Thursday, May 31, 2007

North Texas Skeptics selectively skeptical?

Since starting this blog I've almost turned researching James Watt quotations into a cottage industry.
I wrapped up investigation of two different bogus quotations here, and I subsequently contacted one of the sites that had posted the bogus information, letting them know that they were perpetuating an error.

That site was the North Texas Skeptics quotation page. I've been in intermittent e-mail contact with John Blanton about the problem since May 24 (that's a week ago if you're keeping track) and thus far there's no change. The Web site still features the following bogus quotation:

My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns. We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.
James Watt, Secretary of the Interior for Ronald Reagan
Quoted in the Washington Post, May 24, 1981
(emphasis in the original)

John asked me about the quotation and context and whatnot--understandably curious as to what the problem is. Apparently he's skeptical enough about there being a problem so that he's delayed making any changes until he checks everything out for himself.

If only that had been the practice when they posted the quotation in the first place, eh?

Just checking the cited source would have revealed the problem. The current holdup, I suppose, is the problem of accessing the original story from the Washington Post (which took the quotation from the Wall Street Journal, as I've documented elsewhere). The news story isn't part of the news archive made available to libraries through Proquest for some reason. You have to go to directly to the Post archive to get it. If you want more than the first paragraph, they want a few dollars for it.

The preview does include the entirety of the Watt quotation in question (minus the second sentence, which is bogus). I sent the URL of the right search page to John.
Let's see how much longer it takes to fix the problem.

It will also be interesting to see if they publish some form of correction notice.

Blumner takes a stab at morality

I've been sifting through some more of Robyn Blumner's editorials in the St. Petersburg Times. She's frequently good for a laugh when she's not trying to be funny.

In a recent editorial Blumner wrote about evolutionary scientists who think that morality is inherited.

Such a backward judgment makes me feel entirely divorced from the Iranian court's understanding of right and wrong. Does their moral compass and our own really share the same essential human instincts for discerning ethical conduct?

Yes, say modern evolutionary biologists, who claim that human moral intuition is largely inherited, as opposed to a cultural acquisition. And the evidence seems to suggest they are right.

(St. Petersburg Times)

We receive no indication that "evolutionary biologists" other than Marc Hauser make the claim (let's just say I suspect Blumner fudged on that one), and no good evidence of the supposed genetic link.
I located an interview with Hauser. Here's what he said:

... we have only begun to flesh out the theory and run the relevant experiments.


In our recent studies, collaborating with a patient population that has been carefully studied by the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and his colleagues, we have found an exciting and highly selective deficit. Whereas these patients show normal patterns of responses to a relatively large class of moral dilemmas, they show highly abnormal responses on one specific type of dilemma. In particular, where the action involves personal contact with another individual, and where the choice is between harming one versus many, and there are no clear social norms available to decide, these patients consistently take the utilitarian route, selecting the option that yields the greatest good regardless of the means required to achieve such ends. Thus, damage to this particular area of the brain, one that connects emotional processing with high-level decision making, yields a highly selective deficit in moral judgment. Of course, if you are a utilitarian, your interpretation will be different! You will think that it is because of irrational emotions that we don't all think like utilitarians, seeing the overall good as the only relevant moral yardstick.
(American Scientist Online)

The obvious question should be: How does this data differentiate between inherited and learned morality?

Here's Hauser from earlier in the interview.

The core idea is derived from the work in generative grammar that [MIT linguist Noam] Chomsky initiated in the 1950s and that the political philosopher John Rawls brought to life in a short section of his major treatise A Theory of Justice in 1971. In brief, I argue that we are endowed with a moral faculty that delivers judgments of right and wrong based on unconsciously operative and inaccessible principles of action.
Blumner grasps at this like a foundering sailor reaching for a life-preserver.

As an atheist, I find this research intriguing because some religious people think that the only source of morality is faith.

Yet, given the same objective tests, researchers have found that people come to the same moral conclusions regardless of religious background or lack of one. According to Hauser, "the system that unconsciously generates moral judgments is immune to religious doctrine." The primary principles of morality are coded in our DNA.

I'll pick up later on Blumner's claim about people claiming "faith" being the only source of morality.
Pay attention instead to the way she seems to think that Hauser's work provides some type of basis for true morality. Hauser plainly doesn't see it that way. Back to the interview.

