Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Inescapable Logic of Global Warming

Behind the global warming or climate change debate is a lot of good chemistry, climatology, geophysics, and other science. But more central to the debate even than meteorology is Logic, one of the tools of the scientist. To analyze the debate we must peel apart the layers of logic, to see what we discover. I personally take no position on global warming, other than having my innate cynicism alerted when politicians dabble in science and vice versa.

The debate is about changing public opinion, because public opinion leads to public policy decisions, and policy decisions mean power and money. In the debate we find the usual techniques of sophistry used to great effect. We shall see many fallacies, and hopefully shed some light on some areas shrouded in the darkness of ostensible openness. Let us begin with the first layer, what I consider to be the most fundamental.

The Burden of Proof

The kind of logic practiced in rhetoric, law, and scientific writing is called 'informal logic'. It is a basic principle of informal logic that the Burden of Proof is always on the one making the assertion.

To show that societal changes are needed to combat global warming, proponents should not assume it proved that global warming is occurring or that certain changes are needed, asking doubters to show otherwise. Proponents of the theory of man-made or Anthropocentric Global Warming (AGW) must show:

  • That the Earth is getting warmer (by whatever cause)
  • That the warmth is on balance harmful to humans, directly or indirectly
  • That some step of remediation or mitigation is likely to be better for us than some other course of action.
Any harm to 'the planet' or to non-human creatures or plants must be stated in terms of its cost or consequence to humans, in order to compare the costs of acting and not acting.

On the other hand, since with the assertion goes the burden when challenging a particular proposition made by AGW activists, AGW deniers may find themselves in the same boat. In either case, failing to take on the burden of proof may mean that an argument is convincing only to those who already agree with its conclusion.

Suppressed Evidence

For some time, opponents of the theory of AGW have been arguing that only pro-AGW ideas are getting any attention in the news media and in scientific journals due to what can loosely be called political correctness. Proponents of AGW have charged that the Bush Administration has suppressed scientific reports, or edited them for content away from AGW.

Suppressing evidence is bad science, whether the evidence is politically popular or not. However, it is equally bad for scientists to tailor their findings politically as it is for politicians to do so for them. In any case, the suppression of evidence is not evidence, and charging suppression is not suppression. In the age of the Internet, for a scientist to claim inability to find a platform from which to speak seems most disingenuous.

Experts Agree

The next layer is hidden by the legitimate workings of the research process, making it difficult to spot: a combined Appeal to Authority and Appeal to Popularity. But a chain of two fallacies is still fallacious. The number and reputation of learned people who believe a proposition may affect how an idea spreads, but popularity does not affect truth or falsehood.

In a court of law, for instance, the truth is not determined by the number of experts one can line up to agree, else the better-funded or organized side would always win. It is up to the experts to present evidence, based on their experience and knowledge. The other side counters with expert evidence of its own, and the judge or jury evaluate. It is not the number of experts that decide the case, but the quality of the arguments each side can present. If a hundred experts declare that day is dark and night is light, the judges should find with one opposing expert noting the time and pointing to an open window.

Scientific Fact and the Zone of Conflict

Similarly, scientific belief is not, or should not be, formed on the basis of the number of scientists who believe one way or another.

All science is by definition unproven on some level; each fact is only accepted, not proved in the sense that a mathematician or logician proves something. For example, we don't know the speed of light, or that momentum is always conserved, and so on, only that according to observation and reasoning based on all of our observations to date, that the accepted fact or principle is reliable. Scientists speak of 'facts', but always with the knowledge that these 'facts' can be challenged. Challenging accepted facts requires supplying evidence and reasoning to counter them. It does not mean arranging a vote on the matter.

Experts on a given topic argue about it. The breadth of their discussion on a given topic varies, usually trending from the fundamental to the esoteric with the time and depth of study applied to the topic.

The number and reputation of scientists who accept something as probable or as fact only indicates the approximate parameters of the debate that surround a given idea. This can be thought of as the Zone of Conflict, the area for a given topic outside of which the facts are largely settled among experts. New evidence, or new arguments about old evidence, can change the popularity of a proposition, and thus expand or contract the Zone of Conflict in the field of study which pertains to that proposition, but they do not change its truth or falsehood.

Exaggerated Conflict

There is a fallacy lurking underneath the 'experts agree' layer and the 'scientific fact' layer, by which some seek to discredit a scientist or lay person based on how close his ideas are to Zone of Conflict. Conversely, some like to point out that no fact is ever totally proved, and thereby invent a controversy of fact when none really exists. Stating that all things are uncertain does not challenge a fact, any more than asserting a fact makes it so.

It is an Appeal to Ignorance to claim that because of the existence of the Zone of Conflict, any claim about that topic is as likely to be true as any other. But it is an Appeal to Authority to claim that an argument is invalid because it is outside the Zone. In general, the range of discussion that takes place on a topic says nothing about the validity of a particular argument or the truth of a particular proposition.

Since the Burden of Proof is on the one making the assertion, it is the responsibility of the one who would expand the Zone of Conflict to show that a real question exists. Conversely, properly rebuffing such an attempt requires actually showing that the matter is settled and why the question is no longer open.

A Straw Man for Illustration

An example of how the Global Warming Debate is typically waged is on this page, in which some arguments against AGW are listed, then attacked. The page says that its opponents say that "the science is unproven" and that for various reasons scientists can't be trusted. It says opponents say that we can't trust the scientists, because they are politically prejudiced liberals who have been wrong before and have financial incentives to lie.

