Friday, August 30, 2013

Syria: Breaking it Down

There are a fat lot of Democrats these days wondering how it's possible that so many Americans are opposed to military action in Syria, when George Bush managed to invade Iraq a decade ago.

First, let's refresh some memories. And so you know I'm  not making stuff up, I've included this nifty picture of US Army tanks. Click on it to go to the Wikipedia article that will remind you of the events of that time. I'll include others as we go along.

In the days after September 11th, 2001, the US instituted a systematic "War on Terror". Part of the stated goal was to stop not with the destruction of Al Qaeda, but with the destruction of every terrorist organization of global reach. The message to other countries was that you were either with us or against us.

There is dispute about how much of this was in response to 9/11 and how much of it was a pre-meditated plan of regime change, but nevertheless, this was the public climate.

In the months leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration showed increasing amounts of evidence that they claimed proved the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, wielded by Saddam Hussein, who had previously shown willingness to violence. He  had gassed his own people; he had invaded Iran; and he had invaded Kuwait (an invasion repelled by forces under George W. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush).  Beyond that, the Bush administration claimed that Iraq was harboring Al Qaeda terrorists and providing them with training grounds. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein maintained a blusterous public front, engaging in cultural face-saving that did little to dispel such suspicions and much to escalate them.  On the strength of all of this, Bush gained a coalition of allies and Congressional approval for military action, as well as 63% public support for such action, and invaded.

So what's the difference between what happened then and what is happening now? Why (as a caller on the radio put it today) have "all the hawks become doves"?

The answer is, THEY HAVEN'T. The major difference is that Barack Obama doesn't really know what he's doing. Note the following:
  • In 2003, George W. Bush did not invade without Congressional approval. Instead, he spent months working toward gaining that. Many Democratic AND Republican congresspersons and pundits argued the limits of Presidential authority at that time, and that invading without authorization would be an impeachable offense. But he got that approval with the support of Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.  Today, in the case of Syria, Obama does not have that authorization, Whether unilateral action by the President is an impeachable offense may still be debatable, but the fact remains that  Obama has not gained the Congressional approval for action, and without it neither Conservatives nor Liberals can in good faith support unconstitutional action on the part of the Executive Branch.  Nearly 80% of Americans want that Congressional approval
  • In 2003, George W. Bush did not invade without public support. This was 63% in January of 2003. He gained that by repeatedly putting his arguments before the American people with evidence. Despite what people may think in hindsight of the quality of that evidence, at the time the satellite photos and intelligence from multiple international partners was credible. In the case of Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry began by insulting the intelligence of the American public, implying that any person who wanted to check the facts of his then-uncorroborated statements  "needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass." Such hard-sell tactics don't actually sell much in this country, and they foment suspicion against the person who uses them. Given an administration that has repeatedly made false statements to the American people about other subjects, that suspicion has legs. 
  • In 2003, George W. Bush had a "coalition of the willing". Four countries -- the US, Great Britain, Poland, and Australia -- participated in the invasion itself, and many more were involved in the peacekeeping aftermath. Today, only France is on-board. Great Britain... usually a go-to ally, has notably declined to authorize such action. UN support is not forthcoming, as both China and Russia have veto power, and are both opposed.
  • In 2003, George W Bush showed that action was clearly in the American interest... that we weren't just invading as a  knee-jerk reaction. Al Qaeda had instituted the largest attack on American soil. Hussein was a supporter, or so the evidence showed. Today, Barack Obama has failed to do that. The purported aggressors in Syria, who used gas against their people, are the Syrian government. But the Syrian opposition is.... an affiliate of Al Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra).  This is NOT a case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."  Rather, we see two enemies duking it out. Why should we get involved
  • In 2003, George W. Bush argued that there would be a favorable outcome of the Iraqi invasion: the removal from power of a dangerous dictator, and the destruction of both WMDs and terrorist training camps. Today, we have no such clear objective. If we send missiles at the Syrian government, we're aiding our own enemies. If we target Jabhat al-Nusra, then what's the lesson to Syria? If we lob them indiscriminately, then how is that less monstrous that what Syria did? As of this minute, we have no clearly defined message to send, much less a clearly defined target to aim it at. 

