA, rather than limit themselves to intelligence development and analysis, seek to involve themselves in the policy debate by leaking. A similar hit job was published by Warren Strobel at McClatchy—relying entirely on unnamed intelligence sources. Many reporters will publish CIA leaks without qualification or caring how they are simply viewed as dupes. To question sources or follow-up when claims prove false would mean that their contacts on their beats would dry up.

Regardless, often times the reporters’ political views coincide If John Negroponte and Pat Kennedy wanted to put an end to it, they could launch an investigation or shut-it-down. There are only two conclusions that can be drawn by the fact that they do not: 1) Either, they support the leaks to win policy battles, the so-called Armitage strategy; or,2) They cannot control the leaks. This suggests that the bureaucracy leads them, rather than they lead the bureaucracy. In which case it is time for the White House to question their management competence.
This has always been something of a problem in Washington for decades -- political appointees becoming prisoners of the agencies they are supposed to direct. But in the case of national security organizations, and especially the intelligence organizations, this has become intolerable. Nothing less than a top to bottom purge, with convictions and incarceration of both the dispensers and recerivers of classified information, will solve the problem. But don't hold your breath. It ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Spy Agencies Denounce Military Intervention -- Ho Hum!

The WaPo reports:

The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.

Read it here.

To which Tom Barnett, who actually knows quite a lot about interagency wars replies:
This analysis is typical intell stuff: obvious, useless, and playing into a do-nothing mind-set that here says, "Do nothing to piss off the terrorists!"

Duh! When we engage the security situation--any security situation--in the Middle East, we piss off (and create more) terrorists. We do it when we're pro-active, like in Iraq. We do it when we're passive, like our military support to Israel. And we do it when we're behind the scenes, like our intell co-op with regimes throughout the region.

So it's never been a question of whether or not we piss off terrorists (who live to be pissed off, and when there's not enough going on, they'll get jacked over a film (e.g., Van Gogh), a book (Rushdie), a speech (Benedict)--whatever).

We can either engage the region militarily to deal with its security deficits that hold off economic connectivity and keep this overwhelmingly young population from engaging the future (globalization) or we can sit back, try to firewall America (something the spooks are always up for) and wait for the next explosion--or 9/11.


Always count on the intell community to advocate a strategy of limited regret, limited action, and limited results. It's what they know and believe in--ass-covering as a way of life.

You want to look and feel like scared Europe in this Long War? Then listen intently to everything the intell community peddles--and just assume we're all on our way out.

And act accordingly.

Read the whole thing here.

And why would the intel bureaucrats release this during the runup to an election? Do we really have to ask? Bush's attempts to reform the intel services have really..., pissed them off.

Far too many people in the permanent government owe their primary loyalty not to the country or its political leadership, but to their agencies and their careers. Interagency sniping such as is represented by the intelligence assessment is an important impediment to effective prosecution of the war against terror. In normal times such silliness can be tolerated. But these are not normal times, and I thoroughly applaud President Bush's attempts to bring the intelligence professionals to heel.

Zimbabwe Update -- More Economic Problems

Every time you think things can't get worse in Mad Bobby Mugabe's Maoist paradise, they do. Now comes a report that energy production has plummeted and is endangering other parts of the already crippled economy.

The AP reports:
Drastic coal shortages despite massive natural deposits have had a ripple effect throughout Zimbabwe's economy and ruined a deal to renovate the country's biggest steelworks, the government has acknowledged.

The energy crisis adds to the economic woes of Zimbabwe, which is already suffering from acute shortages of many basic commodities.

Industry Minister Obert Mpofu told a panel of lawmakers in Harare recently that Indian steel maker Global Steel Holdings pulled out of an investment deal at the Zicosteel steelworks in central Zimbabwe because of concerns about lack of coal supplies.


The broke state railroad company, also suffering breakdowns and shortages of replacement equipment, failed to deliver available local coal to industry and business. Even brewers in Harare say they were forced to import coal by road from neighboring South Africa at three times the cost in scarce hard currency to keep their boilers fired up.

No! Not the brewers!

Lager beer prices rose by nearly 50 percent this week, the latest in almost monthly hikes this year that turned many impoverished Zimbabweans to traditional home brews.

Zimbabwe is suffering record inflation of 1,200 percent, the highest in the world, in its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980 blamed on land seizures, mismanagement and corruption.