To counter the argument that the science is unproven, the page goes into long and laborious treatment of the glories of scientists of the past, their discoveries and insights, as if that illustrates the correctness of these scientists on this topic, which of course it does not. But the main point of the supposed lesson on the history and philosophy of science is to say, as above, that asserting the unproved nature of scientific fact is a red herring, since all facts are unproved. The page fails to take into account, however, the Zone of Conflict, leaving unanswered the question of whether the facts of AGW are more like the well-understood principles of Newtonian physics or the little-understood composition of vacuum.

The primary fallacy the page commits is misplacing the burden of proof. While the author of the page may accept the science behind AGW, that doesn't mean that others do. The burden of proof is on the one wanting to change things. The page concludes:
Global warming is a serious problem, but even more serious, in my thinking, is the intellectual dishonesty used in denying it. Global warming deniers are of the same feather as Holocaust deniers. The truth is blatant, the data overwhelming, but they continue to spread their lies. If we let these dissemblers influence our policymaking any longer, we will pay a high price for our foolishness.
On the other hand, the absence of a proof is not a disproof, and the presence of a fallacious argument does not mean that a sound argument cannot be made. In this instance, while the page attempts to press the case for Global Warming by discrediting the arguments against it and insulting those who make them, doing so is batting down a straw man. It is, ironically, the same tactic I would be adopting if I were to claim that the page represents the entire pro-AGW argument.
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The Anthropocentric Global Warming Argument

Here is an outline of the pro-AGW argument. I use 'greenhouse gases' as a shorthand for methane, CO2, water vapor, and others; it is not my intention either to mislead or gloss with the label, but only to condense the argument:
  1. The Earth is warmer, and will be warmer still, because of increased levels of greenhouse gases.
    1. Average global temperatures have risen in the last century.
    2. There is more greenhouse gas in the atmosphere in the last century.
    3. Man has been putting the gases there, and continues to do so.
    4. A greenhouse gas increase causes an increase in global temperature.
  2. Computer models show that nature will not mitigate global warming on its own
  3. Warm temperatures are bad.
    1. They melt polar ice
    2. They thaw tundra, releasing stored gases, compounding the problem
    3. They make plains into deserts
    4. Computer models tell us these things, and worse, will happen
  4. Emissions are associated with other pollutants.
  5. Therefore, to fix global warming we should limit production of greenhouse gases.
The claim that temperatures have risen in the last century implies that they were constant before that, which we know not to be true. Looking only at the last century, and ignoring historical, archaeological, and geological evidence that the Earth has in the past been radically warmer and radically colder is simply disingenuous. For example, Dr Martin Keeley, a geologist and a Visiting Professor at University College London writes:
To expect permanent stability in climate patterns displays a fundamental lack of understanding of the complexity and instability of weather.
Similarly, that there are higher concentrations of certain gases in the atmosphere sounds important, but even if the changes in concentrations match precisely the temperature changes, which has not been shown, it does not mean that the gases caused the temperature change. What is required here is experimental evidence of causality, which is difficult to produce on a planetary scale.

Proposition A, we see, is an example of the fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc, which is Latin for "with this, therefore because of this". Just because two things happen together doesn't that mean one caused the other. The two could be unrelated, there may be other factors which are more instrumental, or the supposed effect could be the actual cause. Even if the supposed cause is generally known to have the effect in question, timing does not imply causality for any particular observation.

In the case of Global Warming, it has not been proved that increased greenhouse gas levels are the cause, or the major cause, of higher temperatures.

Computer models have been developed to show that the increased gas levels are the cause of higher temperatures, and furthermore, to predict future conditions based on various emissions patterns. But the computer models are the work of experts. The experts assert that the work is trustworthy. So we are left again with trusting the experts not only to have thought of everything, but to have accounted for their own biases while doing so.

The presumption that a group of experts formed into a scientific Society is more trustworthy than a single expert assumes that the independence of the experts is stronger than the pressure in such a society to conform. As far as I know, this has not been established. Further, some scientific groups are politically active on a range of issues, which gives the appearance that their opinion is derived from something other than purely scientific input. The introduction of points against greenhouse gas emissions that are irrelevant to the AGW argument tend to illustrate this point.

In the decision, we have four cases, all of which hide complex issues of their own:
  1. If the pro-AGW side is right and we do nothing, we face a radical change in world climate
  2. If the pro-AGW side is right and we act, and the changes work, we have the same climate but an uncertain economy
  3. If the pro-AGW side is wrong and we act, we have an uncertain economy for nothing
  4. If the pro-AGW side is wrong and we do nothing, life goes on
But what if AGW activists are only partially right? That is, what if something we're doing is causing global warming, but the gases we are trying to limit are not it? Or, if the current temperature increase is part of some natural cycle, and we act, then when the climate cools on its own, cum hoc ergo propter hoc will have struck again, in reverse, and we will be left in awe at the shaman whose incantations caused the Sun to go dim at noon.

We also don't know that warmer temperatures will be bad for humans. Warmer temperatures would seem to complicate the lives of polar bears and coral, but there is a link missing between those complications and radically changing the world economy, when it is quite possible that the warmer temperatures would improve live for humans and other life forms. It could, in fact, dramatically simplify life for humans in climates formerly too cold to inhabit; polar bears might adapt to life without ice; and coral might just grow in seas currently too cold for it.


