Thursday, April 20, 2006

How many lobbyists are there in Washington?

Its widely agreed upon that lobbying has grown out of control in recent years, but there seems to be some dispute as to the number of active lobbyists in the capitol. Previously, I linked to this Washington Post article which reports that the numbered of registerd lobbyists has "doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750," but its been brought to my attention, by Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush, that this Post article contradicts that figure. As you can see from the article, the author runs a directory company which lists only 11,500 active lobbyists in Washington, which is significantly less than the 34,750 registered number.

But if you google this subject, you won't find much about lobbying counts, methodologies, and such. Considering the importance of the issue, could we please get some definitive figures?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Site (page) of the Day

Library of the Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive.

Plenty of interesting articles and essays up on the page. I particularly like the Philosophy of Science section, since you can read Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend (some of the giants of 20th century science philosophy) to compare and contrast them. Also interesting is Martin Gardner's skeptical critique of Karl Popper (Gardner was mentored by the "chief rival" of Popper, Rudolp Carnap.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

No class

A group of student protesters at UC Santa Cruz held a rally to block military recruiters from their campus. I believe the students were in the wrong to do so, but that's besides the point that will become clear in a moment.

As part of the press release for the protest, several of the student organizers included their contact information.

Michelle Malkin, blogging about the "seditious" "moonbat" protesters, posts the students' contact information.

The students begin to receive death threats, and subsequently ask Malkin to remove their contact information from her site. She tells them, essentially, to go fuck themselves, and reposts their info.

No class, Mrs. Malkin. No class is what you are.

Here's Malkin's very typical response. As it turns out, she's the innocent victim of a world of unhinged moonbats, out to get her, even though she had nothing to do with the "alleged" death threats. Oh, and she gets rude and malicious e-mails, which somehow is supposed to excuse her own ethical lapse. She just wanted to make sure these "punks" are "held accountable" for their "violent tactics" (which she of course never substantiates with evidence of violence.)

Malkin also says that the students have not requested that their info be removed. Yet she does not say that no one from SAW asked her to remove the contact information, and she does not indicate whether she would do so were she asked.

She wonders why there's such a fuss. All she did was link to their press release and provide their publically available information. But here's the thing Michelle, once they started getting death threats and indicated they wanted you to remove their information from your site, you should have done it. Period.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Revealing the Leader authorized illegal spying on US citizens = treason

Scott at Powerline writes

Following in the footsteps of the AP last year, New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau won the Pulitzer Prize today for their treasonous contribution to the undermining of the highly classified National Security Agency surveillance program of al Qaeda-related terrorists. As I wrote in a column for the Standard, the Risen/Lichtblau reportage clearly violated relevant provisions of the Espionage Act -- a particularly serious crime insofar as it lends assistance to the enemy in a time of war.
So, let's recap. Revealing that the President authorized the National Surveilligance Agency to engage in warrantless spying on American citizens without a warrant, despite having promised that would never happen, and despite there being a law written in 1978 to specifically prohibit that from happening, constitutes treason and espionage.

Scott also identifies the program as a "surveillance program of al Qaeda-related terrorists." See, if you're opposed to warrantless surveillance in violation of the law, you're now by definition against spying on terrorists, because, well, the President called it a "terrorist surveillance program", so, gosh, shucks, gee wiz, it must be only terrorists that get spied on. Never mind the distinction between the idea of being opposed to spying on terrorists and being opposed to this specific spying program, a nuance that is apparently beyond Scott.

Philosophical metaphor of the day

"We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction." - Otto Neurath

Neurath was using the metaphor to explain his view of how human knowledge is constructed, but it was popularized by W.V. Quine who used it to help describe his view of naturalized epistemology, in which he sought to make epistemology a subset of psychology.

I was going to explain further, but while searching for Quine's original essay, "Epistemology Naturalized", I came across this post from Lindsay Beyerstein who has already said it better than I think I can.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Cool animal of the day

Red lipped Batfish (click for picture):

One of more than 60 different species of fishes found in warm sea, this fish has a broad head, slight body, and is covered in large gnarled lumps. Batfish are not good swimmers; they use their pectoral fins to "walk" on the ocean floor. When the batfish reaches adulthood, its dorsal fin becomes a single spine-like projection that lures prey. Batfish eat shrimps, mollusks, small fish, crabs, and worms.
Just saw this fish for the first time while watching the Shark Mountain documentary on PBS.

On the Rule of Law

"Nothing distinguishes more clearly conditions in a free government from those in a country under arbitrary government than the observance in the former of the great principles known as the Rule of Law. Stripped of all technicalities, this means that government in all its actions is bound by rules fixed and announced before-hand--rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances and to plan one's individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge." - F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

Update: I was feeling lazy this morning and neglected to type out the excerpt which follows.

"The Rule of Law was consciously evolved only during the liberal age and is one of its greatest achievements, not only as a safeguard but as the only legal embodiment of freedom. As Immanuel Kant put it (and Voltaire expressed it before him in very much the same terms), "Man is free if he needs to obey no person but solely the laws." As a vague ideal it has, however, existed at least since Roman times, and during the last few centuries it has never been so seriously threatened as it is today. The idea that there is no limit to the powers of the legislator is in part a result of popular sovereignty and democratic government. It has been strengthened by the belief that, so long as all actions of the state are duly authorized by legislation, the Rule of Law will be preserved. But this is completely to misconceive the meaning of the Rule of Law. This rule has little to do with the question whether all actions of government are legal in the juridical sense. They may well be and yet not conform to the Rule of Law. The fact that someone has full legal authority to act in the way he does gives no answer to the question whether the law gives him power to act arbitrarily or whether the law prescribes unequivocally how he has to act. It may well be that Hitler has obtained his unlimited powers in a strictly constitutional manner and that whatever he does is therefore legal in the juridical sense. But who would suggest for that reason that the Rule of Law still prevails in Germany?" - F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

William Buckley vs. Noam Chomsky

Check out this video of a debate between William Buckley and Noam Chomsky from 1969. Isn't this a far cry from what passes for debate on television today? Chomsky and Buckley are probably more ideologically different than any two individuals you might see "debating" an issue on tv today, yet they still manage to remain calm and courteous. Additionally, note the length. The debate is long enough so that one might actually see the arguments fleshed out enough to allow a person to form an opinion on the subject being debated.