In short, George W. Bush had Congressional authorization; public support, an international coalition; American interest, and a clear objective. Five specific things that are necessary for such action. Barack Obama has none of the above.
Update: I think I should clarify the above. Declaring war without the approval of Congress is unconstitutional. However, the Administration states that this is not a declaration of war; rather it is a limited strike against offensive capabilities, which would be constitutional for the Commander-in-Chief. While this matter of semantics may seem significant to Washington politicians, there's a distinct possibility that the Syrians and their neighbors won't see it that way, and we could wind up warring whether we say we declared it or not. I'll also point out the fact that "a limited strike against offensive capabilities; no boots on the ground" PRECISELY describes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. If it's an act of war when committed against us, then it is absolutely an act of war when we commit it. You'll have to work very hard to make a convincing contrary argument.
When you say "trust me" to the People, they will not do that unless you have established a record of trustworthiness. However, Obama's administration has spied on his own people and the President himself lied about it. Obama has broken innumerable promises, from closing Guantanamo, to government transparency, to Obamacare's economic impact. He has time and time again used Executive Orders to enact what should be legislative change. And now he wants to invade a country without a clear objective after having been given a Nobel Peace Prize.

Obama has earned our distrust.

And that's the difference.  IF he corrects the bulleted items above by showing us the evidence, convincing us that there's a target, a favorable outcome, an American interest, and a coalition of willing partners, then he can take that to the People and Congress and earn the support he needs to act... and I'm sure the support would be bi-partisan, just as his current non-support is bi-partisan. But I'm afraid he's just not very good at foreign policy. And this is DESPITE the fact that as a candidate, he made statements like the following:
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” -- The Daily Caller 
... a statement he now contradicts with his actions here and in Libya.

So don't ask where the hawks went. Ask why Obama isn't walking the walk after all that talk he talked.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Governing by Luck

There are some concepts we take for granted that are completely senseless when pondered closely.  Take "luck" for example. What is it, exactly?

I asked my kids that question, and they couldn't really come up with an example. The dictionary isn't really any better. It may describe luck as "chance" or "fortune", and sometimes as a "force" that brings chance, but that's not really how we commonly use it, which is in the "prescriptive" sense. Consider the following:
  • He sure is lucky!
  • I've got a lot of luck, and all of it's bad.
  • I wish I had your luck.

In common usage, "luck" is something you can have, and can transfer. Even though it's yours, it's certainly it's outside your control. You don't manipulate it with skill, logic, or experience. You don't earn luck. You're just "lucky" and good (or bad) things happen to you. Lucky you. Though it's described as a "force", it can't be one in the physical sense. Different people "have it" to different degrees.

This is a purely supernatural, superstitious, and primitive belief. We know that there is no magical pool of "stuff" that can just make "good things" happen around you. The more you think about it, the dumber you feel about ever having believed in it. It's just plain silly.

Current Liberal -- and particularly Socialist -- philosophies fueling class warfare rely heavily on this plainly silly concept. To them, your success or failure is not your own. To successful business owners, our President says, "You didn't build that." Criminals are told that their crimes are not their fault. But for luck their positions would be reversed.  Their core thesis is that, good or bad, you didn't earn your fate; therefore you don't deserve it. And since you didn't earn anything you have, everything you have should be subject to re-distribution to those who deserve it equally... that is: not at all.

It's all just luck. And the more you think about it, the dumber you should feel for ever having believed it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Defending Against Any Erosion of Rights Matters

In my last post I argued against support of an anti-race baiting petition.  Today I have a news story that illustrates why this sort of incremental erosion of rights is important.
picture from

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Michaela Banerji was sacked for criticising the government department for which she works. Never mind that this was on her own private time. Never mind that it was from anonymous Twitter account. Never mind that it could not be definitively traced back to her. Her department investigated the tweets and when they were satisfied that there was a probability that the account was hers, they fired her.

Furthermore, Federal Circuit Court Judge Warwick Neville ruled that Australians have no ''unfettered implied right (or freedom) of political expression''. Not only that, but even if they DID have such a right, it would not trump her employment contract with the government.