Even the production of bread has been affected.
Managers at one Harare bakery said a cycle of 19 round-the-clock daily bakes was routinely disrupted, spoiling dough already in the ovens, due to power outages affected by the closure of a nearby state-owned coal-fired power facility.
Read it here.

Such are the fruits of anti-colonialist ideology. One of the great problems of this age, one that has caused immeasurable suffering to millions and millions of people, has been the persistence of long-discredited anti-colonial ideological perspectives throughout much of the developing world. Nobody illustrates this monstrous imbecility more than Zimbabwe's dictator, Robert Mugabe.

Say Goodbye to the Tomcat

The Navy has retired the F-14 Tomcat. A beautiful weapon, it was on display in the Tom Cruise movie, "Top Gun." It will be replaced by the F-18 Super Hornet [Pictured below] The hornet's not as pretty, but it sure can fight!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Wretchard's Tempest and Zeno's Paradox

Wretchard at the Belmont Club discusses the gap between the fantasies spun by transnationalists and the reality experiened by people throughout the world.

Civilization was invented so that ordinary folks could leave the tasks of vengeance and justice to a state who would presumably dispense it impartially according to laws enacted by common consent. But as states fail to do their job, and as the "International Community" gets reduced to impotence and symbolic acts by the dead weight of political correctness, a growing number of people are finding themselves living in a world of increasing anarchy. Paradoxically, the amount of real civilization in the world -- as represented by actual security and effective governance -- is declining in direct proportion to the increase in the number of filigrees and curlicues in the treaties, declarations, understandings and covenants that the "International Community" has barricaded itself with. Two parallel universes begin to coexist. An imaginary universe obsessed with Global Warming, multiculturalism, world governance and image inhabited by bureaucrats and intellectuals, and a real universe shot with poverty, rife with ethnic hatreds, chaos and inhabited by militias; with the imaginary universe pretending it is in control of the real universe.

I don't want to make too much of a single example, but I think it is reasonable to say that the international system is starved for effective action. The incessant back and forth between the United Nations and Iran over the issue of its uranium enrichment program is classic example of Zeno's paradox as applied to international affairs. Every diplomatic moment halves the distance between warning and activity but the distance, though ever decreasing, never quite crosses the line between thought and deed. We will always almost, but never quite, come to the rescue of Darfur; just as we are condemned to be forever on the verge of stopping Iran's nuclear program. The moment of action never comes; and the process of warning never ends. Kofi Annan denied having advised Iran's Ahmadinejad that he could safely ignore the Security Council's demands to stop the uranium enrichment program. In this case Annan was on the side of right, or at least of fact. He should have admitted the accusation and defended himself by claiming he was only telling the truth.

Read the whole thing here.

Is Bin Laden Dead?

The Saudis say he is. Typhoid got him. France cannot confirm the report. Pakistan says it knows nothing about it. No comment yet from our government.

Read all about it at Gateway Pundit here. Here's a news report from Canada. Here's the AP report with video. Everything is speculative.

This would explain a lot, like his absence from al Qaeda propaganda videos, the recent moves by the Pakistani government to end operations in the northern provinces, and so forth. But given the unreliability of intelligence services let's wait for confirmation before celebrating.

UPDATE: Time is reporting that reliable sources say that Bin Laden has been very sick for several weeks and is probably dead, but they cannot confirm the death. [here]

Of course, right now Democrats are preparing their response -- "We're glad he's dead, but the timing of the announcement is suspicious, and if not for Iraq we could have got him much earlier, and now that he's dead it's time to bring the troops home, and if we can't it's because Bush blundered."

UPDATE 2: It seems that Muntasir al-Jibouri, leader of Ansar al-Sunna, one of the worst terrorist groups in Iraq and one associated with al Qaeda, has been captured.

Read it here.


The Saudis say they have no information that Bin Laden is dead or even sick. Pity! [here]

Friday, September 22, 2006

Rogue Bureaucrats at State?

One of the great unreported stories of this administration is the existence of rogue elements in the intelligence community and at the State Department, and their refusal to acquiesce to executive authority.

The Anchoress has some interesting questions:

Why was Valerie Plame never investigated by the press?