To be explicit, the theory that I have developed in Moral Minds is a descriptive theory of morality. It describes the unconscious and inaccessible principles that are operative in our moral judgments. It does not provide an account of what people ought to do. It is not, therefore, a prescriptive theory of morality. That said, I am certain that a better understanding of the descriptive principles will ultimately shape how we develop our prescriptive theories, be they legal or religious.
Either Blumner missed it or she doesn't have the neurons to process the implications.

Hauser is saying that his theory only provides a justification for descriptive morality. What's descriptive morality? It's nothing more than what people do in real life. So, supposing all we had was a culture where every child is branded with a white-hot iron on his birthday up through the age of 25, considered as what "ought" to be done, that is the descriptive morality of that culture. By itself, it says nothing about what is, prescriptively, what ought to be done. Morality is the province of prescriptive morality, not that other kind.

A contributer at the Panda's Thumb site made an observation considerably better than Blumner's.

To me, the concept of a Moral Grammar has significant overlap with the Natural Law arguments by Aquinas. In fact, some interesting observations can be made when combining the concept of Natural Law, the Bible and these scientific findings.

In Romans 2:15, it is stated that the law is written on the hearts of believers and non-believers alike. If this is the case then we can make the following observations

1. Christians who argue that atheists have no principled foundations for their morality and ethics need to take another look at their Bible which contradicts their claims.
2. Of course both Christians and atheists can take these new scientific findings, one accepting that these rules were Created by God, while the other can avoid such conclusions by observing how these rules would have arisen via evolutionary processes.

(--PvM, the Panda's Thumb)

What PvM seems to miss is that the atheist only gets his principled foundation for morality if the god who made morality known in man's nature actually exists--unless, of course, the atheist comes up with an alternative source.

The atheist looks a bit ridiculous claiming that he has a principled morality because god gave him one. I grant, however, that PvM makes a good point in terms of the atheist's ability to behave in society according to godly morality if god exists. But I wouldn't have argued otherwise in any case.

Lacking the creator, the sense of morality cannot be epistemically distinguished from an entirely random set of prescriptives (as descriptives they are not entirely random; as prescriptives they are effectively random).

Descriptive morality doesn't really qualify as a principled source (or else dressing like Brittney Spears because everybody else is doing it immediately ascends to principled status).


Faith the source of morality?
As noted above, the view in the Bible is that God is the source of morality regardless of the amount of faith placed in his existence.

In theology, the person of God is the metaphysical source of morality, and modern theologians escape the Eutyphro dilemma (divine command vs. god bound to higher authority) by positing morality as intrinsic to God. Right is right not because God commands it, nor because God is bound to a higher authority, but simply because morality flows from God being God (the commands just happen to flow from the nature of God).

James Shields can pitch

Right-handed pitcher James Shields of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays can pitch.

Really pitch.

Scott Kazmir, who pitched in last year's All-Star game, headed into the season as the incumbent ace of the staff, but Kazmir has been plagued by inconsistency thus far--and Shields has offered a model of consistency.

Shields' outing several hours ago led to a complete-game victory, with the pitcher giving up three earned runs all in the first inning.

From the start of the second inning through the end of the game, Shields faced just 26 hitters, walking one and allowing two hits.

"He's aggressive, he's got all the pitches, he's the real deal," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.


After starting 11 games, Shields sports a 3.13 ERA and leads the team in innings pitched. Thanks to the number of innings he has pitched, Shields also leads the team in strikeouts with 69 (Kazmir has 64 in 17 fewer innings).

Shields is 4-0 on the season.

At 25 years old he didn't quite rush to the major leagues, but his talent and consistency may keep him here for a good long time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Getting snowed--by the Times

The St. Petersburg Times has an ad campaign running concurrent with its redesign: "In the know--in the Times." It's a short little jingle, and "Getting snowed--by the Times" is intended to fit to the same tune.

Robyn Blumner writes editorials for the Times, and she's been one of my favorite targets for criticism over the years, though sometimes she's more libertarian than liberal resulting in some common ground between us. Blumner is a former ACLU lawyer.

I went hunting for trouble today, since I'm not in the habit of reading the Times lately.


