Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Aiding, Abetting and Enabling

Here's a post from Tall Dave on an 'accidental' admission from the press.

The AP agrees with my (and others') assessment of their war coverage:
Daily reports of U.S. troops deaths - approaching 2,000 - have helped drive down public support in the U.S. for the war.

Exactly. They even manage to squeeze in another mention of casualties in the very sentence in which they note the daily reports of casualties are discouraging the war effort.

While I'm sure they didn't quite mean it that way, they also clearly can't claim to not understand the practical effect of how they're reporting the war. Does anyone really think the press wants us to win?

My mind went instantly to Time magazine writer Michael Ware, who recently penned an article, Chasing the Ghosts. As the title suggests, he characterizes the insurgency as nearly invincible. Enemies of the U.S. are "elusive and inexhaustible" while the mission is "beleagured" and a marked by a "series of failures"... among other things.

But if Ware's prose still allow for a plausible deniability of aiding the other side, this interview from July 2004 demolishes any lingering doubts:
TONY JONES: Michael, why are they letting you get behind this curtain? Is there a message they are wanting you to get out through Time magazine to the rest of the world?

MICHAEL WARE: Clearly, these men, just like the American military I deal with and the public affairs officers who stick to me like glue and only let me see what they want me to see when I'm with them, so it is with the Jihadis. They're showing me what they want me to see, which is, to be truthful, quite a lot, but they know anything I see or hear is public record. It's their responsibility to confine their information.

This is what I do. Yeah, they do want to get a message out.

They're so media savvy. If they weren't before, they've learnt it, they've polished it.

Even a year ago when I was meeting these nationalist guerrillas who then were ill formed, not yet in clear command and control organisations, even then they were saying to me, "This war is not going to be won on the battlefield. We can't hope to defeat the Americans. It's going to be won in the living rooms of Iraq and Middle America, it's going to be won on television."

They were saying, "We can maintain this, we can, we have, we can sustain this longer than your political will will last. Before your people call you home." Again, that's a part of it now, they're saying, "We're here and we're not going away," and they want to say that to the West. They can tell Arabic channels this until the cows come home, but to have it coming through an American iconic publication like Time magazine, people will listen.

And look, the fact is it's true.

The last sentence is revealing. It's true to the extent that people like Ware choose to make it so. He knows the insurgency cannot defeat the US militarily, he knows they can only do it with his help, yet he is perfectly willing to enable the self-fulfilling prophecy by broadcasting the insurgency's message via an 'iconic Western publication.' He is in search of a Vietnam redux, where the only hope for victory is that which is provided by the US anti-war movement.

It's casualties without context reporting template. It's as though American soldiers are aimlessly wandering through the desert waiting to be killed. Then again, if I relied solely on the MSM for my information, that is probably the impression I would get. Thankfully, we have people like Bill Roggio, Steve Schippert and Marvin Hutchens that put together this flash presentation highlighting the significant recent operations in Iraq, and Wretchard lends his always insightful analysis as well.

I challenge anybody to point to an MSM piece that comes close to the kind of reporting that Michael Yon is giving us - this piece in particular was downright astounding. Written descriptions of close quarters fighting, pictures of a firefight in an alley. An American soldier, with three bullets in his legs returning fire.... truly harrowing descriptions of what is happening on the ground and why.

It's a shame, a scandal really, that nothing close to the analysis of Wretchard or the reporting of Michael Yon is ever offered up by any of our 'iconic publications' or 'newspapers of record.'

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Tale of Two Protests?

The spotlight around Cindy Sheehan is dimming, so she's taken a page from the Jesse Jackson playbook and has gotten herself arrested. Any possibility that this wasn't premeditated is betrayed by the smile on her face as the police carry her off. Several years in, and the anti-war movement still cannot find any traction, but instead slip deeper into their own anti-American abyss. They are not anti-American because they protest, but because of who they are.

Glenn Reynold's recommended Googling the names of some of the anti-war protesters in press accounts. The results are striking. Five years ago, the media would have gotten away with these false portrayals, but no more. Jeff Goldstein has helped see to that in this methodic deconstruction of a
an anti-war puff piece. But really, as brilliant as Goldstein's post is, one only needs to look at some pictures from this weekend's protests. They really have reached the point of self-refutation:

A lover of peace if I have ever seen one.

Lots of time for fucking apparently...

...and other nonsense

Let me guess, this guy opposes torture?

Paranoia? More like conventional wisdom... to some.

Now, lets contrast those with some images of the 'Support the Troops' counter protests.

Yes, she is a real soldier, just enlisted.