I do not fault any who accept the opinion of experts that AGW is real. Nor do I fault the scientists, far more able than I, who judge that CO2 levels are to blame for higher temperatures. And since they accept those premises, actively trying to avert a possible disaster is understandable.

However, the links have not been properly made. In a controversy, the side seeking change from the status quo should be able to prove its case. AGW proponents need not show that the Earth is warming, which basically everyone accepts, or even that man is the cause of the warming, which many do not. But it must be shown that human action is both necessary and sufficient to fix global warming, and that the probable benefits to mankind outweigh the costs. Since what is at stake is so drastic, I demand greater proof than has been thus far offered.

The debate over man-made climate change may in the end devolve into a popularity contest between those who accept the unproved causal link and those who remain unconvinced. I can accept the results on a political level, since it is generally good to accept the advice of experts.

Just don't call it science.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Life Does Not Begin At Conception

Life continues through conception.

The sperm is not dead, is it? No, it is alive.

The egg is not dead, is it? No, it is alive.

Both cells are alive, conveniently formulated definitions to the contrary not withstanding.

The cells combine, chemicals go nuts, and they form a zygote, a blastocyst, a fetus, a baby, a child, a mate, a parent.

Life does not begin at conception, life continues through conception.

Asking what constitutes human life is a subtle way to label the rest not human, which is just a baby step away from genocide, infanticide, or geronticide. It is all human life.

While I am unconcerned with drawing the line between human and nonhuman at sperm and egg, drawing it anywhere between zygote and newborn is impossible. It's trying to hit a moving target, if nothing else, and one with spurious criteria for success and horrifying consequences for failure.

The mental acrobatics required to say that a fertilized egg is not human are the same as those required to say that a newborn is not: it cannot survive without help, therefore killing one is of no more concern than letting the other starve in the street.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

The Maximum Wage

We in this Enlightened nation formerly marched together in a more familiar cadence. We believed that a free man needed for happiness only his God, his family, and the chance to profit by his own skill at the task to which he turned his hand. The chance to succeed and distinguish oneself, and not to protection from failure, was the thing. But in our distress that anyone should crawl, we now behave as if none should soar. In the ratcheting upward of the Minimum Wage, we see the machinery of rewarded un-achievement, and an artificial limit placed on the ability to succeed. For a certain group of people whose wages it affects, the Minimum is actually a Maximum.

Not everyone in that younger nation accepted the notion of Liberality, of course, but it came to so dominate our thinking that our government performed acts of magnanimity, such as in giving away vast tracts of land to those who would but keep a mule employed thereon. Liberality resulted in Emancipation. Liberality clearly underlies traditional American beliefs in capitalism, that a poor man can earn great wealth, or at least can provide that opportunity to his children, if only given the chance. Liberality springs from the underlying assumption of mobility: if a man can improve his own lot, then our not allowing him to improve shames us. Doing it for him shames him.

All of this, along with urbanization and modernization between 1830 and 1930, formed the backdrop of the Great Depression. Agricultural inefficiency, a stock market bubble, the stirrings of globalization were its start; protectionist economics several years of hot, dry weather kept it going. Times were hard.

Franklin D. Roosevelt came into power in 1932, and to spur the economy took Hoover's use of government programs to a new level. But in responding to poor working conditions, and the populist economics of the time, Roosevelt and his Northern trade unions wanted a national minimum wage, as a way to levy a tariff on goods from the South:

During the 1920s and 30s, the American textile industry had begun to shift from New England to the South, where the cost of living was lower and where Southern workers produced a high quality product for lower wages. Politicians in Massachusetts, led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and House leader Joseph Martin, battled in Congress for a law that would force Southern textile mills to raise wages and thereby lose their competitive edge.

Sometime between the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and LBJ's Great Society, the idea of Liberality morphed into something else entirely, losing the prospect of shame, both for the denial of necessary assistance and acceptance of unneeded aid. Caused perhaps by an internally contradictory picture of human nature, or with the cancerous assistance of Marx and Engels, Liberality came not to mean trusting men to do right when treated rightly, but forcing men to give out of assumption of their wicked illiberality.

Modern "liberal" rhetoric is that fulfilment requires economic equality, which is to say equality of outcome rather than of opportunity. Noting quite rightly that it is easier to become wealthy when one is economically well off, they reason that opportunity is not equal unless means are equal. They then use that corruption to assert that equality must start with taking the "excess" from one to supply the "needs" of the other, with both excess and need redefined as circumstances dictate. If, or rather since, the process of enforced equalization fails to make men equal, rather than question the assumption that it can or even should work, they discover new ways in which men's means differ and demand that they must not.

It's right there in the Constitution, isn't it? Life, Liberty, and Equal Property. Wait, that's not quite it. "Pursuit of Property". Same thing, right?

No. Humans are satisfied only with what they somehow have earned. To paraphrase Pascal, a man will spend an afternoon in the woods chasing something that he would not accept as a gift. An athlete will train for years in pursuit of a medal he would not purchase. The overcoming of life's obstacles, like the pursuit of a clever prey, is the thing; the earning of the prize, and not the prize itself, is the victory.

It is difficult to see, then, how earning a living is less important than earning a prize. There is a striking difference in outlook between someone who just barely makes a living at work, and someone else who subsists through government largess. That difference is the key to understanding why the Pursuit of Property, and not the Property itself nor some other Pursuit, was given precious ink in our Constitution.

So while the government deeded to homesteaders vast areas of land so recently purchased from the indigenous inhabitants with the blood of soldiers, the land itself was not the prize. It was worth very little without improvement, but with risk, time, and work it could be improved, if only with a shack in which to live, and a bale to feed that mule.