Inevitably, during a debate on illegal immigration, someone will claim that we need this population because they will do the work that no American will do. President Bush said it Monday in Yuma, Ariz., while pushing his new guest worker program. Temporary workers, he said, are needed so the Border Patrol "will not have to try to chase people who are coming here to do work Americans are not doing."

This argument infuriates me. There is no such thing as work that Americans won't do. (Bush neatly arabesqued around what "Americans won't do" by saying what "Americans are not doing." Same message.)

Americans will do any kind of work. They dig coal miles underground in dangerous mines, they pick up garbage on the street, they work in sewers, they harvest fruits and vegetables on their own farms and they fill mind-numbing assembly-line jobs.

(St. Petersburg Times)

It's a solid thesis, so far as it goes, but Blumner leaves some bus-sized holes in her column.

Legal immigrants do much of the work that Blumner talks about. They're Americans, and they're willing to do the work for what they're getting paid. When companies go to flesh out the work force, they can't find enough people like what they've already got, since--as Blumner notes--many Americans aren't willing to work difficult and unpleasant jobs for low pay.

Blumner's column implies that she sees a simple solution to this problem. Allow the free market to drive up the price of labor, and let the illegals go ... back to their native lands? To jail? Or to a high-paying job as amnestized legal immigrants?

I haven't read Blumner often enough to know her position on illegal immigration.

And here's the problem with allowing the wage increase caused by a labor shortage: Inflation.
Over at my companion blog (Bad Blogs' Blood), I recently covered the topic of the economic effects of cutting income taxes. One of the studies I dealt with came from the Congressional Budget Office, and it forthrightly noted that an increase in demand for manufactured goods resulted in an increase in demand for labor, and that a labor shortage would raise prices and potentially touch off spiraling inflation (inflation does tend to spiral once it gets momentum).

Yet, as I noted in that post, those who advocate raising the minimum wage appear to reflect little to no concern over providing a government-induced factor promoting inflation.

Blumner's not writing about the minimum wage, of course, so we won't bark up that tree.

So what's her point?
I think this is it:

John Keeley of the Center for Immigration Studies says Bush's plan is "sanctioning a serf class of workers." I agree. It also keeps around a group of vulnerable workers who will continue to exert a downward pressure on wages.
An illegal with a low-paying job is more vulnerable than a z-visa worker, no?

And there is no downward pressure on wages. Illegals might be getting less than minimum wage as it stands, and a z-visa would--no doubt--help ensure that legal immigrant workers qualified for the anti-market wage floor also known as the minimum wage. Wages can't realistically be driven below that point.
And here's the point that Blumner seems to intentionally overlook. The illegal immigrants want to be in the United States doing their jobs at the market rate (even if it's under-the-table and below minimum wage).
Naturally that doesn't apply to illegals who have fallen into human trafficking operations, such as the one busted in Minnesota recently.

The wages in the United States are higher than the wages in Mexico. That's the bottom line, and that's what drives illegal immigration (and legal immigration, for that matter). It's also easier to find a job in the first place.

Once this missing element is uncovered, we have a potential window into liberal thinking on Blumner's part. Perhaps immigration should be routinely granted, and a wage floor sustained. That will mean that wages in the United States will be relatively less (same money buys less), the nation will risk spiraling inflation, but we will have effectively hooked up Mexico to an economic umbilical cord where U.S. employers pay unskilled immigrant workers more than the market value of their labor.

Is that good for Mexico? Probably not, since their best workers will end up in the United States, but there's some support for Mexicans receiving income from workers in the U.S. Arguably, Mexico improves as a nation more through its own initiative rather than by applying for welfare, however.

A better solution would be for Mexico to make itself friendly to foreign investment. Unfortunately, Mexico is so corrupt that the best solution probably isn't practical for the present.
A guest-worker program potentially strikes a helpful balance, but conservatives justifiably express concern over the willingness of the U.S. government to enforce its laws.

But at least we still have Robyn Blumner to kick around.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Jackson starts, Rays win

The Devil Rays posted their first victory of the 2007 in games started by pitcher Edwin Jackson, defeating the Detroit Tigers in come-from-behind fashion with a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth.

There had been a movement to refer to Jackson simply as "Ed" until he posted a win, but it was a solid start so I'm cutting him a break.