I have no doubt that each side had their share of wack jobs, Dave Adesnik objectively covers that. Still, perhaps John Edwards was right, there are two Americas. I'm proud to say that I am a part of the latter.... I bet a lot of swing voters are too.

Note: More photos here if you need them, including some Iraqis that showed up to counter-protest. They weren't received particularly well and were eventually denounced as undercover CIA agents.

More protest pics

More anti-war pics here and also here

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Some Links

Just a few quality posts I read over the last few weeks but never got around to linking:

First, these couple of uncharacteristically short yet succinct posts from the Belmont Club deserve to be read in tandem. They are definitely worth your five minutes.... plus Wretchard uses the 's' word. Excerpt from Write for Your Life:
Most everyone knows someone who has intentionally endured a slight or injustice to demonstrate, to all the world, that they are indeed the aggrieved party. We have heard them describe the elaborate fantasies: 'then everyone will see' ... 'it will be undeniable that I' ... 'it will be clear that he', as they imagine themselves established in the right by the bestial behavior of the Other. In fact, no one gives a shit. People who willingly endure humiliation in the expectation of justification wind up with the humiliation sans the justification.

The two most common reasons given for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza were that it would shorten Israeli defense lines and prove to all the world that Israel was willing to make concessions for peace and therefore confer upon it the 'moral high ground'. Of the two expected benefits, only the benefits of shortened defense lines will be realized. As to achieving the moral high ground, let us turn to the Times of London.

Read the rest, then click on Helplessly Hoping.

Western Phalanx asks some existential questions on truth and being, some interesting comments follow.

And finally the internet video of the month is definitely iconoclastic lefty Christopher Hitchens debating British MP and Saddam loyalist George Galloway. The video can be found here, and it's about as shrill and cantankerous as one would expect and in front of a racous crowd. Hitchens' follow up column is here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Politics of Science

Here is a link (via Western Phalanx) to the transcript of a recent Michael Crichton speech on the science of global warming. He makes some good points. On consensual science, he refers to the 'Drake equation' a formula in which was constructed to look for extraterrestrial signals. The problem, with the sophisticated looking formula, is that its components cannot be known:

Where N is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy; fp is the fraction with planets; ne is the number of planets per star capable of supporting life; fl is the fraction of planets where life evolves; fi is the fraction where intelligent life evolves; and fc is the fraction that communicates; and fL is the fraction of the planet's life during which the communicating civilizations live.

This serious-looking equation gave SETI a serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses-just so we're clear-are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be "informed guesses." If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It's simply prejudice.

As Crichton reminds us, an expression that can mean anything, means nothing at all.

What I found particularly insightful, were Crichton's comments on a term I've been hearing a lot of lately - consensus science - and it figures that this term makes an appearance from the relentlessly incorrect Paul Ehrlich when asked about scientists questioning his results. Note the dripping irony of his answer.
Ehrlich answered by saying "I think they are extremely robust. Scientists may have made statements like that, although I cannot imagine what their basis would have been, even with the state of science at that time, but scientists are always making absurd statements, individually, in various places. What we are doing here, however, is presenting a consensus of a very large group of scientists."

[Crichton speaking:]I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.

...Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.

Crichton then examines the track record of consensus science and finds it wanting. But what I found most appealing about this speech, is that he goes beyond just opposing the current science culture, and offers some sound prescriptive remedies.

Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them. The fact is that the present structure of sciencentrepreneurialurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations which all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research-or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.

Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know their results will be checked by other groups. In many cases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the data will not analyze it. If we were to address the land temperature records with such rigor, we would be well on our way to an understanding of exactly how much faith we can place in global warming, and therefore what seriousness we must address this.

What he's proposing is a simple audit system of checks, balances, and third party verification. This is what businesses, especially publicly traded companies, have been doing for ages. Transparency is the quickest route to credibility, those actually interested in science - rather than an agenda - ought to encourage such reforms.

NOTE:Here's a recent related post of mine Global Warming or Heated Rhetoric?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Don't Get Stuck on Stupid

Everyone else is linking to it, and for good reason. Here is General Honore wresting back control of a press conference that New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is losing:

Honore: And Mr. Mayor, let's go back, because I can see right now, we're setting this up as he said, he said, we said. All right? We are not going to go, by order of the mayor and the governor, and open the convention center for people to come in. There are buses there. Is that clear to you? Buses parked. There are 4,000 troops there. People come, they get on a bus, they get on a truck, they move on. Is that clear? Is that clear to the public?

Female reporter: Where do they move on...