Why is nobody investigating the role of Colin Powell and his acolytes in managing diplomacy after 9/11. She cites AJ Strata who asks:
Were Powell and Armitage running amok at State? Were they strong arming our allies and pretending to these allies all these threats were coming from Bush? Where they all the while telling Bush they were being diplomatic and the backlash was due to something else? The example set in the Plame fiasco, of hiding their true actions from the WH as they ended up being the true leakers to the media, would indicate it is strongly possible that all the international strife the US has faced was due to heavy handedness by State, while State was not being totally honest with Bush on what was happening at the lower levels.
She continues:

Shouldn’t we be looking into why State Dept employees like Mary McCarthy felt so completely easy with the idea of blowing holes into programs meant to protect America?

Read it here.

This sort of thing took place in the early stages of the Cold War, when State and the Military kept President Truman in the dark regarding crucial aspects of our foreign policy. Kennedy and Reagan, too, had problems with recalcitrant elements of the foreign policy establishment. The resistance of the permanent government to political control is an endemic problem for all administrations. It has become acute in recent years as Dubya has tried to bring the bureaucrats to heel. Bureaucrats fight back by leaking and reporters are loath to investigate their prize sources. Hopefully the Plame and Armitage scandals will lead to such investitions, but don't hold your breath.

For the "Crunchycon" Who Has Everything -- The Escopetarras


These instruments are known as“Escopetarras”, a fusion of gun and guitar, created by Cesar Lopez. Lopez got the inspiration for the invention while standing outside a bombed Bogotá club and noticing the similarities between his guitar and a soldier’s rifle (whaaa?).

Read the whole thing here.

Hat tip mirabilis.

For the NRA Member Who Has Everything -- The Escopetarras

Maryland Politics -- Steele Likes Puppies

Check out Michael Steele's new campaign spot. Cute!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Maryland Politics -- Latest Polling

Strap yourselves in folks, we're in for one hell of a ride. The SurveyUSA polls are out and they show both the gubenatorial and the senatorial races to be close. O'Malley leads Republican incumbent Governor Ehrlich by seven points, 51% to 44% -- hardly a comfortable lead at this point -- and [here's the big one] Republican Michael Steele leads Ben Cardin 48% to 47% in the Senate race.

Read it here.

There's a lot of money pouring into these races and the Democrats have already gotten down and dirty. The Republicans will be responding in kind. Hoo Boy, a good old fashioned Maryland mudfest is heating up. This is gonna be fun.

The CBS Strategy

Austin Bay sees the Muslim response to Pope Benedict's address as merely the latest iteration of a well-worn media manipulation technique that he terms the "CBS strategy" because its major elements are extensive Coordination among Muslim groups, Bloodshed that attracts media attention, and Sensationalism that keeps media attention focused on the protesters and their demands. It is this media savvy strategy, rather than any authentic expression on the part of the Muslim population, that dominates the airwaves and shapes Western understanding of what is going on in the Middle East.

Read it here.

On American "Fascism"

Did anyone note that Hugo Chavez embellished his anti-American "Bush is the Devil" rant with quotes from Noam Chomsky while waving a copy of one of Chomsky's books? He also cited Aristotle and Alfred Hitchcock, but didn't have copies of their works on hand. [here]
World leaders and diplomats in the hall applauded his remarks, which included an appeal to read Noam Chomsky's book, ``Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance.''
Nothing could better illustrate the relationship between America's enemies abroad and those here at home. But note, Chomsky is free to travel our country, being lionized on campuses everywhere. His books are not proscribed, indeed they are required reading in many college courses. He regularly appears on "alternative" media outlets. And, rather than being stifled or ignored, Chavez' wild accusations were broadcast widely into all American homes as were those of the Iranian nutjob, President Ahmedinejad, who awaits the imminent end of the world and demands "death to Israel." Speech doesn't get any freer than that.

Yet everyday in the crackpot media we hear hysterical warnings that America is descending into "fascism." One suspects that these fools have no idea what real fascism is.

James Lileks, in today's "bleat," reminds us of just how foolish these domestic critics are and nicely vivisects Keith Olbermann. It is a longish piece, but it is priceless and it would be unfair to excerpt it here. Read the whole thing here and be reminded that whatever we are experiencing here in the United States, it bears no resemblance whatever to "fascism."