Now comes the government to say that employers are not paying their workers enough. The minimum wage will be set higher than the employers were otherwise willing to pay. But they still will need workers, so with a combination of layoffs, price increases, taking less profit, and cost-cutting, employers will adjust. But one thing they will probably not do is to pay any more than the minimum. Until inflation eases the pain of the current minimum (and incidentally erases the gain for the workers in this tail-chasing game), the Minimum Wage will be the Maximum Wage many can expect to get.

The process reinforces the notion that low-skilled workers can only achieve a higher wage by government fiat. Not only will employers not be able to afford to give raises, but politicians will be taking credit for giving raises without regard to merit. Everyone gets a raise, whether they can keep a mule employed or not; since everyone is chasing the hare, we must give them all a rabbit. Giving people what they have not earned has not worked yet, so we must do it some more.

And the burnt fool's bandaged fingers go wobbling back to the fire.

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Dr. Sanity

Dr. Sanity writes:

The political left, the Democrats and some Republicans have made a binding contract with denial. In their heart of hearts they know what is at stake--and they can't come to grips with it because, for the moment anyway, it is just so convenient to pretend that this problem can be laid at the doorstep of the Bush Administration.

Dr. Sanity previously was more specific with her diagnosis of the Bush Derangement Syndrome, the defense mechanism called displacement
...separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening

The good Doctor also provides a weekly service, Carnival of the Insanities, a collection of her own and reader-submitted posts from across the blogs (and MSM) that cross the reality line. Perusing it, you will find the dog-bite-man story with the headline "Sadr fears for life...". Another story, on Classical Values, points out that Fidel Castro may be ill because ... well, you'll just have to read it.

My wife says I need to focus more on goals. OK. My first goal is never to make that list.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Of Redefinition and the Soundbite Gotcha

As my devoted followers know, I like for words to mean things. You probably share that point of view; it's one of the best ways to test for conservatism or liberalism: is a person misusing a word, or is it acceptable to use words as we see fit, if doing so allows us to prove a point, or at least to feel that we have proven it?

It is the most liberal of illicit crafts: redefine the word, to attach to the word a new connotation.

"Morality? But isn't true morality caring for our fellow man, or would you say that is immoral?"

"Justice? But isn't true justice when children are fed -- or is a hungry child what you think is just?"

"Peace? Peace includes Justice and Equality -- or do you want injustice and inequality?"

"Patriotism? Dissent is patriotic."

Both sides agree that X is good, so the redefiner says "true" X is X plus another good thing Y, and equates disagreeing with the new definition of X with being against Y.

We all agree that Peace is good, and a lack of societal tension (injustice, tyranny, inequality, discontent) is good. But it's redefinition to go from there to saying that Peace is not Peace if there is tension. Where does that stop? It can't. The poor will always be with us. People will always be dissatisfied; it's what we do.

Why not just say Peace cannot last long without Justice? Why can we not agree that any Peace without Freedom is an unacceptable Peace?

Because then one of us has to say that Peace alone is not our goal. Let that be me, then. Peace is not my goal, either for you or for me, unless we are both Free, unless we both live under Justice, and unless we both have some opportunity to better our lot.

We face a risk in saying that while we like children to be fed, and not feeding the hunger violates Charity, that's not what we mean by Morality or Justice. The risk is the Soundbite Gotcha: "You said you don't think it's moral to feed the hungry!". No, I said it was uncharitable, a charge just as grave. There are many ways for something to be wrong; it may be uncharitable, injust, or immoral; it might be illegal, unethical, or just plain sneaky. But while logical, applying that notion doesn't defend against the Soundbite Gotcha very well.

And it won't fit on a bumper sticker.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Morality and the Culture War

Much has been said over the last two decades about a culture war in the US, and the world generally, between the Left and the Right, urban and non-urban, of which the Blue and Red divide is said to be symptomatic. After 9/11/2001 we declared something of a cease fire as everyone realized who the real enemy was. But the engine of war is back up to full steam, having subsumed the Global War on Terror as another front. The prize in the culture war is the right to define morality, and to write that morality into law.

Ethics, morality, and the law share guiding human behavior as their common subject matter. It is possible for behavior to be unethical but moral and legal; unethical and immoral, but legal; and so on. But in most cases the intersection of the three is characterized by their violation. Some people, even otherwise clear-headed philosophers, seem to become thoroughly befuddled when asked to compare and contrast them. It's all pretty simple:

  • Ethics are the rules we adopt for ourselves
  • Morals are the rules we believe apply to everyone
  • Laws are the rules we demand that everyone obey
While some see ethics and morality as synonymous, they are not. But I must make an abrupt halt, for I see a hand raised at the back of the room. Is not "ethics" the study of the entire field which includes moral philosophy? Yes, but in one of the vagaries of English, "ethics" has a narrower meaning, the one intended when we label conduct "unethical". People sometimes use "unethical" when they mean "immoral". This misuse is most common among people who put a high value on moral pluralism, as if the substitution of "ethical" for "moral" means that they are not trying to apply their own morality to someone else, or even universally. By proclaiming an "ethical" problem, they are in fact applying a belief in the universal applicability of their own moral code.