Honore: That's not your business.

Male reporter: But General, that didn't work the first time...

Honore: Wait a minute. It didn't work the first time. This ain't the first time. Okay? If...we don't control Rita, you understand? So there are a lot of pieces of it that's going to be worked out. You got good public servants working through it. Let's get a little trust here, because you're starting to act like this is your problem. You are carrying the message, okay? What we're going to do is have the buses staged. The initial place is at the convention center. We're not going to announce other places at this time, until we get a plan set, and we'll let people know where those locations are, through the government, and through public announcements. Right now, to handle the number of people that want to leave, we've got the capacity. You will come to the convention center. There are soldiers there from the 82nd Airborne, and from the Louisiana National Guard. People will be told to get on the bus, and we will take care of them. And where they go will be dependent on the capacity in this state. We've got our communications up. And we'll tell them where to go. And when they get there, they'll be able to get a chance, an opportunity to get registered, and so they can let their families know where they are. But don't start panic here. Okay? We've got a location. It is in the front of the convention center, and that's where we will use to migrate people from it, into the system.

Male reporter: General Honore, we were told that Berman Stadium on the west bank would be another staging area...

Honore: Not to my knowledge. Again, the current place, I just told you one time, is the convention center. Once we complete the plan with the mayor, and is approved by the governor, then we'll start that in the next 12-24 hours. And we understand that there's a problem in getting communications out. That's where we need your help. But let's not confuse the questions with the answers. Buses at the convention center will move our citizens, for whom we have sworn that we will support and defend...and we'll move them on. Let's not get stuck on the last storm. You're asking last storm questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don't get stuck on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward. And don't confuse the people please. You are part of the public message. So help us get the message straight. And if you don't understand, maybe you'll confuse it to the people. That's why we like follow-up questions. But right now, it's the convention center, and move on.

Male reporter: General, a little bit more about why that's happening this time, though, and did not have that last time...

Honore: You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public information that people are depending on the government to put out. This is the way we've got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let's talk about the future. Rita is happening. And right now, we need to get good, clean information out to the people that they can use. And we can have a conversation on the side about the past, in a couple of months.

'You are stuck on stupid!' 'Honore in 2008' If only I owned a bumper sticker making machine.....

Of course it probably won't be long before the phrase is simply (over)used to call names and avoid substantive debate, but in the above scenario, the shoe certainly fits and the discussion needed to move forward.

(audio here)

UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long. And if you look closely you'll see the quote is attributed to the good general himself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Different Questions - Same Answers

I've been loathe to blog about the Hurricane politics, it is partisan opportunism at its ugliest. In typical reflexive anti-Bush fashion the left immediately points the blame at Iraq, racism, global warming, and anything else, as long as it can be tied to Bush. It's just so transparently partisan. Clearly there were lapses at every level of government, but since we are a federalist country, the local government - the mayor and governor - should get the first hard look. Nevermind that President Bush called Gov. Blanco and urged an evacuation, two days before the hurricane hit. If we were really interested in constructive criticism, why not talk about the perfectly capable evacuation buses that were left unused to sit in the flood? Or perhaps we should point to Gov Blanco's embarrassing admission of "No one told me that I had to request that!" in reference to national guard troops. Apparently it is Bush's fault for not telling the governor what to do, for not personally educating her on the limitations of the federal government set forth in that obscure document known as the US Constitution. But what's the point? If an event does not carry some anti-Bush (or at the very least some anti-American) significance, then it carries no significance at all. Witness the question I asked here a few weeks ago.

Witness the media's hysterical predictions of tens of thousands dead in New Orleans, and survivors surrounded by a toxic stew of flood water near lethal to the touch! Or if we want to look at national disasters, how about that 2003 heat wave in Europe? Cliff May notes: (via InstaPundit)

579. That's the current death toll in Louisiana from the hurricane and catastrophic flooding.

Terrible for the victims, their family, their friends. But also much less than the 10,000 widely predicted.

And, BTW, much less than the more than 35,000 killed by a heat wave in Europe two summers ago.

You recall the debate that set off about European heartlessness, racism and discrimination? No, neither do I.

Me neither, because it is an article of faith that Europe is a more enlightened continent than us crass Americans who work so much for such luxury items as air conditioners. How dare we sacrifice government mandated 6 week vacation for such frivolities.

And uh-oh, here comes more reports of prisoner abuse, surely this will get some press play.

In the recording, Dargis matter-of-factly discussed for more than an hour how he used beatings to control a section of the jail and to extract information from inmates. He described breaking bones and leaving one prisoner so badly beaten he had "every color of the rainbow all over his body."