If you are unfamiliar with Chomsky arguments, read Keith Windschuttle's devastating review here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Defending Fundamental Values

From Der Spiegel:

The often violent protests that erupted in the Muslim world in the wake of the cartoon controversy have often been manipulated and fuelled by Islamists. The bile currently being flung at the pope is no different.

But the attacks against the pope are especially grotesque. The severe criticism -- often coupled with threats of violence -- directed at the speech held last Tuesday by Benedict XVI is not just an attack on the head of the Catholic Church. The malicious twisting of the pope's words and the absurd allegations made by representatives of Islam represent a frontal attack on open religious and philosophical dialogue.

That so many in the Muslim world joined the protests against the pope merely show just how influential Islamist extremist groups have become. The political goal of the Islamists is clear: any dispute between Christianity and Islam must obey the rules handed down by political Islamism.

Bending to this demand would be a mistake -- indeed it would be tantamount to turning one's back on freedom of expression and opinion. What will come next? Perhaps a complaint that Allah feels insulted by the numerous European women who don bikinis during a summer trip to the beach. It could be anything really -- militant Islamists will always find something. But the response needs to be firm. Freedom of speech, after all, is a vital value and needs to be defended. Any attempt to make political speech hostage to some imagined will of God must be resisted.

Read the whole thing here.

Reason As A Bridge -- What the Pope Meant

Thomas Madden has a nice piece on the Pope's address. It concludes:
Heads should soon cool. But the underlying problem will still remain. Interfaith dialogues, by their very nature, require some criticism and some understanding of the shared histories of the respective faiths. If these are stifled, if reason is exiled, then we will never understand, let alone bridge, the religious and cultural gulfs in the world today. And that is what the pope’s lecture was all about.
Well said.

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another Truth Teller

Read Phil Mushnik's latest column. Here's the setup:

TV reporters coddle Muslim-Americans

OVER the last five years, you’ve likely seen similar interviews conducted by TV newspersons countless times. Roughly, they go like this:

Muslim-Americans are seen and heard to complain about their loss of personal freedoms while traveling by air from, to and within the U.S. These complaints include everything from being singled out for security inspections to being detained for interrogation. But then the piece ends. And it’s left for viewers to consider whether the U.S. government is doing Muslims dirt.

But, in five years of watching such interviews, we’ve yet to hear any of the reporters or correspondents ask logical, follow-up questions of Muslim-Americans:

For example: “Given that the radical Muslim world now represents a genuine, daily threat to the lives of all Americans, what would you, a Muslim-American, do as it relates to airport security?”

And/or: “As a Muslim-American mother traveling with your children, would you be pleased if security were reduced on behalf of the sensitivities of Muslims? Don’t you prefer that the airplane you’re boarding with your loved ones be as safe as possible from attack?”

Again, after many such interviews, we have yet to hear such questions asked: Yes, it’s a genuine shame that you us have to undergo such rigorous measures at airports, since 9/11, but what, sir or madam, would you do? Should we make it as easy or more difficult for Islamic extremists to again commit mass murder?

Read the whole thing here.

The Party of Reaction

At last! A Democrat who isn't afraid to tell the truth. Barak Obama labels Democrats "the party of reaction." Read it here.

Actually, both parties are troubled by a reactionary base. For the Democrat base, the world began in the sixties; for Republicans, everything good started in the eighties. Fortunately, we have a president who looks to the future and is not imprisoned by the past.

The Pope's Not The Only One

The Herald Sun reports:

AUSTRALIA'S Muslim leaders have been "read the riot act" over the need to denounce any links between Islam and terrorism.

The Howard Government's multicultural spokesman, Andrew Robb, yesterday told an audience of 100 imams who address Australia's mosques that these were tough times requiring great personal resolve.
Mr Robb also called on them to shun a victim mentality that branded any criticism as discrimination.

"We live in a world of terrorism where evil acts are being regularly perpetrated in the name of your faith," Mr Robb said at the Sydney conference.

"And because it is your faith that is being invoked as justification for these evil acts, it is your problem.

"You can't wish it away, or ignore it, just because it has been caused by others.

"Instead, speak up and condemn terrorism, defend your role in the way of life that we all share here in Australia."

Mr Robb said unless Muslims took responsibility for their destiny and tackled the causes of terrorism, Australia would become divided.
Read it here.