Morality is what we believe to be universal, or if we have taken time to ponder the matter, to be generally accepted by our culture as defining right and wrong. Morality is, paradoxically, subjective. We each believe that everyone should hold the same morality as we do, but clearly they do not. People have different views of what is moral and what is not, but each is convinced of the accuracy of his own moral compass, and the inaccuracy of those which differ. And lest the counterpoint of tolerance be raised, note how morally wrong intolerance appears to the pathologically tolerant.

Some hint that morality is universal or believe it inseparable from religion. Some argue as they have for centuries that an innate human morality exists which, in its instinctual purity, whether mandated by a Creator or inbred by racial memory, contains the universal Truth. I simply say here that whatever the source, we all believe there are some things all the people around us ought to believe, even if the manifest reality is that we do not all believe all of them, and even if those beliefs are contradicted by our wider culture.

As a person grows in sophistication respecting moral choices, he begins to see that others have a strong sense of morality that bears only partial resemblance to his own.

Lawrence Kohlberg called the various kinds of moral sophistication "stages", and said that life is a journey of transitions from one kind to the next, ending with the final stage. A better understanding of moral sophistication is as a spectrum, with bands of sophistication corresponding to Kohlberg's stages, but without rigid boundaries between them. Further, Kohlberg rejected the obvious notion of recidivism, that a person can vacillate between levels of sophistication, in tacit agreement with the maxim "once you see truth, you can't un-see it". Morality does not have trap doors, however: it is possible to toy with or embrace a view of the world for a time, then reject it as unsound.

Ethics, on the other hand, are rules we intentionally adopt for ourselves. By adopting them, we know a priori that they are not universal. They often overlap with morals, but the distinction of personal adoption is important. For some, their ethics replace their morality entirely, as in the case of those who believe they have a sufficiently developed set of rules to ignore societal norms.

"You can't legislate morality" is often misused as a reason not to try; in fact, that only makes sense as a mere statement that the law never created a moral person. Here is Keith Burgess-Jackson's take on it. But the law generally reflects, or at least tracks, the morality held by those in power; in democratic forms of government, that should mean it approaches something like the popular viewpoint.

For many people, morality consists of personal behavior, especially in chastity, honesty, familial loyalty, avoiding theft or murder. Others see morality in terms of man's obligation to man. Regardless of their particular definition, they always think it would be better if everyone who differs held theirs.

Under democratic governments, the law provides a baseline for morality, a set of extremes on which all, or a strong enough majority, agree. Examples include laws against murder, theft, rape, and incest. Totalitarian regimes attempt, by definition, to legislate the entire range of human activity. The typically strict moral climate of a totalitarian government sets the extremes too tightly, causing the controlled population to see rebellion not as immoral, but as morally obligatory. The American Founders found themselves in just such a circumstance -- but that is a subject for another day.

Does the law generally have a normative impact on morality? That is, do we internalize the law? If it did, it would nudge a person closer to being moral, even if, as asserted, morality cannot be legislated. I believe the law does affect our opinion of what others see as moral, which in turn affects what we see as morality. I'm not sure how strong the impact is, but it's definitely there. At least anecdotally, we've all heard people equate an action's rightness with its legality: a politician who "has never been indicted" is appealing to this sense, as is the teenager who claims that his actions are correct because he is breaking no law.

An example of legislated morality is that of sexual harassment in the workplace. While for many years it was legal, but widely considered immoral, for a boss to use his or her position to gain sexual favors from a subordinate, the topic entered the political spotlight with the hearings of the Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court of the US. Liberals were outraged at the charges, assuming them to be true, while Conservatives were dismayed at the low morals described in the hearings, and assumed them to be false, or exaggerated. In any case, laws across the country against sexual harassment were strengthened, because there was a consensus on the matter. What may be the definitive quote on the subject comes from Kate and Leopold, the story of a nineteenth century aristocrat brought by time travel to the present day:
Leopold: Some feel that to court a woman in one's employ is nothing more than a serpentine effort to transform a lady into a whore.
Since the time of the Thomas hearings, whether merely because of renewed emphasis or because of the laws passed against it, the culture has accepted sexual harassment as immoral.

Many groups with a variety of political ideologies have made it their expressed purpose to advocate laws, so that a certain moral position will be legally advocated. These groups appear to believe that law shapes public morality.

In a similar vein, there is the phenomenon of political correctness, in which those in the majority are allowed only to express views which do not offend the minority. The enforcers of this principle see it as a moral issue: you shall not offend. With laws against "hate crime", the enforcers of political correctness make a direct attempt to legislate morality. They want their beliefs about right and wrong put into law.

Others don't care about legislating morality per se, but feel a moral obligation to have the government perform charity. They argue about social contracts and just societies, but in the end they want to force one person to give to another, whether such charity is charitable or not.

Who will win the culture war? Whoever is most successful in legislating morality.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Conservatives and Liberals

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the nature of conservatism, especially whether the Conservative movement is dominated by Christians. I think a lot of the discussion reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of conservatism, liberalism, and the place of religion in politics.

Conservatism is concerned with preserving the goodness of the world, even if that preserves some of the ills, as well. Liberalism is concerned with fixing the flaws in the world, even if that causes the loss of some of what is good.

Conservatives currently believe that all that men need to live fulfilling lives is the absence of chains, literal and figurative, placed on them by their fellow man. Give a man his freedom, and keep from placing undue burdens on him, and be prepared to marvel at his industry and the good works of his gratitude. That is, I think, a summation of Classical Liberalism. Liberals no longer believe the "all" part: men require the assisstance of others, especially those in government. It takes a village to lift a man up.

