Dishonest mistakes

by Henry Farrell on November 21, 2005

The Economist‘s Lexington starts an “article”: (behind paywall) on whether Bush lied with a piece of self-justificatory hackishness.

bq. The Democrats risk painting themselves as either opportunists (who turn against a war when it goes badly) or buffoons (too dim to question faulty intelligence when it mattered). They also risk exacerbating their biggest weakness—their reputation for being soft on terrorism and feeble on national security. So who is getting the best of the argument? Mr Bush starts with one big advantage: the charge that he knew all along that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction seems to be a farrago of nonsense. Nobody has yet produced any solid evidence for this. Sure, Mr Bush made mistakes, but they seem to have been honest ones made for defensible reasons. He genuinely believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD—as did most of the world’s security services. And he was not alone in thinking that, after September 11th, America should never again err on the side of complacency. More than 100 Democrats in Congress voted to authorise the war. But being right and being seen to be right are different things. Mr Bush may not have consciously lied, but, egged on by Mr Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, he made dreadful miscalculations.

The issue, as the Economist‘s journalists know bloody well, isn’t whether the Bush administration believed at one point that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It’s whether or not the Bush administration mendaciously manipulated intelligence to make the public case for their beliefs. The critics mentioned in the piece aren’t making “the charge that [Bush] knew all along that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction.” I’m not aware of anyone apart from a few crackpots who are. They’re making the case that the Republican administration “deliberately suppressed”: information that didn’t support its case, and presented highly dubious information as providing a slam-dunk case for imminent war. In other words, the administration “stitched up”: a regime that turned out not actually to have weapons of mass destruction, let alone an active nuclear programme, through spin, lies and use of ‘evidence’ that they knew at the time to be dubious. I’d like to see _Lexington_ explain exactly how the claims of al-Qaeda links, the aluminium tubes presentation, the yellowcake claims and so on were “honest [mistakes] made for defensible reasons.” But of course he does no such thing – instead he attacks his very own, custom designed straw man in an attempt to disassociate the heap of political trouble that Bush is now in from the fact that the Bush administration undoubtedly lied in the run-up to the war. Shoddy, shoddy stuff.

PZ Myers

by Kieran Healy on November 21, 2005

Over at Volokh, “Todd Zywicki says”:,

bq. Scott Adams now has a blog, known apprpriately enough as “Dilbert Blog”: … I also see that Mr. Adams has also already had the misfortune to “cross paths”: with the blogosphere’s most infamous Lysenkoist. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Adams.

The link goes to Adams’ version of a spat he (Adams) has been having with “PZ Myers”:, of _Pharyngula_. Here is “Myers’ version”: But what I really want to know is, under what description of reality does PZ Myers (a biology professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris, and tireless rebutter of creationist and Intelligent Design arguments) qualify as a “Lysenkoist”:, let alone the “blogosphere’s most infamous Lysenkoist”? Does Todd have evidence that Myers fakes his scientific research? That he believes that species can be changed through hybridization and grafting? That he thinks genetics is a bourgeois pseudoscience? Or maybe Todd is suggesting that any scientist with left-leaning political views is, _ipso facto_ some kind of fraud, and Myers is our most prominent example? I honestly have no idea what Zywicki is trying to say here.

*Update*: Todd has suddenly and silently updated his post. It now reads, in part, “I also see that Mr. Adams has also already had the misfortune to cross paths with one unpleasant corner of the blogosphere.” In addition, he has silently deleted three or four comments (including one from me) that called him on the smear he was making. I guess anyone could mistakenly type “Lysenkoist” when they meant “unpleasant.” Your self-correcting blogosphere at work. At least he saw that the charge was indefensible, I suppose.

*Second Update*: Todd “explains his actions a bit further”: in an update. From a post PZ Myers links to, it seems Zywicki’s animus toward Myers all goes back to an “earlier”: “argument”: they had about evolutionary psychology.

“Not torture”

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2005

“Orin Kerr at the Volokhs”: has a link to an “ABC News piece on CIA interrogation techniques”: . Apparently these methods are “not torture”:

bq. 4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

Muscular atheism alert

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2005

Websites which regularly enthuse about the man are linking to “this quasi-interview with Hitchens”: in which he vaunts his atheistic credentials:

bq. He’s not just an atheist who doesn’t believe in God, he says, but an “anti-theist,” who actively denies the existence of same, a distinction he insists on making. …. His new book, _God is Not Great_ , is a call for people to grow up and abandon the self-comforting fantasy: “I personally think that’s the only answer. In the meantime, any government that allows any privilege to any one faith is preparing to commit cultural suicide.” And any state that retains even a quasi-connection to Christianity, he adds, will have to face Muslim arguments exploiting it. It is all gloomily predictable.

Last week “Nick Barlow pointed”: to the website of the “Family Research Council”: (“Defending Family, Faith and Freedom”) with a picture of a man looking rather like Hitchens who had given an address to the group. One can only suppose that evil biotechnologists from the idiotarian left have produced a clone of Hitchens which now goes around acting in a way that would discredit the real one. Somehow I doubt that such a risible scheme will discredit the “Dude” in the eyes of his faithful admirers.

Back to the UK

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2005

I’m back in the UK after a trip to the US which included a week spent at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Thanks to Harry and everyone else who made it such a memorable and enjoyable visit, and to those Crooked Timber readers who made suggestions about what to eat. (The frozen custard was excellent, but I passed on the cheese curds.) One piece of good luck I had there was the following. Having eaten dinner and enjoyed interesting conversation with some of Harry’s students, I was wandering down State Street last Thursday when I saw a poster advertising a “Mary Gauthier”: gig. When? I wondered. Tonight! I produced my $15 dollars admission and made my entrance. It was a terrific performance by Mary and her German guitarist Thomm Jutz, leavened by some great monologues including one about “Brits who listen to Radio 2.” Afterwards, I was able to identify myself as such whilst getting my copy of “Mercy Now”: autographed, a memorable evening.

Just Google it?

by John Q on November 21, 2005

The availability of search engines like Google provides an easy way of checking on factual claims you may find questionable – just enter the relevant keywords into a search engine and see what comes up. If such a search produces nothing to support the claim, or evidence to refute or qualify it, then it’s time to start demanding evidence.

This started me thinking about a more general problem with search engines. Using search engine results in the way I suggest rests on the assumption that a given query will produce given results. The same is true if I want to say “Site X is the top result on engine Y for query Z”. But what happens if, as is already possible, search results are personalised, based on, say, previous search history and choice among search results. The same search, undertaken by someone else, might produce completely different results.

[click to continue…]