How very alien that is to American ears... to hear that in a liberal democracy such as Australia, in this modern world, people do not have basic rights that we take for granted. Furthermore, how chilling it is to learn that this fundamental lack of protection cost Banerji her job because she was expressing her honest political opinion; and that opinion was deemed offensive to some politician. She took great care to separate her opinions (expressed in the Twitter account @LaLegale) from her job, and they were far less corrosive than statements we'd hear from late-night comedians on television.

Under the Fair Use provision of
Title 17 I can use whatever
gosh-darn image I like
to illustrate a political point,
because in America, the First
Amendment trumps copyright.
Folks, every thing you say is offensive to someone. That's why Ned Flanders is so gosh-darn doodle-y woodle-y annoying. There is nobody too good, and no speech too clean to be painted as "hate speech" by some paper-skinned clueless emotionally damaged half-witted cretinous political puppet (And yes, dear Reader, if you just took offense at that, I absolutely intended those comments to be aimed directly at you personally. Feel free to comment below. Anonymous comments will be deleted un-read, so be sure to use your name so we can see that you've voluntarily labeled yourself appropriately). This being the case, the only appropriate restrictions on free speech are NONE

(And yes, dear Reader, I know the irony of making that statement immediately after telling you I'd delete your comments un-read. When you do that by accident you're a hypocrite.  When you do it on purpose, like I just did, that's hella witty. Don't try this at home, I've had years of practice).

So even when I don't agree with a single word you say... even when I think you're a complete dick... even when you make me angry or hurt my feelings... even when any association with your bilious statements make me want to spew vomit on your hateful face... I will defend your right to be an annoying insensitive vermin of the first order. And I reserve for myself the right to call you all of those things in public. Is this "baiting"? More like "expressing an opposing opinion".  But when such opinions are expressed by a populace, government and courts who actually comprehend the value and meaning of free speech rather than the aforementioned brainwashed political puppets, amazingly, civil discourse ensues. This is because I value your right to speech as much as my own. It is only when someone values his own rights more than yours that he recommends you curtail your rights by force of law rather than exercising them with reasonable restraint. And that, my friends, is how you identify a manipulative proto-tyrant who should never be voted into any position of authority.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Anti-Race-Baiting Petition: Why I Don't Support It has a petition on-line to make race-baiting a Federal hate-crime. The full text of the petition is as follows
I (We) SUPPORT Making Race-Baiting A Federal Hate Crime.
Race-Baiting: The making of threatening and non-threatening verbal attacks against individuals or members of a racial group or minority that directly or indirectly triggers violence and/or the destruction of property. 
Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn't it?  I mean, who wouldn't support such a thing?

I wouldn't. And I'll argue why you shouldn't, either.

Firstly, it's unconstitutional and directly contradicted by your First Amendment right to free speech. Evelyn Beatrice Hall once wrote in a biography of Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This is the very essence of free speech. Today, many people believe they have the "right" not to be offended. They do NOT. They DO have the right to speak their minds. The fact that you disagree with a matter of opinion gives you no power over another speaker, just as the fact that they disagree with you gives them no power over your exercise of the self-same right. Once you start taking away the free speech rights of others, you give them carte blanche to take away your rights. You're a fool to let that happen... so don't.

And yes, I've heard the counter-arguments about limitations on your right to free speech. "You can't shout 'fire!' in a crowded theater, etc.. These arguments, to a tee, misunderstand those limitations. What is limited is the deliberate communication of misinformation vs. the expression of an opinion. And... by the way... you CAN shout 'fire!' in a crowded theater if there's a fire, or even just smoke that would lead you to believe there's a fire. If you didn't you might be held as a conspirator to arson. Those cliche'd examples aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Secondly, this petition perpetuates the lie that you are not responsible for your own actions. If you initiate a violent act, and it is not in defense of someone's life, you do NOT get to blame the victim of your violence for your criminal behavior. This is a solid case of "the first person who raises a fist loses the argument". I don't care what he said about your momma. I don't care what he said about you. You lose.