Jackson appeared to be on the ropes in the second inning when the Tigers reeled off four straight hits to take a 2-0 lead. On the fourth hit--still with no outs--Jackson got hit in the face with Carl Crawford's overthrow of home plate. Apparently that woke something in Jackson, as he struck out the next three batters with an impressive mix of fastballs and change-ups. The hard-throwing righty gave up just two earned runs in six innings of work.

During the second inning, a fan caught a foul pop that Aki Iwamura was reaching after. The third-base umpire ruled no interference. Rays' manager Joe Maddon argued the call--and for some reason the fan was ejected.

If the umpire ruled no interference, what could have caused the ejection of the fan, I wonder?

I may be a bit fuzzy on the rules, but to me it looked like Iwamura would not have caught the ball even if the fan had not been there. It looked like it would have missed his glove by 6-10 inches, and the umpire had a good look at the play, alertly moving close to the wall to follow the path of the ball.

I'd prefer for Devil Ray fans to set aside their zeal for souvenirs in favor of letting the home team have a shot an an out, but I don't think this fan affected the outcome of the game even if he should have gotten out of the way to give Iwanura a better shot at the foul ball.

Criswell predicts: Texas Nazis

I predict that a Dallas, Texas, Millionaire will shock America and the world by leaving millions upon millions of dollars in his will to set up a true NAZI party in the U. S.
--the Amazing Criswell

This prediction doesn't seem to have panned out, though some liberals I know might want to credit Criswell with being close since George W. Bush has roots in Texas.

Why does Criswell capitalize "millionaire"? My best guess is that he wanted to make his book read like he talks. Using spoken word, Criswell might well have laid special emphasis on the word.

Here's some video Criswell to give you a feel for his style.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Islamofascism—okay for Scrabble?

As a would-be artist of English, the furor over the term “Islamofascist” provides me a welcome opportunity for analysis.

I’ve run across a couple of complaints about the term. My chum from the Dark Side of the Force, Barnum’s Baileywick, derided my use of “Islamofascist.” Eric Margolis, in a piece droolingly reproduced at the (worthless) Terrorism News site, claimed that the term was “meaningless” despite being a buzzword “among America’s far right and Christian fundamentalists.” Even Michael Medved, from the political right, has denounced the term. Medved prefers “Islamonazi.”

Most of the people to whom Margolis refers are probably like me. Not realizing that the term is “meaningless,” we use it to refer to people who want to force on others a society completely run by Islamic leaders. Apparently that is not enough to give the word meaning.

Baileywick wasn’t quite as specific in his criticism.

I decided to hunt up an opinion from a political authority.

The word fascism has come to mean any system of government resembling Mussolini's, that exalts nation and often race above the individual, and uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition, engages in severe economic and social regimentation, and espouses nationalism and sometimes racism (ethnic nationalism).

(Politics Defined)

Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, has an account that suggests that Maxime Rodinson, a Marxist, first used the term in association with the Iranian revolutionary movement in 1978.

Given the emphasis that regime places on religion, the term seems justifiable. At worst, it’s a bit unfair to Mussolini.

No more lawyering for document thief Sandy Berger

The news is more than a week old, but worth noting anyway:

"I have decided to voluntarily relinquish my license," [Berger] said. "While I derived great satisfaction from years of practicing law, I have not done so for 15 years and do not envision returning to the profession. I am very sorry for what I did, and I deeply apologize."
In giving up his license, Mr. Berger avoids being cross-examined by the Board on Bar Counsel, where he risked further disclosure of specific details of his theft. The agreement is expected to be formalized today.
(Washington Times)

It's still astounding that Berger got off so light. Berger, as the story relates, avoids a cross-examination by giving up his license without a fight.
And apparently Berger still has not sat for a polygraph test he agreed to as part of the original settlement of the case against him.

It's hard for me to see this as other than evidence of liberal politics in the Bush Justice Department.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Jedi blogger rides off into sunset

S.P.Q.A. has suspended operations.

Too bad, since Jarod Armstrong posted some very good and detailed points of view from a conservative perspective.

I'm not going to go on at length about how I'll miss the blog, because Jarod's posts were so long, on average, that I didn't read very many of them all the way through. Everything I read from Jarod was solid, though.

John Edwards: don't fight 'war on terror'

If the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy isn't dead, it certainly isn't feeling very good.