Conservatives believe that government should be kept out of religion, but that it's fine for religious people in government to display their faith, as long as no one is forced to believe. Liberals believe that religion should be kept out of government, but that it's fine for religious people in government to act out their faith as long as no one knows their motivation.

While I can't be sure without researching it for a lifetime, I think politics has always been about the tendency to want to keep what is good, versus wanting to change what is not. There is always resistance to reforming a system that largely works, and there is always pressure to reform one that does not. Whether the argument is between Whigs and Democrats, Confucian reformers and Imperialists, or our Republicans and Democrats, one side has things they want to change, and the other wants ... nah. I don't buy my own argument.

I have other stuff to do, like finding the design my wife wants in the kitchen floor.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Diagnosis: Liar

It seems that convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam is dissatisfied with his sentence. Ressam was the terrorist convicted of plotting to blow up the Seattle Space Needle at the turn of the millennium. After his conviction, he began cooperating with the authorities, perhaps with a change of heart, but more likely just to get his sentence reduced.

U.S. District Judge John Coughenour of Seattle, who sentenced Ressam, said the information he provided was "startlingly helpful."

But Ressam's cooperation came to a halt by early 2003, resulting in charges being dropped against two other co[-]conspirators. His lawyers said years of solitary confinement, broken by periods of intense interrogation, had taken their toll on his mental health and corrupted his memory.

His mental health? He came in to the criminal justice system because he was trying to kill hundreds of innocent people. So, with respect to his mental health, what further harm is there to do, and how can we tell that harm is being done?

Maybe he now he's actually becoming wicked, and wants to contribute to global warming.

h/t Redstate

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

The most illogical comment ever

You, TonyS, poster at, have won the honor of having your comment disassembled, in a game I like to call, "Fisk the Troll". I can tell you right now that your post is a difficult one to analyze, because it is so dense with fallacies. I will do my best to be fair, despite the inherent unfairness in the name of the game itself, but with material this rich, the likelihood for error is pretty high.

  1. Finding scapegoats is fully unhelpful to the Iraq problem.
    While that is vacuously true, I must note that as it has been a principal occupation of anti-war bloggers, whose water and mantle you appear to carry, to cry failure and assign blame to that failure ever since the Iraq war began. It is now profoundly and insincerely disingenous to disclaim a desire to point fingers. Nevertheless, since you used the word "scapegoat", I have to agree that finding them is unhelpful (in any arena, not just Iraq, whence the charge of vacuity).

  2. Let's be serious...if the media was so influential against Bush & the war, then why did he win reelection?

    Logically, that is:
    1. If the media is against a candidate, he will lose.
    2. Bush won.
    3. Therefore, the media was not against him.

    The problem with that is that the media does not always get what it wants. It is not, after all, monolithic and also tries to give the appearance of balance. Sometimes, it takes a while for their bias to infect the masses. In other words, your first premise relies on not just one but two unstated co-premises: 1) the public is anti-Bush, and 2) the public was just as anti-Bush in 2004 as now. Both of those statements would require proofs longer than your post.

  3. If it was just the media, then why was bush taking responsibility for the war failures in his speech?

    As that is written, it is an obvious non sequitur, resulting in the fallacies of the false dilemma, the complex question, and the missing middle. It needs to be addressed, however, because it seems to have taken hold in the lefty nutosphere.

    There are several links missing in your chain of reasoning, and some of them in themselves may be fallacial. However, I will do my best to reconstruct the chain.

    1. Only media bias or significant mistakes could make the war unpopular
    2. There were no known significant mistakes before 2005
      1. If there were any known significant mistakes, the war would have been unpopular in 2004.
      2. The war was not unpopular in 2004, because Bush was reelected.
      3. Therefore, there were no known significant mistakes before 2004
    3. Therefore, if the war were not made unpopular by the media, then it would have been popular.
    4. The public has recognized serious mistakes since 2004
      1. Since the war is unpopular now, either there was media bias since 2004 or there were significant mistakes recognized since 2004.
      2. There were significant mistakes recognized since 2004
        1. Only significant mistakes could cause the President to take responsibility for any in his speech.
        2. Bush took responsibility for the war mistakes in his speech.
        3. Therefore, there must have been significant mistakes.
    5. Therefore it was not just the media.

    6. As always with the fallacies of this type, reconstruction is problematic, but I have attempted to do so in good faith. The major problem with the argument is that it presupposes a link between acknowledging mistakes, which is a leader's responsibility, and public opinion, which is shaped by media focus on mistakes. How did the public discover the mistakes, except through the media? If the war were still popular, would the President not have taken responsibility for any mistakes? Of course he would, as in a popular war there would be even less pressure on him not to accept his official responsibility.

      An essential ingredient in the above is the idea that the President would not have admitted any mistakes unless the public, without media assistance, insisted on it.

  4. It wasn't the media that influenced him to ignore early military advice, it was Cheney & Rumsfield. What is the problem is that we entered the war being told that it will be a quick fight, we will be rewarded by the Iraqi people and all is well.

    What an ingenious use of the fallacy of false choice: you assume he ignored military advice, and that Cheney and Rumsfeld (not "Rumsfield") advised him to do so, and present the obviously false choice of the media as the only other thing that could have made him do what you falsely assume him to have done. In fact, he weighed all the options and concluded that a smaller force, with a smaller footprint, was better, essentially because in modern warfare against a non-traditional foe, agility is required. I have elsewhere argued that we did not defeat Iraq thoroughly enough, stopping before they apologized. There were reasons for that, but in the end they boil down to wanting to avoid bad PR. So in effect, it was the media which made him go in with too light a force.