We already have laws that mitigate culpability if someone is enraged or provoked. This is why, for example, we have manslaughter in addition to murder. And I certainly think that if anyone initiates violence, they should be prosecuted and tried, and somebody talking smack doesn't relieve you of your crime. No way, no shape, no how.  So grow some skin... any color you like, so long as it's thick... and learn that hateful idiots are to be ignored, dismissed, derided, chided or educated: not physically attacked. And above all, learn to let the other guy be the one who is wrong.

The Federal government is not your Mommy, and it is not your Daddy. It is not, nor should it be, their job or responsibility to stop the car and play referee when you bicker in the back seat, whining and crying that somebody looked at you wrong or said something that hurt your widdle feewings. And you, dear Reader, are not the irresponsible child who needs them to step in. You're a mature adult who has reached the age of responsibility, so act like it. You get no sympathy for claiming that somebody else "made you do it." We all wish the world had nicer people in it. We all encourage civil discussion. One part of civil discussion is that it remain civil, and you don't go calling the cops every time someone says something that you disagree with. Sadly, this petition is one more step down the road to that very sort of frivolous, hyper-litigious silliness.

So no. No. A thousand times.... NO.

Now... does being against this petition mean I'm for race-baiting?  No. I'll remind you of the quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
There is a world of difference between allowing that bigots have opinions and being a bigot yourself. Trying to equate the two would be a ridiculous statement, by which I mean one worthy of ridicule. So think twice before suggesting it.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Junk Science: Trzupek on 'Proof'

At "Somewhat Reasonable: The Policy and Commentary Blog of the Heartland Institute", Rich Trzupek takes Michael Mann to task for "redefining science". Specifically, Mann is being made fun of for the following statement:
"Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science."
Trzupeck comments as follows (scare-quotes are his):
He (Mann) goes on to explain that science is all about “credible theories” and “best explanations” and his gosh-darn critics supposedly don’t offer up any of those.
Now it seems pretty obvious that Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”
The thing is, regarding the statement for which he's being made fun of, Michael Mann is 100% completely correct. The hallmark of a scientific theory is that it MUST be testable.. what scientists call "falsifiable". In other words, you must be able to identify some condition by which, through experimentation, you can determine whether the theory might fail. For it to be a meaningful test, there must be some realistic chance of failure. (You can't prove that it's "true" because there may be some failure condition you didn't predict).

Scientific theories are ALWAYS open to further testing. Newton's law of gravity worked very well for hundreds of years... it still does under most circumstances. But very careful observations of Mercury's orbit revealed perturbations it couldn't explain, so Einstein offered another theory. Einstein is constantly tested as well. But when a theory is tested, and the test confirms it, that "confirmation" is NOT "proof". Theories are CONFIRMED, NEVER PROVEN. And confirmed theories are always open to further testing, even when they are so well established that we call them "laws". If you ever see a "theory" that cannot be dis-proven in principle, it is never, never, never scientific.

The word "proof" as Mann using it in the mathematical sense is a completely different thing. A mathematical proof is a rigorous train of logic showing that the rules of mathematics lead to a particular result. Mathematics is not an experimental science. "it is a conceptual system possessing internal necessity that can only be so and by no means otherwise." (David Hilbert) Because of this, mathematical theorems can be proven. And since math is rigorous and unchangeable, it can be used to measure the physical world and facilitate science.

What is clear is this: Michael Mann's statement is NOT an attempt to "separate proof from sciences". Rather, the linked article is an definitive demonstration of the fact that Rich Trzupek isn't clear on what science is, and thus has embarrassed himself with a blatant public display of ignorance. That's made more distressing because he has loudly demonstrated ignorance of a subject that should be quite central to his core competency; as he is a chemist and consultant of many years' experience.

Keep in mind that the above statement applies only to that specific criticism of Mann. I have expressed no opinion on any other statements, theories, or observations that Mann may have offered. As a matter of full disclosure, I am NOT a climate alarmist. I think there's plenty of things for which Mann can be criticized (and those properly belong in another post). It just that THIS statement isn't one of them. With all the genuine issues to discuss, Rich Trzupek is doing no one any favors in his attempt to fight disinformation with yet more disinformation. That's why Trzupek is the one who has earned this post the "Junk Science" seal.