John Edwards, one of the current Democrat frontrunners in the race for the DNC presidential nomination, came out against the war on terror during a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Edwards is not the first presidential candidate to publicly reject the notion of a war on terrorism. In a speech last fall, Democrat Joe Biden also criticized the doctrine as "simply wrong."

In the first presidential debate last month in South Carolina, Edwards and Biden said they did not believe there was a global war on terror, along with Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel. Front-runners Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama indicated that they did.

(ABC News)

Edwards had been slipping in the polls against Clinton and Obama. Is this his way of courting the base?

"For us to be successful in this war on terrorism, we have to find these terrorist groups where they are, whether it's within our borders or outside our borders, and stop them and stamp them out before they do us harm," Edwards said in a 2004 CNN interview.
(ABC News)

Looks like he's changed his mind a bit.

I'm still chuckling (albeit in disgust) at what I read about Edwards at the Powerline blog a few hours ago.

Bill to end "sanctuary cities" fails in the Senate

My senator, Mel Martinez, voted with six other Republicans (mostly RINOS) against Senator Norm Coleman's bill.
I've e-mailed a message expressing my disappointment to Mr. Martinez.

It's inexcusable that cities can assist lawbreakers in avoiding apprehension by the federal government through a policy of non-enforcement. And the threat of foreign terrorists among illegal aliens makes the vote even more ridiculous.

Here's the list of Republicans joining a whole bunch of Democrats on this one (hat tip to Captain's Quarters):

Graham (R-SC)
Hagel (R-NE)
Lugar (R-IN)
Martinez (R-FL)
Snowe (R-ME)
Specter (R-PA)
Voinovich (R-OH)

Selected Democat votes:
Bayh (D-IN), Yea
Biden (D-DE), Nay
Clinton (D-NY), Nay
Obama (D-IL), Nay

Reads like soft on illegal immigration is expected to be a hit with Democrat voters, doesn't it?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A bit more on James Watt and alleged quotations

The former secretary of the interior under President Reagan, James Watt, continues to draw criticism for things he probably did not say.

I documented here and here, the fact that the quotation attributed to Watt ("We don't have to protect the environment. The Second Coming is at hand") was of dubious origins.
The trail has been followed to its source now, I believe.

The latter half of the following quotation seems to have come from author Austin Miles, who left Christianity temporarily in frustration after his involvement with Jim Bakker's PTL Ministries.

My responsibility is to follow the Scriptures which call upon us to occupy the land until Jesus returns. We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.
(North Texas Skeptics, claiming the March 24, 1981 Washington Post as their source--scroll almost to the bottom)
(bold emphasis added)

The portion in bold does not occur in the Washington Post story containing the former portion of the quotation.
In an earlier post, I noted that the blog Hellena Handbasket attributed the quotation to a book by Austin Miles. A portion of that blog is worth quoting here (it is a quotation in turn, but HH does not source the quotation):

"We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand." -- interpretation of the above testimony by Austin Miles, Setting the Captives Free
(Hellena Handbasket)

Fantastically, another dubious quotation of Watt also appears to lead to the same book by Austin Miles. Glen Scherer, in an article for Grist magazine, wrote the following:

Odds are it was in 1981, when President Reagan's first secretary of the interior, James Watt, told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. "God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back," Watt said in public testimony that helped get him fired.

Grist responded to criticism of the article, thus the quotation is now found in the midst of a correction notice. The quotation could not be appropriately substantiated. Scherer claimed that he got the quotation from "Setting the Captives Free" by Austin Miles. Where Scherer got the idea that the quotation was said in public testimony is anybody's guess, since Miles apparently never hinted at it.

In fact, Watt did not make such a statement to Congress. The quotation is attributed to Watt in the book Setting the Captives Free by Austin Miles, but Miles does not write that it was made before Congress.

I'm still on the lookout for the book by Miles (I've got one of his books in my collection of skeptical works), but the book probably doesn't sufficiently address the issue. Wikipedia, which has a fairly good account of the quotation controversy, says the quotation is given with no particular context.

Contacting Austin Miles was the next reasonable step, and apparently that's been done (Hat tip to Bartholomew at "Bartholomew's notes on religion" relating information from "Christianity Today").