  5. Rumsfield excused the killing by saying that people die in every big city.

    At the time he said that, the death rate was comparable to that in major world cities.

  6. They built us a house of cards & now it's falling.

    That's a poor metaphor, because a house of cards can't be renovated. They destroyed Dracula's Castle, but then the Turks wanted to build a mosque in its place, and they got trapped into allowing it.

  7. Finally, it seems to me that the media followed the lead of the populace, not the other way around.

    This is your argument, in a nutshell, that the media is just telling the public what it wants to hear. It seems to me, on the other hand, that the media have pushed their anti-Bush agenda at least since April, 2003, when to their horror they saw an American flag raised over a foreign capitol. We'd "won", and they could not stand it, so they have done their best to make sure we "lost".

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Al-Reuters Pines for Stability

Via Yahoo! comes the masterful journalism of Al-Reuters, who stop just short of accusing President Bush of endangering the country by toppling one of its enemies. The President will appear on 60 Minutes on CBS, which Al-Reuters has the temerity to label a "news program". To be fair, since 60 Minutes is a vehicle for advancing the liberal agenda in the guise of a muckraking news program, it may be a simple mistake on Al-Reuters' part.

President George W. Bush acknowledged on Saturday that some of his administration's decisions during the Iraq war had contributed to instability there but he still believed he was right to topple Saddam Hussein.

Insisting it was crucial to U.S. interests to get the sectarian violence in Iraq under control, Bush told CBS in an interview that the strife there was a destabilizing force in the Middle East that "could lead to attacks here in America."

Pressed on whether actions by his administration had created further instability in Iraq, Bush said, "Well, no question, decisions have made things unstable."

There was stability before 9/11, with Saddam in power, and yet there were attacks on America and her overseas embassies and military structure. Stability did not prevent terror from coming to our soil. Oddly enough, despite all of the danger the instability in Iraq has caused, there have been no successful attacks since Saddam was toppled.

But look for this theme to continue in the coming months. Should there be an attack on U.S. soil or interests, no matter the value of the target or the level of damage, expect triumphant finger-pointing from Al-Reuters, CBS, and the rest of the dominant liberal branch of the MSM.

But there is one more BDS-enhanced graph to highlight in the Al-Reuters article.

Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 promising to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction, but none were found. He said in the CBS interview that had Saddam been allowed to remain in power, the Iraqi leader would have been competing with Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Al-Reuters presses the "Iraq was Bush's ill-considered whim" myth, doing whatever they can to play both the NoWMD™ and BushLied™ cards. They hint that the spectre of Iran getting nuclear weapons should be discredited by not finding them in Iraq. For their sake, I hope they're right. But for the sake of our troops overseas, the American populace, and the future of Western Civilization, I'm glad the method of safeguarding our future is not Al-Reuters' call.

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Why we must stay.

A commenter on asked "Why can't we just leave Iraq?" He asked why we didn't just let the Iraqi people vote, and leave if they said to go.

If you ask the average Iraqi whether they would like American troops to be gone in a year, they would say they would. If you ask an American the same, you'd get the same answer. But that doesn't mean the person wants the Americans out now, or even in a year if things are the same. It just means that other things being equal, why sure, we should be out in a year.

Conditions can change rapidly; that is part and parcel of why we don't run war by popular vote, or even through the legislature. It has to be run by an executive.

Furthermore, nobody (as in, not anyone) wants us to stay there forever.

But to answer your question:

The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can't. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you'll have to square with that some day. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can't bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not?

-- Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Carribean, Dead Man's Chest

We could pull out of Iraq, but there would be negative consequences to America that either don't matter or are seen as positive by the Iraqis.

Our allies (and prospective allies) would learn that we will not be loyal in the face of resistance.

Our military would learn, in a lesson that would last at least a generation, that we don't have the will to win, and neither should they. I was a Marine in the era between Viet Nam and the Gulf War. We knew, and we hated it.

Our enemies would have even more evidence that we are a weak, ineffectual "paper tiger". Terror would be rewarded, and would flourish.

The simpering leftists in the MSM would be rewarded for defeatism.

All of the lives and energy, to say nothing of the treasure, we have used to fight in Iraq would be offeset only by the removal and death of Saddam Hussein. That's not enough.

The power vacuum would be enormous, which would lead to and increase in Iranian and Syrian control or influence. That is not acceptable, regardless of what the Iraqi public says.

But as it happens, the Iraqis did vote on it: they have a government. If that government didn't want us there, it would be crying to the United Nations, if nothing else. And yes, they could do that, because, as Capt. Jack said, there are only two rules. They think having us there is better than asking us to leave.

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Monday, January 08, 2007


Your cries have been echoing across the Internet for almost four years now. I won't bother to quote them, link to them, or even name names; you know who you are. Iraq is a quagmire! Iraq is Deja Nam! The anti-war Left have raised these rallying cries for two primary reasons: their unreasoning, intransigent opposition to anything favored by President George W. Bush, and a belief, held almost as deeply, that Western culture is inherently flawed. Since they see our culture as imperfect, any attempt to spread it is an act of evil.

These same leftists have been very right about Iraq, but only because they misunderstand war.

