Sep 29th, 2006 by bookie
Links and News [2006.09.29]

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Sep 28th, 2006 by ravi
Serving a ray of truth?

Australian media personality Steve Irwin’s widow Terri offers this, regarding the video footage of the event that led to his death:

BBC | Irwin death film ‘will never air’

Footage of Australian naturalist Steve Irwin’s death will never be broadcast, his widow Terri has said in her first interview since his 4 September death.

“What purpose would that serve?” she asked presenter Barbara Walters in an interview with US programme 20/20.

She goes on to say:

… his death was just a “stupid” accident – “like running with a pencil”.

Well, it looks like she has answered her own question. The video would serve the purpose of establishing whether the event was similar to “running with a pencil” or to poking a pencil into your eye.

[ Link ]

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Sep 27th, 2006 by ravi
Sex sells, CIA leaks no big deal

Fitzgerald investigation into national security compromise: $1.4m, 3 years. Ken Starr obsession with blowjob: $71m, 8 years. Barrett interest in Cisneros extramarital affair: $21m, 10 years. Republican faux outrage over Fitzgerald (a Republican)? Priceless!

CIA Leak Probe Relatively Inexpensive – WaPo

Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, who investigated whether senior Bush administration officials illegally leaked the name of a CIA operative for political payback, has spent $1.4 million in his probe over the past three years, his office reported yesterday — a figure that establishes him as remarkably frugal in the ranks of recent special investigators.

Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s investigations of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica S. Lewinsky and his ties to the failed Whitewater land investment cost $71.5 million and took eight years. Independent Counsel David M. Barrett’s examination of Clinton housing secretary Henry G. Cisneros over an extramarital affair and potential illegal payments cost $21 million and lasted 10 years.

[ Link ]

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Sep 26th, 2006 by ravi
Ignoring the 800 pound elephant

Blogs such as MyDD have pointed out the irrational hold that DLC centrism has had on the agenda and voice of the Democrats, causing them not to put up a vociferous, confrontational front against GOP excesses. Something that the people can rally around. Scoop reports the following poll:

Scoop: Zogby – Voters Question Outcome Of ’04 Election

How confident are you that George W. Bush really won the 2004 presidential election?

Very confident that Bush won fair and square…….. 45.2%
Somewhat confident that Bush won fair and square… 20.0%
Not at all confident that he won fair and square…… 32.4%
Other/not sure………………………………………. 2.4%

More than 50% of the people are not sure that the elections were won fairly. I do not of course expect this to change the nuanced avoidance of this issue by the Democrats.

[ Link ]

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Sep 26th, 2006 by ravi
Muslim-bashing as global white sport

Great article about the state of things in Australia:

Australia’s Other Great Sport By Haroon Buksh:

[…]

The Australian public is increasingly being served a smorgasbord of politically charged rhetoric, an outpouring of invective masquerading as public debate. From questions of loyalty, discussions over identity, sermons about values, or warnings against extremism, the current discourse surrounding Islam and Muslims is presented in the context of an existential threat to the Australian way of life.

[…]

We should be careful, however, not to disconnect the state of modern Australia from its global context. Since 9/11, Western governments have been relentlessly and unashamedly constructing public opinion in support of their brutal campaigns at home and abroad. A campaign that was ostensibly launched to avenge the attacks on the World Trade Centres has morphed into what George Bush calls ‘the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation’.

No longer is the objective the capture of Osama bin Laden or the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure. Rather we are told the primary objective of the ‘war on terror’ is now the defeat of ‘Islamo-fascism’, an ‘evil ideology’ that seeks to return the world to a dark 7th century medieval version of Islam – the aims of which are apparently shared by a ‘section’ of the Muslim community in Australia.

[…]

The real and tangible relationship between western foreign policy and its reactionary consequences has yet to be even mildly explored. The Australian government continues to persist in its absolute state of denial and refuses to entertain such a debate. But failing to address the most critical underlying grievances is a stance that sadly threatens the lives of every Australian.

In a speech to the Conference of Australian Imams on the 16th September 2006, Andrew Robb, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, reiterated the government’s official line of holding the Muslim community solely responsible for a set of conditions generated as a consequence of a brutal and oppressive foreign policy. He stated: “And, because it is your faith that is being invoked as justification for these evil acts, it is your problem”.

[…]

It seems what the world desperately needs today is a war on ignorance, not a war on terror. As the current debate serves only to close our minds, we all have a responsibility to keep them open.