In a phone interview last week, Miles said the statement was made on televangelist Jim Bakker’s “PTL Club” program in Charlotte, N.C. at some point in the 1970s or 1980s.
(Christianity Today, via Bartholomew's notes on religion)

From Brian Carnell, who looked into the matter:

First, it turns out that August Miles, who is the original source for this quote attributed to Watt, is also extremely careless about attribution. Theron Mann notes,

First, Loren emails to say that he has written to Austin Miles, the earliest published source of Watt's alleged "last tree" quote, and Miles told Loren that he personally remembered Watt making the statement on a PTL broadcast. (Miles was unable to remember the date of the broadcast). I'm still sceptical, but it's hard to prove or disprove without Watt, Bakker or someone else coming forward.

Obviously its difficult to obtain certainty, but we have another clue about whether the quote is genuine or not. Miles claims that, Watt "is a born-again evangelical who sat on the board of directors of the scandalous PTL Club ministry while serving as our Secretary of Interior." That also turns out to be false. Watt was added to the PTL Club board of directors in 1987, about four years after he was forced out as Secretary of the Interior.


Carnell's right on target. There's no way to responsibly use the quotation without corroboration beyond what Miles has provided.

Original post in the series.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

John Brunner Update (RIP)

Science Fiction author John Brunner died in 1995, according to Wikipedia (updating a post here).

I don't ordinarily recommend Wikipedia as a source, but the account there has the ring of truth to it and I can't imagine why anyone would make up a story about Brunner to post on Wikipedia.

Rest in peace, Mr. Brunner.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Sublovious Poll": President Bush caused a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who believe that Iraq was involved in the 9-11 attacks.

I've had the poll up for maybe nine months.

As of May 14, 2007, the poll had fifteen responses.

13 strongly agreed with the statement.
1 didn't know (neutral)
1 strongly disagreed.

The poll is not scientific by any means, but I'd at least hazard a guess that my tradition of blog-hopping the blogs of the Loony Left (that's not all you liberal bloggers, but too many by percentage) draws some attention; they trail back here to see what right-wing nutcase is invading their space.

In short, there's no support for the view that Bush caused any increase in the belief that Iraq or Saddam Hussein were involved in the 9-11 attacks. Those in the reality-based community who strongly agreed with the statement based their belief on a fantasy.

The legend started with a poorly-written account in the Christian Science Monitor. Noam Chomsky picked up on the bad information in that story (probably helped along by left-wing networking--there's a tendency for snippets of information like that to get sent around on listserves and the like). I contacted Dr. Chomsky regarding this issue and he wrote that he could not recall the source of the poll he referenced.
I identified the poll I think he relied on, but he said it didn't look familiar.

Of two questions I asked him, he ignored the second, which was whether or not he continued to believe that the Bush administration had been responsible for increasing the percentage of Americans who thought Iraq was responsible for 9-11.

Here's what Chomsky had been saying, BTW:

The drumbeat for war began in September 2002, and the government-media propaganda campaign achieved a spectacular success. Very quickly, the majority of the population came to believe that Iraq posed an imminent threat to US security, even that Iraq was involved in 9-11 (up from 3% after 9-11) and was planning new attacks.

And here's one I hadn't seen before. Paul Pillar also piled on with some disinformation:

In a poll taken the first week after 9/11, 57 percent of Americans surveyed identified Usama bin Laden as the one most likely responsible for the attacks. Fourteen percent did not know or did not answer, and no other response received more than four percent. Only three percent named Iraq or Saddam Hussein as the leading suspect. In a poll in August 2002--after months of a rhetorical drumbeat in which "Iraq," "war on terrorism," and 9/11 had repeatedly been blended together in words and thus in people's minds--53 percent of respondents said they believed that Saddam Hussein had been "personally involved" in the 9/11 attacks. In a poll in August 2003, after another year in which Iraq and 9/11 were linked in pro-war rhetoric but not in any new evidence, 69 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks.
Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy, by Paul R. Pillar

The above material comes from Pillar's introduction to his work.
Google allows a more comprehensive search of Pillar's introduction than the link I provided above.

1) Note that Pillar references the Wirthlin Worldwide poll for his 3% figure, the same figure used by Chomsky.
2) Note that Pillar compares percentages for different measurements as though the comparison is legitimate. Is it?