Quote of the day

"Man is the measure of all things" - Protagoras

A while back I said that I'd get around to explaining what the sophists got right. Well, here goes:

The Sophists were right in pointing out that beliefs are relative to the perception of man. (Ok, I'm being terse, but I'm not feeling so well at the moment. For more info check out the Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy entry I link to above.)

But recognizing this fact, we can attempt to employ objective methods of inquiry to overcome personal bias and increase our knowledge of the world. This is the aim and purpose of science.

Friday, April 14, 2006

What freedom of religion isn't

Freedom of religion is not the freedom to become a pharmacist and then deny patients legally prescribed medication because of your personal moral objections to the patient's life choices. That's not freedom of religion. That's the freedom to oppress others ... sorry, fundamentalists, you don't have that right.

Now, to me, the obvious solution for a person who has moral objections to the job description of being a pharmacist would be to not become a pharmacist, but that solution doesn't seem to present itself to these pharmacists. I say we help them out.

I'm not sure if there already is, but there should be some sort of pharmacist equivalent to the American Bar Association which can de-license pharmacists who refuse prescriptions for illigitimate private reasons. This is a necessary step, because if we grant personal faith as a legitimate reason to refuse to fill prescriptions, then we are granting pharmacists the right to refuse to fill any prescription for any reason. When people's health is at stake, that is unacceptable.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Quote of the day

"[James Mill] looked upon [religion] as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting up factitious excellencies, - belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kind, - and causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues: but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals, by making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the praises of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful." - John Stuart Mill, Autobiography

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Understatement of the day

"The White House is not an intelligence-gathering agency" - Scott McClellan, trying to spin the White House out of accountability for peddling disproved intelligence

Let's review the facts, shall we Scott? Two military teams (of weapons experts), basing their views off of descriptions from the discredited intelligence source Curveball, believed the trailers were mobile weapons units. The Pentagon sent a team of technical experts to investigate and resolve the matter. The team, within fours hours of investigating, concluded unequivocally that the trailers were not weapons units. Upon returning, the team was asked to revise its (correct) conclusion to "soften" it by allowing for the possibility that the trailers may have been mobile weapons units. The team would not revise their conclusion, and their report was classified and shelved. In public statements for months afterwards, administration members stated unequivocally that the trailers were biological weapons units, until they were finally rebutted once and for all 15 months later when the Iraq Survey Group came to the same conclusion that the group of technical experts had already reached.

Yep, you're right, Scott, the Washington Post sure does owe the White House an apology.

Cool site of the day

The Food Timeline (via Savage Minds)

Ever wonder what foods the Vikings ate when they set off to explore the new world? How Thomas Jefferson made his ice cream? What the pioneers cooked along the Oregon Trail? Who invented the potato chip...and why? Welcome to the Food Timeline. Food history is full of fascinating lore and contradictory facts. Historians will tell you it is not possible to express this topic in exact timeline format. They are quite right. Everything we eat is the product of culinary evolution. On the other hand? It is possible to place both foods and recipes on a timeline based on print evidence and historic context.

Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald issues a correction

Patrick Fitzgerald has issued a correction:

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, Fitzgerald wrote yesterday that he wanted to "correct" the sentence that dealt with the issue in a filing he submitted last Wednesday. That sentence said Libby "was to tell Miller, among other things, that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."

Instead, the sentence should have conveyed that Libby was to tell Miller some of the key judgments of the NIE "and that the NIE stated that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."

This would mean, as far as I can tell, that Libby did not tell Judith Miller that one of the key judgements of the NIE was that Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium, something that the administration had been lambasted for, since that would have been a flat out lie. But this twist creates more questions, because now we have to wonder what exactly it was that Libby leaked to Miller. Eriposte has some ideas, and I'll add one more: the sentence as Fitzgerald has corrected it reads as if Libby may have been trying to conflate the key judgements with the claim that Iraq was trying to procure uranium, so that Miller would take it as a hidden assumption that the claim was part of the key judgements.

More information is needed to know for sure what exactly went on, but one thing emerges clearly, the administration has been acting as if it has something to hide.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has picked out another Bush war in Iraq untruth

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Ten Commandments of Solon (founder of Athenian democracy)

1. Trust good character more than promises.
2. Do not speak falsely.
3. Do good things.
4. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
5. Learn to obey before you command.
6. When giving advice, do not recommend what is most pleasing, but what is most useful.
7. Make reason your supreme commander.
8. Do not associate with people who do bad things.
9. Honor the gods.
10. Have regard for your parents.
- Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers,

One things I find remarkable about Solon (638 BCE - 558 BCE), other than the fact that when repealing the laws of Draco he re-wrote Athens Constitution in poetic verse (in 594 BCE), making him the first person in history to formalize democratic principles in government, is that after doing so he went into self-imposed exile for ten years to ensure that he would not become a tyrant.