Good for him! It's about time Western leaders began standing up to the Islamist bully boy tactics.

The Pope's Message

Representatives of the "Religion of Peace" have responded to Pope Benedict's remarks by threatening to kill him.

As security was beefed up around Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday night, the Mujahideen's Army movement in Iraq threatened to carry out a suicide attack against the Pope in revenge for his comments about Islam and jihad.

On a website used by rebel movements in Iraq, a message posted by the Mujahideen's Army said members of the organization would "smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome."

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Pope's remarks were not an inadvertent blunder as was reported in some press accounts, rather they represent a determination on his account to take part in the great confrontation between civilization and madness currently engulfing the Middle East. His message to Christians is that they must reconcile the current controversy between faith and reason. His message to Islam is simple, an apologist explains:

Benedict's quote from the Koran, "There is no compulsion in religion," (Sura 2,256), was offered in the context of a medieval dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian Muslim.

"The Holy Father chose this text because it contained a 'key sentence' in which the Emperor criticizes the Muslim for Islam's violence as exemplified by the command to spread the faith by the sword," Fr. Samir said.

However, the argument being proffered by the pope was that "anyone who engages in violence ceases being a believer; anyone, Christian or Muslim, who goes along with violence goes against Reason and God, who is the source of Reason...."


"only by listening to the Pope's suggestions, and those of a few Muslim intellectuals, can Islam's chances for renewal become real."

"It is high time that Islam deal with modernity; not to be swallowed up by it, but rather to take what good it has to offer and improve on it...."

Good for him!

Read it here.

And, most surprisingly, many Western religious and political leaders are rallying to the Pope's defense. These include, interestingly, Lord Carey, the former Bishop of Canterbury and German Chancellor Angela Merkel [here]. Even the left wing Guardian defended the Pope as being innocent of the charges being leveled against him by Islamic leaders. Not the New York Times, though, they demanded an abject apology from the Pontiff.


More western leaders are standing up to support the Pope's condemnation of Islamic fanaticism. The Orthodox Archbishop of Athens has denounced violence committed by "fanatical religious followers." [here]

The Anchoress has a lot of commentary and links to more here.

The High Cost of Education -- Muslim Woman Raped for Getting an Education

In case you have forgotten just what kind of people we are fighting, NewsIndiaExpress reports:

ISLAMABAD: After Mukhtaran Mai, a case of Mumtaz Mai has come to light in rural Pakistan, where women become victims of tribal warfare, family feuds or quite simply, male violence.

The News International Saturday reported the case of one Mumtaz Mai and her daughter, Ghazala Shaheen Bathi, who were abducted, held in captivity and gang-raped for 12 days because daughter Ghazala dared to become educated.

Mukhtaran Mai, the tribal woman gang-raped in June 2002, was freed after the Pakistan Supreme Court intervened in her favour. The case raised protests and concern among civil societies across the world last year.

While Mukhtaran Mai was a victim of a family feud and an act in retaliation to the rape of a girl her brother Shakur was alleged to have committed, the mother-daughter duo earned the wrath of the Mirali tribesmen when it became known that Ghazala had passed her Master's in Education from Bahauddin Zahariya University on Aug 25.

The girl's father Mohammed Hussain, a retired armyman belonging to village Chak Sher Khan near Kabirwala in Multan, was also beaten up.

As in Mukhtaran Mai's case, influential people are said to be involved in this case too. The newspaper report repeatedly hinted at the involvement of "a minister of state", but did not name him.

When informed by the villagers, the local police acted after 12 days, only to help the accused.

Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Papal "Apology" -- Ho Hum!

In the light of widespread protests against the Pope's recent remarks, I thought it might be useful to note the section of his address in which they occurred. Here is the relevant excerpt from the official Vatican transcript:
I read the edition by professor Theodore Khoury (Muenster) of part of the dialogue carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara -- by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Koran, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the "three Laws": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself -- which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason," I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue. In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...." The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry. As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? ....
Read the entire address here. [offending phrase emphasized by me]

It is clear that Benedict was not himself attacking Islam. Rather he was asserting that conversion through violent means was against the will of God. But this was not how the text was received in the Muslim world.