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Sep 25th, 2006 by ravi
Cousteau on Irwin

More on Steve Irwin:

Irwin interfered with nature, says Cousteau – smh.com.au

Marine explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau says that, while he mourns the recent death of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, he disagrees with Irwin’s hands-on approach to nature television.

[…]

But, he added, Irwin would “interfere with nature, jump on animals, grab them, hold them, and have this very, very spectacular, dramatic way of presenting things”.

“Of course, it goes very well on television. It sells, it appeals to a lot people, but I think it’s very misleading.

“You don’t touch nature, you just look at it. And that’s why I’m still alive. I’ve been diving for over 61 years – a lot more years than he’s been alive – and I don’t mess with nature.”

[ Link ]

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Sep 25th, 2006 by bookie
Links and News [2006.09.24]

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Sep 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Oedipal Throes? (part 2)

This is the second (and final) part of my response to Berube's characterisation ("pack of lies") of Chomsky's writing on the NATO attack on Yugoslavia. You can read Part 1 by following this link.

Here again is Berube quoting Chomsky (this is the text that Berube calls a pack of lies):

Remember, the Milosevic Tribunal began with Kosovo, right in the middle of the US-British bombing in late '99 . . . Now if you take a look at that indictment, with a single exception, every charge was for crimes after the bombing.

There's a reason for that. The bombing was undertaken with the anticipation explicit [that] it was going to lead to large-scale atrocities in response. As it did. Now there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the bombings. In fact, if you look at the British parliamentary inquiry, they actually reached the astonishing conclusion that, until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas.

So later they added charges [against Milosevic] about the Balkans, but it wasn't going to be an easy case to make. The worst crime was Srebrenica but, unfortunately for the International Tribunal, there was an intensive investigation by the Dutch government, which was primarily responsible their troops were there and what they concluded was that not only did Milosevic not order it, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it. So it was going to be pretty hard to make that charge stick.

My original response dealt with the purely logical/analytical aspect of Berube's response to the above and how this response did not constitute a refutation. Here I want to go a bit further and read into Chomsky (which if done carefully, is not an unfair thing to do, given that we do not communicate in formal languages).

There are two angles from which we can approach Chomsky. One of them is what I recommend based on his voluminous writing and his own words. In this reading, Chomsky concentrates his criticism on the powerful: state and corporate action. He documents historical record, standard sources, and offers fairly straightforward reasoning to derive his conclusions. He has explicitly stated, many times over, the reasons for his concentration on certain things (U.S action, for instance) as opposed to others (say the actions of Cory Smith, the school bully at PS 132). Not only can he say more about his country of residence (for what should be obvious reasons) and effect change, but also it coincidentally happens to be the most powerful one in the world today (and therefore impacts the world in a larger scale for the same bad behaviour). The context, therefore in which to read (the quoted text) is this: if some entity exercises its power, what are the facts, the stated reasons and justifications, the result, and how do these match up. This I will call either the parsimonious or sceptical attitude.

The second angle, employed consistently by the right, and now by these segments of the left, is one which starts with the question of Chomsky's motives. The next step is a shortcut to examine his record and conclude that he is "anti-American". It follows then that what Chomsky writes serves this interest (or some similar ideological commitment) and one has to do no more than wait for his commitment to trip up his reasoning.

With the latter attitude, the quoted text reads so: given we believe that Chomsky thinks America is always wrong, Chomsky is clutching at whatever he can get, even to the extent of defending Milosevic (let us set aside how such reasoning is peppered with all sorts of assumptions of mental states). Chomsky uses this or that evidence to show that Milosevic was guiltless and the U.S and allies had no justification.

The analysis here is at best naive in that it looks for a coincidence between the state of the world (Kosovo) and the U.S-NATO story and once found (in one way or another) derides anyone who questions U.S action. The coincidence, it should be obvious (but isn't!), does not imply any justification. This we can charitably call the naive attitude.

By the parsimonious attitude things look significantly different: the U.S/NATO acted in a particular manner, and justified the action with some claims. The claim was not just that atrocities were afoot in Kosovo, but that they knew (in the sense of having a record) of such atrocities. Chomsky asks the simple question, giving them the benefit of the doubt, after the end of the NATO action: where is that record? One good place to look for that record is the charges filed. So there he looks. And he finds (and is not refuted on that point by Berube) that the evidence/record is events that happened after the event! What is worse, Chomsky rationally suggests, is that it should have been known that these events would occur as a consequence of the attack. Then Chomsky wonders: could this then be one of the reasons for the attack: to produce the necessary data? ("There is a reason for that").