For a comparison of these commandments with the Biblical Ten Commandments, see Richard Carrier's Secular Web essay, "The Real Ten Commandments."

Monday, April 10, 2006

The majesty of a worm crawling out of a frog's nose

It's one of the wonders of science that what I just mentioned in the title can help reveal one of the profound truths of the history of life. Over at The Loom, Carl Zimmer blogs about how the escape of a parasitic worm after being ingested by a predator such as a frog demonstrates and reinforces evolutionary theory.

A good editorial?

This morning, when I read the Washington Post's attrocious Sunday editorial, "A Good Leak" which suggests the President should be commended for authorizing members of his adminstration to leak portions of the NIE, my immediate thought was that it had been written by someone from the White House, or rather, that the editor who had written the piece had had a conversation with some White House official, got his/her spin on the leak revelation, and then ran that as an editorial without revealing who the real source of the article was. My reasons for thinking this were:

1. It just sounded like something from the White House. Call it an instinct.
2. The story was full of already debunked White House talking points.

The editorial has already been demolished (see here, here, here, and here) but now Think Progress notes that the White House is using the editorial to defend Bush's leak authorization. This only reinforces my suspicion: someone in the White House was the real source of this editorial (recall Cheney's office leaking intelligence about Iraq to Judy Miller and then Cheney later citing Miller's work as evidence supporting the case for Iraq without revealing that his office had been her source.)

Whether or not this editorial was fed to the Post by an administration member, the real question reporters need to start asking is this one from Elizabeth De La Vega:

Is a President, on the eve of his reelection campaign, legally entitled to ward off political embarrassment and conceal past failures in the exercise of his office by unilaterally and informally declassifying selected -- as well as false and misleading -- portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate that he has previously refused to declassify, in order to cause such information to be secretly disclosed under false pretenses in the name of a "former Hill staffer" to a single reporter, intending that reporter to publish such false and misleading information in a prominent national newspaper?
If you're wondering what Vega means by "false and misleading information", then this New York Times article from Saturday should clear it up for you.

President Bush's apparent order authorizing a senior White House official to reveal to a reporter previously classified intelligence about Saddam Hussein's efforts to obtain uranium came as the information was already being discredited by several other officials in the administration, interviews and documents from the time show.

A review of the records and interviews conducted during and after the crucial period in June and July of 2003 also show that what the aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr., said he was authorized to portray as a "key judgment" by intelligence officers had in fact been given much less prominence in the most important assessment of Iraq's weapons capability.

Mr. Libby said he drew on that report, the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, when he spoke with the reporter. However, the conclusions about Mr. Hussein's search for uranium appear to have been buried deeper in the report in part because of doubts about their reliability.

The court filing asserts that Mr. Bush authorized the disclosure of the intelligence in part to rebut claims that Mr. Wilson was making, including those in a television appearance and in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on July 6, 2003. The filing revealed for the first time testimony by Mr. Libby saying that Mr. Bush, through Mr. Cheney, had authorized Mr. Libby to tell reporters that "a key judgment of the N.I.E. held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium."

In fact, that was not one of the "key judgments" of the document. Instead, it was the subject of several paragraphs on Page 24 of the document, which also acknowledged that Mr. Hussein had long possessed 500 tons of uranium that was under seal by international inspectors, and that no intelligence agencies had ever confirmed whether he had obtained any more of the material from Africa.

And from Editor and Publisher

On page one on Sunday, Post reporters Bart Gellman and Dafna Linzer observed that Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald this week in his latest court filing had for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" using classified information to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" Wilson. “Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign,” they write.

Fitzgerald said the grand jury has collected so much testimony and so many documents that "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."

Then, getting right to the point, the two reporters debunk their own paper's “public service” defense by observing “that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before." Libby, allegedly at Cheney’s direction, "sought out at least three reporters to bolster the discredited uranium allegation.” In other words: Far from serving our citizens, the White House was misleading and manipulating them.
And don't forget the story Murray Waas did March 30 revealing that Karl Rove and Stephen Hadley had worried that if the public became aware that the President had been advised that the claims he was making regarding Iraq seeking to start up a nuclear program were dubious that he would not be re-elected.

Here's the picture that emerges from all this: the administration cherry-picked intelligence that was already thought to be dubious in order to bolster the case for invading Iraq. When a critic of the administration (Joe Wilson) began questioning the way in which it had used intelligence leading up to the war, Karl Rove worried that if that information came to light the President would lose the 2004 election. In order to avoid this, a pr campaign was launched to discredit Wilson (and blame intelligence failures on the CIA). As part of this push to discredit Wilson, the President authorized members of the administration to leak intelligence (misleadingly) from the NIE to support his pre-invasion claims, and in the process Valerie Plame's identity was revealed.

What we are still missing is who pulled the trigger on deciding to out Plame.

An essay from the library of Liberty

One of the most under appreciated influences on the Founding Fathers is Cato's Letters, a series of 144 essays on liberty written by the English Whigs John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon under the pen name Cato between 1720 and 1723. Indeed, one reading the letters for the first time will find that the Founders seem to borrow directly from the pages of "Cato."

The letters are a reminder of what the press could be, and what the power of the press is and should be. Not only did Trenchard and Gordon help disseminate the political philosophy of John Locke, but they also helped play an important role in the history of winning the freedom of the press. Kovatch and Rosenthal write, in The Elements of Journalism, that they:

introduced the idea that truth should be a defense against libel. At the time, English common law had ruled the reverse: not only that any criticism of government was a crime, but that "the greater the truth, the greater the libel," since truth did more harm.
The authors go on to note that in 1735, when colonist John Zengler was put on trial for printing criticism of the royal governor of New York, his lawyer defended him citing Cato's reasoning. Zengler was subsequently aquitted by a jury.