Rather predictably Islamic radicals ginned up widespread protests against the offending words that (also predictably) turned violent. [here]

My first reaction, as that of many others, was repulsion at the Islamist response. That was just the sort of violence that the Pope was denouncing, and anyway that kind of protest had jumped the shark back in the cartoon controversy. It doesn't impress me any more.

Predictably, the NYT blamed the Pope for his remarks rather than the Islamists for their violence:
There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as “evil and inhuman.”
Read it here.

This constitutes nothing less than a deliberate misreading of the Papal statements, no less objectionable than the ravings of the Islamists. Once again the NYT has covered itself in shame.

Anyway, today the Vatican issued a statement that in part reads:
The Holy Father thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful, and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions.
Read it here.

This has heen construed by some sources, notably the BBC, as an abject apology. [here]

Others have argued that it is nothing such. [here]

Anyway, whatever the case, Muslim leaders have said that the "apology" will not be sufficient to stem the tide of Islamic outrage [no surprise there].

And so it goes..., and so it goes...., ho hum. I've seen this movie before and the scenario jumped the shark a long time ago.

Unnoticed in the whole controversy, however, is that the Pope's condemnation of conversion through violent means could be taken much more aptly as a critique of current US policy in the Middle East than as an insult to Islam. But such an interpretation, in today's political and media environment, would be surprising.

The Collapse of Scientific Authority (cont.) -- Confirmation Bias

Megan McArdle explains why attempts to support biases with scientific "evidence" undermines scientific authority. She writes:
This is a post about how much time we all seem to spend pretending that our views on things like homosexuality, property rights, abortion, income redistribution, stay-at-home mothers, environmental issues, and fast food can be Scientifically Proven Using the Latest Techniques! And how that erodes the trust of those we argue with.

I think one of the biggest problems facing economists, and to some degree other social scientists, is the feeling that if you're just a little bit willing to fudge facts, you could do a great deal of good. If you'd torture the numbers just a little--not even torture, really, just waterboarding and a few stress positions--you could convince people to do what you know, deep in your heart, is the right thing....

The subtler version of this is confirmation bias: to a libertarian analyst, papers showing that taxation causes people to stop working make perfect intuitive sense, while papers suggesting that stiff environmental legislation saves lives and money set off a pulse-racing, heart-pounding determination to discover just where the author went wrong....

Conversely we tend to grant instant credibility to studies that confirm, rather than challenge, our biases.

This is not a recent problem. When I was a working social scientist we used to talk about "massaging" data, not "torturing" them, but that was a kinder gentler day. But the problem seems to have gotten worse lately. Confirmation bias was rampant back then. Today, though, it is pervasive and not just in journalism.

It used to be assumed that within the general public and in journalism, bias would cancel out. Conservatives would rigorously examine and contest findings that supported a liberal position and vice versa. The truth would out in the end. But that has not seemed to have happened.

We further assumed the existence in each field of a "community of competence" -- a body of credentialed experts who could be trusted, through the process of peer review, to render objective, disinterested judgment on the validity of any study. That, as I have argued in numerous posts, has proven to be a chimera.

What has developed instead is the corruption of the scientific community as researchers promiscuously fudge data and respected journals publish fatally flawed studies. Science has been subordinated to the demands of ideological, political, professional, and marketplace forces. The scientific establishment been revealed as just another collection of interest groups..., one among many. The pronouncements of scientific authorities are met with healthy skepticism rather than naive acceptance.

And that is right and proper. The dream of a pure sience, invested with methodologies and review processes that would insulate it from human error, may have gone a'glimmering, but with it has gone the danger of technocratic tyranny. Scientific opinion today must compete with, and be modified by, political, economic, social, moral, and other perspectives. And in a democracy that is, to paraphrase a famous criminal mastermind, "a good thing."

Maryland Politics -- Cardin Fires Blogger

Wizbang Politics reports that a female staffer on the Cardin campaign was blogging anonymously on the subjects of "race, gender, and creepy old Jewish guys." Check it out here. I particularly like the part about staffers having to hide Oreo cookies lest some reporter think they were making racist gestures. Of course, as soon as the blogger was outed, she was fired from the campaign. Wizbang thinks he knows who she is, but the evidence is circumstantial.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Available Free For a Limited Time Only...., The Royal Society Archive

The Telegraph reports:

The Royal Society has made every paper submitted to it since 1665 available free of charge on the internet, opening one of the greatest storehouses of scientific knowledge to the public....