...In the interview, Dargis characterized the beatings as "work" and said most of it was carried out on the basketball court or in the game room.

"We used to bring a brown paper bag [and] put it over the camera right away, so it's blocked," Dargis said.

On some occasions, the computer system that controlled the cameras would be "rebooted" by a sympathetic officer, giving the guards several minutes to administer a beating, he said.

Some inmates were beaten because they refused to divulge information or be informants, Dargis said. "They'd come in there and I'd talk to them; ask them what I want to know.

"And if they wouldn't tell me, then I'd proceed to physically use pain control . . . techniques . . . pressure-sensitive areas, most of the time, to get the information," Dargis said. "If I didn't get the information, I'd let my dogs hunt. In other words, beat the [expletive] out of the guy.

"And there was nothing ever said," Dargis said. "I'd just move a finger. And they'd go."

In one instance, Dargis said he badly beat an inmate who refused to talk. "I tore up his . . . ear . . . his nose. I broke his jaw. I broke four ribs," he said. "I lost my temper."

...Dargis said that some of the officers who backed him up when he worked over an inmate occasionally complained. "I usually did all the work myself," Dargis said. "And they . . . on occasion got upset with me. Like, `Sarge, you never let us have any fun.'" His crew, Dargis said, ranged from five to eight other officers and he estimated that over the years as many as 70 different officers participated.
This did not happen at Abu Ghraib, but rather in Chicago; thus it is merely systematic beatings of actual US Citizens in prison, not those noble school bombing head hacking terrorists. And of course, there is no anti-Bush significance to this story. Ho-hum.

The vocal left is so far on the fringe, that, if left to themselves, they seem to eventually fall victim to their own rhetorical hysteria. Take a look at the paranoia in this post from one of the most popular lefty blogs. Among other things, the speculation is that it was actually the Army Corps of Engineers that bombed the levee! Perhaps that kind of rhetoric plays well to the democratic underground, but given the results of recent elections, it doesn't seem to resonate with swing voters. The Pavlovian 'anti-Bush at all costs' strategy has been a failure, it is time to offer something prescriptive, some alternative beyond the glib partisan carping. It's almost enough to make a guy think that the opposition only cares about making one man look bad, even at the sacrifice of their own values.

For Shame.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Required Reading

Too good to excerpt, too comprehensive to even comment on, I'm simply in awe. Victor Davis Hanson is truly brilliant, go read this recent column of his. It's required.

Back blogging next week.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Book Review - Freakonomics

I read Freakonomics the other day. Good book, nice quick read. Economist and author Steven Levitt first came to my attention several years ago when his research suggested that the factor most responsible for the drastic drop in crime during the 90's was the legalization of abortion in the 60's. Conservatives were outraged with his conclusions feeling Levitt was endorsing abortion as a crime fighting tool. Liberals were outraged with his conclusions because they felt that the poor and black women were singled out. Levitt came under some pretty heavy assault from all sides.... so Levitt shrugged. After all, and however offensive, he did have reality on his side. This was not what he set out to prove with his research, but he came across it, and reported it as is, the guy honestly has no taste for politics, which is something that I appreciate about him and made the book that much more enjoyable.

Freakonomics is really nothing more than Classical or Austrian Economic analysis applied to social phenomenon, which for me is far and away the most appealing aspect of the dismal science. What struck me most while reading was that it all seemed like common sense to me, he was asking the questions that I always ask mentally but rarely ask out loud because they seem a bit .... freakish. I know, it sounds like I am flattering myself, 'I think exactly like Steven Levitt!' But really, this is the side of economics that comes most easily me (as opposed to the one with all the math!) Given that I can't say that I personally found his results especially shocking, but they certainly provide great reading, as well as very useful and fun mental exercises.

The basis of economics is that people respond to incentives, and Levitt is sure to make this simple, but often overlooked point. As well, perhaps the most important analytical paradigm I've ever learned came when I took an econometrics course in college relating to correlation and causation. The two are often confused, but the fact is that anytime one finds correlation between two items, there are always four possible explanations, which are:

1) A causes B
2) B causes A
3) C (some other variable) causes both A and B
4) The correlation is due to randomness. (Levitt, for some reason, did not emphasize this 4th possibility as much as the first three.)

For example, one could test the math skills of 1st-5th graders and also record their shoe sizes. The results would show that a larger shoe size is positively correlated with higher test scores. Under the above possibilities, we can come up with 4 different theories that the data does in fact support.