If we seek to educate Americans on their democratic traditions so that they will be more likely to guard jealously against encroachments of power, then I can think of no better place to start than with Cato's Letter #33, which could well serve as an op-ed today as it could when it was written in 1721. The letter follows.

Cautions against the Natural Encroachment of Power

SIR, Considering what sort of a creature man is it is scarce possible to put him under too many restraints, when he is possessed of great power: He may possibly use it well; but they act most prudently, who, supposing that he would use it ill, inclose him within certain bounds, and make it terrible to him to exceed them.

Men that are above all fear, soon grow above all shame. Rupto pudore ~ metu, suo tantum ingenio utebatur ["Finally, when all shame and fear had disappeared, he followed his own nature and descended into crime and into dishonor."] says Tacitus of Tiberius. Even Nero had lived a great while inoffensively, and reigned virtuously: But finding at last that he might do what he would, he let loose his appetite for blood, and committed such mighty, such monstrous, such unnatural slaughters and outrages, as none but a heart bent on the study of cruelty could have devised. The good counsels of Seneca and Burrhus were, for some time, checks upon his wolfish nature; and doubtless he apprehended, that if he made direct and downright war upon his people, they would use resistance and make reprisals: But discovering, by degrees, that they would bear any thing, and his soldiers would execute every thing, he grew into an open defiance with mankind, and daily and wantonly wallowed in their blood. Having no other rival, he seemed to rival himself, and every day's wickedness was blacker than another.

Yet Nero was not the worst of all men: There have been thousands as bad as he, and only wanted the same opportunity to shew it. And there actually have been many princes in the world who have shed more blood, and done more mischief to mankind, than Nero did. I could instance in a late one, who destroyed more lives than ever Nero destroyed, perhaps an hundred to one. It makes no difference, that Nero committed butcheries out of cruelty, and the other only for his glory: However the world may be deceived by the change of names into an abhorrence of the one, and an admiration of the other; it is all one to a nation, when they are to be slaughtered, whether they be slaughtered by the hangman or by dragoons, in prison or in the field; nor is ambition better than cruelty, when it begets mischief as great.

It is nothing strange, that men, who think themselves unaccountable, should act unaccountably, and that all men would be unaccountable if they could: Even those who have done nothing to displease, do not know but some time or other they may; and no man cares to be at the entire mercy of another. Hence it is, that if every man had his will, all men would exercise dominion, and no man would suffer it. It is therefore owing more to the necessities of men, than to their inclinations, that they have put themselves under the restraint of laws, and appointed certain persons, called magistrates, to execute them; otherwise they would never be executed, scarce any man having such a degree of virtue as willingly to execute the laws upon himself; but, on the contrary, most men thinking them a grievance, when they come to meddle with themselves and their property. Suarum legum auctor & eversor ["The author and transgressor of his own laws."], was the character of Pompey: He made laws when they suited his occasions, and broke them when they thwarted his will. And it is the character of almost every man possessed of Pompey's power: They intend them for a security to themselves, and for a terror to others. This shews the distrust that men have of men; and this made a great philosopher call the state of nature, a state of war; which definition is true in a restrained sense, since human societies and human laws are the effect of necessity and experience: Whereas were all men left to the boundless liberty which they claim from nature, every man would be interfering and quarrelling with another; every man would be plundering the acquisitions of another; the labour of one man would be the property of another; weakness would be the prey of force; and one man's industry would be the cause of another man's idleness.

Hence grew the necessity of government; which was the mutual contract of a number of men, agreeing upon certain terms of union and society, and putting themselves under penalties, if i they violated these terms, which were called laws, and put into the hands of one or more men to execute. And thus men quitted part of their natural liberty to acquire civil security. But frequently the remedy proved worse than the disease; and human society had often no enemies so great as their own magistrates; who, where-ever they were trusted with too much power, always abused it, and grew mischievous to those who made them what they were. Rome, while she was free (that is, while she kept her magistrates within due bounds) could defend herself against all the world, and conquer it: But being enslaved (that is, her magistrates having broke their bounds) she could not defend herself against her own single tyrants, nor could they defend her against her foreign foes and invaders; for by their madness and cruelties they had destroyed her virtue and spirit, and exhausted her strength. This shews that those magistrates that are at absolute defiance with a nation, either cannot subsist long, or will not suffer the nation to subsist long; and that mighty traitors, rather than fall themselves, will pull down their country.

What a dreadful spirit must that man possess, who can put a private appetite in balance against the universal good of his country, and of mankind! Alexander and Caesar were that sort of men; they would set the world on fire, and spill its blood, rather than not govern it. Caligula knew that he was hated, and deserved to be hated; but it did not mend him. Oderint dum metuant ["Let them hate, so long as they fear,"], was his by-word: All that the monster aimed at, was to be great and terrible. Most of these tyrants died as became them; and, as they had reigned, by violence: But that did not mend their successors, who generally earned the fate of those that went before them, before they were warm in their place. Invenit etiam aemulos infelix nequitia: Quid si floreat vigeatque?["Even unfruitful wickedness finds imitators. What if it were to flourish and prosper?"] "If unfortunate villainy thus finds rivals, what shall we say, when it exalts its head and prospers?"

