Saturday, August 16, 2003

45-minute claim on Iraq was hearsay

Just to underscore the trouble that Bush's main Iraq war ally is in. The Hutton inquiry is becoming increasingly damaging to Blair and his inner circle as its findings are making their way to the British press.

So why did we fight this war?

In Search of WM(S)D

Interesting editorial from the NY Metro. Worth a read. Lays out the vulnerability of the Bush II administration in light of the Iraq war debacle. With Bush opponents emboldened (took a while for the Democrats to catch on), a mass media that is increasingly following the lead of the British press, and the increasingly tenuous position that Bush's main ally (Tony Blair) finds himself in, and Bush spin-doctors who have spun themselves so dizzy that they can't seem to stick to a consistent story, and we have the makings of a presidential meltdown. Maybe Bush and cronies can still pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, but as the days and weeks pass that seems to be an increasingly difficult proposition.

Friday, August 15, 2003

And much to my surprise, today was Fair and Balanced Friday

Check this out: Save Al Franken. The Faux News lawsuit against satirist Al Franken was what inspired the title of this blog, and I'm all for providing a friendly reminder that not only is the Faux News "Fair and Balanced" slogan a load of bovine fecal matter, but so is their frivolous suit against Franken.

Army of One

Powerful Flash animation from Take Back the Media. Well worth a look.

The statement at the end pretty well sums it up: Support the troops. Bring them home.

Bush Misuses Science, Report Says

Democrats Say Data Are Distorted to Boost Conservative Policies . It seems that this Dubya character and cronies have a pattern of distorting reality, appointing individuals with improper credentials, and relying on bullying in order to serve their political agenda.

A Few Thoughts on Fighting Evil

I remember rolling my eyes when Bush II first began babbling about the need to fight "evil" and of the "evil-doers" who perpetrate acts of terror in the wake of the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Like a lot of folks, I too dismissed it as hyperbole rather than a national mission (though terms like "crusade" which would be used shortly thereafter made me a bit more queasy).

Why my jaded reaction? I think it has something to do with the nature of evil itself -- or perhaps better stated, with our efforts to define the nature of evil. Some of the finest minds in a variety of cultures have pondered the topic of evil for millenia, and as near as I am aware, there isn't a great deal of agreement among the various pronouncements to be found in religious and philosophical treatises.

I've been reading some of the psychological literature on evil with increasing interest in the last year or so. I'm left with at least a ball-park definition of evil, and one that I must ultimately credit to one of my students: evil is the lack of empathy toward others. Think about it: in order to commit acts of violence against another person, another group, or another nation, one must be able to distance one's self psychologically from one's victims. If you can walk in that other person's shoes, can allow yourself to imagine how the other person thinks and feels and perceives (in other words, to show empathy), it becomes increasingly difficult to victimize that other person. There is some research in the human aggression literature which shows that acts of aggression are less likely among individuals who are dispositional prone to be empathic towards others; that acts of aggression and violence are more easily perpetrated when the potential victim is not visible to the perpetrator, and so on.

As I think about the above, it seems pretty clear to me that efforts to go to war against evil are doomed to failure from the start. Why? To go to war against evil and evil-doers, we find ourselves caught in a contradiction: we must lack empathy towards those we define as evil-doers in order to successfully battle them, which ultimately leads us to do evil ourselves. Only with a lack of empathy can someone wage a campaign to destroy a nation's infrastructure and to dismiss the human suffering that results; bomb residential areas and dismiss the loss of life and limb as mere "collateral damage"; blatantly lie to one's own citizens in order to justify said war; allow young men and women to die or risk injury in the name of those lies and dismiss their situation; to further risk those same men and women with statements like "bring them on" and other taunts from the relative safety of a bunker thousands of miles away. What's happened? To fight the supposed evil-doers, we ourselves have become the embodiment of the very evil we are supposed to be fighting.

Epic battles of "good versus evil" may make for good novels or movies, as is evident in such modern-day epics as "The Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars". They don't make for sound foreign policy, however. It's time to back away from the hyperbole that drives US foreign policy. Let's try a different approach: a policy in which empathy towards others is at its very core. I'm willing to bet that the result will be a far more peaceful and secure existence globally than is the case currently. Food for thought.

Here's some good news:

Two polls released Thursday and Friday show President George Bush's popularity sinking. Dubya is vulnerable to defeat next year. Let's just hope that the Democrat party fields a strong candidate and that the party relentlessly pursues Dubya's weaknesses.

Believe it or not

An interesting column by Nicholas Kristof. It appears that we Americans have a much stronger penchant for mysticism than much of the rest of the industrialized world. For example, in a poll cited by Kristof, 83 percent of Americans believe in the virgin birth of Jesus whereas only 28 percent of Americans accept evolutionary theory. Kristof notes that this trend to mysticism and away from an appreciation of intellect is one that started in the latter half of the 20th century; and is evident in the simultaneous rise in charismatic evangelical churches and demise of mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, as well as in the increasing antagonism between those with a mystical viewpoint and those coming from an intellectual viewpoint. As a social scientist I cannot help but be concerned with such trends.

Personally I find it a bit jarring that there are people who take seriously the notion that divine intervention was behind Dubya's "election" to the Presidency. Clearly there are more parsimonious explanations for his "victory" than divine intervention, but such explanations require one to look at the available empirical evidence for and against those explanations. Using Occam's Razor (attributed to William of Occam), we can "shave" off those explanations that cannot be examined empirically or that can only be taken on faith -- e.g., divine intervention. Of course William of Occam was considered a heretic during the late Medieval period in which he lived, and would probably be considered a heretic by the majority of Americans now in our presumably more modern era.

9/11: Bush Knew

From the Buzzflash description:

A collection of compelling articles, which refute, or, at the very least, call into question, the assertions that Bush and his administration had no prior knowledge of events that would lead to the 9-11 tragedy.

Is H. Ross Perot planning another run for the White House?

Perot gears up. The 2004 election cycle could shape up to be very interesting indeed. Remember how his 1992 candidacy affected Poppy Bush's re-election bid. Could history repeat? How seriously would he be taken this time around? His personal baggage makes him to be a less-than-ideal candidate for the presidency. I doubt he'd get the level of support he received in 1992 (if he received the 8% as he did in 1996, I'd be surprised). However, he might not need 19% of the vote to evict Dubya from the White House, but he'll certainly need a critical mass of support (he won't be getting my vote). In any event, looks like at bare minimum he'll have a new book on the market lambasting the Bush Administration just in time for the 2004 election year.

I stumbled on to this editorial just after I returned from my California trip:

Fox News would be right to rethink 'fair and balanced'. I only see Faux News whenever I visit my in-laws, and my observations regarding its presentation of current events is much in line with this editorial. To me the channel has the feel of a Soviet-style network: just change the rhetoric.

"Is this machine recording?"

Just a quick intro on who I am. I hold a graduate degree in the social sciences and am currently an educator. In addition to my research interests, I have a long-standing interest in current events which I intend to indulge with this blog.