  • a) The Wirthlin poll was an open-ended question. That means it wasn't multiple choice, but the equivalent of fill-in-the-blank.
  • b) The Wirthlin poll had a follow-up question where respondents were to name their second choice for "most responsible," Saddam Hussein drew 27%. Does Pillar mention it? No, he doesn't. The follow-up question was also open-ended, by the way.
  • c) So next Pillar cited the 53 percent poll, where Hussein is named as "personally involved." A person could be third, fourth, fifth, or sixth most responsible and still be "personally involved." These percentages cannot be fairly compared.
  • d) Pillar next cites the 69 percent poll, and the goalposts have moved again. This time, the poll measured those who, Pillar says "believed Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks."
  • e) Not only is the 69 percent poll another seismic shift for the goalposts, Pillar accepts the worst piece of reporting in the story. Milbank and Deane do lead off with the misleading summary that Pillar repeats. However, the story goes on to say "Sixty-nine percent of Americans said they thought it at least likely that Hussein was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to the latest Washington Post poll." "[A]t least likely" turns into an apparently unqualified belief.
  • In the same story Milbank and Deane reported (safely near the end where many readers never end up) "On Sept. 13, 2001, a Time/CNN poll found that 78 percent suspected Hussein's involvement -- even though the administration had not made a connection. The belief remained consistent even as evidence to the contrary emerged." Another highly significant figure simply ignored by Pillar.
The Wirthlin poll, constructed as it is, may be perfectly consistent with the Time/CNN poll showing 78 percent suspecting Hussein's involvement.
Pillar and Chomsky should know better than to base an argument on this type of statistical malpractice. Chomsky, unfortunately, has a reputation for careless handling of the facts.

Pillar, as a person with a significant role with the CIA, simply reveals how partisanship has roots in the executive branch of government. A non-partisan should not make this mistake. Correction: nobody should make this mistake. A non-partisan wouldn't be expected to make a mistake like this.

There is no reasonable evidence of an increase in the belief that Hussein was responsible for 9/11, much less any evidence that the Bush administration was responsible for the mythical increase.
Thirteen out of fifteen poll respondents were fooled.

I'll keep the poll open, and place a link to this entry nearby. Let's see if the percentages change a bit.

Oh, and one final nail in the coffin:

The American public’s apparently widespread belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 terror at- tacks was no feat of misdirection by the Bush administration. Instead, the Bush administration inherited and played into a favorable climate of public opinion, which may have greatly facilitated itstask of building public support for war against Iraq. The mistaken belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks was already widespread among Americans long before President Bush began publicly linking Saddam Hussein with the War on Terrorism. In- deed, nearly seven months before the 9/11 attacks, an Opinion Dynamics poll in late February of 2001 found that 73% of Americans said it was very or somewhat likely that “Saddam Hussein will organize terrorist attacks on United States [sic] targets to retaliate for the air strikes” that had recently beenconducted in Iraq by American and British air forces.
("When Osama Became Saddam" --Altaus, Largio)

See page five of the .pdf file.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

They don't make sci-fi covers like they used to

You don't even find colors like this any more, let alone images.

Yes, we expect to see knee-high boots in space. That makes plenty of sense. But why the pistol version of the trusty Pilgrim blunderbuss?
The green lady with the pointy teeth may have helped inspire the green chick from the original "Star Trek" series (memorably portrayed in one episode by Yvonne Craig--formerly Batgirl on the 60s television serial "Batman."

I'm not going to get into the suspicious hand placement or an analysis of rocket placement and design. I'm just going to give the artist the benefit of the doubt.

John Brunner had an excellent reputation as a sci-fi author. I'll have to check to see if he's still alive.

Yes, it's one of those "Double Novel" books with another flashy cover on the other side. The other cover's not bad, either, so maybe I'll post that one someday, too.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The MSM makes it official--early departure from Iraq dangerous

Like I've been saying (hat tip to Captain's Quarters).

(CNN) -- Pulling U.S. forces from Iraq could trigger catastrophe, CNN analysts and other observers warn, affecting not just Iraq but its neighbors in the Middle East, with far-reaching global implications.

Sectarian violence could erupt on a scale never seen before in Iraq if coalition troops leave before Iraq's security forces are ready. Supporters of al Qaeda could develop an international hub of terror from which to threaten the West. And the likely civil war could draw countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran into a broader conflict.


It's a good thing the MSM was able to hold off on this story during the lead-up to the 2006 elections, isn't it?