There is no evil under the sun but what is to be dreaded from men, who may do what they please with impunity: They seldom or never stop at certain degrees of mischief when they have power to go farther; but hurry on from wickedness to wickedness, as far and as fast as human malice can prompt human power. Ubi semel recto de erratum est. in praeceps pervenitur_a rectis in vitia, a vitiis in prava, a pravis in praecipitia, says a Roman historian; ["Whenever one wanders from the right, one quickly descends into danger_from propriety to depravity, from depravity to crime, from crime to the abyss."] who in this speaks the truth, though in other instances he tells many lies; I mean that base flatterer of power, Velleius Paterculus. So that when we see any great mischief committed with safety, we may justly apprehend mischiefs still greater.

The world is governed by men, and men by their passions; which, being boundless and insatiable, are always terrible when they are not controuled. Who was ever satiated with riches, or surfeited with power, or tired with honours? There is a tradition concerning Alexander, that having penetrated to the Eastern Ocean, and ravaged as much of this world as he knew, he wept that there was never another world for him to conquer. This, whether true or no, shews the spirit of the man, and indeed of human nature, whose appetites are infinite.

People are ruined by their ignorance of human nature; which ignorance leads them to credulity, and too great a confidence in particular men. They fondly imagine that he, who, possessing a great deal by their favour, owes them great gratitude, and all good offices, will therefore return their kindness: But, alas! how often are they mistaken in their favourites and trustees; who, the more they have given them, are often the more incited to take all, and to return destruction for generous usage. The common people generally think that great men have great minds, and scorn base actions; which judgment is so false, that the basest and worst of all actions have been done by great men: Perhaps they have not picked private pockets, but they have done worse; they have often disturbed, deceived, and pillaged the world: And he who is capable of the highest mischief, is capable of the meanest: He who plunders a country of a million of money, would in suitable circumstances steal a silver spoon; and a conqueror, who steals and pillages a kingdom, would, in an humbler fortune, rifle a portmanteau, or rob an orchard.

Political jealousy, therefore, in the people, is a necessary and laudable passion. But in a chief magistrate, a jealousy of his people is not so justifiable, their ambition being only to preserve themselves; whereas it is natural for power to be striving to enlarge itself, and to be encroaching upon those that have none. The most laudable jealousy of a magistrate is to be jealous for his people; which will shew that he loves them, and has used them well: But to be jealous of them, would denote that he has evil designs against them, and has used them ill. The people's jealousy tends to preserve liberty; and the prince's to destroy it. Venice is a glorious instance of the former, and so is England; and all nations who have lost their liberty, are melancholy proofs of the latter.

Power is naturally active, vigilant, and distrustful; which qualities in it push it upon all means and expedients to fortify itself, and upon destroying all opposition, and even all seeds of opposition, and make it restless as long as any thing stands in its way. It would do what it pleases, and have no check. Now, because liberty chastises and shortens power, therefore power would extinguish liberty; and consequently liberty has too much cause to be exceeding jealous, and always upon her defence. Power has many advantages over her; it has generally numerous guards, many creatures, and much treasure; besides, it has more craft and experience, less honesty and innocence: And whereas power can, and for the most part does, subsist where liberty is not, liberty cannot subsist without power; so that she has, as it were, the enemy always at her gates.

Some have said, that magistrates being accountable to none but God, ought to know no other restraint. But this reasoning is as frivolous as it is wicked; for no good man cares how many punishments and penalties lie in his way to an offence which he does not intend to commit: A man who does not mean to commit murder, is not sorry that murder is punished with death. And as to wicked men, their being accountable to God, whom they do not fear, is no security to use against their folly and malice; and to say that we ought to have no security against them, is to insult common sense, and give the lie to the first law of nature, that of self-preservation. Human reason says, that there is no obedience, no regard due to those rulers, who govern by no rule but their lust. Such men are no rulers; they are outlaws; who, being at defiance with God and man, are protected by no law of God, or of reason. By what precept, moral or divine, are we forbid to kill a wolf, or burn an infected ship? Is it unlawful to prevent wickedness and misery, and to resist the authors of them? Are crimes sanctified by their greatness? And is he who robs a country, and murders ten thousand, less a criminal, then he who steals single guineas, and takes away single lives? Is there any sin in preventing, and restraining, or resisting the greatest sin that can be committed, that of oppressing and destroying mankind by wholesale? Sure there never were such open, such shameless, such selfish impostors, as the advocates for lawless power! It is a damnable sin to oppress them; yet it is a damnable sin to oppose them when they oppress, or gain by oppression of others! When they are hurt themselves ever so little, or but think themselves hurt, they are the loudest of all men in their complaints, and the most outrageous in their behaviour: But when others are plundered, oppressed, and butchered, complaints are sedition; and to seek redress, is damnation. Is not this to be the authors of all wickedness and falsehood?

To conclude: Power, without control, appertains to God alone; and no man ought to be trusted with what no man is equal to. In truth there are so many passions, and inconsistencies, and so much selfishness, belonging to human nature, that we can scarce be too much upon our guard against each other. The only security which we can have that men will be honest, is to make it their interest to be honest; and the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Humanist quote of the day

"Man's responsibility increases, as that of the gods decreases." - Andre Gide, writing in his journal

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Broken Democracy Watch

Now that we know the President authorized members of his administration to selectively leak portions of the NIE which supported his case for going to war with Iraq, the White House is offering the defense that it is impossible for the President to leak information because he can declassify anything he feels necessary to declassify. Perhaps anticipating this defense, Alzono Fyfe at the Atheist Ethicist wrote

First, with this crack down on leaks, what is the Administration going to do the next time it wants to reveal the identity of a covert CIA operative where it is useful in embarrassing a critic of the Administration?

This Administration that is cracking down on leaks is also an administration that leaks information when it serves a political purpose. Yet, it is doubtful that this crackdown will include those within the administration who has authorized or participated in these leaks.