1) Large feet causes greater intelligence in math - perhaps it is easier to see your larger toes when using them to count, thus you are better in math?

2) Math skills cause your feet to grow - Your brain grows so much to hold all that math that your feet must also grow to stay in proportion?

3) Another variable (age) causes both - Older students naturally have larger feet as well as extra years of schooling in math

4) It is all coincidence.

Which theory makes the most sense? Obviously we can see that explanations 1 and 2 are absurd while number 3 is simply common sense and Occam's Razor suggests 4 is unlikely.

If only everything were so simple.

Consider these questions: What makes a good parent? What factors in childhood lead to strong academic performance throughout school? What led to the sudden crime drop in the 1990's? These are complicated questions, each affected to differing degrees by thousands of competing variables. How does one tease out the true causation? This concept is the core of the book and this is where Levitt excels. Simply put he is just damn good at extrapolating and then articulating the relevant variables. In a step by step, logical deconstruction, Levitt dissects some of the more explosive social issues of the day and reveals their true causations. In the book, he describes this sort of regression analysis as more of an art than science and his analysis proves that out.

My personal favorite section was "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?" Where can you find a real insiders view of the inner workings of the Chicago street gang The Black Gangster Disciple Nation? Not in a movie, not in a college class and certainly not from Jesse Jackson, but you can find it in 'Freakonomics.' Through an interesting set of circumstances Levitt crossed paths with someone who had spent a good deal of time 'embedded' with the gang and was also able to walk away with years of the gang's financial records. It was a data gold mine. You'll see that street gangs are (not surprisingly) structured much like a corporation, they have a hierarchy, they do public relations and turning a profit really is their raison d'etre. Individual members respond to salary, incentive structures (financial and otherwise), and weigh the opportunity costs just like the rest of us. One of the more interesting statistics of the chapter was that a crack dealer in Chicago housing project stands a greater chance of dying than a death row inmate... in Texas. Seriously.

One caveat: This book is not profound, at least an economic scholar wouldn't find it so. But Freakonomics was not written for the economic scholar, and that is where its real value lies. The book goes beyond asking those boring macro questions of national savings rates, trade deficits, and inflation that makes the average persons head spin... and then fall asleep. In short, Levitt puts a spotlight on the fun side of economics and in some sense I would describe this book as teaching the philosophy of econometrics. It is so accessible and so popular - it's the number 1 best seller in Brazil, has spent several months on the NYT best seller list, and is selling well in the UK - and it's about economics! When was the last time a book on economics had such broad appeal?!?! Those types of things should warm the heart of anyone who has ever lamented the economic illiteracy of the general populace. Overall, great book, I especially recommend this if you aren't an econ nerd like myself.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Just Wondering

Over the weekend, it occurred to me that two seemingly unrelated questions I was casually wondering about actually share an indentical answer. The first came after reading an excellent essay (via TallDave) from Power Line's John Hinderaker, who offers up some thoughts on casualties during peace and wartime and how the media portrays it all. The whole thing is well worth the read, but this little fact was truly astounding:
The media's breathless tabulation of casualties in Iraq--now, over 1,800 deaths--is generally devoid of context Here's some context: between 1983 and 1996, 18,006 American military personnel died accidentally in the service of their country. That death rate of 1,286 per year exceeds the rate of combat deaths in Iraq by a ratio of nearly two to one.

That's right: all through the years when hardly anyone was paying attention, soldiers, sailors and Marines were dying in accidents, training and otherwise, at nearly twice the rate of combat deaths in Iraq from the start of the war in 2003 to the present.

So where was the left's outcry over troop death's during those times? Where was the Disband The Military! movement then? Why no outcry?

Question 2 - Yesterday I saw this item:
DUBAI (Reuters) - The al Qaeda group in Iraq on Sunday hailed the hurricane deaths in America as the "wrath of God," according to an Internet statement. "God attacked America and the prayers of the oppressed were answered..... The wrath of the All-powerful fell upon the nation of oppressors. Their dead are in the thousands and their losses are in the billions.... Only recently America killed and starved whoever it wanted, but today it is appealing for oil and food..."

When wack jobs like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell make similarly ludicrous statements the left (not incorrectly) denounces them. Is AQ in Iraq's assertion that Hurricane Katrina is God's wrath visited upon a decadent and morally bankrupt United States somehow more credible than Falwell's or Robertson's? Where is the outcry?

The answer to both questions as far as I can tell is: There is no anti-American or anti-Bush significance to either complaint, why bother?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

This notice still applies.

Glenn has all the hurricane relief and other info you need.

My thoughts are with New Orleans.


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