He then points out that the charges against Milosevic reach back into earlier history. Once again, he asks, what of the events implied in these charges? Are they documented? He offers one fairly official source (the Danish government) and finds that they found a different conclusion than what the charges imply.

Chomsky's argument can be posed as a call to judgement of NATO action:

  • Can you, at least now (after the invasion), offer evidence of atrocities in Kosovo, your stated reason for attacking Yugoslavia?
  • Is such evidence included in the charges against Milosevic? If not, why not?
  • In fact, the evidence you offer is mostly from after the attack! What is the reason for this?
  • What have your own governments concluded after investigation on the ground?
  • Why is there a need for non-Kosovo evidence if you had enough evidence about Kosovo to justify something as extreme as a war?
  • Does your non-Kosovo evidence hold up against Milosevic? What do your own governments find about that question?

Let us give all the leeway possible to the naive attitude:

There is one point where Chomsky seems to make a statement:

Now there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the bombings.

How do we read this? Is Chomsky saying that irrespective of the US/NATO story and their justifications/evidence, there was in his opinion no atrocities committed by Milosevic and Yugoslavia in Kosovo? This would be the harshest reading of Chomsky but even here Chomsky does not wave his hands in the air. He goes back to those he is questioning and their own findings: the British parliamentary report that found most of the crimes to be attributable to the KLA.

Note that in all of this, to call Chomsky incorrect (let alone a liar) one has to show that his reasoning of that time was wrong i.e., his justification for his point is either factually or logically wrong, or there were other facts he had in possession (or could have easily obtained) that should have led him to the opposite conclusion. But this harsh reading doesn't gel with Chomsky's general style (which I think he has stated many times): doesn't matter much what I think, what can we conclude from what we know?

Let us go down that path, nonetheless. What else has Chomsky written on Kosovo? Here is him quoting the WSJ:

A rare exception was the Wall Street Journal, which devoted its lead story on December 31 to an in-depth analysis of what had taken place. The headline reads: War in Kosovo Was Cruel, Bitter, Savage; Genocide It Wasn't.

[…]

Despite the intensive efforts, the results of "the mass-grave obsession," as the WSJ analysts call it, were disappointingly thin. Instead of "the huge killing fields some investigators were led to expect, .. the pattern is of scattered killings," a form of "ethnic cleansing light." "Most killings and burnings [were] in areas where the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA-UCK] had been active" or could infiltrate, some human-rights researchers reported, an attempt "to clear out areas of KLA support, using selective terror, robberies and sporadic killings." These conclusions gain some support from the detailed OSCE review released in December, which "suggests a kind of military rationale for the expulsions, which were concentrated in areas controlled by the insurgents and along likely invasion routes."

It is clear from this that Chomsky does not suppress the notion that the war in Kosovo was cruel. Rather, the line below makes it clear (as I have stated above) that he is concerned with the NATO justification:

For understanding of NATO’s resort to war, the most important period…

Finally, it is utterly childish to ask that Chomsky speak to every issue and to every aspect of each issue. There is no real "A-Ha" moment in turning on him with the question: what do you say of the poor Albanians? Nothing! Shame!

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Sep 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Free porn = less rape?

From the Too Good to be True News ;-) we have:

The Raw Story | Academic claims rape cases down because porn use up

[…]

In a study for Northwestern University's Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series titled "Porn Up Rape Down," Anthony D'Amato, a Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern University, argues that the proliferation of pornography has lead to a sharp decline in rape across the United States.

[…]

When compared to Disaster Center's figures for forcible rape for the years 1980 and 2000, the four states with the lowest Internet access showed a 53% aggregate per capita increase in rape, while the four states with the highest Internet access showed a 27% decrease in incidence of rape.

"Critics argue that exposure to depictions of violence causes violent behavior," said D'Amato. "They say that rape is just a subcategory of this principle. They couldn't be more mistaken. Exposure to violent movies, TV programs, or video games has NOT produced more social violence. It has produced the opposite. The amount of social violence per capita in the year 1900 when street gangs attacked pedestrians and murders were common far exceeds the incidence of violence today. Sure, there is violent behavior, but when it happens it makes headlines. Back then it happened so often that it wasn't newsworthy."

[…]

Read the rest of the article for alternate viewpoints.

[ Link ]

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Sep 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Science in a free society

The title of this blog post is an intentional reference to Paul Feyerabend, who would have been glad to read this bit of news:

BBC | Public ‘needs to drive science’

A new project funded by the UK government aims to give the public a chance to drive science policy.

[ Link ]

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