This suggests that the Bush Administration is not actually interested in a crackdown against leaks. "Leaking information to the press" and “receiving leaked information” are not the crimes that this administration is actually seeking to punish. Rather, the crimes it seeks to punish are "revealing and/or receiving information that embarrasses the Administration". Those who leak information in ways that benefit the Administration will get an instant get-out-of-jail-free card. Only those who give information opposed to the Administration will be tracked down and punished.

This means that reporters, when they receive information, are going to have to make an evaluation. After hearing classified information, they will have to ask themselves, "Does this benefit the Administration?" If it does, then they will be able to receive the information and print it without repercussions.

If, however, they see the information as damaging to the Administration, they should take this as evidence that they are taking their freedom into their own hands if they should let the information out.

From this, we can rest assured that we, the public, are going to hear more pro-Administration information and less anti-Administration information. From this, we are somehow supposed to make an informed decision as to the quality of the work that this Administration does.
In a post in which I wrote about the Bush administration's efforts to restrict the public's access to information I stated, "a functioning democracy is predicated on the notion that the public has the information neccesary to allow them to fulfill their civic duties, yet the public is now being denied access to information at an unprecedented rate," and concluded by asking:

How can the public hold its representatives accountable for their actions if the public does not know what they are? How can citizens participate in the democratic process if they do not know what is going on?
Alonzo also expanded on this theme (bold emphasis mine)

Second, there is a fundamental conflict between a secret government and a democratic nation. In a democracy, the people decide what type of government they want. It is axiomatic that the people cannot make an informed decision unless they have information. Controlling information is a way of controlling the voter. It is a tool in an attempt to undermine democracy by depriving the people of the most important thing they need to make democracy work.
In the comments section of Alonzo's post you'll notice I express frustration that there seems to be no public outrage over this and ask what might be the reason. Alonzo suggested that it might have something to do with the President's strong ties to religion, an answer that I find totally unsatisfying.

I'm sorry to say, I think the answer is that people just don't seem to mind that much, maybe because many have forgotten how a democracy is supposed to work in the first place.

Which brings me back to something I've been thinking about all week. A little over a week ago, the New York Times ran a story (which I blogged about here) about Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announcing "the first net increase in wetlands since the Fish and Wildlife Service started measuring them in 1954" despite there actually being a net loss of 523,500 acres of swamps and tidal marshes. The reason they did this is because they counted 715,300 acres of "shallow-water wetlands" aka ponds and man-made ponds, including golf course water hazards.

In this story, we have a clear and undeniable instance of the administration trying to conceal a factual truth and replace it with a deliberate lie in an effort to create a false reality. Such an action is antithetical to and incompatible with democracy. In a liberal democracy, we are supposed to make decisions about policies based upon consideration of their real world consequences. Regardless of whether or not you care if the wetlands are decreasing, one should care about our leaders lying to us in an effort to subvert the democratic process.

Think about what the purpose of this lie is. Its purpose is to fabricate a reality that will allow officials to institute policy that suits the ideological interests of this administration, while hiding the consequences of that policy from the public, who might not agree to it if they were aware of what the truth of the situtation was. If you consider that for a moment, you can see the germ of every thing that is wrong with this adminstration.

Yet there will be no consequence for this action. No one will be held accountable. Indeed, the public will likely never know, or care to know. But that's the absurdity of it. In a democratic society, shouldn't lies like this be simply intolerable? Shouldn't any individual in government who is caught engaging in such a blatant deceit be shamed into contrition or resignation?

If we tolerate lies that we catch, what kind of incentive does that give people in power to tell the truth? In a previous post about gov't secrecy I quoted Walter Lippman writing in 1919 that "there can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies." Well, how much liberty can there be for a society which doesn't care about being lied to in the first place?

Quote of the day

"[President Bush's] problem, and ours, is that he came into office exemplifying the failure of his education to teach him the history of the Constitution and what it has taken to preserve our liberties under it." - Nat Hentoff

Residents of Zimbabwe have world's shortest lifespan

From Reuters

Life in Zimbabwe is shorter than anywhere else in the world, with neither men nor women expected to live to 40, World Health Organization statistics showed on Friday.

The WHO's World Health Report for 2006 said the average life expectancy in the AIDS and poverty-stricken country was 36 years -- less than half of the 82-year life span in Japan, which lies at the top of the table with San Marino and Monaco.

The report used the latest data from 2004. Last year's report, based on 2003, put Zimbabwe's average life expectancy one year higher at 37.

Women in Zimbabwe were the worst-off in the world, living an average 34 years, down from 36, the WHO data showed. Male life expectancy was 37 years, unchanged from 2003.

Friday, April 07, 2006

When words and actions do not seem to match: Pt. 4

- From Editor and Publisher

Q Do you think that the Justice Department can conduct an impartial investigation, considering the political ramifications of the CIA leak, and why wouldn't a special counsel be better?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Let me just say something about leaks in Washington. There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington. There's leaks at the executive branch; there's leaks in the legislative branch. There's just too many leaks. And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of.

And so I welcome the investigation. I -- I'm absolutely confident that the Justice Department will do a very good job. There's a special division of career Justice Department officials who are tasked with doing this kind of work; they have done this kind of work before in Washington this year. I have told our administration, people in my administration to be fully cooperative.

I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true and get on about the business.

Yes, let's see, Kemper -- he's from Chicago. Where are you? Are you a Cubs or White Sox fan? (Laughter.) Wait a minute. That doesn't seem fair, does it? (Laughter.)