War is not simply the opposite of peace, nor its absence. War is not simply "diplomacy by other means". War's purpose is not to bully the other side into letting you have your way, to create vassal states or puppet regimes, or to build nations. Neither is it war's end to remove the enemy's means of enforcing his objectives. The purpose of war is Victory, which I hold to be quite different from any of the above.

While Peace is a good thing, Peace is loathsome without Justice, Freedom, or Honor. To accept Peace without Justice is to force rage below the surface. Denied our final vengeance, we exact terms; unconvinced of his error, our terms cause rage in our foe which will rise when we expect it least. To accept Peace without Freedom is as contrary to Liberality now as in 1776. To accept Peace without Honor is to accept a prize which we have not ourselves won, and will not love.

The purpose of war is to extract a sincere apology. The enemy must be so thoroughly defeated that he understands his defeat not merely as poor luck or unfortunate circumstances; he must understand it as a measure of the value of his ideas. His loss must cause him to disavow his reason for fighting.

In the early Nineteenth century, the converse was taught to Napoleon Bonaparte by some Spaniards whom he had thought defeated. Taking to the countryside, these men fought on. Unable to face down the huge Grand Army of the Napoleonic Empire, the Spaniards in their "little warfare" harassed and annoyed Napoleon badly enough that the British were able to turn him back from Spain. Ever since then, the Spanish word guerrilla has been used for the tactics employed by armies which are too small to fight conventionally, but which have not been brought to heel.

When Napoleon was later defeated by the combined armies of Britain, Russia, and the rest of Europe, it was because France learned it could not do what Napoleon said it could do. France fought for the personal cult of Napolean, and after a first defeat he went into exile on Elba. He retained his life and some personal property, and while some troops remained loyal, he was forced to renounce the right of succession. It took an escape from Elba and another defeat before all of France was finally done with him.

Consider also the American Civil War, in which victory by the North caused the Confederate States to realize that the Union, not just the Union Army, was their master. No more would States be allowed to challenge Federal authority. The end of slavery was a happy byproduct of that more fundamental and perhaps less fortunate change.

After World War I, Germany was allowed to negotiate an armistice, or cease fire. To the Germans, what should have been seen as a defeat was merely seen as a setback. Without the epiphany of utter defeat, the reparations imposed on them caused rage to bubble under the surface. The dream of at least symbolically reviving the Holy Roman Empire lived on. It took another war, and millions of lives, to drive the lesson home.

The purpose of war is to have a defeated foe say, "We are sorry. You were right to oppose our wicked ways." Victory is incomplete until the loser internalizes the outcome.

It is a mistake to stop merely because the enemy no longer has the means of opposition. As Napoleon, the guerrillas, and the Germans in 1933 demonstrate, where there is will and hope, the means will appear.

Which brings us back to Iraq. Our mission in Iraq did look like Deja Nam, and it did have the makings of a quagmire, but it looked that way and had those makings because we were not willing to bring the enemy to a thorough repudiation of his prior position. We left Saddam's loyalists in the field, hoping that they would come to understand his thorough political and moral bankruptcy, but we declared victory before the enemy aplogized. Retaining will and hope, the means have arisen from Iran, Syria, and other islamoterrorism funders eager to control Iraq and to oppose the United States.

The shape of victory in Iraq is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A little too Pat

Televangelist and former Presidential candidate Pat Robertson has forecast a terrorist incident for next Fall. He said God told him it would happen, but not whether it would be a nuclear attack or not.

Since Pat said God told him it would happen, we have to interpret his remarks inside of Pat's own religious tradition, which holds the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. At the very least, the Bible's description of the Christian faith and practices should be considered authoritative. In particular, what the Bible says about making predictions should be our best guide in these matters.

Here is what the Bible says about prophecy and prophets (NIV):

22 You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:21-22
8 ...Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. -- Ezekiel 13:8-9

Robertson makes predictions for the year a regular practice. Last year he predicted hurricanes as bad as a tsunami would hit the U.S. Pacific coast. It didn't happen. "I have a relatively good track record," he said. "Sometimes I miss." The perpendicular pronoun strikes again.

By his own admission, Pat Robertson is a false prophet, and is making these things up.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Penalty for Early Withdrawal?

Poor Markos. The New York Times as his irrefutable authority, he quotes their article saying:

  1. Bush is looking for someone to blame, label as traitor
  2. Bush thinks General Casey too interested in withdrawal, not victory
  3. Bush thinks this is cause of problem

He repeats the above, snarkily:

We're losing the war because our top general in Iraq doesn't want to win, he wants to get out. And since withdrawal equals defeat, any effort to reduce our military footprint in Iraq is, by definition, defeat. It's that simple!

And goes boldly on with:
No one wants to win in Iraq. Not even the troops! Hang them all as traitors!

Fallacy by hyperbole. (Many people want to win in Iraq. Withdrawal from a stable Iraq was the plan all along. General Casey is not the troops. No one is suggesting that General Casey is a traitor.)

Woe are Bush, McCain, Lieberman, and the 101st Fighting Keyboardists. Alone in their mighty struggle against "Islamofascism". They are the last line of defense against Sharia Law in the United States. Or something.

Intended as biting sarcasm, revealing that Kos thinks that either A) Islamofascism is too weak to require opposition or B) he himself opposes Islamofascism, by whatever name.

(if only we could get them and their families to actually pick up a rifle and fight for what they supposedly believe in...)
Ah, the Chickenhawk Attack (argumentum ad hominem, with a healthy dose of tu quoque thrown in for good measure) Apparently the fallacious nature of the Chickenhawk Attack is lost on Kos.

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