But the archive will only be available free until December, so get hopping.

Here's the link.

Oriana, Farewell

One of the most important voices of our times has been silenced. Orianna Fallaci has lost her long battle with cancer.

AP summarizes her career this way:

Fallaci, a former Resistance fighter and war corespondent who was hardly seen in public, had lived in New York for years.

During her journalistic career she became known for uncompromising interviews with such world leaders as former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Her recent publications, including the best-selling book "The Rage and The Pride," which came out weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, drew accusations of inciting hatred against Muslims.

Read it here.

Hardly adequate. She was one of the great truth-tellers. Wretchard's rememberance is better:

A few months ago, a friend in Manhattan attended to what must have been one of her last public appearances. By then she was 76 and very sick of cancer. And still she spoke, through the written word and at small gatherings. And this time I paid attention, not to a woman in the autumn of her beauty, but to a warrior in the fullness of her strength. At the time of her death Oriana Fallaci was facing a suit in Italy for daring to suggest that her country and culture were under threat from radical Islam. In her youth she did not bow to Hitler; and in her old age she hurled defiance at yet another tyranny. The darkness came and yet the darkness claimed her not.
Read it here.

For a revealing interview, perhaps her last, go here.

More here, and here, and here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Deficit Shrinks Again

AP reports:

The federal budget deficit, helped by a surge in government revenue, is running 14.1 percent below the pace of last year, the government reported Wednesday.

The Treasury Department said that with just one month to go in the budget year, the deficit totals $304.3 billion, down from $354.1 billion during the same period a year ago.

The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that the deficit for the entire year will be $260 billion, which would mean that September will see a sizable surplus.

Read it here.

Now, what was that you were saying about an irresponsible tax cut?

Oh My! Look at This!

From the New York Sun:

WASHINGTON — A deputy prime minister of Iraq yesterday offered a sharp contradiction of the conventional wisdom here that Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Al Qaeda had no connection before the 2003 war, flatly contradicting a recent report from the Senate's intelligence committee.

In a speech in which he challenged the belief of war critics that Iraqis' lives are now worse than under Saddam Hussein, Barham Salih said, "The alliance between the Baathists and jihadists which sustains Al Qaeda in Iraq is not new, contrary to what you may have been told." He went on to say, "I know this at first hand. Some of my friends were murdered by jihadists, by Al Qaeda-affiliated operatives who had been sheltered and assisted by Saddam's regime."

Interrrressssting....., verrrry interrrressssting.

Read it here.

The Perils of Innumeracy

Americans, and particularly American journalists, are predisposed to mistrust any information fed to them by major corporations or the government. But they often display a wondrous naivete and credulousness when presented with information provided by activist organizations, particularly those of the Left. The problem becomes acute when the information is presented in numerical terms. Such is the case with recent reports of a widespread and precipitous drop in household incomes since President Bush came to office. These reports, pushed by left-wing activists and Democrat hacks have been widely reported in both the print and broadcast media, and accepted as truth by many Americans. They were anything but.

Stuart Buck and Megan McArdle discuss the methodological problems embodied in the report -- problems that invalidate its major conclusions -- and note a larger problem, that of innumeracy:

Every year, scores of fledgling journalists pour out of liberal arts programs. Though many will need to pick through mountains of statistics in search of the truth, few have been taught the skills to do it.

They quickly become victims of advocacy groups pushing skewed statistics. Through ignorance, they may also start manufacturing their own flawed numbers. Since number-crunching beats (such as business and finance) are generally viewed as a tedious waystation en route to more interesting beats, few are enthusiastic about developing these skills. And their editors may not be in any position to help them.

The problem is compounded by the fact that journalists who do know how to read a balance sheet, run a regression, or analyze economic data, can generally get a job that pays a lot more than journalism. Some stay in the field out of love for their work (journalism is a really great job), but in our experience some of the best flee to greener pastures.

Even worse, as mathematician John Allen Paulos is fond of pointing out, Americans are often too innumerate to analyze statistics printed in the newspaper. America’s schools haven’t given its citizens any more ability than its journalists to analyze the information that floods our lives. We would call it a case of the blind leading the blind, but the comparison is inappropriate. Blind people know they can’t see.

Read the whole thing here.