Q Yesterday we were told that Karl Rove had no role in it --


Q -- have you talked to Karl and do you have confidence in him --

THE PRESIDENT: Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing.

And again I repeat, you know, Washington is a town where there's all kinds of allegations. You've heard much of the allegations. And if people have got solid information, please come forward with it. And that would be people inside the information who are the so-called anonymous sources, or people outside the information -- outside the administration. And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would.

And then we'll get to the bottom of this and move on. But I want to tell you something -- leaks of classified information are a bad thing. And we've had them -- there's too much leaking in Washington. That's just the way it is. And we've had leaks out of the administrative branch, had leaks out of the legislative branch, and out of the executive branch and the legislative branch, and I've spoken out consistently against them and I want to know who the leakers are.

- From the Washington Post

President Bush authorized White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to disclose highly sensitive intelligence information to the news media in an attempt to discredit a CIA adviser whose views undermined the rationale for the invasion of Iraq, according to a federal prosecutor's account of Libby's testimony to a grand jury.

The court filing by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the first time places Bush and Vice President Cheney at the heart of what Libby testified was an exceptional and deliberate leak of material designed to buttress the administration's claim that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear weapons. The information was contained in the National Intelligence Estimate, one of the most closely held CIA analyses of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the war.
- From the
National Journal

The pre-election damage-control effort in response to Wilson's allegations and the broader issue of whether the Bush administration might have misrepresented intelligence information to make the case for war had three major components, according to government records and interviews with current and former officials: blame the CIA for the use of the Niger information in the president's State of the Union address; discredit and undermine Wilson; and make sure that the public did not learn that the president had been personally warned that the intelligence assessments he was citing about the aluminum tubes might be wrong.

On July 8, 2003, two days after Wilson challenged the Niger-uranium claim in an op-ed article in The New York Times, Libby met with Judith Miller, then a Times reporter, for breakfast at the St. Regis hotel in Washington. Libby told Miller that Wilson's wife, Plame, worked for the CIA, and he suggested that Wilson could not be trusted because his wife may have played a role in selecting him for the Niger mission. Also during that meeting, according to accounts given by both Miller and Libby, Libby provided the reporter with details of a then-classified National Intelligence Estimate. The NIE contained detailed information that Iraq had been attempting to procure uranium from Niger and perhaps two other African nations. Libby and other administration officials believed that the NIE showed that Bush's statements reflected the consensus view of the intelligence community at the time.

- From Digby

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: So he could do it for political reasons and that would be -- and no one can second-guess that if he wanted to?

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This president could make the decision to declassify information based upon national security reasons.

NADLER: He could do it for political reasons if he wanted to and no one could second guess that because he's the commander in chief, right?

GONZALES: The president is going to make the determination as to what's in the best interest of the country.
To human beings who are capable of critical thought, the President's statements and actions seem to be at odds. But for The President, and his lawyers and supporters, these actions and words are not contradictory because they use the rationalization that the President can break any law if he can convince himself it's in the interests of national security.

As the Washington Post notes

A senior administration official, speaking on background because White House policy prohibits comment on an active investigation, said Bush sees a distinction between leaks and what he is alleged to have done. The official said Bush authorized the release of the classified information to assure the public of his rationale for war as it was coming under increasing scrutiny.
I frankly don't know what else to say at this point. We have an administration that has explicitly told us that it believes it has the legal and Constitutional authority to, well, do anything, so long as it promises it's for the sake of national security. Not even Article 48 of the Weimar Republic's Constitution had that low a threshold for the abrogation of the rule of law.

But disregarding that for a moment, here's the immediate image that popped into my mind when I read the Post piece with the senior offical stating Bush sees a "distinction" between leaks and what he did and then compared that to the first set of comments from Editor and Publisher where the President acts as if he does not have any idea how Valerie Plame's identity may have been leaked to the public.

'Another example,' he said. 'Some years ago you had a very serious delusion indeed. You believed that three men, three onetime Party members named Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford men who were executed for treachery and sabotage after making the fullest possible confession -- were not guilty of the crimes they were charged with. You believed that you had seen unmistakable documentary evidence proving that their confessions were false. There was a certain photograph about which you had a hallucination. You believed that you had actually held it in your hands. It was a photograph something like this.'

An oblong slip of newspaper had appeared between O'Brien's fingers. For perhaps five seconds it was within the angle of Winston's vision. It was a photograph, and there was no question of its identity. It was the photograph. It was another copy of the photograph of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford at the party function in New York, which he had chanced upon eleven years ago and promptly destroyed. For only an instant it was before his eyes, then it was out of sight again. But he had seen it, unquestionably he had seen it! He made a desperate, agonizing effort to wrench the top half of his body free. It was impossible to move so much as a centimetre in any direction. For the moment he had even forgotten the dial. All he wanted was to hold the photograph in his fingers again, or at least to see it.

'It exists!' he cried.

'No,' said O'Brien.

He stepped across the room. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. O'Brien lifted the grating. Unseen, the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air; it was vanishing in a flash of flame. O'Brien turned away from the wall.

'Ashes,' he said. 'Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.'

'But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.'

'I do not remember it,' said O'Brien.

Winston's heart sank. That was doublethink. He had a feeling of deadly helplessness. If he could have been certain that O'Brien was lying, it would not have seemed to matter. But it was perfectly possible that O'Brien had really forgotten the photograph. And if so, then already he would have forgotten his denial of remembering it, and forgotten the act of forgetting. How could one be sure that it was simple trickery? Perhaps that lunatic dislocation in the mind could really happen: that was the thought that defeated him.
- George Orwell, 1984

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Remember to think!

"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.” — Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads to Freedom

Over at Rationally Speaking, Massimo has summarized the findings of a recent study which found that political partisans were quick to recognize inconsistencies in an opposition candidate, but slow to notice them in their own candidate. The study also found that while processing these statements parts of the brain which regulate and process emotions were active, but the parts that regulate rational thinking were less active.

This serves as an important reminder, it's not enough to be skeptical of views you disagree with. You must also be skeptical of views you agree with, including your own. Views that you feel most strongly about are often ones that you have the most reason to be suspect of because it is human nature to allow such conviction to substitute for rigorous critical thinking.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New York Times sells advertising to gov't responsible for genocide for $900,000

On March 20 the New York Times ran an 8 page advertisement for Sudan designed to encourage business investment in the country. Nat Hentoff, writing in the Village Voice about this amoral action, notes that:

On the same day The New York Times took nearly a million dollars from the mass-murdering government of Sudan for eight pages of glowingly illustrated "bright prospects" for investors, a template of utterly false advertising to gull Times readers. There was this Times editorial:

"After the Holocaust, the world vowed it wouldn't stand back and allow genocide to happen again. Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda showed how empty that promise was. . . . Is this really what we have come to? The United Nations has described the carnage as the world's biggest humanitarian crisis but continues to prove itself completely useless at doing anything to stop it.

Gee, maybe its just me, but I kind of have this weird sense of ethics, where my conscious would prohibit me from taking 900,000 dollars from a goverment that is responsible for genocide so that they can try to convince investors to help bankroll rape and murder.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bizarro world quote of the day

"It’s too bad, I think. DeLay was an effective leader, albeit too liberal in recent years. It’s possible, of course, that he did something wrong along the way. But there is no evidence of that in the public domain; as I’ve often said, the politically-inspired prosection of DeLay by Travis County’s discredited DA, Ronnie Earle, is a bad joke. As far as we can tell at the moment, DeLay appears to be yet another victim of the Democrats’ politics of personal destruction—the only politics they know. " - John Hinderaker at Powerline (via Crooked Timber)

The painting you see above is "The Human Condition" (1933) by Rene Magritte (another version of this painting was previously featured as the Art of the Day.) The point that Magritte was making is that reality is constructed out of human perception. I could try to articulate how the painting relates to the quote, but I think it works better if one can see the point for themselves.

Quote of the day

"Everything that we are we owe to Satan and his bootleg apples" - H.L. Mencken, Treatise on the Gods

I was reminded of this quote while looking at The Son of Man.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Debunking the judicial activism meme

I'm out of town at the moment, and won't have a chance to blog for another day or so, but while I'm gone, I'd like to direct your attention to this article from political scientist (and former pupil of Leo Strauss) Shadia Drury, who explains that current attacks on the judiciary are part of a larger attempt to subvert the democratic process itself. In short, neoconservatives plan to use populism to vote out liberal democracy.

In my view, the neoconservative enthusiasm for radical democracy has two sources. First, it is rooted in the hope and the gamble that the people are likely to be more conservative than their "parchment regime"—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. And if the last two presidential elections are any indication, this may well be true. Second, neoconservatives are hostile to America’s liberal traditions. They are smart enough to recognize that there is a gulf between democracy and liberty, and that the former can be used to defeat the latter. They are clever enough to grasp the self-refuting nature of democracy.

Conservatives understand that people are vulnerable to manipulation and can easily be made to turn against their own liberties. If the people can be convinced that liberty leads to licentiousness, children out of wedlock, drug addiction, prostitution, and rampant crime, and if they can be convinced that liberty also undermines national security, they will gladly rid themselves of liberty. In short, the neoconservative enthusiasm for democracy has its source in the very real possibility that democracy can be the most powerful instrument in the destruction of the liberal regime

Saturday, April 01, 2006

"Good faith"

Anonymous Liberal points out the newest defense that has been offered for the President's decision to authorize warrantless surveillance of American citizens.

I also want to take a moment to address the emerging "good faith" defense of the President, which is being advanced by Republicans like Senators Graham and Specter who are clearly skeptical of the NSA program's legality. The argument seems to be that while Bush may have acted illegally, he did so based on a good faith belief that his actions were legal, and therefore he does not deserve harsh criticism or Congressional sanction.
A.L. goes on to explain that it is very difficult to say this action was done in good faith.

In the post I wrote about the Founding Fathers I said, "At every turn I find that the administration is answered by the Founders."

So does this new defense hold true to that? Yep.

In The Federalist #25, Alexander Hamilton wrote, "it is a truth which experience of all ages has attested, that the people are commonly most in danger, when the means of injuring their rights are in the possesion of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion."

If you read the Federalist, you'll notice the words "experience", "truth", and "jealousy" appear over and over again. They're part of a recurring theme in the papers, which Hamilton, Madison and Jay were trying to drive home: experience has taught us the truth that men are not to be trusted not to abuse authority, and encroachments of power must be guarded against jealously.

"Experience is the oracle of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred," wrote Madison in #20. Well, history has provided us with unequivocal responses, men trusted with power, when given the opportunity, will abuse it, in good faith or bad. Senator Specter and Graham would have you forget this lesson.

Literary quote of the day

"It is strange that the last men of intellectual eminence before the dark ages were concerned, not with saving civilization or expelling the barbarians or reforming the abuses of the administration, but with preaching the merit of virginity and the damnation of unbaptized infants. Seeing that these were the preoccupations that the Church handed on to the converted barbarians, it is no wonder that the succeding age surpassed almost all other fully historical periods in cruelty and superstition." - Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy